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Rockband Pro Guitar as a MIDI Controller

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So, I picked one of these little guys up from Ebay to use as a MIDI controller and I wrote up a bit of a review of it in that respect. 


While I can sit down at a piano style keyboard and plunk away a tune, I’m much more comfortable with a guitar. Playing all sorts of scales on a guitar is something I can do without much thinking but I can’t say the same for a piano keyboard. So, I’ve been on the hunt for a guitar style MIDI interface to use when composing music on my computer. Most of what you’ll find out there is quite expensive as far as guitar MIDI pickups go and audio to MIDI gadgets are inexpensive but finicky. Then I decided to try a controller of a different type.

The Rock Band Pro Guitar controller isn’t new. They came out about four years ago or so with the release of the Rock Band 3 game and were a bit on the expensive side. Now you can find them brand new for about $50 on Ebay and I decided to pick up the Wii version. 

The Pro Guitar is shaped like a Fender Strat albeit the body is a bit smaller. The neck has a bunch of buttons to press for notes and there are these rubber like strings on the body that you pluck to trigger them. It’s more or less played like a guitar but the MIDI implementation has a few caveats that you need to be aware of to get it to work well for you. I didn’t find any of them to be show stoppers, though. 

The biggest hurdle that I had to deal with is how you dampen the ‘strings’ when playing an open note. When you’re playing a real guitar, damping a note can be done with the palm of your hand or by resting your fingers on the strings. To do so with the Pro Guitar controller, you need to press down one of the buttons on the particular ‘string’ that’s ringing out. I found it to be a different enough action that it took me a while to get used to it.

The Pro Guitar controller has two different modes: Normal mode which tends to work like how you would think and tapping mode which lets you play a note without plucking a string. Hammer ons and pull offs are not possible in normal mode. You need to pluck the ‘string’ to trigger a note. In tapping mode, the notes you play are stuck at the last velocity of how that particular string was plucked. It’s a bit weird but I was able to get used it after a bit of practicing. 

Speaking of velocity, the ‘strings’ are not very sensitive. Velocity wise, you get somewhere between 70 and 127 when you do your plucking. It’s good enough for inputting notes into your DAW but it may not work very well for a live performance if you’re wanting to play with a lot of dynamics. 

One nice thing is that all of the buttons on the guitar do transmit a MIDI signal. There are ones that are mapped to change the octave setting on the guitar as well as changing programs on whatever synth or plugin your using. The others don’t seem to do anything but they do transmit a signal down the MIDI cable. So, you can use something like MIDI Pipeor MIDI OX to grab those and do something useful with them. 

All in all, I find that my $50 has been well spent. I can now input notes into my DAW with a guitar like controller which lets me be a bit more expressive with my song writing. It’s not perfect but I’m not going to complain at that price. I found that it works better for me than the Sonuus i2M that I tried out. So, go grab one off Ebay if this is something you’re looking for! If you want to see one in action, there are a ton of videos on Youtube of folks using them with plugins like Kontakt, etc.

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