Hands-On Review of the Rock Band 3 Fender Squier

I picked up the original Guitar Hero guitar and game bundle as a Christmas gift the year it came out. It looked like a good combination of a fun party game that also featured covers of some of my favorite songs. I started by playing through on Easy, and quickly graduated to Medium after tackling a good chunk of the setlist. As I progressed swiftly through Medium, frustration set in as I attempted to make the jump from Medium to Hard, as I found moving my hand to tap another button a completely odd and uncomfortable experience. I kept at it, as is in my competitive nature, and while the eventual jump from Hard to Expert was a smooth transition from the most difficult songs on Hard to the easiest songs on Expert, I still frequently point to the transition from Medium to Hard gameplay as the “point of no return” separating the casual party players from real plastic guitar players. And now that I have (and continue to) progress through Pro Guitar, I can say that tackling Pro Guitar/Bass on Rock Band 3 is like a long trek through that “Medium/Hard transition,” despite the return of much greater rewards once completed.

Let me first state that while there are still several songs I have never been able to complete without No Fail mode on, I still consider myself an Expert standard Rock Band guitar/bass player, and have no problem 5 starring most songs on sight reads. Pro Guitar/Bass was something I was looking forward to as a way to give myself a new challenge within Rock Band. The Mustang was the best first attempt at introducing those looking to transition from Rock Band guitars to real guitars. But the Squier took what the Mustang introduced and perfectly bridges the gap between playing “just a game,” and playing real, actual, honest-to-goodness guitar.

Size comparison: GH3 Les Paul, RB3 Squier, and RB3 Mustang

Like myself, many of the die-hard guitar playing Rock Band fans eagerly snapped up the Mustang Pro-Guitar when it was initially released (or… ahem… shortly thereafter once stock was replenished). The Mustang was the true hybrid between Rock Band guitar and real guitar. It was larger than Rock Band guitars, but not quite as big as real guitars. The plastic guitar’s strum bar was replaced with identical-width nylon strings, rather than nickel-plated steel strings of different widths on the real thing. Gone were the five standard color coded frets, and replaced with buttons for each fret/string combination on the neck. And while priced higher than a normal Rock Band guitar, the Mustang was an excellent compromise for those looking to test the waters of Pro Guitar/Bass in Rock Band 3.

Today, the real thing is finally available. While I enjoyed my experience with the Mustang, I was definitely looking forward to trying out the Squier. Steph from Harmonix sent me one for review purposes in early February, and like a pusher giving out a first fix for free, I was immediately hooked, and it’s going to be difficult for me now to go back to the Mustang. Before I extol the virtues of procuring a Squier, let me admit that there are still some advantages of the Mustang. You can disassemble it for easy transporting. You can still learn guitar without stumbling on some of the real-life issues such as building calluses and replacing strings. You can even play standard Rock Band guitar/bass charts with the Mustang. For many, the Mustang will provide a very comprehensive and more cost-effective Pro Guitar/Bass experience with Rock Band 3. But with all that said, the Squier is that ultimate peripheral that we have all been waiting for since first mastering plastic guitar so many years ago.

There are two Pro Guitar/Bass achievements I thought would be relatively easy to get with the Mustang, however I never dedicated the time to unlocking “Guitar Apprentice” and “Bass Apprentice.” Both achievements require you to get 5 stars on Easy (or 3 stars on Medium or higher) on 25 Pro Guitar and 25 Pro Bass songs. I was struggling getting 5 stars on the Easy songs, because breaking a streak once or twice is enough to prevent you from getting 5 stars, so I knew it would be an easier time on Medium, but after attempting a few songs on Medium, I started to see some easy chords and decided instead on focusing on some of the other achievements first. When I got my hands on the Squier, the first thing I did was knock out those two achievements in no time. I can’t explain why I found it much easier with the Squier, because I don’t think there are any features that actually make it easier to play than the Mustang, but I think it has more to do with a sense of empowerment that I earned, knowing that progression with this guitar meant I was playing REAL guitar; something I have never done before.

One of the first things you have to be careful about with the Squier is the process it takes to actually use it in Rock Band 3. On the Xbox 360, it’s a much more involved setup than simply pressing the Xbox button on a standard Rock Band controller to get going. For the Squier, you have to connect your MIDI Pro-Adapter (sold separately) to your Xbox 360 via USB, ensure G  (for Guitar) is selected (a step that stumped me when first trying it out) on the MIDI Pro Adapter, connect your MIDI Pro Adapter to your Squier via the (included) MIDI cable, and turn on your Squier on the back (another step I still frequently forget). I typically play with the MIDI Pro Adapter lying on the ground in front of me, activating overdrive with my toe rather than tilting the guitar (and risk breaking a streak), but I also forget that you need the MIDI Pro Adapter to surf through the menu screens of the game. In strict terms of playing a video game, this definitely is one of the more cumbersome things I have ever done just to “play.”

Size comparison: MadCatz Fender replica vs. Fender Squier

This guitar reminds me more of the MadCatz Fender replica than the Mustang Pro Guitar. It is a magnificently manufactured guitar, and as you can see in the picture above, there is quite a bit of resemblance between the two. I have had my Fender replica for a few years now, and there are no signs of it wearing out in the least. It was made at Fender, just like the Squier, and if this is any indication of the quality of the Squier, than I should also be getting lots of mileage out of this peripheral, as well.

Due to time constraints nowadays, I only get chunks of about an hour at a time to play, however I can definitely see how the more die-hard fans will need to develop calluses on their fretting hand. I played for several hours the first night, and my index finger on my left hand had some tenderness while typing the following day at work. (Don’t worry, this goes away pretty quickly.) If you have put in some serious time with the Mustang and upgrade to the Squier, pace yourself on your transition over, or your hand will be raw!

One of the interesting things new to a peripheral such as this is the foam string dampener located just below the fretboard. It should be enabled when playing the game, and disabled when playing the real thing. You can choose to disable it when playing the game, but because of string vibration when strummed, the game will register each single strum as multiple strums, essentially eliminating your ability to successfully accumulate streak bonuses.

Contents of the Squier

The Squier comes with everything you see above: the guitar itself, batteries, Allen wrench to adjust the truss rod (if necessary), instruction manual, MIDI cable, and guitar strap. What I found odd was the exclusion of any picks. I used one of the two I received with my Mustang, but this is an odd oversight nonetheless. Exclusion of picks aside, once you have your MIDI Pro Adapter, you have everything you need to start playing in Rock Band 3.

My understanding is that the exclusivity terms with Best Buy last for only one month, so you should be able to contact your local instrument retailer starting in April if you do not or cannot purchase from Best Buy. Also, not every Best Buy store has the Squier available for sale. Your safest bet to try to procure one without a pre-order is to find your closest Best Buy Musician Store and contact them directly to see if they still have some in stock before running out the door.


Lastly, I unfortunately did not get a chance to try out one of the most crucial aspects of the guitar: it’s ability to be played as a REAL guitar. I would have been a poor reviewer for this anyway, as I am still learning guitar through Rock Band 3. Fortunately, some of the good and much more guitar focused folks from Premier Guitar and Guitar Player have given their input on the Squier’s real guitar playability.

Like I said above, the Mustang Pro Guitar offers a number of advantages over the Squier. While many of these can be remediated through the use of existing peripherals, I believe the biggest barrier to entry for the average person is the cost. The retail price of the guitar and the MIDI Pro Adapter is $320, versus the $150 retail price tag for the Mustang. And while cost is a major concern for many, the other biggest criticism among the community is the versatility of use for this peripheral. While there are those that argue the Mustang can play all standard and Pro Guitar songs in Rock Band 3, I counter that the Squier can play all Pro Guitar songs in Rock Band 3, but also any other song ever written for guitar!

With that said, it is clear that this guitar is truly meant for those Rock Band 3 players who want to break free of playing guitar solely in a video game. And admittedly, this is not for everyone. Many are content just with playing Rock Band 3 as the video game it has historically been, and there is nothing wrong with that. But kudos to Harmonix and Fender for creating this guitar to finally bridge the gap between fake and real guitar players. Picking up this guitar is the ultimate sign of wanting to translate your gaming efforts into a hobby outside of gaming, despite a cost that may be prohibitive to some. But to put it best, as a young man from Chicago once said, “If you have the means, I highly recommend it.”

[Huge thanks to @thebeststeph and Fender for letting me try one of these early!]

38 Responses to “Hands-On Review of the Rock Band 3 Fender Squier”

  • Kolma says:

    I want one ._.
    However i don’t think i would put much time into it sadly…
    My rb3 keyboard just hangs on the wall as decoration with my RB2 strat, and i tend to just stick to Expert Pro Drums, it’s what i feel most comfortable with.
    That said, i can play Expert Guitar, and with keys i tend to play hard/expert and pro keys i suck majorly but can pass the 0 diffuctly songs or pro expert, i can do single notes but not chords…

    As much as i would love to have it for my collection and to mess around with… i just don’t see myself learning it..

    • Skydog says:

      I wanted one too Kolma, but changed my mind a week ago.. i don’t if ever use my keyboard…

  • flame95 says:

    Over here in the UK it’s not out until late April, and this review is getting me pumped :D

    • Toothball says:

      I too am very pumped for their UK debut. March is going to be a long month though with reports like this cropping up.

  • Anex says:

    What does that little “Attention Xbox 360 Users” paper say exactly? I’m curious.

    • Derek says:

      Looks like “Microsoft controller standards dictate that console navigation be restricted to the Mad Catz MIDI PRO-Adapter only”.
      So the PS3 peeps can rejoice they have an advantage over us this time!

      • Flan says:

        There you have it. Harmonix is finally coming over to the PS3 camp.

        Today is a banner day.

    • LoopyChew says:

      It’s a note stating that 360 people have to use the adapter to control the menus, not the buttons on the guitar (as PS3 and Wii users can).

    • Game!Ov3r says:

      It’s probably just a love letter from HMNX… we all know how XBoxers are loved more than the rest of us. :) Just kidding…

    • RockBandAide says:

      It says “Microsoft controller standards dictate that console navigation be restricted to the Mad Catz MIDI Pro-Adapter only!”

      It means that PS3 and Wii users can use the navigation buttons on the guitar itself in the Rock Band 3 menus, while Xbox 360 users must use the navigation buttons on the MIDI Pro Adapter.

      • Matt B says:

        Oh that’s awesome for use Wii owners! That makes your awkwardness with the controller less so.

      • Doom878 says:

        I too use my toe with the adapter on the floor for OD. Luckily i can use its buttons. Ironically the buttons are designed like xbox buttons.

        • kevinsano says:

          Not really ironic, though. Xbox is the only system where you’re gonna need them :3

          Unless we’re talking keyboards and drums, then yea…

  • AxFactor says:

    I had a hard time pre ordering through my local Best Buy, but being I had a friend who works there, they checked the incoming stock, and it showed 1. I called this morning and it’s currently awaiting for my arrival in customer service! Now…..I have to go back to work and anxiously await.

  • Matt B says:

    Sounds like we are in the same boat. Started out on easy with legacy, now moving up to a real guitar. I’ve never touched a real guitar before, but now I’m excited to start to learn. I’m sure I’ll start taking lessons someday. (I’ve also bought a real drum set because of Rock Band).

  • Branden Dae says:

    Got one today at a non-Musician Store while on an “extended” break when they opened. Called yesterday and confirmed they had 2 in stock and ready to sell come store opening.
    Got there, none on shelf, and one employee who kept blowing me off about it. Got a second guy to help me and a third guy who yelled out twice, “We only have one left!” The second guy who got the two from the back room and said one was already sold (HOW?! It’s in your hand! Oh right, the yelling employee claimed that one). While checking out, the guy who blew me off came up to us and the second guy told him, “It’s not protected.” Figured he wanted the one I had. Hope no one else gets tricked into thinking the computer shows “1″ but an employee claims it, b/c it could have easily been “2″ claimed and me with nothing. Shady.
    Anyways, don’t care anymore, I got what I wanted, hope to enjoy it tonight after work!

  • Doom878 says:

    I’ve seen non music dept Best Buy have these. As of this morning there was stock, but not anymore.

  • ricecake says:

    I got my Squier back in December and posted my review of it here:
    http://rockband.scorehero.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=33103

    I have my MIDI Pro adapter attached to the guitar, and find it much more accessible this way. However, I tilt to activate overdrive with this guitar.

  • paul says:

    if you are looking for it at your local best buy you might going here:
    http://www.bestbuy.com/site/Squier%26%23174%3B+-+Rock+Band+3+Game+Guitar+-+Black/1601028.p?skuId=1601028&id=1218272665437
    and clicking on the check stores link next to the store pickup option so you can if any of the best buys near you have it “in stock”.

  • Pancho says:

    I can’t wait until noobs begin complaining to Harmonix that the guitar is giving them blisters.

  • Game!Ov3r says:

    Still $300 is a lot on a tight budget. The wife would choke me out if I bought this for Rock Band… I do have an Esteban if anyone wants to trade for the Squier…. straight up :)

  • Nice review! I managed to grab one of these up at a Best Buy here in Minnesota yesterday. Slim pickings from what I can tell around town.

    Check this out though! I’m blogging about my 1 year long journey to rock using the RB3 Squier as an instructional tool. check out the blog:

    http://www.garagebandproject.com

    Brent

  • Dorkmaster Flek says:

    I want this so badly. Why must you hate Canada, Fender? :P Time to hit up Ebay…

  • RickC32 says:

    My pre-order from Bestbuy.com went on backorder. :-(

    So I reserved it in-store via the web, on my morning commute via my cell phone, before the store even opened. None of the Best Buys in Manhattan had it, but one Best Buy about 30 minutes from my house in the suburbs had it.

    It is a thing of beauty. I have not played guitar since I was in my early teens (I am 35 now), and I was not all that good. I switched to bass around high school because there were already a lot of guitarists around much better than me, and more bands needed a bassist.

    It will be interesting to go back to 6-strings. I never practiced much back in the day because it was boring and solitary. Getting the instant feedback from the game of whether you are playing correctly will really be up my alley. And if I really suck, I can fall back on Pro Bass. Strings are a little thin and close together, but I’ll adjust while I wait for the Fender Precision Rock Band 3 Pro Bass controller to come out. :-)

    I just need my XBox MIDI Adapter to arrive! It is somewhere in transit in Ohio, per UPS.

  • Tyris says:

    Would be nice if best buys website actually had enough stock to fulfil my pre-order… I guess I’ll have to cancel and import one from Germany when they release in a month =\

  • the Dave says:

    My best buy got one it today, sadly they got no MIDI adapters! : (

  • Beeman says:

    I didn’t pre-order the guitar.. (I didn’t know how much faith to have in Best Buy as far as pre-orders go). This morning I woke up and checked online and there were no stores in my entire state (AZ) that had any in stock (according to the website).. Soooo.. I called my local store and just asked them instead. The store had received ONE, so I bought it over the phone 3 minutes after the store opened. I picked it up along with Rock Band 3 after work. (I had already bought the Midi Adapter and had it waiting @ home.

    I went and picked it up after work, came home and played pro-guitar tutorials for 3 hours straight.. I am a beginner guitarist. I have an acoustic already and know a couple of riffs from a couple of songs on it.. I am typing this with a blister on my left ring finger and a smile on my face.

    Its a very fun experience and does a good job of increasing the difficulty a little at a time. I got stuck on Sedated by the Ramones (I’m at the lesson where it forces you to go through the song part by part on medium).. I got stuck at the next to the last section.. I can play it by heart but some how I keep messing up and the guitar doesnt read both strings as being strummed or something else stupid.. (Maybe I’ll have more luck with healed fingers and a fresh start)

    For those of you looking for the guitar, don’t just rely on the website.. CALL THE STORE and have them physically check if there is a guitar in stock..

  • Matt says:

    Picked mine up yesterday and like it so far. Haven’t had a chance to really get deep into it, but I’m excited to see how it goes about teaching certain things. I’ve played guitar for 22 years and took lessons for the first 8 or so.

    My main complaints are with Best Buy. Like many, I pre-ordered online after Fender sent the email that said you could. I was hoping, as it happens with some games/electronics, for the piece to arrive on release day at my house. No such luck, though, as it still said “pre-ordered” on 2/28. As others have reported, on 3/1 it changed from pre-ordered to backordered.

    At first, I didn’t think much of it since everything has been pushed back so many times, but then I came here and read the comments that some were being sold at their local stores and I got rather perturbed. I had no idea why they would ship an item to a store in small numbers (two at most, it seems) that may or may not sell rather than send it to someone whose PAYMENT IS READY AND CONFIRMED. I started calling my local stores (Cleveland, OH) and found that they all had received at least one, some two, but were sold out. My wife’s sister works at Best Buy and searched one out that was hidden in the store (the person I spoke to on the phone said they were sold out) and set it aside with my name. Then I had to go buy it and call to cancel my preorder.

    Anyhow, long story short, if you’re going to pony up for “exclusivity” and push pre-ordering online you should put a TINY bit of thought into how you work this process.

    • mrkiammi says:

      Matt and others lSOB: would you say, the guitar is ready for playing
      out of the box, or does it need some adjustment, (strings and such??)
      how are the strings ??
      and congrats with the squier

      • RockBandAide says:

        To play in Rock Band 3, you just hook everything up and you’re good to go. To play outside of the game, you will have to do more setup and maintenance.

      • Matt says:

        Ready for playing out of the box. The strings are pretty decent. .09 gauge, probably Fender brand, one would assume. Still seems a little silly to not include picks (some RB branded Fender picks seems like a no brainer), but other than that it’s good to go.

        The action on the strings is a lot higher then I have my Les Paul set at. Have had some troubles with the high E string registering. Might take Reldan’s advise and lower the action a little bit.

    • RockBandAide says:

      Yeah, that’s Best Buy for you. If you asked them that question, like most companies they’ll tell you something like “Well, Best Buy is a separate company from Best Buy Online,” which is such a cop out, IMHO.

  • Matt B says:

    Just got mine today. A little disappointed- maybe because I’m not playing it right. It doesn’t seem sensitive enough to pick up plucks- especially when doing multiple strings. Maybe mine’s broken?

    I was trying to do The Con on Hard, and I cannot do the beginning at all, when I 5 starred it on the Mustang.

  • Reldan says:

    I’ve been playing with mine all evening. There are three ways you may need to adjust the sensitivity for detecting plucks.

    1) Adjust the height of the pick-up. This is the boxy looking thing below the string near the bottom. There are a couple small phillips head screws on either side that let you adjust how close to the string the pick-up is. The farther away, the less sensitive.

    2) Adjust the height of the string themselves. Where the strings attach to the base are a pair of tiny hex-screws that match the small allen wrench included with the guitar. These adjust how high each individual string is. Again, the closer to the pick-up the more sensitive it will be.

    3) Inside the battery box are a couple of small phillips head screws holding in a thin plastic strip. Take these out and underneath are 6 gold potentiometers – one for each string. Loosen them (counter-clockwise) to increase sensitivity and tighten them (clockwise) to decrease sensitivity.

    A combination of these adjustments has my guitar, which originally would barely register the G or high E, working fine.

  • Epsilon says:

    I don’t blame the review for not noticing this, because it’s pretty obscure and probably very unlikely to cause a problem for someone who had played extensively with the Mustang before the Squier came out, but for anyone who doesn’t have a Pro Guitar yet and is looking at the Squier, you need to be aware that there’s a nasty bug exclusive to the Squier that prevents you from getting stars recorded on any songs that go beyond the 17th fret in the chart (and there are much more of these than you might think.) This makes getting Progress goals, among others, impossible to get with the Squier alone at this point. Hopefully Harmonix will patch this quickly, but it’s something to definitely be aware of.

    • RockBandAide says:

      I didn’t discover the problem because I never encountered it. I’m hearing other people are, but it is not something that I ran into.

      • Epsilon says:

        Right, and I should have made it clearer; you wouldn’t have encountered it because it was clear that you had already played a significant amount of Pro Guitar with the Mustang, so you would have already had stars recorded (and the goals unlocked.) But anyone who passed on the Mustang in favor of waiting for the Squier are going to find it impossible to get most of the Song Progress goals for Pro Guitar. Combined with the inability to see at a glance on the song selection list how many stars you’ve earned, this is a pretty serious problem.

        You can see the bug if you play (using the Squier) a particular song that goes above the 17th fret, say Sister Christian, for example. When you finish the song, the solo result panel will show no stars, even though the more prominent band star display at the top will show what you actually got. This won’t be as noticeable for someone who’s already recorded a three-star Mustang score (and thus unlocked progress toward the goal), but it’s definitely there.