Rock Band vs Guitar Hero 3: The Guitars

I’m a Johnny-come-lately to this whole world of ‘virtual guitars.’ I finally picked up Guitar Hero 3 a couple of weeks ago, and today Rock Band arrived. I’d found it really confusing, trying to decide which one to get. So in the end I got both. Great economics, huh? I thought I might capture my impressions in a series of posts, in case anyone else is trying to pick one of the two.

These posts are based on the PS3 versions of the games. I’m not going to go into a whole big thing about console preference. I have a PS3, an XBox 360 and a Wii, and my personal preference is for the PS3 over the XBox 360, mostly because its a lot quieter when its running, and because I don’t care about online multiplayer.

Guitar Hero III w/Guitar Controller will run you about $100. The Rock Band bundle is $170 and comes with a guitar controller, drum set controller, and a microphone. Right there, you have a compelling reason to go with Rock Band if you’re living in a multi-gamer household.

On the PS3, the controllers are not interchangeable at this time, though as of this writing there are heavy rumors of a patch that will let you use the GH 3 guitar controller with Rock Band. My understanding is that on the 360, the GH 3 controller will work with Rock Band, but not vice versa.

Let’s compare the two guitar controllers. This is a definite ‘out of the box’ comparison. I haven’t actually played Rock Band as of the time of this writing. 🙂 But the differences just struck me so I wanted to capture them right away.

Both guitars come in two pieces. The GH 3 one comes as a guitar body and a neck/headstock. The two pieces snap together. The RB guitar comes as a body/neck component, and the headstock snaps on. What this means is that with the Rock Band controller, all the actual electronics are in one piece, which may or may not end up significant down the road. Both go together very solidly and I don’t think there’s any way to get them apart again.

The RB controller is slightly larger than the GH 3 one, and it has a second set of ‘frets’ (buttons) close to the body. The strum bar of the GH 3 makes a distinct clicking sound when you strum it; the Rock Band one is quieter. The battery compartment of the RB instrument is kept closed with a small screw, which is a pain, IMO. I tend to use rechargeable batteries which don’t last as long as alkalines. On the other hand, the RB guitar has an on/off switch, while the GH one shuts off on its own after some period of no activity.

Both guitars are wireless (not sure if this is true on the 360 version) and both require a dongle. THe GH 3 dongle is shaped like an oversized guitar pick, and its smaller than the rectangular RB dongle. I let the GH 3 dongle dangle (since my PS3 is on the edge of a stand) and don’t worry about it. The RB dongle I might worry about and try to reposition things so its resting on something. We’ll see.

The GH 3 guitar is modeled on a Gibson Les Paul (so they tell me, I know squat about guitars). It’s glossy black, and if not for the brightly colored fret buttons would look fairly stylish (well, relatively speaking). It comes with a bunch of stickers to let kids customize the body. The strap connects to the far end of the body, and then to either the ‘shoulder’ of the body or the back of the neck. In addition to the strum & whammy bars, there’re PS3, Start and Select buttons as well as a D-Pad on the face of the body. The PS3 button doubles as a wireless ‘connect’ button.

The RB guitar is a bit bigger than the GH 3 and its modeled on a Fender Stratocaster (I’ll try to get some pics next time the sun is shining and there’s good light). The fret-buttons are a lot more subtle, and generally the guitar looks more authentic, but the bone-yellow of the neck has the look of cheap plastic, to me. I’m not actually commenting on the quality of the plastic here…I’m just saying it has that color of “we’re making this plastic thing and don’t want to spend any money on dye” plastic (for all I know that’s an authentic color…I’m no guitar expert). The strap here connects to the end of the body on one end, and then to either of the points of the ‘shoulder’, the idea being if you’re left-handed you can flip the whole thing around. A nice touch. The face of the body holds the same controls as the GH 3, plus a recessed “Connect” button (for the wireless connection) and a small toggle lever that I haven’t discovered the purpose of yet.

That’s as far as we can go tonight. I will add that the microphone included with the Rock Band bundle is a hand-held, wired mike (with a usb plug) that will probably make singing along to tunes a lot of fun. I was expecting them to just throw in a headset mike or something. Hopefully you can optionally use a headset mike, for when 1 person wants to play an instrument and sing at the same time, but for pure singing, the packed in mike looks like a nice choice.

The drum kit comes in a large and intimidating box… I’ll get to that tomorrow.