Friday, February 21, 2014

21 February 2014 - Review of Rocksmith 2014 Songs Part I

I’m all over the place lately. And, now that certain networks and/or browsers don’t seem to support Blogspot, it’s a little harder for me to make regular posts. But, I’m still playing RS almost every night for an hour or three. For the most part, my elbow injury hasn’t hurt my playing any (but since I’ve never been that good . . . that’s not saying much). Sometimes it’s a little difficult to play certain chords high on the neck. My wrist just doesn’t want to bend quite as much as it used to. 

A week or two ago I brought home the “new” used Schecter Elite S-1 and Peavey bass. The bass has a bad buzz which I’m sure can be easily adjusted out by raising the saddles, adjusting the neck, or possibly putting on a new nut. I’ll get to that soon enough. Should do it myself, I suppose. I took the little Carvin Vintage 16 back to GC. Hated to let it go, but I needed the money more than I needed another amp. Plus, as a great comedian once noted, “You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?”

Anyway, before I got the Schecter all tuned up, I decided to sort my song list by “Tuning” and then play through all the songs with non-standard tunings at least once each. So, I tuned the S-1 to D standard, played all the D-standard songs, worked my way up through the E-flats and E-flat/Drop-D-flats, and finally back to standard E tuning. That way I wasn’t tuning up and down; for each new tuning I just raised the pitch a little bit until I got back up to standard E (A-440) tuning.

This gave me a chance to see which new RS2014 songs I liked and which ones I’d never bother de-tuning my guitar to play again. No point boring you with my list of likes and dislikes because yours will almost surely be different. But, I will give you a brief summary of the odd-ball tuned songs from RS14. Here goes:
[insert song summaries for odd-tunings here]

Mountain River – Easy and fun jam. This is one of those rare songs that will make even a marginal beginner feel like a rock star. Easy to play but still sounds cool. Mostly on the top three strings with a reasonable solo.

E-flat, Drop D-flat
Heart-Shaped Box – Classic Nirvana. Somewhat challenging. Not that Nirvana’s stuff is all that hard, but because there are several variations on the riff it would be damn tricky for normal people to memorize this one and pass “master” level on Score Attack. I’m sure plenty of guitar-gods have already done it, but if I ever pull it off it’ll be pure luck. The riff itself isn’t that tough; it’s just trying to remember which variation on the riff goes where (if you played it live, you could mix them up or just play the same riff every time and nobody would notice). Not much of a solo, which helps. The chorus has a pronounced bend on the G-string which is a little hard to get; I found that bending down instead of up helped.

Once I got through all the odd-ball songs on the regular RS14 song list, I was in a “try everything once” mood and just continued playing everything on the new song list that I hadn’t played yet. This was partly motivated by the fact that there is an XBox Achievement for trying all the songs at least once. But, I’ve got to tell you – I like this approach. I just started at the top of the alphabetically sorted song list and started working my way down. There have been some pleasant surprises, songs that I’d never heard of by groups that I’ve never heard of, which I really like. These are the ones I’ll go back and work on mastering. Others I’ll probably never play again (I wish there were a way to delete some of them from my XBox . . .)
Except for the songs which I totally hated, I played just about everything 2 or 3 times just to level them up enough to get an honest feel for the song.

Blitzkrieg Bop
Dead easy. 4-chord basic rocker. Not even full-blown chords. Just double-stop power 5ths. Maxed out all phrases in 2 plays with a 98% overall. Almost anyone could probably play from memory in less than a dozen tries.

Taken for a Fool
Slow rock, 70s-style. This reminds me of Hall and Oates kind of stuff from when I was a kid. Not real flashy guitar stuff, but sort of nice, mellow fills and solo work.
All I Wanna Do

Peace of Mind (Boston)
Full disclosure: I love Boston and always have. I like Scholz’s guitar tones. I like his solos. I like the instrumentation and overall production. There’s pretty much nothing about Boston’s music that I don’t like. And, since this is classic Boston, naturally I love this song. And, it’s not impossibly hard to play. Not super easy but the lead part is a lot easier to play than I would have guessed. It’s reasonable but challenging. Important to note that much of the guitar work on this song is rhythm guitar. The signature intro, for example, is an acoustic chord strum. Lead also has quite a bit of chord strumming.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The New Rocksmith 2014 DLC System - DLC as Locked Songs in Your Song List

5 February 2014

Been playing just about every night until 1:30 or 2:00 and it’s killing me. Or at least making me very tired and possibly sick. I skipped Monday night in favor of getting more than 4 hours of sleep for a change. Tuesday I woke up – barely – sick as a dog and called into work. Stayed in bed the entire day except for dinner, and then I played for maybe an hour or so. Still got to bed by midnight which is early by recent standards.

The latest DLC is out (R.E.M.) and I noticed that they’ve started adding new DLC to our song list as locked songs. I see good and bad in this. More bad than good for players, though. On one hand, if you want to buy new DLC, you don’t have to hunt it down in the online store. Just click on it in the song list and you go straight to the buying page. Kind of handy. On the other hand, song lists will get much longer fast and include more songs that you might never want to buy. Now we’ll have to scroll through a bunch of stuff that we may not want. Plus, I’m guessing this new approach is taking up at least some additional memory on my console, and I definitely don’t like that.

Thanks to the new sorting feature in RS2014, navigating a growing song list is a little easier to work around. Just mark all the stuff you like or even think you might like as Favorites and then sort your song list on Favorites; everything that isn’t a Favorite will be grouped at one end of your song list. (Sorting on Owned songs would presumably group all the unpurchased DLC at one end of your song list or the other, but then you’d still have a bunch of “non-favorite” songs mixed in alphabetically with stuff you like.)
The easy answer would be to allow players to sort the song list on 2 or more criteria. Owned songs AND favorites, for example.

I really don’t want all the new DLC showing up in my song list as locked songs. If I want to buy DLC, I know where to go. There are some songs that came with the game that I’d like to delete, and there’s a bunch of DLC that I’ll never buy. This new arrangement will just add more “junk” to cull through to get to the songs I like.

On a more positive DLC-related note, I watched the R.E.M. DLC preview video and was very relieved to see that even the pros who play in those videos get some “Missed” notes! I really get angry with myself (or RS) when I get a “miss,” but clearly much better players than I miss some notes, too.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Scale Racer, Hurtlin' Hurdles, and General Rocksmith-ing (10-day Recap)

27 January 2014 (Monday)

Looks like I haven’t posted anything for 10 days, so I’m behind. A brief recap for the past 10 days:

10-day Recap:
Played Space Ostrich, My Generation, Pour Some Sugar on Me, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen on Lead.
Played Walk This Way, When I’m Gone, and Surf Hell on Bass.
Got into the top 10 on Leaderboards for 3 songs (Walk This Way and Surf Hell – bass, Pour Some Sugar on Me – lead).
Unlocked Stuff: gear (PS115.2C monitors on stand), 4 sets of skins, two fret inlays (Red Storm and Star), a song (Sea to Swallow), and XBox Achievement “.25% of 10,000 hour Rule.”
[*Note: 1% of 10,000 hours is 100 hours. So, .25% is 25 hours of Rocksmith playing – minus all the hours that didn’t get credited when my stupid router wouldn’t stay connected to XBL.]
Had one total lock-up that required a complete XBox restart.

The Weekend – Scales and Smooth
Didn’t have much time to play all weekend. Picked up the old acoustic yesterday afternoon finally and messed around with the G-Maj scale for about 10 minutes but then had to drop kids off for various sports activities. (Also, I went ice skating while kids were doing their thing.) Last night I finally did some Rocksmithing.

First I tried Hurtling Hurdles, the vibrato Guitarcade game, because it was one of my missions. Probably won’t bother with that again unless I find myself needing to really work on pick-vibratos. That’s all there is to that game. You just pick really, really fast and change strings. And mute strings. Not much to it. Not saying I got a killer score, just that I’m not likely to try to get a killer score. It’s a fun little game for what it is but I just didn’t find it terribly useful as far as playing guitar goes.

Guitar Noise
I might have done better using a different guitar. The Michael Kelly is still really noisy, which could be a problem in Hurtlin’ Hurdles since you have to mute strings to jump. You have to jump to clear hurdles and also to grab “Gold Bolts.” All the string noise my MK makes made it really hard to jump since RS probably couldn’t tell when I had muted anything. A little research suggests that I have a string grounding problem on this guitar – either the ground wire is not connected well or possibly the input jack is wired backwards. I’ll check that out. I really like the guitar but it’s just way too noisy.

After playing around with vibrato picking, I did some scale work. I really finked out on that last year, but I plan to start doing 5-10 minutes of scales every session. Scale Racer is my preferred scale game. I’ve tried Scale Warriors but I guess I’m just more of a motorhead at heart. Not so much into the martial arts theme of Scale Warrior. I played the G Pentatonic for a little bit and then switched to the full-blown G-Major scale. Scale racer is good for working scales. Unlike the old Scale Runner in ORS, Scale Racer gets you playing the scale all over the neck. I highly recommend it, although the longer you survive, the faster the game goes; the only way to slow down and regroup is to take an exit ramp. Easier said than done. You do that by playing the designated string/fret when the banner pops up on the side, but your timing needs to be good – otherwise you crash and burn. And start all over. 

After my scale work, I got down to LAS mode on Smooth. I really like this song and I want to be able to play it well. So far I have not burned out on it, but it has been a little frustrating. It’s not what I’d call a super hard song. Most of it, in fact, is really easy. Yet, I’m still down around 69% overall. I’ve RR-ed most of the phrases and have all but a couple of phrases levelled all the way up. I have not really worked on transitions from phrase to phrase yet, but it’s not actually playing the transitions that kills me. It’s just trying to remember what’s coming. You have to be ready for the next phrase or it’ll catch you flat footed. Last night I ran through the song once in LAS, then did some work in RR, and then worked on Score Attack.

Score Attack has really challenged me on this one. I got a decent enough score in Easy level, but the Medium level is more like Hard. Like I said, I have almost every phrase levelled all the way up. On Medium level, it seems like you’ve got to have all the phrases levelled up. I can’t imagine what Hard will be like. . . After several attempts and restarts, I finally managed to get through the Medium level with no strikes. My first Gold run on Medium. But, my score is still low – 189,595. That’s quite a bit lower than my high score on Easy – 228,499. But, at least I’m making some progress and can get through the song on Medium with no strikes occasionally.

Random Musings
A few nights ago I broke out the Gretsch just because I felt guilty for not playing it for so long. I think I’ll have to keep that one, but the Ibanez Artcore will probably have to go. It’s a nice player and a really nice guitar overall, but I just don’t need two hollow-bodies.

Current Inventory (sort of in ranked order): 
·         Fender MIM Telecaster
·         Gretsch Electromatic hollow body
·         PRS Tremonti SE
·         Michael Kelly Valor II with split coil humbuckers
·         Ibanez Artcore hollow body
·         Epiphone Les Paul Special with P90s
·         Frankenstrat (Yamaha EG112 H-S-S with generic replacement neck of unknown make) – actually a very nice player
·         Yamaha bass – model unknown

Like I said recently, once I’ve got the new Schecter and Peavey bass out of layaway, I’m laying off the guitar buying this year. I’m looking forward to making some improvements on what I’ve got (or at least on what I’m keeping). Better grounding, shielding, maybe some pick-up potting. A little neck work. Possibly some experiments with different bridges and nuts. Upgraded pick-ups if I can find a good deal. Stuff like that. Also depending on what I end up selling, maybe some refinishing work on the PRS Tremonti (SE) and Yamaha bass. In another year or two, if I can settle on what I really like and what I don’t like, I might sell all of it and order a custom Carvin. We’ll see.

Friday, January 17, 2014

My Brush with Rock Fame

17 January 2014

I salvaged the 2011 ESP catalog from the waste basket in my den last night. Showed it to my wife and she agreed that the ESP artist line-up was heavy on tattoos and freaky-looking types.

Didn’t play any Rocksmith or guitar yesterday at all, but I did sit in on drums at an open mic night last night. Considering I haven’t even picked up a drum stick since around July, I’d say it went very well. Honestly, I’d say it went pretty well even if I had been playing fairly regularly. It’s like riding a bike. I do wish they’d start some of these open mic things a little earlier. 10:00 for a start time is a tad late-ish for people who have regular day jobs. But, I was there for a friend of mine and I try to support him when I can. Like I told him, if I hadn’t gone to the open mic thing, I’d have probably just stayed up ‘til 2:00 playing Rocksmith anyway.

Had to pass up a pretty good deal on a Breedlove acoustic-electric yesterday. $249 brand new from MF was a nice price, but one of the last things in the world I need right now is another guitar. I have two in layaway at GC as we speak on top of the several I already have at the house. It’s ridiculous. Plus, I have a pick-up to put in my acoustics; I bought it on clearance over a year ago and I’ve never taken it out of the package! And, if I got a new acoustic, I’d have to get rid of one of my other two acoustics. I’ll never get rid of my Alvarez – just too much sentimental value. I borrowed money from my dad to buy that guitar 36 years ago. I still have the receipts for the payments I made to Dad. Might sound mean that my dad actually made me pay him back, but I was (and still am) damn proud that I bought that guitar myself. A hundred and eighty bucks was a chunk of change for a 14-year old kid in 1977. So, the Alvarez will be part of my estate when I’m gone. That leaves the Ibanez I bought new for $90 last year. If I get rid of that one, what will I drag around to ballparks this summer? Not my Alvarez, that’s for sure. And, probably not a brand new $250 Breedlove. So, no Breedlove. In fact, probably no more guitars at all until I get rid of a bunch of stuff I’ve already got lying around the house and garage.

Talking about iconic rock venues yesterday got me thinking about two of the better-known venues in Indy and the bands who played them. One band in particular stuck in my head all these years, mainly because I got to play with them – almost – once. It’s my only brush with rock-n-roll fame and fortune and it ended abruptly when The Patio wouldn’t let me in because I was under 21.

I’m not even sure how I hooked up with Roadmaster, but somehow I had gotten acquainted with their bass player, Peter Bailey. Peter replaced Toby Myers when Toby left Roadmaster. Toby Myers, you may or may not know, was John Mellencamp’s bass player from about 1977 to 1994. One night when I was still a teenager, Peter introduced me to Toby backstage at The Vogue. That’s about as close to being a rockstar as I ever got. Roadmaster was going to let me sit in for a few songs at The Patio, another venue a few blocks away the next night. I showed up and did the sound check and things went well. But, when I showed up later that evening to actually play, The Patio wouldn’t let me inside because I was too young. Both The Vogue and The Patio are in an area that used to be frequented by college kids, which in turn attracted lots of local high school kids. Can’t blame the bars for protecting their liquor licenses, but I can blame Indiana for having a law that says you have to be 21 years old to even enter a bar. I think that’s a stupid law anywhere, but it’s a particularly ironic law for a state where they sell hard liquor at Wal-Mart. I just wanted to play drums. If I wanted to drink, keeping me out of The Patio wasn’t going to stop me. 

A year or two later I also met Mellencamp’s drummer, Kenny Aronoff, when he did a free drum clinic at the old Fred’s Drum Shop in Indy. If either Kenny or Toby had even a vague memory of me, I’d be very surprised.

Back to Surf Hell, Pour Some Sugar on Me and Tackling Score Attack

16 January 2014

Finally cut off and went to bed at a more reasonable hour last night. 1:00 AM. That’s a whole hour better than what I’ve been doing this week.

Last night was back to guitar, playing the PRS Tremonti. I was thinking about selling that guitar off, but it’s quite a nice guitar and I like it. Plus, it’s one of only two (electric) guitars I still own that weren’t used when I bought them. It just had some aesthetic “battle damage” that could easily be fixed, so I got a “good deal” on it (but haven’t fixed the damage yet). What I have not played at all for quite a long, long time is my Gretcsh Electromatic hollow-body. I’ve also been ignoring my Ibanez Artcore hollow-body for quite a while. Probably shouldn’t have bought those. Bad case of GAS last year. Apparently I haven’t completely recovered; I’ll pick up that Schecter and the Peavey bass within a few weeks. But after that, I’m done. For a while. Really. I’m actually kind of burned out. This year I’ll focus on improving the guitars I already own: shielding, better pots, maybe potted pick-ups, maybe some new pick-ups. Possibly a capacitor mod I read about somewhere. Stuff like that.

I had been looking for a guitar with the input jack on the front of the body. I just don’t like having the cord sticking straight out of the back end like it does on most guitars. I do have a 90-degree adapter, but that doesn’t work on every guitar. It won’t work with my Telecaster because the jack on my Tele is countersunk into the body. Getting a stand would probably solve the biggest issue: setting my guitar down on the floor with the plug sticking straight out. All things considered, I really wonder why somebody hasn’t made a guitar where the cord plugs into the back of the body. I may have to try doing that mod.

Last night I didn’t feel like getting into anything too complicated. So, I went back to Surf Hell to clean it up and get it re-mastered. Took a couple of minutes to get the main riff. Eventually I forced myself to quit thinking about it and just play it, which worked. Also, as I pointed out before, the new RS2014 “Lead” arrangement is slightly easier than the old RS “combo” version. No chords in the 2014 version. So, now I got all the phrases leveled up again pretty easily.

Then I did the Score Attack thing. I got reasonable scores on Easy and Medium levels, but I had to cheat on Medium. Remember this was one of the first songs I ever played (if not THE first song I ever played) in Master Mode – so there’s some muscle memory involved. Backing down to “Easy” on Score Attack was, well, easy. Because there are so few notes at the Easy level I can just sight-read my way through the Easy level. At the Medium level, however, there are too many notes for me to sight read at full speed, and, since I already know the whole song, I’m really trying to figure out what notes to omit – not which ones to play. That’s sort of hard to do. I thought about forcing myself to do it for the challenge but then I said, “Screw it,” and just played all the notes as if I were in Hard/Master level. That’s cheating, right? Or is it? The ethical dilemmas of playing guitar. . .

I suppose I could have just skipped Medium and gone straight to Hard, but I have some OCD issues. I like to complete stuff, and skipping the Medium level would have bugged me forever. I still think about going back to finish law school even though I hated it and don’t particularly want to be a lawyer. Except I’d like the money.  

Since I was playing the Hard level notes on Medium, you’d think I’d have nailed Hard level and shot straight to the top of the L/B. But, I didn’t. I got a Gold run on the first pass and then a Platinum run and pretty good scores, but I was sloppy and I posted something like a 770,500 or so.

Turns out Platinum may not mean 100% accuracy after all. I got a Platinum run but my accuracy was only 99.something %. Not sure if there’s a software glitch or if I just guessed wrong on the standard for Platinum in Score Attack. I kind of think there’s a glitch. Riff Repeater has been a little wonky lately, too; sometimes it’ll level me up or accelerate me when I’ve botched more than one note on a phrase.

Master level just killed me. Yeah, I can get through Surf Hell from memory with no strikes, but posting a L/B-worthy score is a-whole-nother story. I was missing one note somewhere and that put me toward the bottom of the heap on the Master-level L/B. Like the bass part on We Three Kings, getting 100% accuracy just gets you on the board. To get a top-end slot here I needed to hit all the notes AND play them precisely on time. But, I couldn’t even hit all the notes. Instead of beating myself up for another 2 hours, I called it quits after a few reasonable attempts and resolved to come back to this song some other night. Sometimes you just have to know when to make a strategic retreat.

After my “workout” I looked for a “just for fun” song to run through once or twice. Unfortunately, the Lead arrangement for You Really Got Me, like the bass arrangement, uses some weird, non-standard tuning. So, I passed on that one for the second night in a row. The Joe Satriani song, Satch, sounds interesting but hardly something I’d be able to play “for fun!”

Since the bass part was pretty easy the other night, I decided to run through Pour Some Sugar on Me on lead guitar. Not exactly “easy,” but I managed to get the basics figured out in a couple of runs. Mainly what you’ve got here is your classic I, IV, V power chord progression in E (E5, A5, and B5). Just the sort of simple stuff on which many a rock star has built both a career and a mansion. That was it for the night.

I did an official count before I shut down the box and so far I’ve played 29 songs on RS2014. Nine of those songs are new RS2014 songs. Some of those new ones I’ve only played once or twice in multi-player mode with my son, but I’ve played more new stuff than I realized. Still, slightly over 2/3 of the songs I’ve been playing since I got RS2014 are songs from the old Rocksmith or DLC that came out before RS2014 was released. Not quite sure what that means, if anything. But, there it is.
I’ve warmed up to RS2014, but I still miss the gamey “journey” concept of the old RS, especially the old venues. I just really enjoyed playing in all these different places – like actually being on tour. Of course, the crowds were exactly the same at every single venue, but it was easy to “suspend disbelief” and enjoy the illusion. I always hoped they’d add on to the venues and maybe even reproduce some real-life venues in the game – like The Cavern, Red Rocks, The Fillmore, or even Woodstock. They could also have coordinated with some smaller local venues for the lower levels of play, giving the venues exposure and giving the game a more realistic (and, to me, more fun) feel. The Vogue or The Patio in Indianapolis come to mind since that’s where I started out. I’m sure almost every city and college town in the country has their own to add. Alas, it seems that aspect of RS is dead and buried and we’re left with some incredible and still very fun learning software. Not complaining. Just reminiscing.