Thursday, March 8, 2012

Kid Rock(smith) - How Old is Old Enough & Guitars for Kids

I recently posted about playing Rocksmith with my kids and a friend asked me how old I think kids need to be before they can join in the fun. My short answer is that kids can play as soon as they're old enough to hold a real guitar. And, I think that's a fair answer.

As I told Tim, I'm not an expert in musical education, child development, or guitars. But, my experience tells me that kids "get" Rocksmith intuitively. The "note highway" makes sense to them and they can pick it up with minimal explanation. The biggest obstacle to getting them in on the fun is whether they can physically manage a guitar. I've already written about using inexpensive guitars to play Rocksmith. Tim's question got me thinking about guitars that you might buy specifically for your kids to play Rocksmith.

So, here's the question of the day: What (electric) guitars are out there that kids can use to play Rocksmith?

The first thing I am going to say is DO NOT BUY A TOY GUITAR! I mean, if you want a toy guitar, that's fine. A First Act guitar from Wal-Mart might actually work, but my experience with First Act guitar strings tells me that you'd be wasting your money. (http://myrocksmithjourney.blogspot.com/2012/02/guitars-for-rocksmith-lesson-in-how-far.html).

A cheap guitar is one thing. A toy is a toy. Rocksmith isn't really a "game," so why play it with a toy? In the name of fairness, I may try using a First Act toy guitar on RS just to see. . . Meanwhile, let's talk about real guitars, including cheap ones.

My son is 11, pretty average in size, and has been playing a full-sized Fender Squier Strat. I think the Strat is more than he can really manage. He seems to have problems reaching the first few frets, so I plan to let him try my LP Junior. I just got my Epi Junior used from an auction site this week and I think Ubisoft/Rocksmith made the perfect choice when they decided to bundle the Epi LP Junior with Rocksmith game software. Mine sounds great and has better sustain (I think due to the hardtail bridge) than my Epi LP Special II. Junior also has a slightly shorter neck than my Special or the full-sized Squier Strat. Still, it is a full-sized adult guitar and it's pretty heavy. Might still too much guitar for really young kids.

My daughter plays a Washburn Lyon L115. It's full-scale, but the body is fibreglas and very light. Even though it's pink and glittery, I love this guitar because it doesn't make my shoulder sore! And, although it was very inexpensive (another online auction purchase), it works on Rocksmith just fine - stays in tune, has adjustable intonation, and offers surprisingly good sustain.

My friends at the local GC were eager to help. They had just received a used 3/4 scale guitar which they're selling for $85. They also had a brand new 3/4 scale Squier Strat for just $99. I ask you, what kid wouldn't absolutely pee their pants if they found one of these under the Christmas tree or next to their birthday cake? As the term would suggest, these guitars are approximately 25% smaller than their full-sized siblings. This would make them fairly easy to handle for young children.

A caution, however. My friend at the Guitar Center tells me that scaled-down guitars can be harder to keep in tune. Tuning is a critical issue in Rocksmith. If you're out of tune, you're not getting points. But, Rocksmith does force you to tune frequently. So, perhaps this is a self-correcting issue. Or not. The reason the 3/4 scale guitars go out of tune may be that the strings are short. I wonder if this might cause them to go sharp, but I don't know. Let's find out.

In addition to finding a piece of junk First Act toy Strat to test, I'll see the my friends at the local GC will let me "borrow" one of the 3/4 scale guitars to play RS with. I'm sure there are plenty of websites and reviews and blogs all over the internet discussing scaled down guitars - but not for Rocksmith. So, I'll do one here. I'll video tape some kids playing if possible and post results, along with arm length, distance to headstock, etc. Most importantly, I'll see if there are significant tuning issues with the smaller guitars.

Stay tuned.

4 comments:

  1. FYI, there are a couple of 1/2 scale electrics out there, but 1) i think they need to be tuned up to A - and that would not work with rocksmith ;-) and 2) none are from 'reputable' companies.

    I am interested to hear how it goes with some smaller kids.

    Thanks
    ~Tim

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  2. I'm very interested in your findings. This is exactly what I was looking for. My son wants a guitar for his 11th birthday so he can play Rocksmith with me. He has a child's guitar, but it's impossible to tune properly with rs. Thank you.

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  3. Tom: Depending on how big/small your son is, you may not need to get a kid's sized guitar. My son (also 11) is maybe slightly tall for his age but not freakishly big or anything. He plays a regular sized Squier Strat. It's a little bit of a reach for him but he manages. I would recommend taking your son to a shop and let him hold a Les Paul Junior. They're full-sized guitars which tune like normal but they have a slightly shorter neck. They can be a bit heavy, so you might want to invest in a wide strap if you go that route. My daughter's Washburn L112 is also a very manageable full-sized axe which is also extremely lightweight. Works just fine on RS, too. Both of my kids play multiplayer RS with me and with each other using their own guitars and they seem to work just fine.

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  4. Bought a half size guitar for my 8 year old son as a birthday present. The strings are tight and there is a replaceable one in case it got faulty since kids are not very cautious at handling stuffs. It's got the perfect weight so it makes it easier for kids to carry and the sounds are really nice. I love it when my son plays greenday's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" with it. Now my son can fulfill his dream of becoming a rock-star.

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