Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Kid Rock(smith) II - How Old is Old Enough to Play?

I posted the original version of this article nearly 2 years ago but with a whole new version of Rocksmith out this year and the holiday season right around the corner, I thought I'd repost an updated version.

In many of the posts on this blog I've mentioned playing Rocksmith with my kids. One day 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.

I'm not an expert in musical education, child development, or guitars. But, first-hand 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 and my friend'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 YOU DO NOT NEED AN EXPENSIVE GUITAR TO PLAY ROCKSMITH!!!!

With that in mind, however, I will caution you to avoid buying a junk guitar. A First Act guitar from Wal-Mart will actually work. I've actually played a few on Rocksmith, but my experience with First Act guitar strings tells me that you should be cautious (http://myrocksmithjourney.blogspot.com/2012/02/guitars-for-rocksmith-lesson-in-how-far.html). Rocksmith will "correct" for a host of evils with regard to tone and tuning and overall sound, but crappy guitars will not provide good sustain and this can be a factor when playing Rocksmith.

First Act actually makes custom guitars at a factory in Boston, but these are NOT the guitars you'll find at Target for $74.99. You CAN use these guitars on Rocksmith, but I would recommend changing the strings immediately - as a minimum. Another option might be to buy a decent used Epiphone or Fender Squier instead (with a used guitar, changing strings is also a good idea). Keep reading.

My son is now nearly 13, slightly tall for his age but fairly normal in size, and has been playing a full-sized Fender Squier Strat and an Ibanez GIO. At first the Strat was more than he could really manage. He had problems reaching the first few frets, so I let him try my Epiphone LP Junior. I picked up a very nice Epi Junior used from an auction site and I think Ubisoft/Rocksmith made the perfect choice when they decided to bundle the Epi LP Junior with Rocksmith game software. Mine sounded great and had better sustain (I think due to the hardtail bridge) than my Epi LP Special II. The Junior has a slightly shorter neck than the Special or the full-sized Squier Strat which makes it easier to reach all the frets. Still, it is a full-sized adult guitar and it's pretty heavy. Even the Junior might be too much guitar for really young kids.

I ended up selling both my Epiphone Les Paul Special II and the Epiphone Les Paul Junior this summer and picked up a brand new Epiphone LP Special with P90 pickups for right at $90 on sale. Not only is this guitar a nice player with great tone, it weighs almost nothing. It is much lighter than my old Special II model. It's slightly longer than the Junior model, but not much.

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.

I paid less than $100 for each of the guitars I just mentioned.

There are some other potential options for younger kids. My local GC carries 3/4 scale Squier Strats for just $99. I've seen used ones in the store for $85. 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 in the 7-10 year old range.

There are even smaller guitars for younger/smaller kids. 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, Rocksmith thinks you hit the wrong string or fret. But, Rocksmith does require you to tune and the new 2014 version seems to be somewhat forgiving about out-of-tune strings. So, perhaps this is less of an issue now. The reason the 3/4 scale guitars go out of tune seems to be related to the short string lengths which may tend to result in sharp tuning.

I'm sure there are plenty of websites and reviews and blogs all over the internet discussing scaled down guitars - but not for Rocksmith. When I first wrote this piece, I intended to get a few small-scale guitars and have a couple of kids try them out. But, all the kids I know have gotten big. I could try out the short-scale guitars myself, but I also wanted to see how if really young kids could hang with Rocksmith. If I can borrow a couple of kids, I'll video tape them 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. If I can't borrow any kids, I may just try out the smaller guitars myself and at least address that issue.

Stay tuned.

Rocksmith 2014 - Lessons and 2 Freeze-Ups

My past few posts have seemed a bit negative or harsh. For that I apologize. I just miss the Rocksmith Journey. It provided a bit of direction that seems to be missing from the new version. Not a fatal flaw but definitely something I dislike about 2014. Despite that, I've had a couple of really fun nights of playing, including a good bit of time spent in Riff Repeater.

A New Song to Learn - More than a Feeling

First, I gave up on Walk This Way - for now. Trying to play something over my head was only leading to frustration and negativity, and Joe Perry's guitar stuff is clearly over my head.

Despite having almost no faith in RS-2014's difficulty rating algorithm, I sorted my song list on "difficulty" and picked something on the easy end of the list: Boston's More Than a Feeling. According to RS-2014, More than a Feeling is the 7th easiest song on my song list. This song is much closer to my ability level, and it also happens to be a song that I've enjoyed for many years. (Keep in mind, I have all the songs from original Rocksmith and RS-2014 plus my own assortment of DLC which likely differs from yours. So, More than a Feeling may not be the 7th easiest song on your list, but it's going to be among your easier songs.)

I'm having much more fun now. Gotta remember to play songs in my league.

[Eventually when I have some good data, I'll try to apply my Easiness Formula to the 2014 songs and see how my results compare with RS-2014's Difficulty algorithm.]

Other Songs

I've checked out several songs just for fun - no intent of really "learning" them right now. Just "noodling around" in multi-player mode with my son. In addition to Walk This Way, I've played My Generation, Born Under a Bad Sign, X-Kid, Round and Round (E-flat tuning - a pain in the ass), Thnks fr th Mmrs, Knockin' on Heaven's Door, Smooth, and Gold on the Ceiling (Drop D tuning). Most of these are new for 2014.

Rocksmith 2014 includes lots of non-standard tunings. There's a few E-flats, a couple of E-flat/Drop Ds, and a handful of regular Drop Ds. Nice move on RS-2014, but I really don't like playing the E-flat tunings; you have to retune the whole damn guitar! I may just designate one guitar for E-flat songs and switch guitars instead of re-tuning every time. That's what the pros do, right? And, it's not like I have a guitar shortage.

Update on GAS Pains

Thanks to Rocksmith, I'm up to six electric guitars that I actually play (plus a couple of junkers that'll end up being wall decorations - one my daughter accidentally let fall out of the back of our van and cracked the neck. . . ). Also two acoustics, including the one I've owned since I was 14 (but not counting the one I use as a decoration in our foyer). Oh, plus the bass. My son has 2. And, my daughter still has her pink Washburn. So, that's a total of 15 guitars. I've actually sold a couple in the past year to get down to this number (my Epi LP Spl II and the Epi LP Jr.)! Ridiculous. I need to sell more.

None of these guitars was terribly expensive - $400 - $500 is the most I've paid for any of my guitars. But, to tell you the truth, I've got an Epiphone LP Special (without the II) with P90 pick-ups that I grabbed NEW, on sale at GC for $90 and it's probably one of my favorites to play. I like to emphasize that you don't need an expensive guitar to play. Yes, there's a difference between a "cheap" guitar and a good guitar - but that difference is not always reflected by the price you pay for the guitar.

WARNING: Like the original game, I suspect Rocksmith 2014 will cause you to spend money on guitars! And strings.And straps. And cases. And wall hangers, tuners, amps, pedals, capos,. . . etc.

I have not played drums for several months. I had a paying gig back in the summer that went pretty well (I thought), but apparently the guy who ran that band liked somebody else better than me. Which worked out nicely because I got very busy with softball tournaments after that. Then I dislocated my elbow, and here we are in November. I'm seriously thinking of selling some or possibly all of my drums and picking up some congas, timbales, and other stuff instead. I can always buy another set later if I change my mind.

Anyway. . .


One new thing in RS-2014 are the Missions. Missions pop up on the upper, right-hand corner of the screen along with other messages, and then they disappear. If you're not watching, you'll miss your next mission. It'll show up again, but randomly - not when you want to see it. Apparently there's a place to look at your mission list, but I haven't found it yet. I don't really like Missions.

Missions seem to have no purpose other than getting you to explore the different parts of Rocksmith - especially Tone Designer. My Missions have ranged from lessons to riff repeater to guitarcade games, but they seem to constantly require me to go into Tone Designer and switch pedals around. I never messed with the tones and pedals in the original Rocksmith and I'm not interested in messing with them now. Tone designer is a great feature in Rocksmith and it's probably worth the price of the game IF you're into experimenting with your sound. I'm not. I'm perfectly happy to use the pre-set tones for each song. I know this limits my guitar playing, but keep in mind that I'm actually a DRUMMER. I get annoyed waiting for guitar players to TUNE; when they start fiddling with knobs and pedals, I go get a drink and hang out until they're ready to play.

Completing Missions earns you points which can be redeemed on the UPlay site for prizes. At the moment, you have your choice of exactly 4 prizes: two songs, a special single player arrangement, and the official Ubisoft fret inlay. OK - it's pretty cool that we can use mission points to get songs. But, if Missions are meant to be the replacement for the original Rocksmith's Journey game element, I'm afraid the development team missed the mark by a mile.

Missions also earn in-game prizes like fret markers, skins for amps and venue levels. In other words, eye candy. However, unlike the old Rocksmith guitars, that you got for completing Events but couldn't see unless you wanted to dig into the menus and scroll through your collection, you can actually see the skins on your amps and speaker cabs in RS-2014. Of course, you have to go to Tone Designer to change them out. Haven't figured out the fret markers. . . I can't even see them when I tune. The venues just show up automatically as you earn them. They're pretty subtle; it's unlikely you'll notice the difference between one venue level and the next. I'm on level 3 now. FWIW.

I've also done some independent navigating around the game just to get the lay of the land without the Missions guiding me. At this point, I've at least checked out every option from the main menu.


After switching to a new, much easier, more realistic song, I checked out several lessons, starting with the introductory stuff: Attaching the Strap, Holding the Guitar - Standing, and Holding the Guitar - Sitting. The intro lessons are just basic short videos - nothing fancy but nicely done. After reviewing those I moved on to the 101 series lessons: Picking (I've been doing it wrong. . . ), Shifting, Slides, Bends, and Legato. The actual lessons are more hands-on. Very similar to the old Technique Challenges but much more thorough. There's a little live video with an instructor followed by a demonstration, and then a chance for you to practice. Repeat as needed. Each technique or skill has it's own practice lick like a little song. When you finish playing those, you get an overall percentage and two separate scores - a correct note count, total note count and percentage of each for the complete exercise and for the specific technique.

For example, on the Legato lesson, I topped out with a 96.4% overall, a 98% note percentage (136/138 notes) and a 96% on the technique (59/61 legatos correctly played). I'm not entirely sure where the overall percentage comes from. . . I got a 96% and 96% on the Slide lesson, but my overall percentage was a 90%. Odd.

You get a pretty good idea of how well you did on the lesson. And, you get the chance to try again as many times as you want. Surprisingly, it took me several tries to score a 100% on Legatos but only 3 attempts to max Slides. Maybe I'm getting better at slides. . . ?

Technique Guides are sort of lesson reviews. They don't include any video or instruction to speak of. They're just mainly summaries of the main points.

Bad News - 2 Total Freeze-Ups So Far

Overall, things have worked perfectly with the new 2014 version, but in less than 2 weeks of play I have had two complete freeze-ups that required me to either shut down my entire XBox or restart Rocksmith.

The first freeze happened on the 21st, the first or second time I played RS-2014. That was the one where my whole XBox froze and had to have a hard reboot. When it happened I was working on the 4th phrase of Walk this Way in Riff Repeater. Not sure what caused the freeze.

The second  freeze happened a couple of days ago while I was diddling around on my guitar and a song was still loading. I could still hear my guitar through the speakers, but the song never loaded and I couldn't back out to the main menu or anything else. I didn't have to reboot the XBox but I did have to go to XBox home and restart Rocksmith.


I've also checked out Session Mode and Nonstop Play. I'll cover those next time as well as a more in-depth look at the all-new, totally improved and very awesome Riff Repeater.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Rocksmith 2014 - A Very Brief Review

4.5/5.0 Stars. Really. I love it. But, I miss the old game aspect of the original Rocksmith. If you thought the original version focused too much on the game and not enough on teaching guitar, you need to check out Rocksmith 2014. If you liked the original Rocksmith, you’ll love the improvements in the new 2014 version. But, if you’re like me you’ll miss the make-believe journey from amateur to rock star with all the hokey incentives and objectives.

The new version of Rocksmith is superior in *almost* every way. It loads fast, runs great, and includes a ton of awesome teaching content, including video lessons and technique guides. The note highway is cleaned up considerably, chords are treated like chords, and Riff Repeater has become an amazing tool for hashing out the hard parts of songs. The Guitarcade is all new and loads of fun. And, there are 63 cool new songs, including mega-classics like Walk This Way by Aerosmith. 

Navigating the song list is MUCH better than before. It's now a vertical list that scrolls up and down, like normal computer scrolling. Also, you can sort the entire list on any of several sort criteria - year, artist, mastery, difficulty, length, tuning, etc. You can also designate "Favorites" which keeps the songs you like together so you don't have to scroll through songs you don't like.

There’s just a whole bunch of stuff to do in Rocksmith 2014. Almost too much. I played 2014 for about a week before I ever tried the new Session Mode. I was just too busy learning some songs that I’ve always wanted to play! Lots of fun and I highly recommend Rocksmith 2014 for anyone with an interest in playing guitar. Lke the original, even accomplished players will probably enjoy it.

If Rocksmith 2014 has a flaw, it’s the lack of direction. Without the original Rocksmith “Journey” concept to guide you along, Rocksmith 2014 can leave you feeling a little lost and unsure of what to do next. There’s a TON of stuff to do but nothing to tell you what to do first. There are “Missions,” but those seem more geared toward helping you explore the software and all the options it offers. Completing missions earns you little prizes like skins for your amps and cabinets, fret markers, and bigger venues. But, the missions don’t guide you through learning songs or help you decide which songs to learn.

When the main page comes up you are facing a menu with 9 options on it and it’s up to you to figure out which one to open. Learn a Song is the first option and that seems like the most logical choice – IF that’s what you want to do. You could also choose Session Mode or Nonstop Play, but those options aren’t exactly self-explanatory. The user manual, buried sort of deep in the Tools menu, isn’t very useful. 

Other main menu options are Lessons, Guitarcade, Multiplayer, Tone Designer, Shop and UPlay. The lessons are great little videos that cover everything from putting the strap on your guitar for the first time to tapping. Guitarcade is a totally redesigned set of arcade-like games intended to hone some basic guitar-playing skills, like string skipping, through repetition in a fun setting. Multiplayer allows two players to play the same song at once on the same or different instruments (i.e. lead and rhythm, rhythm and bass, etc.). My son and I still love this part of Rocksmith, although he is starting to leave me in the dust on guitar. He learned by playing Rocksmith. . .

Tone Designer is the built-in amp and pedal/effects playground where you can experiment with a vast array of pedals, amps, speaker cabinets and other effects. The possibilities of the Tone Designer are unlimited - especially in conjunction with Session Play. Honestly, Tone Designer alone would probably be worth the price of the game for people who like buying pedals and messing with the knobs on their amp. I myself am perfectly happy using Rocksmith's pre-set tones for each song. I never messed with tones in the original Rocksmith and I'd rarely mess with tones in RS-2014 - except that the damn Missions constantly push players to go in and swap pedals around. 

The Shop is where you go to buy more songs and song-packs. That is all. There's a link for "Expansions" but at this point there's nothing in there (and I can't quite imagine what would ever be in there). A HUGE improvement they made in the Shop is that songs can be previewed in the Shop. You can hear a short selection of most songs (not all) before you commit to buying them.

The UPlay link takes players to the UPlay website, which is pretty useless as of this writing. You can set up an account and  track your Rocksmith Actions and Rewards - but that's it. There's supposed to be a 60-day challenge that UPlay tracks for you so you can look at your progress on the UPlay Rocksmith website, but so far they don't seem to have that up and running. Still, the UPlay link is where you can cash in your Mission points for rewards - to include DLC songs and bonus arrangements - so that's pretty cool. Hopefully they plan to add more rewards because right now there are only 4: two songs (including the new Rocksmith Theme Song), a bonus Single Player arrangement, and the Ubisoft virtual fret inlay. (Virtual fret inlays? Really, Ubisoft? Why?)
Lots of people complained that the original Rocksmith was too focused on the game and not enough on teaching how to play guitar. Evidently, Ubisoft listened to those people. Instead of fine-tuning the game aspect, 2014 threw it out completely. What you're left with is a great and very fun way to learn some basic guitar techniques and songs on guitar, but no guidance on how to work your way through it all. 

If you're a new player who never tried the original Rocksmith, you won't miss anything. But, I suspect you may find yourself wondering where to start. If you were one of the original Rocksmith players who enjoyed the Journey, you'll still enjoy Rocksmith 2014 but you'll miss the flow of the game. If you're one of the original Rocksmith players who whined and complained that this video game should try to be more like Tux Guitar or some other learning software, I hope you're happy.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Rocksmith 2014 Notes - Just Info. No Complaining.

I'm starting this page on the blog as a place to list tips, tricks, quirks, and work-arounds as I find them while playing. No opining about what's good or bad. No whining about how old Rocksmith was better. Just useful stuff that I discover along the way consolidated onto one, easy-to-read page.

User Manual is buried in the Tools/Options menu. Not helpful unless you are completely new to your console. Mainly talks about very basic issues like controller button mapping.

Turn off your XBox Kinect if you have one. Apparently RS-2014 allows for the use of voice commands through Kinect sensors, which might be easier than keeping an XBox controller nearby while you play. But, background noises from the game itself may be interpreted as voice commands causing the game to do weird, random things that you never told it to do.

Reverse the order of the song list after sorting using the LB button on the XBox controller.

My left stick is hyper-sensitive when navigating and selecting menu items. Get around this by using the D-pad to scroll up and down among menu selections.

Somewhere I read that there are 7 Unlockable Songs on RS-2014. My songlist when I'm playing the game only shows 1 unlockable song. The official list of songs from the RS website actually shows 8. 

The only way to start Riff Repeater is by going to Learn a Song from the Main Menu, starting the song, and then pressing the B (Back) button on your controller. Once you're in RR, there are 2-3 ways out. Go to the RR Pause Menu. From there you can Resume, Restart, or Exit Song. Exit Song is the option that actually Exits Riff Repeater. The others take you back to RR but at different places in your chosen song.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Learning Songs on Rocksmith 2014 - A Few Nights Into It, The Fun is Wearing Thin

I've been hammering on Walk This Way by Aerosmith using the all-new Rocksmith 2014 for a few nights now. Here's how things are going overall:

Play Count: 37
OP: 56.2%

Not As Much Fun as it Should Be

My first impressions of RS-2014 are that it's pretty awesome learning software. From a technical standpoint it's better than the original Rocksmith in almost every way. But, I knew I'd miss the game element of the original Rocksmith journey and I was right. After only a few nights of playing and working on my first song, I'm just not having as much fun as I used to have playing the old Rocksmith.

I've wanted to learn how to play Walk This Way for about 30 years now. I should be busting my butt to get home from work and play all night like I did when Rocksmith first came out. But, I'm not. Granted, I'm still recovering from surgery on a dislocated elbow and my wrist is still very stiff from my recent fall, so I'm not playing very well right now. Still, I should be more excited about this cool new toy than I am.

I think Rocksmith 2014 threw the baby out with the bathwater when they got rid of The Journey.

To be fair, I picked a song that is way over my head - at least where the solos are concerned. So, I'm not making the kind of progress I'd like to make and I'm getting a little tired of playing the same song over and over again trying to get it right. Take the following criticisms with a grain of salt. 

A Side Order of Fun and Games

Don't get me wrong - there is still some fun-and-games action in RS-2014. But, it's a sideline, mostly relegated to the Guitarcade. After running through Walk This Way for the 37th time, I checked out some Technique Guides and a couple of Guitarcade games to break up the monotony. The Guitarcade has been completely overhauled and it's very cool. Very retro video-game style. In fact, the welcome screen looks like a boot screen from an old Atari. When I first saw it, I thought my XBox had been infected with a virus.

There are 11 "Technique Games." So far I've played Scale Racers, Star Chords (Get it? Star Chords? Rhymes with Star Wars. . . ), and Temple of Bends. All very fun and much better games than any of the old Rocksmith Guitarcade games. There are Leaderboard Challenges, which I haven't tried yet. And, Score Attack, which I have. More on that below.

My son and I both played for a while and had fun trying to out-score each other. Pretty soon, though, I was leveling up but my scores were going down. Plus, my fingers were burning. So, I closed the games and went back to song learnin'.

A Jungle of Cool Songs - But No Compass or Map

Without the Journey, there's almost no structure in RS-2014. When you start up RS-2014, you're just staring at a list of 9 options on a main screen. OK, "Learn a Song" is the first and probably  most obvious choice. So, you click on Learn a Song - and you're faced with a staggering list of at least 57 songs that you can learn (more if you imported songs from ORS or have already started buying DLC). Really great songs in this list, but who's to say that Walk This Way was a good song to start with? Maybe it's way over my head, which will discourage me (and most beginners). 

I think Rocksmith should apply their Dynamic Difficulty concept to song selections as well as the notes within a song. The old Rocksmith journey at least provided a framework in which songs could have been presented in graduated levels of difficulty. I don't think Rocksmith used the journey structure to its full advantage this way, but I think the concept had great (untapped) potential. Instead of tapping it, Ubisoft threw it out completely.

You can sort the songs in RS-2014 by "Recommended" status, but so far it appears that almost EVERY song I own is "recommended." There's a box to the right of each song in the song list and "recommended" songs have a check mark in that box. All but 22 of my 165 songs have check marks. Most of the non-recommended songs are songs I played before in old RS, and many of my "recommended" songs are ones that I don't like. So, I have no idea how recommendations are made in RS-2014. They don't seem to be based on playing ability or musical preference.

The song list can also be sorted on Difficulty, which means the software includes some algorithm for determining difficulty. Starting with an easier song makes more sense than letting players wander into the weeds or try to learn Bat Country right off the bat. However, I've got some questions about the difficulty ranking algorithm in RS-2014 since Sweet Home Alabama appears near the easy end of the list and Good Enough by Tom Petty is ranked as one of the 10 hardest songs. Seriously? 

I mean, if you want to tackle Bat Country, knock yourself out. I'm not saying the software should prevent you from giving it a shot. I'm just saying I'd like the software to offer up song suggestions in some logical order - like the old Rocksmith Recommends set-lists. Start with very basic, easy-to-learn songs for the average beginner and progress with songs that introduce new techniques in a logical sequence - like the little ditties in the technique reviews do. Or, perhaps tie songs into the Lessons section so that the lessons incorporate appropriate songs. They should have refined that concept instead of just getting rid of it.

And bring back the incentives. 

Lack of Objectives/Rewards

Another problem with RS-2014's lack of structure is that there's no set objective or reward for progressing. Sure, there's our over-arching objective of "learn to play songs" or in my specific case "learn to play Walk This Way." But, how do I know when I've "learned" it? At this point, it seems like it's sort of up to me to decide what Overall Percentage (OP) I'm willing to accept. If I'm OK with an OP of 54%, I've "learned the song" and I can move on to the next one.

Qualifying a song for an event in the old Rocksmith required you to achieve a specific score. This was a tangible but reachable objective. When you reached it, your reward was playing the song in an event. Granted, events were just short sets played in front of cloned CGI Gen-Y hotties in a made-up venue, but they were FUN. It was virtual crack that kept me playing and working hard for the next fix.

What does RS-2014 offer me? A vague, Overall Percentage figure. Fine. So, I can play about 54% of the notes in Walk This Way. So, what? There's nothing which motivates me to improve on that number. I've mastered most of the song phrases except for the solos, and it's unlikely I'll ever be able to play those - no matter how many times I review bends and slides. Which means I've learned as much of this song as I'm likely to learn. So, now what? Just move to the next song on the list and play that one until I'm tired of it?

While working your way up to Events, Old Rocksmith also delivered a host of prizes for reaching specific goals. When you reached 70,000 points on a song you got a new tone pedal. When you successfully played an Event, you got a new guitar. OK, so the guitars were sort of a waste since you couldn't actually see them without digging deep into the menus and scrolling through them; but, instead of scrapping them I'd have made it so they appeared on the player's studio wall like a trophy case. I never messed with tone pedals but I enjoyed getting those as rewards for reaching 70,000 on songs. More virtual crack.

In RS-2014, you get fret markers and amp "skins." Guitars were useless eye candy, but fret markers? Whatever. At least in old Rocksmith you could see the whole guitars if you were willing to dig into the menus. The only place you'll ever see the fret markers you earn is when you use the tuner. And, you don't get them for improving your playing. You get them for just navigating around in the software. Ditto for amp skins. I have no idea what amp skins are supposed to do or how you use them. I'll let you know when I figure it out. Apparently you can earn venues in RS-2014, but I haven't figured that out yet, either.

I've still got LOTS of exploring to do - and explore I will. 

Some Options

Nonstop Play is a way to make "set-lists" and play through them in RS-2014. I plan to try that tonight or this weekend. From what I've seen so far, you don't have to qualify songs for Nonstop Play mode. You just mark Favorites in your song list and pick how many minutes you want to play. Then, you just play straight through your list of favorites until time is up. Sort of like an event, I guess. We'll see.

I have already tried a new RS-2014 feature called Score Attack. You can access this from Learn a Song mode or you can access it through the Guitarcade menu. It works sort of like the old scored song-playing Rocksmith game. You play through the song pretty much like you do in regular Learn a Song mode, but you get a running score. Scores are strictly on a song-by-song basis, though; there's no overall score. Also, Score Attack requires you to choose one of three levels of play: Easy, Medium, or Hard. You work your way up to Master Level by achieving "Gold Rank" at the Hard level of play. It'll be a while before I figure out how this works. So far all I know is that making a mistake during the song gives you a strike. Three strikes and it's Game Over.

Technique - Guides and Games

RS-2014 still offers some fun ways to work on techniques. There's no more bronze, silver, or gold medals like in the old Technique Challenges. In fact, they're not even called "challenges" now. There are Technique Guides and Technique Games . The Guides are more like video lessons. Very, very good video lessons. You get OP "scores" for playing the short practice riffs but no medals are awarded. The Technique Games are exactly what the Guitarcade games were before - games that require guitar playing techniques to play. Fun for a while, but still no replacement for the old Journey concept in the original Rocksmith game.

That's it for now. Gotta run errands and I have to work tomorrow so I may not get much playing in tonight. More later.

Learning a Song on Rocksmith 2014 - Night #1

Walk This Way. No, no. . .  THIS Way!

Rocksmith 2014, even more than the first edition, bills itself as a learning tool. So, it's no big surprise that "Learn a Song" is the very first option on the Main Menu. I'll start my new "journey" by going down this path first.

I chose Walk This Way by Aerosmith as my very first song to learn on Rocksmith 2014. I've wanted to learn this song for years and years, so let's see how it goes.

Keep in mind that I played the original Rocksmith for 2 years, so I will frequently refer to differences between the original Rocksmith (ORS) and Rocksmith 2014. These comparisons won't mean anything to brand new Rocksmith players but old veterans might find the comparisons interesting.

[Note: I play on an XBox 360. All console and control references are specific to that platform. For other platforms, just use the equivalent control input.]

Learn a Song

The basic Learn page includes the following options, with your selected song title right up at the top:

Walk This Way
("Rocksmith Recommends" activities - 3 items)
Technique Guide
Guitarcade School
Score Attack
Bonus Arrangements

To start, just press the A button. The RSNH (Rocksmith Note Highway) appears and your selected song starts. Pluck a string on your guitar and psychadelic sound waves flow from the speaker cabinets. Reminiscent of the old Rocksmith Events, the wall of the studio morphs into a smokey haze through which you can make out the faint silhouettes of an audience. Yep - even when you're just learning, there's an audience.

Things start out simple, just like the old RS. Just a few notes fly toward you on the RSNH establishing the basic framework of a riff or melody. As I start hitting notes consistently, more notes appear. The audience begins to get rowdy and I can hear them applauding my efforts.

Improvements from Old Rocksmith

Generally, playing through a song in the Learn a Song mode is very much like playing a song during an Event in the original RS but with several improvements. The RSNH has been cleaned up so it's a little easier to see what's going on. The song lyrics are now diplayed in the upper, left-hand corner of the screen in a bigger font so they're much easier to read. In general, there aren't as many messages flashing up on the display while you're trying to play. For example, I don't remember seeing any "Level Up" or "Level Down" messages. If you miss a note, you get a little "Miss" message on the note itself but that's it. The bar graph is still at the top of the display showing your mastery of each phrase and an "alert" message is displayed whenever you're playing a phrase in "Master Mode." But, you aren't bombarded with an endless battery of atta-boys and ah-shits on the screen. It's much less distracting than the old version.

The audience DOES respond to how well you're playing, and they WILL boo you if you suck!


One HUGE improvement for 2014 is the treatment of chords. Simply put, they're treated as chords!  No more leveling up a phrase and discovering that the one finger note you've been playing is actually a complex barre chord which requires totally different hand position! You don't have to play the whole chord all at once, but the whole fingering is shown right from the start so you know what's coming. Initially, only the root note is highlighted and the rest of the notes are muted gray. You only have to play the highlighted note. Then, as you "level up," more notes are highlighted until eventually you're playing the whole chord. And, now you'll know what chord you're playing because the name of the chord is shown next to the chord diagram right from the start! If you never played the original Rocksmith, you have no idea what a great improvement this is. Kudos to the developers on this one. Well done.

Bends, slides, and sustains look different now - more like ribbons. I was fine with the old way of showing bends and slides, but this is OK, too. Maybe slightly easier to see.


Another subtle but noticeable difference on the 2014 Learn mode is that there's no score displayed while you're playing. Like I said, it's a lot like playing a song in an event in the old RS. You don't get a quantitative measure of how well you played until you finish the song. This is probably good in that it reduces distractions, but I miss the running score tally.

Given that some aspects of scoring in ORS remained mysteries even after actual software developers tried explaining it on the Ubisoft forums, I don't expect to understand RS-2014 scoring any time soon. So far, all I can tell you for sure is that there's no numerical "score" in the Learn a Song mode. When you finish playing through a song, you get a Note Streak and an Accuracy Percentage like before. But, in RS-2014's Learn mode, instead of getting a numerical score, you get an Overall Percentage.

(There ARE some song-play modes that give scores - but not the regular Learn a Song mode. I'll talk about those other modes in future posts.)

What this new Overall Percentage in Learn mode represents I can only guess. And, here's my guess: I am guessing that the OP in Learn a Song mode represents how close you are to playing ALL of the possible notes in a song. 100% means you have leveled up every phrase and can generally play every note in the arrangement. 50% means you're seeing about half of all the possible notes. I think.

Note Streak and Accuracy were always self-explanatory and they don't seem to have changed. Note Streak is simply how many notes you play correctly in a row without screwing up. Accuracy is what percentage of the notes at your level of mastery you get right. At lower levels of mastery, you could have a very high Accuracy and a low OP. Once you level a song all the way up, I suspect Accuracy and Overall Percentage would be roughly the same. But, I could be wrong. . .

As far as point value of notes, technique bonuses, etc., I can't even guess. All I know is that you don't get any messages telling you that you did an "Awesome Slide!" or a "Good Bend." Which is fine. In ORS, I often focused more on whether or not I got a "atta-boys" than on my playing.

Other Learning Tools

You can learn a lot by just playing through songs over and over again until you get it right, but RS-2014 offers several additional tools to help you get there quicker and easier.

Rocksmith Recommends: Tips

Not to be confused with recommended songs, below your song selection on the Learn menu, you'll see a list of 3 activities with checkboxes next to them. This is a random list of learning activities to help you along. It will include things like "Check out the Asus Chord" or "Use Riff Repeater to Increase Your Mastery." Just click on the tip and RS takes you to the exercise or activity. A green check mark appears in the checkbox as you complete each item. When you complete 3 activities, three more appear. I haven't found a limit yet.

What About Riff Repeater?

Still there and better than ever. In fact, it's obvious that the developers spend a LOT of time and effort getting Riff Repeater up to its full potential. Now it's practically a separate program that you can access easily while playing songs.

You can get to RR by pausing a song while playing in the Learn mode (press B on controller). This accessibility is another huge improvement in RS-2014! You still pick a phrase to hammer on in RR, just like before in ORS. But, just as I always suggested, you can now also jump straight from a rough spot in a song to RR and work on the troublesome phrase on the spot without having to quit the song and navigate through a series of menus and sub-menus.

You can also access RR from the Rocksmith Recommends activities list when it shows up there.


Helping to keep some of the "game" aspect of Rocksmith alive are Missions which pop up every so often in the upper, right-hand corner of the screen. These are similar to the old "achievements" - stuff like "Play a Song that Requres D-tuning," or "Play Star Chords." Completing missions earns points which you can trade for DLC, including songs, on your UPlay account. More on that when I get a chance to check it out.

Other Notes, So Far

I've just begun to scratch the surface of the new Rocksmith, but I have figured out a few things so far. First of all, the User Manual, buried in the Tools/Options menu is not particularly helpful unless you are completely new to your console. Mainly it talks about very basic issues like controller button mapping.

As I pointed out earlier, turn off your Kinect if you have one. Apparently RS-2014 allows for the use of voice commands through Kinect sensors, which might be easier than keeping an XBox controller nearby while you play. But, given my experience with background noises from the game itself, the convenience of voice commands is outweighed by the inconvenience of random weirdness.

You CAN reverse the order of the song list after sorting. Use LB on the XBox controller.

Also, I've had a lot of sensitivity issues using my joystick to navigate and select menu items. You can get around that by using the D-pad to scroll up and down among menu selections.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My Rocksmith 2014 Journey Begins - I Can't Pick my Nose, But I Can Pick a Song


When you first start Rocksmith 2014, there is a short 6-page slide show much like the beginning of a movie. You cannot skip through these pages by clicking, but they go by fairly quickly. When the 7th page - the main Rocksmith title screen - appears, you have to press the > (Start) button to continue. (The A button also works.) After choosing whether you're using data from your HDD or from the cloud, you finally get to the Main Menu. All this takes less than a minute - which is far better than the original RS intro sequence - but it still seems like a lot of junk to go through just to get to the main menu.

*Recommendation: If you have an XBox with a Kinect, turn the Kinect sensor OFF before starting Rocksmith. (Go to System Settings/Sensor.) My Kinect seems to confuse the background music and bizarre background noises (jets, motorcycles, cars, . . . ?) in Rocksmith for commands, which causes random, involuntary menu selections even when I'm not touching a controller.*

Main Menu Page

The Main Menu screen has a new, slightly stripped-down studio background and a 9-item main menu. From here you can choose:

Learn a Song
Session Mode
Nonstop Play
Tone Designer

On the main page you can also switch your "Path" (lead, rhythm or bass) using the < (Back) button. Or, you can go to Tools using the > (Start) button. The Tools menu lets you access Tone Designer (in case accessing Tone Designer directly from the main menu doesn't appeal to you), Tuner, Options, Shop (again, for those who really dislike using the main menu), a Chord Book and a Technique Guide. Really have no idea why the developers included redundant navigation paths for Tone Designer and Shop, but I'm sure they had a very good reason.

The Tools/Options path is important because this is where you can adjust your volume mix, visual settings, play settings, or restore the factory default settings. There's also a user manual buried in here. I think I'd have put the user manual right on the Main Menu, but the game designer didn't ask me. The Options menu also includes a Credit sequence superimposed over an animated time-lapse video which appears to depict several people building and tearing down a sound stage. . . Somebody put a bunch of work into this video, but I have no idea why.

Anyway. . . I'll start checking the options on the Main Menu out one by one over the next several days. On my first night, I jumped straight into the Learn a Song Mode.

Pick a Song - Navigating the Song List, 2014-Style

The first thing you have to do when you select Learn a Song is pick a song. Click on Learn a Song and the next thing you see is your entire song list - displayed as a vertical, scrollable list with audio samples. This is a HUGE improvement over the old horizontally-oriented list!

In a way, choosing a song is more difficult now than it was in the old RS. First, there are simply more songs now. Also, there are no more set-lists, so YOU have to do the choosing. The old set-lists could be modified, but I was always content to let RS's automatically generated "Rocksmith Recommends" set-lists choose my songs for me. I just liked the randomness of it. RS-2014 still provides "Recommended" songs, but it seems like all of the songs are "recommended" by default. I suppose you could just start at the top of the list and work your way to the bottom. Or. . .

One way to choose is by sorting the song list on any one of the following 12 sort criteria:

Recommended - No idea how RS determines which songs to recommend. As I said, they all seem to be "recommended," but it's an option.
Count - Sorts on your play count for each song, I assume. Probably most useful if listed from lowest play count to highest.
Tuning - Lets you separate all the songs with non-standard tunings (Drop D, etc.) from the songs which use standard E tuning. Handy.
Source - Groups songs alphabetically by where you got them. For example, 2014 on disk songs, original RS on disk song list, 2014 DLC, etc.  A great way to separate the 2014 songs from the your original songs if you imported all your old stuff but are ready to play some new stuff.
Owned - I don't think any songs that you don't own will appear in the list. . . so, I'm not sure what this one is supposed to do for you other than give you an alphabetized list of all your songs by Title.
Favorites - THE BEST! You can designate any song as a "favorite" and group your faves - leaving the songs you hate at the bottom of the list where you don't have to scroll through them. AWESOME!
Title - Sorts alphabetically by title.
Artist - Sorts alphabetically by artist.
Year - Sorts songs by the year they were released. Another useful sort.
Difficulty - This could be the most useful sort of all, but I have no idea how the songs are ranked. When I sorted my song list with this one, it listed Gobbledigook as the second easiest song on RS and Good Enough by Tom Petty as one of the 10 hardest. There's something funny about this one; it doesn't seem to work right.
Mastery - Great way to pick your weaker songs to work on, but I haven't figured out how Mastery levels are assigned to songs yet so I can't really tell if this one works or not.
Length - For when you just don't have time to play Jessica or Freebird. . .

Rocksmith 2014 includes a great selection of on-disk songs, many of which were very popular when I was much younger. I narrowed my selection to the RS-2014 on-disk songs by using Source to sort my list and then just scrolled through the 63 songs that came with RS-2014. It didn't take long to settle on my first song.

Way back in about 1976 or so, I heard Aerosmith's Walk This Way for the first time, played by a cover band at a wedding. Since that night, I've wanted to play that song on guitar. In 37 years, I've managed to figure out the first riff and that's it. Not that I've tried very hard. Several other songs caught my eye, but I stopped scrolling when I saw Walk This Way.

Next entry will cover the Learn a Song option in detail.

Monday, November 18, 2013

First Impressions of Rocksmith 2014 - It's Still Fun

My Rocksmith 2014 disk arrived a day earlier than expected (go Amazon!), but I didn't get around to trying it out until last night. To be honest, not only has my arm been pretty sore and stiff, I had read a few things about the new Rocksmith that scared me a little. I was really afraid I wouldn't like it.

Mostly I had read that the "game" aspect of Rocksmith was gone, and I was afraid without the game aspect to motivate me I would simply not enjoy playing RS. I am happy to report, however, that there's still plenty of "game" in the new Rocksmith 2014! Enough to keep me playing for a couple of hours last night ('til after midnight) trying to outscore my son.

True, the "journey" is gone. There's no more "Amateur"-to-"Rocksmith" progression based on points and no more rehearsing songs and set-lists for Events. I will definitely miss that aspect of Rocksmith. I really will. Especially the blonde chick who used to come and watch me at the Velvet Club. . . But, there's still plenty of numbers to keep my spreadsheet-loving geek side happy and plenty of room to challenge yourself or others.

There are still some incentives tucked into the software, too. I was surprised to see that you can still unlock bigger and bigger venues. Not sure how venues fit into the overall scheme of things now, but I'll let you know as soon as I figure it out. There are also 8 unlockable songs. And, you can unlock fret markers and amp skins by completing various missions or reaching certain progress milestones. So, that aspect of the game is still there, although it has changed a little. Possibly for the better.

When you play through a song (what used to be called "rehearsal mode" but is now just referred to as "learning"), you get a percentage instead of a raw score. I'm guessing this percentage represents either how close you are to mastering the song or how well you did compared to some absolute maximum. If so, this is a definite improvement over the hinky old scoring paradigm which nobody seemed to fully understand. And, you still get a Note Streak count and an Accuracy score, just like before.

Playing through songs works very much like it did before, too. The old studio has been replaced by a pair of speakers that emanate trippy-looking sound waves whenever you play. The NH (RS Note Highway) seems slightly improved: they've added finger numbers to some (not all) of the notes to help you with fingerings; bends look a little different but seem a bit more forgiving than they were before; and, it's just a little easier to see what's coming without all the ratty old studio furniture in the background. All in all, it feels sort of like somebody redecorated the house while I was on vacation - still the same house, but with a fresh look.

There's apparently a new online aspect to Rocksmith which I'll explore more later. You can set up an account on the Ubi website to track your playing time and progress. In fact, there's a whole 60-day learning challenge you can do. If you play on a console and plan to open a UPlay account to track your progress online I would highly recommend using a text-pad controller. Also, I couldn't seem to access my UPlay account or my Rocksmith progress page after I set up my UPlay account. Don't know if that website is down or what. But, that's optional and didn't affect how RS worked. I'll follow up on it in a future post.

Boot-up was pretty quick - possibly due to elimination of the old RS theme song and guitar montage intro. Another big improvement. Still, I think Ubi should add the old RS theme to the RS song list.

Once you've booted up the game, RS asks if you're new to Rocksmith or if you're an experienced player. You go through the usual set-up interview - right or left handed, what kind of headstock your guitar has (not sure why that matters. . . ), etc. Then a quick calibration. Within a couple of minutes, you're almost ready to go. Just one more new thing: Before you pick any songs, the new RS makes you pick a "path" or in other words decide whether you want to play lead, rhythm, or bass. (You can change instruments any time after you get started.) This probably goes in the "improvement" column. I never liked the old "single note," "chord," and "combo" arrangement terminology. There still seem to be "alternate arrangements" available, but I didn't get a chance to check those out last night or figure out what they are. I'm just happy to see Rocksmith start using the same labor categories that the rest of the world has always used for rock guitar players.

Now that Rocksmith doesn't build a set-list for you to prepare for Events, you're left with a much looser sense of direction when you start the game. This could be good or bad, depending on your personality. I sort of liked the old structured approach because it pushed me to play stuff that I really didn't like and it saved me having to choose from among songs that I did like. The new 2014 edition provides "recommendations" (which you can see by sorting the song list) and players are encouraged to try different things by accepting "missions." Overall, though, with no set-lists the new feel is very flexible and the door is wide open to play any song you like.

There's a bunch of totally cool new songs in the Rocksmith repertoire. (You can see the full list here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocksmith_2014.) 2014 comes with 63 songs, including 8 unlockable ones. I was VERY pleased with what I found in the new song list. The collection covers a wide range of rock vintages from 1965 (The Who and Stones) to 2013 (Alice in Chains, Aching Head, Bedowyn. . . ). The only way you won't find something you like is if you don't like rock music.

For $9.99,  I also got all of my old RS songs imported to my 2014 version (to include all of my DLC). I guess I could complain about having to "repurchase" songs that I already bought once, but considering that I'm getting 102 songs for the price of 4 I'm just can't work up any real indignation over the issue. All of my old songs appeared on my 2014 song list immediately. No problems with the import - at least not on the MS-XBox system. (The scores on imported songs are all reset to 0, by the way.) I tried playing a couple of the imported songs and they worked perfectly with RS-2014.

One HUGE improvement Ubi made on RS-2014 is navigating the song list. This is especially nice if you import your songs from the old version; with DLC, I've got 165 songs to scroll through. Now you can sort the entire list on any of several criteria: Title, Artist, Year, Length, Mastery and some others including Favorites. THIS will be one of my favorite new features in 2014. You can also designate songs as "Favorites" and sort the entire song list so that your favorites are grouped together up front. No more scrolling through Islands, Gobbledigook, and Unnatural Selection to get to Slither! I believe you can also force sort by manually moving songs up or down the list. Thanks, developer team!

Speaking of navigation, there's a LOT going on with RS 2014 and a couple of hours was nowhere near enough to explore everything. Mainly I got things started, set up my UPlay account, imported all my old RS songs and DLC, and played a song. There's still a completely revised Riff Repeater, all new Session Mode, new technique guides, lessons, all-new arcade games, a store, and the online thing. But, playing songs is what it's really all about for me and you can do that very easily now. Will you learn to play guitar using Rocksmith? I've always believed that Rocksmith was a great learning tool, and I think they've retained all of the learning elements while improving the overall usability of the software.

The biggest down-side I see is possibly the elimination of The Journey concept from the original game. The Journey provided some structure to guide players along. Yes, it was similar to cheesy "rhythm games," but it was FUN. I think I'm going to miss that aspect.

My initial impression of Rocksmith 2014 is very positive. I'd give it a 94.3% so far. Stay tuned for more detailed info.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

P.S. I Forgot All About Rocksmith for PC. . .

I totally forgot - until today when I read through some of my older posts - that I bought Rocksmith for PC earlier this year!

I tried it out on one of our laptop computers but Steam seemed to slow everything down and even on my wife's somewhat nicer, newer laptop Rocksmith didn't seem to work very well. Lots of lag. Worse than anything I ever experienced on XBox 360.

So, that's probably an abandoned effort. I uninstalled Steam and Rocksmith from both laptops and I'm not sure I'd be able to reinstall them now if I wanted to. Which I probably won't. I know I promised you a review of the PC version, but there just doesn't seem to be any point.

Supposedly 2014 eliminated lag from the console versions so I figured maybe the 2014 PC version was improved, too. But, I read 11 reviews of the PC version on Amazon and nothing I read there inspires me to spend another $80 on the new 2014 PC/Mac version. Every single reviewer said that the PC/Mac versions of Rocksmith are horrible - pretty much my impression of the original PC version. Mainly it's installation issues that people are complaining about, but if you can't install it you can't really play it. . . People still seem to have issues with Steam, too: lots of pop-up ads, slows down the computer, etc. As far as I can tell, you should avoid all of the computer versions of Rocksmith - new, old, Mac or PC. They all seem to suck.

I'll just stick with my XBox version and write the $49 I spent on the old PC version off to experience.

I just hope Microsoft doesn't completely screw up the XBox console or stop supporting the XBox 360. I have not tried the new XBox One and I have no plans to check it out. Basically it sounds like an XBox 360 with a built-in Kinect. Since I have a Kinect, I don't see any advantage in spending another $300 or whatever for a new console.

Rocksmith 2014 is Ordered! But, I can't Play It.

Yep - you'd think the author of possibly the only Rocksmith blog in existence would have been among the first to order, play, and review the new 2014 edition. That would be a reasonable conclusion for someone who doesn't know me very well. But, to be fair, it's not just chronic procrastination and my fickle interests which have delayed my efforts.

First, there was a minor issue with my Amazon order. I actually pre-ordered Rocksmith 2014, sans RealTone cable, way back in September. But, apparently I never got around to updating my credit card info on my Amazon account and the order got cancelled. OK, so procrastination was sort of the root cause. By the time I got around to fixing the issue with my Amazon account, pre-orders were done, I'd missed out on the free extra song, and most of you probably had a few hours of play-time logged. I should have my copy of RS2014 by the end of the week. Unfortunately, I won't be able to play it for a while. In fact, I can't play guitar or drums or even pick my nose with my left hand right now. I suppose you could argue that this is also due to procrastination - I should have gotten around to learning how to ride a skateboard years ago. Here's the deal.

When I was a kid I wasn't allowed to own, borrow, rent, or try to ride any skateboard ever. Mom's rule. Dad had prevailed on getting me a bicycle, so I couldn't even appeal to him for leverage on this one. No skateboards for me. Period. (Also no ice hockey, but that's another story for another time.) Of course I broke the rule and rode friends' skateboards once in a while, but my friends weren't really into it so I never had a chance to really develop any skating skills when I was a kid. (I could, however, ride a wheelie on my bike for pretty much as long as I wanted to.) Eventually my interest faded and I just forgot about skateboards. Until very recently.

As long-time followers of this blog already know, I have a young son. He's not a total skater boi, but he's skated casually for a few years. He recently decided that he needed a newer, better board to ride. He also recently decided that I needed a board to ride. Now I have one. Don't ask. I'm not going to argue about boards or trucks or wheels here. It's an inexpensive longboard, just something I can fit both of my adult-sized feet onto and enjoy riding comfortably. Which is all I need. Like most of my guitars, it's good enough for me and probably better than what someone at my low skill level actually deserves.

Before you jump to any conclusions, I do just fine riding up and down the street and even negotiating our relatively steep driveway and making the 90 degree turn into the street from our driveway. I can ride a skateboard, thank you very much. But, I'm probably about as good on a skateboard as I am on guitar. I can strum along pretty nicely but I haven't really worked up to any cool tricks. Which is sort of how I got into the state I'm in now.

I have seen lots of really cool skateboarding videos. One thing I always thought looked especially fun is riding in a bowl. I mean, it's like a perpetual motion machine. You never have to walk back to the top of a hill or pedal or push or put up a sail or anything. You just roll down into a bowl or pool and momentum does the rest. Sure, the turn-around at the top looks a little tricky, but I wasn't looking to do a grab on the edge with my board six feet up in the air. I just wanted to sort of wallow around back and forth without having to push for a while.

Last month, after an out-of-town softball tournament, my son and I found some concrete bowls at a park and had the opportunity to try them out. After tentatively poking around inside the big bowl for a few minutes, I concluded that the only way to do this was to get a rolling start up top and just ride over the edge into the bowl. So I did. This was the skating equivalent of grabbing my Epiphone Les Paul Special and jumping up on stage to play Walk This Way with Aerosmith. Like playing guitar, bowl-riding on a skateboard is a lot harder than it looks in the videos, and I was nowhere near ready for it. Gotta give me credit for trying, though, right?

I'm not even sure what happened once I went over the edge and down into the bowl. When I hit the ground I felt my elbow come apart and a quick glance suggested that my arm was probably broken. I said, "Ouch." Or something. My son retrieved my board while my wife and daughter retrieved me. We walked a couple of blocks to our van and drove a few more blocks to the nearest ER where I spent the next 10 hours, 7 of which under heavy sedation. That was a month ago yesterday.

Turned out my elbow was dislocated. Basically, my forearm bone had been pushed out of the joint that connects it to my upper arm bone and a few fragments of the joint got broken off in the process. Also, my wrist was sprained and my left ass-half was bruised so bad that it's still a little tender. The ER docs did what they call a "reduction" to put my arm back together. Ten days later, I had surgery to tighten up the ligaments and other tissues that hold elbows together. I didn't have a cast, but I was in a splint for a few weeks which made it impossible to do a lot of the things I normally do with my left hand -  like eating, writing, washing my right armpit, or picking my left nose - and a few things that I normally do with both hands - like buttoning the top few buttons on shirts and playing guitar. Now I'm out of the splint and in therapy to recover my range of motion. It ain't fun.

A couple of nights ago I picked up my latest guitar acquisition - a Michael Kelly Valor with coil-splitters and some awesome abalone fret markers - but all I could manage to play was the open chords at the nut. The E chord was a little bit of a strain. So, I guess I'm really not much worse on guitar than I was before all of this happened. I'm still a hack!

Still, I'm looking forward to giving the new Rocksmith a test drive. Amazon guarantees it'll be on my doorstep by tomorrow. I'll let you know.