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.


  1. Just grabbed RS2014 for steam since it was on sale for under $30 (no cable). Haven't installed it yet, but I look forward to trying it out. Iron Maiden/Green Day DLC, here I come... Appreciate your continued reviews and experiences...

    Anyway, you mentioned that RS forces you to tune often. Does 2014 force you to retune as often as ORS did? I understand *why* they did that, but I still find it annoying. I wouldn't mind if that was one of the changes for 2014. :-)

    Keep blogging - nice work.

  2. NO! The almost constant tuning of the original Rocksmith is gone! Yea! That's an under-rated improvement that just dawned on me earlier today when I read this post again. I really can't even tell you exactly when you have to tune in RS-2014. Seems like about once per session is it unless you go to the tuner voluntarily. And, on that note, I need to figure out how to do that.

    You'll have to let me know how things work out with Steam and RS-2014 for PC (or Mac).

    1. I installed last night, and fired it up (PC laptop) just to get through the "first time setup stuff". Didn't even have my bass in the same room. Well, it detects "no cable" before I got very far, so I grabbed the bass and plugged it in, just to get through calibration or whatever. An hour and a half later, I had to force myself to go to bed so that I could function today.

      I notice no lag at all - if anything, it's TOO forgiving about note timing. Maybe that's due to me just starting or something (and RS considering me an absolute, total newb, which isn't too far from reality), but I was surprised to get an "every phrase perfect" when I played score attack, or whatever that's called. And my laptop is probably.... 4-5 yrs old, and wasn't high-end at that time. I noticed no problems with gameplay, but the only thing I have to compare it to is ORS on the same PC. From my one play of RS14, it seems to have much improved gameplay, when I half-expected that my laptop wouldn't be able to handle it at all....

      The "constant tuning" issue is MUCH improved. I only tuned once through-out all the mini-games and songs that I played.

      I can't comment much on the game itself, since I haven't explored very much, but I had a lot of fun in my first hour-plus. The mini-games are still "meh" to me, but I liked the "learn a song" "percentage scoring". The whole "number score" to me was pretty arbitrary, although I used it as "mile markers" on songs that I was having trouble qualifying for - "when I'm at this point in the song, I usually have X points, am I above or below that on this attempt?". The percentage score is a better indicator of how much of the song I've actually learned...

      Did a few things just to accomplish the "missions" - not sure how I feel about that yet. I don't *want* to figure out how to slow a song down to 75% in RR just to accomplish an arbitrary mission, but I get that they're just walking you through how to use RS to it's fullest....

      Anyway - didn't mean to write a book here. Wasn't sure I'd be happy that I upgraded though, and I definitely am. And as I think about it - I think I enjoyed "just playing", rather than being frustrated about not being able to accomplish the damned event that I've been stuck on in ORS for a long time now. I think I *like* not being told "here are the 5 songs chosen for you that you must prove competence before you can move on". I can still "progress" (missions, achievements, "song tasks", whatever), even with songs of my own choosing, and mix it all up as I see fit. Like I said though - only been an hour and a half with the game, maybe it was just nice to pick up my bass back up.

      One random thought - I want to know what bass he's using in the technique vids - thing looks sweet. :-)

      Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.... \m/

    2. You are seriously in danger of being drafted as a co-blogger here! I welcome your comments! Great to hear that you got RS14 running on PC. I had read some bad reviews of the PC version, but I may have to give it a shot soon. I totally agree with everything you said about the scoring (I talk about that more in detail in another recent post - but I can't remember which one). I always liked using the running score as an indicator of improvement, but I never fully trusted the scoring paradigm in RS because it was just so freaking complex with all its bonuses for technique and early grooves, etc. The new percentage at least seems to be light years ahead!

  3. FWIW, when my kid was 3 (almost 4) he loved "helping" me blow away zombies in Dawn of the Chordead in the original RS. I would get on my knees and he would stand between me and the guitar body. I would finger the chords and yell "STRUM IT!" and he would rake the pick across some/all of the strings. Sometimes he would get lucky and hit the root and the bad guys would fall. He was equally delighted with them "thoonk"ing against the TV screen as well. After a while he got pretty good at going through the strings one by one to make sure the guitar was in tune. Of course, he was (and still is) too small to actually play, but good times nonetheless.

    1. Too cool! I've almost gotten to where I don't like to play RS with my son any more - he always kicks my butt!

  4. My girls have a First Act guitar and amp set we got from one of the department stores for $150 years ago. If I change the strings on it and tune it, will they be able to use to with Rocksmith properly? They have not learned to play at all so far and I would like to keep my investment down to just the game and not another guitar at this stage if at all possible.

    1. Dominic: Thanks for reading! In all honesty, the First Act guitar you have will probably work just fine for now. If your girls get seriously interested, you can probably trade that guitar in on a better one later (and you still won't need to spend much money). What you save on guitar lessons with Rocksmith will more than pay for better guitars in a year or so.

      I definitely recommend GOOD, new strings. GHS, D'Addario, just about any brand sold at music stores is fine. (NOT Wal-mart or Target!) Will cost you no more than $10 for a decent set of strings and there are some deals in music stores this time of year.

      If your girls are pretty young, I'd recommend a Medium-Light string guage (thinner strings). They're a little easier for little hands to fret. You don't want anything too thin - those will bend out of tune easily and also cut into finger tips. Coated strings might be more comfortable for little fingers, but I don't know.

      Musician's Friend has some coated strings on sale right now that come in Rocksmith string colors! (The top string is red, A is yellow, etc.) Very cool, and possibly helpful for beginners playing Rocksmith for the first time. Two sets of these are going for $12 at Musician's Friend (or at least they were as late as yesterday).

      Please let me know how it goes!