In the continued search for products that take technology and gaming to the next level, I had to book time with the folks from Inspired Instruments to see the You Rock Guitar. In short, the You Rock Guitar is a digital guitar. Were it just a digital guitar, it would hardly be newsworthy as they have been around for years. Digital guitars use the MIDI specification to interface with computers, are expensive, and perhaps most importantly; due to MIDI this is often a significant delay between hitting a string and the sound reaching the speakers.
The You Rock is different in the fact that is uses a USB connection to directly interact music software which increases the speed of the music reaching the PC. While technically not new (I mentioned the LightSnake USB guitar cable at CES a couple of years ago), digital guitars have either been in the $2,000+ price range, or not worth using.
How does this relate to gaming? That’s what really sets the You Rock Guitar aside from the other digital guitars. The You Rock is specifically designed to also be used as a gaming controller for Rock Band, Guitar Hero, et al. The controller is universal, meaning there is only one version of the You Rock, you simply purchase cartridges for whichever gaming platform you’re playing on. The only drawbacks about this system that I see is that the unit requires a separate cartridge for Rock Band and Guitar Hero when you’re using it with the Wii, and that for the price of the guitar, a cartridge of your choosing should probably be included.
I fiddled around with a demo unit for a little while, and was surprised to find it really did seem like the ‘missing link’ between gaming controllers and guitars. You actually play strings, but the strings are only a few inches long. The fret board has raised ridges that approximate strings, and seem to do so pretty well. There’s a slight tackiness to the fret board in terms of feel, so that slides probably get easier as the unit ages.
There are a mess of other guitar centric features such as a multitude of preloaded guitar sounds, sampled from guitars from vintage to modern. There’s also a feature that reminded me of my old casio keyboard growing up; press a button and you get a prerecorded background track to play against. Along with all of the preloaded guitar sounds, you also get 50 popular backing tracks. Gaming even comes to play a little bit here as well: If you play a note that doesn’t fit with the chord the backing track is played in, you get a similar guitar fail sound to that which you hear in Rock Band.
The SRP for the Your Rock Guitar is $199, with street price expected to be around $179, and the cartridges run about $20 - $30 depending on platform. We should be reviewing the unit sometime in February, so we’ll have more on this interesting product then.