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Sunday, 21 November 2010

How To Record "Real" Guitar With a Rock Band 3 Controller in GarageBand

If you’ve been keeping up with the technological arms race of music video games, you’re probably aware that Rock Band 3, released this October, features a Pro mode that teaches players to actually play guitar or keyboards. A real, stringed electric guitar is forthcoming, but at the moment, Pro guitar mode can only be played with the Mustang – a plastic controller with strings only for strumming, and a neck littered with buttons.

$150 gets you a controller for Rock Band 3 that also doubles as a MIDI controller.

Sure, it’s not a "real" instrument, but thanks to a MIDI output, you can use the Mustang to make very real music...
and some things simply not possible with a regular guitar. Here's how to use GarageBand to shred on that plastic.

Difficulty Level: Medium
What You Need:
>Rock Band 3 Wireless Fender Mustang PRO-Guitar Controller ($149.99)
>> MIDI-to-USB adapter, ex. E-MU Xmidi 1x1 ($29.99)
>> Garageband

1. Tune Up

Don't get ahead of yourself, choosing Guitar here won't do you any good.

Open GarageBand and create a new project. Select Piano as the template, name your project something saucy, and click Create. Before you do anything else, plug your MIDI-to-USB adapter in. We used the $30 E-MU Xmidi, but similar adapters can be found on Amazon for about six bucks. You should get a notification saying, "The number of MIDI inputs has changed. Now one input is available." This is good. Plug the adapter into the Mustang using the plug labeled "MIDI IN" if your MIDI-to-USB’s got one. Turn on the guitar, either with the power switch or by holding down the Xbox button if it’s the 360 controller. Run your fingers across the strings. Hey, check it out: You're strumming a piano!

You can find cheaper MIDI-to-USB adapters, but we won't testify as to their quality.

If you don't see this, something's wrong.

2. Sound Check

You can try other guitar styles, but they'll probably sound pretty funky in the next step.

Now that you’ve got it working, it’s time to make it sound more like a guitar. Click the Info button in the lower right of GarageBand to bring up the track info. You'll see the Grand Piano is selected. Click on Guitars in the left column, and choose Clean Electric in the right column. Give those strings another swipe. Better, right? Still, no one's going to mistake that sound for a real electric guitar, but we’ll get to that.

3. In the Studio

It may seem counterintuitive because it's not going to sound spectacular, but this is the point where you want to record your masterpiece. Hit the Record button and go to town. Play the Mustang just as you would a normal guitar. Now, you will notice a couple idiosyncrasies when playing. For one thing, if you strum an open note it'll just keep ringing out until you hit a button higher on that string; that is, laying a hand over the strings themselves won't stop the sound as it would a real guitar.

$5 to the first person who can identify this song.

Since the MIDI information is transmitted only when you strum a string, you can’t perform hammer-ons or pull-offs. If you were born to shred, you can tap the Start button on the guitar to switch from Strum to Synth mode, which will detect any button press even when you're not strumming. This mode has some weird idiosyncrasies too, but it makes things like hammer-ons, pull-offs, and two-finger tapping possible, so go ahead and get the Eddie Van Halen out of your system.

X and B, Square and Circle, whatever you call 'em, they're Octave Down and Octave Up.

If you find yourself playing too high or too low, tap the left and right "face" buttons on the guitar (X and B on the 360 version or Square and Circle on the PS3) to adjust the octave up and down.

4. A Second Take

Once you're satisfied with the fundamentals of your guitar track, locate the Share menu and choose Export Song to Disc. If you've created any other tracks at this point, you'll want to mute them before doing this by clicking on the speaker icon under the track name; we want just the guitar track exported. In the dialog that pops up, make sure "Compress" is unchecked, and click Export.

Make sure you have any additional tracks muted or you'll have to start all over.

You could compress, but it'd sound nasty.

By default, the guitar track will be saved as an .aif file in the folder where your GarageBand project is stored. We recommend naming it something you’ll remember. Once it's finished saving, switch to Finder, locate the file you just created, and drag it back into GarageBand. This will create a new Real Instrument track – even though you recorded it as a Software Instrument. Make sure you drag the recording in the new track all the way to the beginning of the song to sync it properly with the MIDI track.

You can barely see it, but the new track is being dragged into the Tracks pane.

5. Post Production

Now it’s (finally) time to give your guitar some depth. First, mute your original track. Then select the newly imported track. In the Instrument Info pane, click the Edit tab. Hover over one of the open slots and you'll see a message saying, "Click here to add an effect." Do it and select Amp Simulation and click on the drop-down menu to choose a new effect (it will say "Default" by default). Select anything except the Clean sounds. The American and British Overdrive amps seem to provide particularly crisp results.

The only one we found sounded truly awful was Thick Jazz.

You can experiment with other EQ settings, but focus on brightening or boosting the top end.

No matter what combo you choose, your end result might lack a bit of presence. If it does, click on Visual EQ at the bottom of the Info pane and select Guitar Brighten, and make sure On is checked. Now hit Play. Holy cats, it's a real guitar! Don't worry, we won't tell anyone you're faking.

6. The Experimental Years

Feel free to experiment with other effects, but we make no guarantees.

You can experiment with other EQ settings, but focus on brightening or boosting the top end.

This setup will give you a surprisingly good simulation of a real guitar. But it also gives you a lot more. Since you still have the original Software Instrument track, you can play with the instrument settings to accompany (or harmonize) with your guitar track with a variety of software instruments. Try switching the track instrument from Clean Electric to Organs > Cathedral Organ for an eerie tone, or go for Strings > Hollywood Strings to make it more dramatic. The possibilities are practically endless, especially since you can duplicate either of the track types and apply different effects. And you thought video game controllers were just for playing video games!
Check out audio of our guitar experiment below.

Try some of the Sound Effects for some real hilarity.

 via maclife

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