As a guitar, the Rock Band 3 Mustang is a bit unusual – there are strings, but an array of buttons replaces the frets, and it is intended as a game controller. But with all those buttons, strings, and sensors, it makes a remarkably flexible, surprisingly inexpensive controller. Our friend nay-seven puts it to good use with Sensomusic Usine. And talk about a budget-minded setup – one that could put platforms like the iPad to shame. Usine costs just EUR90 for a full license, with discounted educational pricing and a version you can try for free. The Mustang runs just over US$100, which could put it in the category of must-buy for anyone who loves experimenting with alternative controllers – guitarist or not. Add an inexpensive Windows laptop and audio interface, and you’ve got a pretty terrific setup.

Previously, with the help of Harmonix engineers, we documented how the MIDI spec works:
Exclusive Details: How the Rock Band 3 Fender Mustang Works as a MIDI Guitar

nay-seven writes:

I’ve discover this guitar with this article Peter, so thanks for this ! it’s a quiet cool guitar and cheap for the possibilities . I’ve made a little patch in Usine to add some features like open tuning, x/y visualization, and you can also use most of the buttons to run effects or samples.

Your mileage may vary, but it sure looks promising. Keep in mind, this is the cheaper Rock Band controller with buttons. As such, it’s a good choice for people wanting some cheap experimentation and people who aren’t guitarists. As for the real guitar controller for Rock Band 3, the Fender Squier Rock Band Controller, I have a writer working on documenting its more advanced MIDI features. It’s more complicated, and I can’t endorse it just yet – wait for the full review and details.

  • Bob

    Yeah, but what's the headstock look like? lol

  • Like a miniature plastic Fender headstock 🙂

    I bought one of these when they first came out.  They're actually a lot of fun, although they've got their problems, but I do use it and enjoy having it around.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Warrior Bob: I'd be curious to know what the problems are!

  • Jonah

    Nothing wrong with Usine, but you should be able to set up a Logic environment(and similar in Cubase) to accomplish most of that, right? 
    I'm confused by accelerometer. What is the analog on a real guitar? Also, if you pulled a Paul Simonon or Pete Townshend would it pick up the data on the full range of the swing?
    PS. Where's the donate button? All the Pi day articles were awesome.

  • Johnny

    Great as an alternative micro-tonal controller.
    Id be interested to know which format is the best to invest in (XBOX, PS3 or Wii)?

    Which console version has the best protocol for programs such as USINE, OSCULATOR, MAX, REAKTOR etc, etc ?

    As a PC owner, XBOX is the likely choice, but what about MAC owners?

  • N ew Potty

    I bought a Mustang to try as a MIDI controller. Unfortunately, it's lack of velocity/aftertouch made it fall very flatfor me as an expressive controller, and so I returned it. This Usine app might get around that (with some work, so it appears).

  • Peter Kirn

    Oh, yeah, absolutely – you can use any host that works with MIDI.

    @Johnny: Not sure I understand the question… plenty of Mac owners have Xbox 360. There are drivers for all the controllers, albeit non-official ones. Even most media streaming and sharing options work (you can also play from a USB key).

  • First, thanks again peter for your interest.
    @Johnny : don't think it's really important , this one is the ps3 version but i don't own the console . it's an old 5 pins midi port and all message are classic ones , note on/off , CC, pitchbend and many sys ex .
    @N ew Potty : yes, it's need a little work but if you add range on the accelerometers information, you can have some interesting expression, but i think the best use is to don't try to reproduce any reel instrument expression but to adapt yourself . It's a little the same discussion about touch screen and midi controllers best use that we have with Peter last time … 😉

  • epiphanius

    I wonder what the odds are of some clever hacker getting the midi to work over wireless…guess the first question is: what wireless protocol do these devices / consoles use…

  • Igor

    I'd already buy one, if the upcoming ZTAR Rockontroller wouldn't look so sexy…

  • @Peter The problems aren't dealbreakers, just awkwardnesses mostly!  For example, the switches under the fret buttons are centered on the button, which means that if you press the button on either side of the switch, you need significantly more force than if you pressed it in the middle.  This isn't a huge deal if you press carefully, but it's not always clear if/when a note is going to trigger in response to your playing.
    Another issue I've had is the strings.  They appear to be plastic, or at least plastic-coated, and the dynamic response from them seems pretty inconsistent.  Now, part of this can be fixed by my playing, but it still feels more randomized than not.  The MIDI Velocity effect in Ableton seems to handle this pretty well though – so long as I don't mind confining the dynamic range.  I usually don't.

    The velocity last sent by the strings seems to stick to the buttons in hammer-on mode too.  I'd like it if I could set a default so that every tap on some button, sans strum, always sent the same velocity.  Again, MIDI transforms to the rescue here.

    Finally, there's no real easy way to turn notes OFF, if you want to strum.  You can flat-finger the buttons, but again, because they're somewhat inconsistent in when they trigger, it's hard to get them for sure.  I haven't found a really good solution to this yet, although I've considered using a sustain pedal and trying to rig something up with Pure Data.  Unfortunately, I haven't gotten around to trying it yet.

    Now, of course, I can only complain so much – considering what I paid for it, I'm quite happy even if it just has a row of buttons and no strings!  It's really fun to have six virtual strings with semitone-separated buttons across six MIDI channels.

    Sorry for the super-long comment 🙂

  • @epiphanius If I remember correctly, the PS3 and Xbox controllers use an encrypted Bluetooth system for their wireless controllers.  The Wii also uses bluetooth but it is unencrypted.

  • i was about to buy this controller because it's available in canada for $150.

    but then i saw the squier one you linked to, which will probably be priced at $300 when it arrives. tough call to make here. 

  • This is a rip-off of the yamaha ez-ag guitar synth which also has midi out.

    Its got exactly the same design apart from the extra buttons on this guitar.

    I bought an EZ-AG a few months ago along with a roland midi guitar pickup for my yamaha pacifica guitar..

    The EZ-AG works much better since a midi guitar pickup has all sorts of glitches in the midi data from the slightest noise – i've sold the pickup which was about 4 times more expensive since they are very rare! (roland no longer makes them)

    With the EZ-AG you can change the base chord from the normal egbdfe to anything you want, as well as change the octave up or down 12 cents.

    I play classical guitar, and use this to create orchestral scores of my guitar tunes.

  • I used to play around with EZ-AG as well, and Mustang seems to be pretty close (as well as the issues described by Warrior Bob). It seems that no matter if it's EZ/Mustang or midi pickup, you need to adjust your playing to get good results. I think that the best guitar/midi solution so far was the Peavey Midi Base (never tried it myself, though)…

  • Peter Kirn

    EZ-AG could be a good buy if you can get a deal on one. Anyone know if you can address those lights? 😉

  • EZ-AG seems good too, but no way to find a direct dealer in Europe, so no way to try before , international taxes…
    And for info , there's a direct way to change octave too on the RB3 madcatz .
    But of course, don't except a professional midi guitar for this price, but a cool and effective alternative cheap midi controller 😉

  • Peter-

    Thanks for this post!  I'd really like to see this documentation when it comes out.  Morever, 
    I've got both the Rock Band Mustang and the RB3 Fender Squier.    Let me know if you want a hand with the whole Rock Band midi thing.


  • leakeg

    for the price this really looks great, though I'm not sure whether to get this or to wait for the squier..
    I've heard the squire doesn't have note bending/vibrato… I hope that's not true…if so that kind of defeats the purpose of having strings in the first place.

  • Timecomputers

    Mustang just only lacks the full spectrum of string sensitivity , if this is sorted out , u have a fantastic midi guitar controller out there… s

  • Timecomputers

    Mustang just only lacks the full spectrum of string sensitivity , if this is sorted out , u have a fantastic midi guitar controller out there… s