I guess I should start this by admitting that I’m not a fan of the Rock Band 1 Stratocaster. I hated it. If you spent a lot of time with a Guitar Hero guitar of any type, the Strat just felt awful. Stiff buttons. Mushy strum bar. The area by the strum bar is also very crowded with the whammy bar, selector switch, and start/back/guide buttons all crammed into a tiny area. And the extra solo frets close to the body of the guitar are a great idea, but kind of hard to use. The one thing I did like was that alt strumming (going up and down rather than just down) felt very natural and realistic. But on the whole, I wasn’t a fan.
At first glance, not much has changed with the Rock Band 2 guitar. It is still a Strat, it is still crowded, and the buttons still feel stiff. But there are a couple of key changes that make a pretty big difference here. First off, the strum bar is better. It doesn’t give you that nice “click” like a GH guitar, but it has a lot less travel than the RB1 Strat and just plain feels better to play. I used to kind of get lost in long repeating sections with the RB1 Strat since it was harder to count notes. I haven’t had that problem with this one. Overall this is just a much nicer feeling and better playing guitar despite the fact that not much has really changed on the outside. It takes quite a bit of practice to really get used to it if you are used to the Les Paul, but the RB2 Stratocaster is a solid guitar that is worth picking up.
The second big change is that it is wireless. And unlike the GH3 Les Paul, you don’t have to worry about a stupid detachable neck that has done nothing but cause problems. So, if you’re looking for a new wireless guitar, the RB2 Strat has the edge in terms of reliability. And like I said, you do get used to it eventually.
And the third change is that this is probably the nicest looking plastic guitar that has been released yet. This won’t matter much to most gamers, but to non-gamers or casual fans, it actually is pretty important. The guitar has a woodgrain look on the neck and on the body that looks pretty darn realistic. I know we’re just playing plastic instruments here, but when you play something that looks and even feels fairly realistic, it helps absorb you into the game that much more.
Overall, the Rock Band 2 Stratocaster is a definite improvement over the first Strat. It looks great, is wireless, and feels a lot better to play. If you liked the Strat to begin with, you’ll love this new one. If you have spent the last few years slavishly devoted to Guitar Hero, however, you’ll be in for a rough ride at first if you make the switch to the Strat. When you get used to it, though, nothing beats it. The Rock Band 2 Stratocaster will set you back $70.
Unlike the original Strat guitar, the Rock Band 1 drums were pretty easy to love the first time you sat down behind them. It really felt like you were playing real drums. Of course, it also sounded like you were playing real drums too, which was a bit of a problem. Having wires strung across the room to the drums also wasn’t optimal when your guitar players wanted to wander around and look cool.
The Rock Band 2 drum set solves both of these issues. First off, they are wireless. Battery life seems to be a bit of an issue, only lasting a few (few as in 2-4) hours at most. I recommend picking up some rechargeable batteries. Also, the drums come with batteries and they are taped to the top flap of the box where the drum parts are. Don’t do what I did and frantically search for 5 minutes and read the box over and over again to make sure the batteries were included.
The noise problem has also been somewhat solved. The drums aren’t necessarily quiet, but they don’t make nearly as much racket as the original drums so it is a definite improvement. The main change is that the drum heads are softer and more rubbery than the harder more plastic heads on the original. The different heads make the sticks bounce a little differently than you are used to, but with a little practice they feel great.
The pedal has also seen some attention. The guts of it seem to be the same, but there is now a metal plate on top, which will hopefully keep it from snapping in half. Playing correctly and not letting your friends stomp on the pedal while they play would probably help that as well. The drums also have ports for cymbal add-ons and you can even plug two bass pedals in at once.
Performance wise, the new drums do make a difference. I have had fewer missed notes due to the more sensitive drum heads. Now when I don’t hit as hard with my wimpy, wimpy, wimpy left hand as I do with my hefty, hefty, hefty right hand (which happens a lot, my left arm sucks) I don’t miss nearly as many notes.
The Rock Band 2 drums come with an $89.99 pricetag, which is pretty high, especially if you already purchased the Rock Band 1 set less than a year ago. They are worth it, however. They sound better. They play better. And they shouldn’t break as easily. The Rock Band 2 drums are highly recommended.
All in all, the new instruments released alongside Rock Band 2 are very solid and definitely are improved over the RB1 versions. The guitar by itself is $70 and the drums by themselves are $80, and the game is another $60 on top of that. So if you plan on buying everything anyway, you are definitely better off waiting until October 19th when you can buy the whole thing as a set for $190 that also comes with a microphone. If you are just looking for a guitar or a new drum set by itself, though, the Rock Band 2 instruments are definitely worth picking up.