This was originally published as an Amazon review for this listing. Despite being rated as quite helpful, it is so buried that I can’t find it when I need to and am reposting it here…

When I got my MadCatz Fender Mustang Guitar Controller, I felt kind of sorry for it because for some reason someone felt it was necessary to put this message on the front of its packaging: "Not A Real Guitar". No, I guess not. A "real guitar" is like my Fender Strat which sat in the closet unplayed for 20 years due to a disheartening lack of real guitar playing talent. To me, that’s a real guitar.

I’ve had my MFMGC for only a week now and I’m sure I’ve played it more than I played my Strat in 20 years. The disheartening lack of real guitar playing talent is not a problem on an instrument that is not a real guitar! With some computer help, playing this thing is a ton of actual fun and I actually feel like I’m gaining some real guitar playing talent as a bonus.

I’m not a great judge of whether a guitar-like object is big or small, so I’ll provide some useful dimensions for you to decide for yourself.

  • Neck length (nut to 17th fret): 405mm

  • Width head (E to E centers at nut): 34mm

  • Width tail (E to E centers at 17th fret): 45mm

  • Width strings (E to E centers on strings): 47mm

Some things about playing this are a lot easier than a "real guitar" and some things are harder. Obviously I don’t have wires slicing into my finger tips. However, I think that if you play with this thing for hours a day (which is easy to do), you’ll go far in preparing your fingertips for real guitar strings. The button action is definitely not real strings, but it’s not a terrible substitute if you’re not fussy. The button action seems pretty capable of doing what needs to be done. I have had a button get stuck pressed in, but it’s very rare and the RockBand feedback points it out right away. Tapping that button cures the problem.

I’m no expert but playing RockBand3 with this seems to foster good habits. The weird one is that you never look at the thing. Never. Harmonix made a fuss about how cool their fret fingering feedback is and that’s true, however, they intentionally kept quiet about string feedback because, of course, there is none. I find myself resting the pick on a string just so I can know where it or its neighbor is when I need it. On a "real guitar" that would mute that string.

Some RockBand specific features are good, some not so good. For example, this device can automatically calibrate your audio and video latency for optimal game play. The menu in RockBand to use this feature was kind of confusing, but eventually it seemed to work. I do not like the overdrive feature being tied to the "Select" button. It would have been better had they put it on the down pad or maybe the X. Overdrive still works fine if you tip the neck up to some steep angle, but with complex playing that can be tricky if you’re sitting down.

I’ve played this probably over 50 hours now and I’m still on the original 3 AA batteries. Could be worse for a wireless device. I should note that the battery compartment doesn’t have a stupid retaining screw so you don’t have to find a small screwdriver just to change the batteries like you did on other RockBand guitar controllers.

Now we come to the coolest part about this unreal guitar. I had thought that if I were going to design such a thing I wouldn’t reinvent the wheel but instead I’d use a standard music instrument digital interface. And indeed, they did and they even put a standard MIDI output port on this. This feature makes the price suddenly pretty interesting just for a MIDI controller. After some fussing, I was finally able to hook the Mustang up to a MIDI to USB converter and get Ubuntu on my laptop to see the MIDI events. Then I used the awesome and free music editor Rosegarden to redirect the MIDI events back out to Fluidsynth, a free software synthesizer. This allowed me to play the guitar controller and have the sound come out my laptop. There’s a bit of latency with such a setup, but it proves the controller is serious about standard MIDI output. It’s not going to be the best guitar-like MIDI controller in the world, but for educational purposes and simple guitar track recording, I think it’s great. One odd thing is that if you hit an open string, it tends not to ever decay depending on the patch. However, when you hit a fretted note, the note decays after you let up on the fret button. The way to cancel an open string note is to press a button on that string. It’s workable. There’s even a mode (press "Start") to send note events by pressing the fret buttons and ignoring strumming (think fretboard tapping). I also confirmed that the strings were velocity sensitive I don’t think it’s extremely fine, but there are at least two levels of intensity for hitting a string. I should also mention the mysterious headphone jack which disables the MIDI output. I don’t know what it’s for, but I didn’t hear anything with headphones.

So there you have it. This is not a "real guitar". But it is a real musical instrument (technically a part of one) and a pretty fancy one at that. I’m having a great time with it and for me it’s a better way to improve "real guitar" playing skills than playing a real guitar.


The comments were helpful and I’ll reproduce them here too.

Jose - 2011

Hey Chris

Thanks for the review. Can you please tell me what exact pieces of software you used on Ubuntu? I mean, what did you install to display the notes, download free music sheets, etc. I also have Ubuntu at home.

Thanks in advance

Chris Edwards - 2011

I used Rosegarden and Fluidsynth to make this guitar controller play something in real time. Basically in Rosegarden there is a setting for MIDI monitoring. You have to set up the MIDI connection so that it points to your Fluidsynth process which should be running in the background. With Rosegarden you can record MIDI events and arrange music and a bunch of other stuff. It also will arrange sheet music out of what you’ve composed. I just recently also bought (not free!) GuitarPro6 and that’s quite cool too. It will allow you to download lots of tab and sheet music floating around on line that’s in GP format. It will also allow you to record tracks from this guitar controller with a "MIDI capture" mode. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a MIDI monitor mode, so real time playing is a no go. You can play something (silently) and then have GP play it back to you with a seemingly limitless combinations of effects and amp properties. That’s all I know. If you discover something fun, let me know. Maybe in a couple of years "Frets On Fire" will be sporting a pro mode. I hope so!

geoffreyerffoeg - 2014

Chris, you’ll probably get slightly less latency if you use the aconnect command instead of routing through Rosegarden. See the manpage, but basically run aconnect -i and aconnect -o to see what the client and port numbers are for inputs and outputs, and then run aconnect to set up a pipe between the guitar input and the FluidSynth output.

David C. - 2014

As you probably figured out by now. the jack is not for headphones but a pedal. You can hook up a switch pedal or an "expression" pedal, each of which will return appropriate MIDI events. The pedal from Rock Band drums will fit and should work as a switch pedal. I don’t know what you can use as an expression pedal (all of my keyboard pedals have 1/4" jacks).

For some reason, MadCatz never published the MIDI manual that explains how this is all supposed to work.

Chris Edwards - 2014

Thanks for posting that. I did not ever learn what the 1/4" jack was for. Your explanation seems plausible. I did write to MadCatz and asked them for a MIDI reference. They said they had one and referred me to some document that was more of a marketing feature list than a proper manual. This thing is so useful as a MIDI controller, I’m sure someone will reverse engineer it properly eventually. I am currently enjoying using it with Piano Booster, which is free sight reading training software. Works great. I’m surprised there aren’t more educational products offered that take advantage of this controller.