How to Make Your Rocksmith 2014 Experience Even Better

Rocksmith 2014 is awesome. It is the epitome of music gaming--never before has a piece of software so brilliantly bridged the gap between the likes of Guitar Hero and an actual stage. Sure, it isn't the be-all, end-all solution to guitar instruction--if you're truly a beginner, lessons are still the way to go--but as a practice tool and a way to learn/play new songs, Rocksmith is invaluable.

That isn't to say there aren't flaws associated with Ubisoft's foray into guitar gaming. Rocksmith 2014 is a lot of things, but alas, perfect isn't one of them--especially if you knew how to play guitar prior to giving Rocksmith a whirl.

Thankfully, many of these annoying little ticks have workarounds. So before you throw your hands up with frustration and move onto another round of Halo 4, try out these easy-to-implement ways of making your Rocksmith 2014 experience even better.

Make The Note Highway More Guitar Tab-Like

When it comes to actually showing us which notes to play on the on-screen fretboard, Rocksmith 2014 does something kind of interesting: it acts like a mirror. In other words, the thickest string is shown at the top, and the thinnest string at the bottom.

Ubisoft claims that viewing the guitar fretboard in such a manner is the most effective and intuitive way for a beginner to grasp things, and hey, I'm not going to argue with them. It is, after all, a lot like having an instructor playing directly in front of you.

But here's the deal--guitar tablature has traditionally always presented the fretboard in reverse: thickest string on the bottom, thinnest string at the top. If you've been playing the guitar for a while and have worked with tablature before, Rocksmith's more "intuitive" approach can be maddening. For the seasoned guitarists among us, it's quite literally upside-down from what we're used to working with.

At this point, we have two options. We can either (A) give into Rocksmith's default note highway and re-learn how we approach on-screen tablature or (B) change a few settings here and there to make the note highway more traditional-tablature friendly.

I don't know about you, but I opted for option (B). It's made learning new songs far, far easier, and I'm not going back.

Here's how you can can flip the fretboard in Rocksmith 2014 and make it more like traditional guitar tablature. From the main menu:

  1. Go to "Options"
  2. Then go to "Game"
  3. Then go to "Settings"
  4. Then go to"String Layout"
  5. And finally, pick "Inverted."

Now when you start a song, the on-screen fretboard will more closely reflect that of traditional guitar tablature.

Keep in mind that this doesn't necessarily make the Rocksmith 2014 experience better for everyone, but it should alleviate some of the stress for those of us who learned how to play via tablature. If you decide you don't like the inverted fretboard, just follow the aforementioned steps and change it back to the default setting.

Inverting the note highway makes Rocksmith 2014 more like traditional guitar tablature.
Inverting the note highway makes Rocksmith 2014 more like traditional guitar tablature.

Use A Real Guitar Amp With Rocksmith 2014

Ubisoft has stated in their marketing videos that Rocksmith 2014 is virtually lag-free (granted you're not using HDMI for audio), and I'm going to say that their claims are true. Or, at the very least, if there is lag between what is played on a guitar versus what is heard in-game, then it's very hard to notice.

With that said, there are still moments when the game doesn't pick up a particular note, or worse: it accepts your botched execution as perfection, and you're none the wiser. Fiddling with the mix may help alleviate such worries (turn the music volume down, turn your guitar volume up), but there's an even better way to actually hear exactly what you're playing: use a real guitar amp.

Setting up Rocksmith 2014 with a real guitar amp is pretty easy, but you're going to need additional equipment. That's the bad news. The good news is that if your guitar experience precedes your time with Rocksmith, then you probably have most of these.

First and foremost, you'll need a guitar amp. Hopefully this is obvious. Any guitar amp will do. I use an Orange Micro Terror. It also works with my Fender Mustang V half-stack. Again--your choice of amp doesn't matter, as long as it's a guitar amp.

Next, you'll need something to split the guitar signal. An obvious choice here would be a dedicated ABY splitter--this one from Morley has been championed as a viable solution on Rocksmith message boards, and you can grab it for less than $50. I happened to have an old Rocktron chorus pedal with two outputs laying around the proverbial woodshed, and it works equally as well.

Finally, you'll need at least two guitar cables (not including the Rocksmith Real Tone cable).

The set-up here is simple:

  1. Plug the Rocksmith Real Tone cable into one of the outputs of your signal-splitting device.
  2. Use a guitar cable to connect the other output of your splitting device with the input of your amp.
  3. Plug your guitar into the input of the splitting device.

If you did this correctly, Rocksmith will still be able to recognize the notes you're playing, but you'll be able to hear your guitar through an amp as well. How cool is that?!

If you choose to go the real amp route, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • A split signal is a weaker signal. If Rocksmith is having trouble detecting your notes, try turning up the gain on your Real Tone cable from the sound setting menu.
  • On the flip side, increase the gain on your amplifier if you're not getting a strong signal enough for it. Make sure the volume knob on your guitar is turned all the way up as well. Also--consider using a "hotter" pickup, if possible. Bridge pickups are usually a little more powerful than neck pickups, and this could make quite a difference.
  • Turn down the guitar volume within the mix so you're not hearing your part twice (it sounds surreal and can be pretty distracting).
  • If you're using an effects pedal to split the signal from your guitar, make sure that it's not on/the signal in unaffected. You want the signal sent to Rocksmith to be as clean as possible.
  • Note that this "hack" won't improve note recognition within Rocksmith itself, but you'll be able to more clearly identify moments when your playing is sloppy and needs work. But remember this--it's all about improving your playing, not getting a high score. Breaking the Top 10 on a leaderboard isn't going to get you on stage.

I use an effects pedal with two outputs to play Rocksmith 2014 with a real guitar amp.
I use an effects pedal with two outputs to play Rocksmith 2014 with a real guitar amp.

Use The Real Tone Cable To Record Guitar

The Real Tone cable that came packaged with your copy of Rocksmith is a neat little piece of tech, but it isn't exactly revolutionary. At the end of the day, it is simply a 1/4" jack to USB cable with a signal digitizer thrown in between.

Long story short, it's just like all the other guitar-to-USB cables out there. Which means that you can use it as a guitar recording interface on your computer. It isn't the best one available, but it should suffice in basic home studio settings. Either way, if you own Rocksmith 2014 then you already have this cable--might as well get the most out of it, right?

To use the Real Tone cable as a recording interface, you're going to need:

  • A computer. The Real Tone cable is multi-platform, so it will work with virtually any system.
  • A DAW that supports plug-ins. Check out this article for more information on low-cost DAW options.
  • Non-proprietary guitar modeling software. AmpliTube is a popular guitar modeling option, and a free version is available if you don't need any bells and whistles.

If you're using a Mac computer, then you probably have all three of these requirements. The Real Tone cable works splendidly with Garageband (which you can download for free), and this wonderful little DAW has guitar modeling built right into it. Just plug your guitar in, open Garageband, and start a new guitar track. It also works great with Logic Pro X.

If you're using a Windows machine, I highly recommend installing the ASIO4ALL driver (it's free). This will help alleviate any lag issues you may be having.

The Rocksmith Real Tone cable works great with the amp models in Logic Pro X.
The Rocksmith Real Tone cable works great with the amp models in Logic Pro X.
Using only the drums in Session Mode makes Rocksmith 2014 the ultimate metronome.
Using only the drums in Session Mode makes Rocksmith 2014 the ultimate metronome.

Get The Most Out Of Session Mode

Rocksmith 2014 is a wonderful way to learn new songs, but there's more to guitar than playing along with your favorite artists. To really excel at the instrument, you need to practice scales, work on techniques, noodle around, establish your style. Some folks will be quick to point out that you'll need lots of guitar time away from Rocksmith, but I beg to differ, for within this software is one of the most valuable practice tools available today: Session Mode.

If you own Rocksmith 2014, then you already know what Session Mode is, and you probably know how awesome it can be. If you don't know what it is, well, here's a TL;DR explanation--it plays a customizable backing track that works dynamically with your guitar playing. It's kind of like the CD backing tracks of yore, but a lot better--and virtually never-ending.

Out of the box, Session Mode gives you a wide array of scales and chord patterns to work with. As such, it's a fantastic songwriting/solo-writing/riff-writing tool. One thing I like to do, however, is turn off all the instruments except the drummer and use it as a metronome. Having a virtual drummer keeping beat is way more interesting than monotonous clicking, and since all the other instruments are turned off, this allows me to work on chromatic exercises that aren't bogged down by harmony restrictions (like the ones found in the awesome Guitar Aerobics by Troy Nelson).

Nothing really beats jamming with an actual (live) band, but Session Mode is a close second. Use it within your already-established guitar practice routine, and you'll come to realize how invaluable it really can be.

If you're lost/don't know how to navigate your way through Session Mode, check out this awesome in-depth tutorial made by the good people over at Ubisoft:

Did you play guitar before picking up Rocksmith 2014?

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