Tom Ross: Guitar Hero or Guitar Zero?

Just get yourself a guitar and learn to play real music


Tom Ross

Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or

Find more columns by Tom here.

— Welcome to the age of the "Guitar Zero." You may fool yourself into thinking you're playing "Stairway to Heaven" on your PlayStation 3, but it's only a half step above air guitar.

The cover story of Sunday's The New York Times Magazine is an in-depth, and I have to say fascinating, look at pop culture. The article, by Daniel Radosh, provides a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the new video game The Beatles: Rock Band by Harmonix, which is owned by MTV. The game allows gamers to simulate playing along with classic Beatles tunes. The article is titled "While my Guitar Gently Beeps," and I'm really envious of the headline writer.

Paul McCartney says the game is groovy, but it may not be a coincidence that Sir Paul and Ringo, along with the widows of John Lennon and George Harrison, are looking forward to the release of re-mastered Beatles CDs next month. RollingStone magazine reports the new CDs are set to drop Sept. 9. That's the same date the game will be released.

The article by Radosh goes into the phenomenon of cranky people such as myself who have hostile reactions to fake guitar video games.

I still say there's no excuse for piddling your time away playing Guitar Hero 5 - due in stores any day now - or The Beatles: Rock Band. Especially not when an equivalent amount of money will buy a perfectly playable Takamine acoustic guitar at First String Music in Steamboat.

That's right, for $100, proprietor Steve Boynton will sell you a real guitar, with strings and everything. He'll even sign you up for lessons!

And if it turns out that you really don't like practicing guitar after all, you can easily re-sell a brand name guitar to another Guitar Hero convert. Or, better yet, give it to a niece or nephew.

Alternately, you could shop for a new or used guitar at Mr. Money on Ninth Street.

If you think you can't afford music lessons, look for endless free lessons on YouTube. Or shop for an instructional DVD. The DVD will allow you to take the same lesson over and over until you master it. And don't worry - you won't hurt Boynton's feelings.

"I remember after Guitar Hero II came out, I had people come in and say, 'I've been playing Guitar Hero for a while now, so it shouldn't be that hard to learn to play real guitar, right?'" Boynton said Monday.

Wrong, Mr. Purple Haze Breath. Expertise in Guitar Hero or Rock Band does not translate into the ability to play a real guitar. That's the whole point - you have to be motivated (even if your motivation is meeting members of the opposite gender) and you have to be willing to practice.

Don't get me wrong. I understand that people derive many hours of harmless enjoyment from playing digital guitar games. It just makes me regretful to think those hours of digital pantomiming could be spent learning to play a real musical instrument and reaping the lifetime of fulfillment that comes with it.

I've actually attempted Guitar Hero - it takes skill and practice. However, as someone who has been a pretty crummy guitar player for decades, I can assure you, picking up your Wii controller and jamming with Aerosmith does not provide the same release of tension as plugging your own bad-to-the-bone axe into a practice amp, popping a concert DVD into your home stereo system and jamming along with Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy.

Or, if you're more talented than me, you could invite friends to sit around the campfire and sing "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" while you strum C, F and G7 chords. Heck, maybe you should throw an E minor in there. Yep, that's an important chord in that song. And it's one of the easiest chords you will ever learn.

What? Michael Row the Boat doesn't float your boat? A simple three-chord version of ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man" can be played using D, C and G chords. You easily can find the lyrics on the Internet.

If you aspire to becoming a rock star wannabe, people, at least get yourself an electric guitar and take some time and learn how to play - even a little bit.

'Cause every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp-dressed man. But fake plastic guitars aren't gonna cut it.

Tom Ross is a longtime Steamboat resident. His column is published Tuesdays and Saturdays in Steamboat Today.


JayKinghorn 7 years, 8 months ago

Great article - using this line of logic I've since stopped playing Madden and joined the NFL. I've also given up on Call of Duty and I'm actively pursuing a career as a Navy Seal.


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