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Battle of the axes: Rock Band 3's Pro guitar vs. real guitar

We roll video on a side-by-side comparison of Rock Band 3's new Pro guitar controller and a real guitar.

Now playing: Watch this: Rock Band 3's Fender Mustang Pro guitar versus a real...

With Rock Band 3, music games take a significant leap, adding a level of real-music simulation previously unseen in this genre. Part of it is the two-octave MIDI keyboard that comes with the game, but even more interesting is the optional Pro-level guitar controller. Made by MadCatz and using a licensed Fender Mustang design, the guitar has separate buttons for each string at every fret--102 buttons in all--meaning one can play actual guitar chords on it.

To compare the experience to actual music-making, I whipped out a real guitar (in this case a Fender Telecaster--sorry, I don't have a Mustang) and did a side-by-side run-through. By hooking up this Pro guitar and playing on the hard or expert difficulty levels, the guitar part consists of the actual chords from the song in question.

The Rock Band 3 Fender Mustang and a real-life Fender Telecaster. Sarah Tew/CNET

Unfortunately, the onscreen notation for this was unfathomable to me, with lines of varying heights indicating the fingering, starting with a root note. Fortunately, the actual chord names float by at the same time, and if you stick with those, the effect is very close to real guitar playing.

For the demo in the video above, I grabbed a segment of "Space Oddity" as an example of a song with easy-to-strum open chords, and played it both on the Mustang controller and then plugged the Telecaster into a tiny amp and played along with the same segment to illustrate the similarities. (And if my playing is a little rusty, that's probably why my most recent album is currently No. 319,053 in Amazon's MP3 store).

A closer look at the fretboards of both instruments. Sarah Tew/CNET

A couple of caveats: This works better on some songs than others. Songs with big strummy chords are best, and as the game only gives you the basic chord name, you'll have to hope the game is using the same chord voicing as you are.

If anything, this new breed of music game controller at least solves a basic problem of the genre by making real-world music ability a usable in-game asset.