Guitar Hero Instrument

In 2007, my roommate Kevin Rogers and I bought a Guitar Hero game. It was inevitable, every time we walked into a video game store with a demo version, we would play for about half an hour, seeing who could play better. We were not good at it; although we were both music students, we were hardly capable of beating a song on medium difficulty. Eventually, we worked up our skills enough to graduate to the expert difficulty.

One thing that struck me about the game is that it has a stigma from those people who think it is ruining the potential musical literacy of children by giving them instant success versus practicing on a real instrument. This led me to want to turn the controller into a viable instrument.


I wrote Guitar Hero Instrument in MaxMSP on my Macbook to turn the XBOX360 Guitar Hero controller into a playable instrument. This software has a lot of features, including harmonic tweaking, overdrive, delay, scale selection, and scale temperament (from 3 to 25-note equal temperament). It processes the controller input into pitches based on which button is pressed first and subsequent slurring; this gives the controller a range of 25 pitches (these pitches depend on base frequency, harmonic tweaking, and scale selection). The Guitar Hero controller's tilt function is not mapped to any software feature at this time.

After I had finished writing it, I discovered FRETBUZZ, another MaxMSP-centric software package to turn the controller into a playable instrument. This software is not derived from FRETBUZZ in any way.

Everything in the software is self-explanatory, but you may email me if you have specific issues. Playing around with it for a few minutes will answer most questions.

I recently created a Windows version to utilize the official Microsoft XBOX360 driver. A few features work better in this version, but a few work better in the Mac version. To use Guitar Hero Instrument, you will need to first download and install the MaxMSP runtime for your operating system. Next, you will need to download the proper controller driver.

Windows XBOX360 controller driver page

Unofficial MacOSX XBOX360 controller driver

Although this software is officially unsupported freeware (use at your own risk), I am willing to help if you have any trouble. Email me at alex AT for help. PS2 controllers not supported at this time, but I am willing to make a version for them if the demand is high enough.

Download Mac OSX version here (446KB ZIP file), recommended version

Download PC version here (184KB ZIP file)

Another alternative is using my Laptop Ensemble v1.1 software, which has a cross-platform Guitar Hero Instrument Module. By using this, you can control your own sounds, through VST plugins, samples, or possibly MIDI. Click here for more information.


Excerpt from Excuses (2008)

The notation for Guitar Hero Instrument only uses five lines, one per button on the controller, with proper rhythms written. Coloring the noteheads makes performance much simpler. The first note of a slurred phrase sets its range; at least one button must always be pressed to keep a slurred phrase in the proper pitch range. The length and prominence of the necessary grace notes should be minimized to the best capabilities of the performer.

I suggest that any piece for this instrument be processed through a guitar effects device (such as the Line6 POD series) for the most realistic effect. Dynamics (p, mf, f) are controlled through a guitar volume pedal. Due to the many configuration possibilities of the software, desired configuration should be indicated in the performance notes at the beginning of a score.

An audio recording and a video of Excuses, a piece I wrote using this instrument, are available in my music archive.

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