hhiiilH ho/ 1 !/ tuMaal/ chare r\icf*f\\tat*
build, hack, tweak, share, discover,-
Written By: Owen Grace
Computer running Windows XP. Vista, or Mac OS X (1)
Internal or external sound card (1)
Guitar Hero controllers (1-2)
Fretbuzz software (1)
It's all fun and games until someone turns those plastic Guitar Hero axes into real
instruments. What musical possibilities lie hidden beneath those 5 rainbow-colored buttons?
Within a few years of the video game's launch in 2005, millions of its guitar-shaped
controllers were manufactured. Sadly, many are collecting dust in closets across the globe.
In my closet was one such controller, leaning awkwardly between some dirty hiking boots
and a deflated soccer ball. In 2007, I pondered the depressing fate of this plastic bundle of
star power. I sensed untapped potential, and I noticed how my acoustic guitar got plenty of
my attention, unlike my sad old controller. What if the Guitar Hero controller could make
I knew it was possible and I saw a means to make it happen. After months of programming, I
successfully re-purposed the controller as a musical instrument. No hardware modifications
were made — it all happens with software running on my laptop. I formed a band with
© Make Projects www.makeprojects.com Page 1 of 1 1
friends, called the Guitar Zeros. We've got a singer and a drummer, and the other two of us
use Guitar Hero controllers — one for guitar sounds and one for bass.
Here's how to make music with your own Guitar Hero controller using the software I
© Make Projects www.makeprojects.com Page 2 of 1 1
Step 1 — Connect your controller.
© Make Projects www.makeprojects.com Page 3 of 1 1
Xbox 360™ V
• A Windows PC or Mac will work,
but these first few steps outline the
process using a PC laptop running
• Connect the Guitar Hero controller
to your computer. A controller with
a USB connector is easiest — no
adapter necessary. Otherwise, see
our website for a list of adapters
available for $10 to $20.
• Your computer may automatically
detect the new USB device and
download the necessary driver
from the internet. Alternatively,
your adapter may have come with
its own driver. To be sure the
controller is properly connected to
your computer, go to Settings =>
Control Panel =^ Game
Controllers. You should see your
game controller devices listed.
• Double-click the appropriate entry
in the list, and you'll probably see a
joystick calibration menu. You
might not need to calibrate your
Guitar Hero controller here, but
you'll want to test all the inputs and
watch the indicators light up as you
press the buttons and flip the strum
bar. If you're using a PlayStation 2
controller, the whammy bar may or
may not be detected by your
computer, depending on your
adapter. Don't be discouraged —
whammy bars are just for show-
© Make Projects
Page 4 of 1 1
offs anyway, right?
Step 2 — Download Fretbuzz software.
These settings help you configure the game controllers installed on
Installed game controllers
iCSuial USB Force Feedback Joyjpad (MP-8666) OK
Dual USE Force Feedback Jo>pad (MP-S866) OK
Press the button that you want to test. If the button lights up in
the picture below, it is working correctly. Press the Controller
AnaloH Button to chanze the mode.
r-Hat Switch -
• Download the software that makes your controller and computer sing. All the components
you need, and installation instructions, are free at our site. After downloading and installing
Fretbuzz, you're ready to make some noise. Turn the audio on and rock out!
• There are a bunch of different sounds: some modeled after real guitars, some more bass-
like, and some more synthesizery. There's even a mode that sounds like the Star Wars
lightsaber. Look out, Darth Vader.
• Read the instructions within the software to change sound modes and learn how to use
© Make Projects
Page 5 of 1 1
Step 3 — Explore the musical possibilities.
chord G R BO
mr mr r
Bdim mm^ mr
Em r r r r r
f mr r r r
lc r r r mr
g r mr r r
Dm mr r mr
Am ■ ■ r r r
mr r ar
Em r ■ r ■ r
Bdim r n ■ r' r
r ■ r m r
f Bar i r
• The Guitar Hero controller has 5 fret buttons, a strum bar that can be pressed up or down,
start/ select buttons, and the Star Power tilt sensor inside the controller. I wanted to push
the musical possibilities to the max. After months of trial and error, I developed and refined
Fretbuzz. Here's a brief explanation of how it works.
• Do 5 buttons mean you can only make 5 notes? Hardly. There are 32 different
combinations of those 5 buttons, which could theoretically be assigned to 32 different
• However, holding down all 5 at once is almost impossible to do with 4 fingers, and some
combinations would require you to stretch your hand to press both the first and last
• Thus, I chose to use only the first 4 buttons for selecting notes, saving the last (orange)
button for special purposes. This photo shows all the different combinations of the first 4
buttons and how I assigned them to chords within a key.
• Notice that chords are assigned in a binary progression? Pretty geeky, but it works! There
are 16 different combinations, spanning 2 octaves. That's just enough of a range to work
with, in my opinion.
© Make Projects
Page 6 of 1 1
Select / Start
* Strum Bar
• The strum bar is naturally used to trigger notes. Lucky for us, the bar can be pressed
either up or down, enabling 2 different potential results. With the power chord guitar sound,
for example, I wanted a down-strum motion to produce a palm- muted effect, while the up-
strum would let the chord ring out. And if you flip the strum bar up and down rapidly, then
all the chords are palm-muted.
• On the other hand, with most of the bass sounds, the up-strum plays a note 4 steps
higher, which makes it easy to play bass lines that alternate between a note and its
relative fifth, common in some styles of music.
• Use the start and select buttons in conjunction with the fret buttons to choose different
sound modes, adjust output volume, and perform key changes on the fly.
© Make Projects
Page 7 of 1 1
• On a real electric guitar, the
whammy bar reduces string
tension, lowering the frequencies of
the notes being played. So I
thought to do the same with
Fretbuzz. However, not all methods
of sound synthesis allow for pitch
changes on the fly, so the effect is
available only for certain sounds.
• This is where the controller gets
interesting! The tilt sensor in the
newer controllers is a high-quality
accelerometer that detects the
orientation of the guitar in 2
• What in the world should this do,
musically? There's no such tilt
detector in a real guitar, so this is
new terrain. I chose to apply 1
dimension of tilt to a band-pass
filter, which produces a wah- pedal
effect. It's good for performing
solos — just ask Jimi Hendrix.
What to do about the second
dimension? I've tried a few different
things, but I'm still exploring.
© Make Projects
Page 8 of 1 1
Step 6 — Try out the solo modes.
© Make Projects www.makeprojects.com Page 9 of 1 1
Use eioow on
the strum bar
fret buttons with both hands!
© Make Projects
• In addition to the fret combination
approach for chords, I designed 3
different solo modes that employ
the fret buttons and strum bar in
different ways. Imagine assigning
each fret button to a relative
change in pitch rather than an
absolute pitch. In the basic solo
mode, you can ascend a scale 1
note at a time by simply holding the
blue fret button and flipping the
strum bar. Or descend the scale by
thirds by holding green.
• By alternating between ascending
and descending within a key, while
flipping that strum bar as fast as
you can, you can produce some
scorching lead lines.
• Any Eddie Van Halen fans out
there? This guy is a two-hand-
tapping master, and Fretbuzz
definitely needs a two- hand-tapping
mode. Much as in the basic solo
mode, the fret buttons are assigned
to pitches relative to one another,
and the strum bar is used
creatively to shift the notes of all
the fret buttons at once in full-on
arpeggio glory. But how do you use
the strum bar when both of your
hands are mashing fret buttons?
With your elbow, of course.
• The concept of Star Power is
unique to the Guitar Hero game,
but I wanted to bring new meaning
to it within Fretbuzz. I designed a
Page 10 of 11
special chord/solo combo mode
where you have to engage Star
Power (tilt the controller straight
up) to initiate the solo playing style,
then tilt the controller back down
again to return to chord mode.
Step 7 — Finally, make music.
• It's up to you to use Fretbuzz however you like, but I suggest you find a friend, plug 2
controllers into your computer at once (assign 1 to the bass sounds and 1 to the guitar
sounds), jam out together, and write some tunes. Then of course, turn the volume up to 1 1
and blast your eardrums. Only kidding.
• Seriously though, it's difficult trying to re-create songs that were originally written on a real
guitar. It's like learning a piece of music on guitar that was originally written for piano:
sometimes shortcuts and adjustments are necessary. Fretbuzz might turn the Guitar Hero
controller into an instrument, but it doesn't turn it into a guitar exactly.
• Designing Fretbuzz has been so exciting for me. It was no trivial task to turn the Guitar
Hero controller into a playable, dynamic, and expressive instrument. Whatever your
talents and interests may be, working within a constrained medium, as I did with this
project, is a super way to get your creative juices flowing.
If you have questions about this project or need help getting Fretbuzz to work on your computer,
or even if this project inspired you in some totally different way and you want to bounce ideas off
someone, shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I'd love to hear from you. Happy
This project first appeared in MAKE Volume 15 on pages 56-59.
This document was last generated on 201 2-1 0-31 1 2:04:25 PM.
© Make Projects www.makeprojects.com Page 11 of 1 1