The Four Best Guitar Games of All Time

Do video games make you better at guitar? Does playing guitar make you better at video games? At the very least, the finger dexterity required to play guitar has to translate over the controller, and the finger memorization of videos games has to prime a person for learning chord shapes, right?

Either way, guitar games provide a fun way for guitarists to test out their skills in a different medium. They also provide a fun way for seasoned gamers to make their guitar playing friends look like chumps.

Not only that, but they’re a killer addition to any party, as they can double as an activity and background music.

We’re going to take a look at the games that made this genre explode in the early 2000s, as well as some options for those who are a little more serious about guitar than they are video games. Let’s dive in!

Guitar Hero

While it wasn’t the first guitar video game, Guitar Hero definitely made the biggest splash. Released in 2005, the Guitar Hero franchise is without doubt the most successful guitar-based gaming series of all time, racking up over $2 billion in retail sales. It’s also probably the easiest to get into due to the fact that every pawn shop in America has two or three of their guitar shaped controllers hanging around.

As the game has grown through multiple editions and dozens of expansions, it has taken on a life of its own in many ways. In 2010, the game was so popular in the UK that the Office For National Statistics added the game to the “basket of goods” they use to track inflation. Not only that but the game is used by many physical therapists to help stroke victims regain coordination, and the game itself has been adapted so that amputees can use it to train with their new prosthetic limbs.

All that being said, if you’re new to the game, the accepted jump in point is Guitar Hero III: Legends of rock, seen by many as the high-water mark of the series.

Rock Band

A little known fact about Rock Band is that it was actually developed by the same team as Guitar Hero. However, they took the format and went one step farther, extending beyond just the one instrument, allowing players to add additional guitars as well as drums and keyboards to the mix. In this way, the game becomes less of a battle and more of a collaboration.

Rock Band also introduced branded guitars, such as an officially licensed Fender Jaguar controller, so you can play in style. Additionally, while the game doesn’t quite have the breadth of licensed expansions that Guitar hero has, there are a ton of genre and band specific packs, from the country and metal packs, to packs of songs by AC/DC and The Beatles.


While Guitar Hero and Rock Band took the approach of essentially being Karaoke with a plastic guitar shaped controller, Rocksmith went in a much more real direction.

Gone is the guitar shaped controller – instead, using a Real Tone cable, you hook up your own actual guitar, and use that to play through Rocksmith.

While this does mean that the game is essentially off limits to the casual player, it instead becomes an amazing tool for the learner guitarist. In addition to a variety of tutorials on technique and music theory, players can practice their skills using an incredibly in depth variety of mini games, essentially gamifying the process of learning the guitar.

Another fun part of the game is that, because you’re using a guitar with a guitar cable, you can add pedals to your chain – plug in your best delay pedals, overdrive pedals, wah – whatever you want to get as close to the sound of the songs in the game.

You’re also not restricted to one kind of guitar – you can swap out a six string electric for an acoustic, or get crazy and jam on your 7-string guitar. There are no limits.

While not reaching the heights of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, Rocksmith remains popular enough that DR Strings still sells packs wherein the individual strings are the same color as the strings in the game.

Of course, the game is no replacement for a real live teacher, and you can find that, because it’s up to you to get things like finger and hand position correct, you might be burning some bad habits into your brain.

Either way, Rocksmith is a great option for someone who wants more than just a game experience.

Bandfuse: Rock Legends

One of the neat things that Bandfuse does is that, instead of the weird vertical scrolling of Guitar Hero, and the diagonal scrolling of Rocksmith, the game relies on you following good old fashioned horizontal scrolling. Why is that important? As anyone who’s ever tried to learn using the internet will tell you, guitar tab runs horizontally, so if you’re familiar with guitar tab, you’re already up and running with Bandfuse.

Another fun aspect of Bandfuse is that the remaining two thirds of the screen is used to display either the music video for the song you’re playing, or a licensed live version. This makes the game a little more fun to watch, and gives you something of a more immersive experience.

Bandfuse is also similar to Rocksmith in that it involves plugging your real live guitar into the game, making it ideal for guitarists to enhance their skills, and even pick up new ones.

Going in completely the opposite direction of real guitar based games like Rocksmith and Bandfuse, is a website that lets you try out some of your guitar knowledge using flash based games. While very much a low budget version of the blockbuster games, uses ear training and musical theory exercises as a way to allow you to learn and practice without a guitar in hand. Definitely more of a fun distraction while killing time at your desk than something you’ll pour a lot of hours into, but a worthy one all the same.

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