Remember when Guitar Hero was all the rage? Back then it was simple, just you, your fake guitar, and a tune to jam to. At least you attempted to jam to it. Even the musically inclined had trouble starting out in Guitar Hero, even on the easiest levels.

The motions needed to be any good at Guitar Hero are vaguely similar to those needed to play a real guitar, Guitar Hero dumbed it down enough so that it made music a bit more accessible to many, and it may have made the guitar, and other instruments features in follow-on games like Rock Band, a bit easier to understand.

The problem with Guitar Hero is that it dumbed down the act of playing a guitar too much. Real guitars have at least six strings on which you can pick or strum, none of which you can do in Guitar Hero. And notes cover a range far wider than what five colored buttoned can manage.

When games like Guitar Hero get translated to platforms like the iPhone and iPod touch, because of the limitations of the platform, the games distance themselves even further from the real instrument.

Well, now there’s a game that, at least in my never-so-humble estimation, does a better than fair job of bridging the gap between an iPhone virtual guitar and the real thing.

Six-String, by UMG Recordings, makes Guitar Hero-like gaming on the iPhone worth your while, and your dough. Instead of being a re-imagined Simon game where you press the colored dots when the screen tells you to, Six-String actually (well…virtually) gets you plucking and strumming the six strings of a guitar to some of the best guitar tunes around.

I like interfaces that are simple and Six-String is that; simple. The main screen offers five selections; Practice, Studio, Music Store, Challenges, and More…

Practice: Practicing here won’t get you into Carnegie Hall, but it will help you learn the tunes, and, just like in Guitar Hero, knowing the tunes is key to getting the best score.

In the Practice mode you have access to all of your songs at all three difficulty levels (Easy, Medium, and Hard). Note, however, that all songs are not created equal and that easy in “Show me that way” is harder than easy in “You Give Love A Bad Name.” Consequently, hard in Peter Frampton’s hit is a killer compared to Bon Jovi’s tune, but both will work you.

In Practice, the metering on the left shows you how accurate your playing is; hit the notes just right and the meter is centered, too slow or too fast and the meter will show it. Missing notes or hitting extra notes reduces your scoring. Be careful when you strum, the strum-arrow shows you how many strings to flick and in which direction. Again, too few or too many will cost you points. What’s cool here is that you can hear your mistakes as well as feel them (the iPhone will vibrate a bit on each sour note).

When you feel confident enough to move up to the medium or hard levels remember that you’ll not only get more notes to play, but you’ll also have to change chords. Playing at the medium and hard level will definitely instill in any guitar playing wannabe new respect for anyone who can actually play the instrument well.

I suggest you take advantage of the Practice mode before embarrassing yourself in the Studio. In fact, to unlock songs and levels in the Studio mode you have to first master them in the Practice mode. Suffice it to say that I have a lot of songs and levels unavailable to me when I go Studio. I am getting better, however. I’ve noticed that practicing songs not only helps you learn the note sequence, but also gets your eye-hand coordination use to some new types of movements.

When you do go into Studio mode Guitar Hero fans will see some similarities. As you play, the more notes you hit correctly the more points you get and the higher your multiplier goes and the more “Star Power” energy you accumulate. Get enough Star Power juice and the meter on the left of the screen will turn white and tell you to shake you iPhone to activate Star Power, which lets you really rack up the points. You only need to shake the phone slightly to get Star Power going, and, similar to Guitar Hero, the sliding notes turn white and as long as you don’t make horrible mistakes you reap the benefits.

By now you’re probably thinking, “If Six-String is so much like Guitar Hero then why not just get Guitar Hero?”

The big difference is that you can pick and strum the virtual strings, and in the higher levels you have to change chords, all of which is closer to the actions a real guitar player would use.

I know it doesn’t sound like a huge difference, but try it out, and I think you’ll see what I mean.

You can buy new songs from the built in store, and every so often the game will alert you to new tracks that are available at the store. Tracks currently cost ninety-nine cents, but here’s the kicker, if you buy the track for the game and find that you like it you’ll have to buy it again in iTunes. This is no different from other music games, I suppose, but it still seems wrong somehow. You can get a thirty-second preview of the tracks (sound only, no playing), and each track is rated by difficulty so you’ll know in advance what kind of trouble you’re getting yourself into. Right now there really isn’t a lot of tunes in the store, maybe thirty, but more show up weekly.

You can post your high scores for others to see on the Plus + network. Creating an account on Plus + is free and through it you’ll issue or get challenges from others to beat high scores.

All in all Six-String works and works well. It’s a blast to play, it’s challenging and I actually felt as if I accomplished something when I finished a medium level on a hard tune. When playing my fingers looked like a flamenco dancer, I’m here to tell ya. I don’t think I can play a real guitar yet, but I picked a friend’s acoustic guitar recently, and it felt familiar somehow. I think I have Six-String to thank for that.

If there were more tunes available, I’d say this game was perfect. It’s a quibble that will become a non-issue over time, but at the moment I can Highly Recommend Six-String. So grab it and get your groove on.

Review ItemSix-String
ManufacturerUniversal Music Group
List Price
Street Price
US$4.99 and US$0.99 for each new track
Minimum Requirements

Compatible with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Requires iPhone OS 3.0 or later.

* Note: My rating system goes like this;

  • Get it Now! - Highest rating and an absolute must-have
  • Highly recommend - Minor flaws, but a great product
  • Recommend - Flawed, but still a solid product
  • So-so - Problem product that may find a niche market
  • Avoid - Why did they bother making it? A money waster.