riffmaster

PDP The Riffmaster Wireless Guitar Controller Review – We’re So Back

This thing rocks.

Although it admittedly felt more than a little weird to be unboxing and hooking up a fresh, plastic guitar peripheral to my PS5 in the year 2024, few things have brought me joy so far this year like firing up Rock Band 4 and jamming out to my old catalogue of bangers with PDP’s The Riffmaster.

In case you’ve somehow missed the hype – yes, this is a brand-new wireless guitar controller for modern consoles and PC from peripheral-maker PDP that works with 2015’s Rock Band 4. Perhaps more relevant, it’ll soon work with developer Harmonix’ recently-launched Fortnite Festival, a free take on the classic virtual band experience that lives within Fortnite and is seemingly intended to carry the torch for the genre. And for anyone already asking, it also works with things like Clone Hero and YARG on PC, making this a fairly versatile (and importantly, available) option for anyone hankering for the experience that defined a good chunk of time for many of us.

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But first impressions first, and this thing is impressive from the moment you lift it from the surprisingly-squat box it ships in. Showcasing one of its handier features from the out, The Riffmaster comes folded in half in its packaging, and can be secured into its proper position just by flipping the neck out and pushing in a small tab on the underside. Once unfurled, the whole thing feels surprisingly sturdy with very little movement at the connection point even in heavy use. The fact that it can be folded away for storage is sure to be a hit with millennials who grew up on these plastic instruments and now live in shoebox apartments and share houses.

The rest of the box contents are pretty standard. There’s the attachable strap, charging cables and a USB-A wireless transmitter for connecting the Riffmaster to your platform of choice. The version I tested is the one designed for PlayStation, and works with both the PS5 and PS4 as well as PC using the same adapter. The Xbox version will similarly work with Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC.

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The guitar itself is largely reminiscent of previous official Rock Band or Guitar Hero controllers that you’ll remember, though maybe a little more understated with its all-black design that doesn’t carry any branding or established shape like Rock Band 4’s Fender Stratocaster. It looks nice though, and won’t stick out so much in a modern environment, although the gloss finish on the body is a huge fingerprint magnet. The buttons on the body do blend in a bit as well, which can be tough in the heat of the moment for your first few uses but doesn’t matter as much once you’ve spent more time with it.

Crucially, everything feels great. The whole thing has a nice weight and sturdiness, and all of the buttons and other bits are reliable and responsive. The all-important five fret buttons have a nice, quiet click to them and are remarkably easy to slide your fingers across as you rock out, though anyone coming from a Guitar Hero guitar might find the larger buttons of the Rock Band-style axe a bit of an adjustment. There’s also a second, smaller set down at the base of the neck which I’ve found super handy when sitting at my desk and playing. The strum bar is a lot quieter than what I’ve been used to, which is nice, but still gives a decent sense of feedback and actuation and hasn’t skipped a beat yet. The whammy bar is just as good, rounding off a super solid in-play experience from the Riffmaster.

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Outside of the actual guitar bits, the button layout on the Riffmaster includes the expected stuff – a PlayStation button to turn it on and sync it up, a few function buttons and a d-pad, with the fret inputs acting in place of your usual face buttons. This new peripheral also features a novel addition in an analogue stick on the underside of the neck, right next to where the thumb of your fingering hand is placed. This is actually super useful for menu navigation, so it’s a welcome addition, though I can’t help but feel PDP knows something I don’t and there’s more utility planned for this in the future. My only gripe so far is tilting the guitar to activate Overdrive in-game requires a fair amount of movement to actually work. Good to prevent accidental misfires, terrible on my ageing joints.

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PDP claims The Riffmaster has a whopping 36-hour battery life, and while I’m too fastidious a charger to reliably test that, it’s more than enough to hold up over multiple sessions without needing to constantly juice it up. And despite it being wireless, latency feels like a complete non-issue. It’s super responsive, probably more than I was expecting, so that’s hopefully great news for the really hardcore players out there.

In terms of build, playability and reliability this is an excellent bit of kit then, but naturally it’s only going to go as far as how and where you can use it. Right at this very moment, that’s an interesting conundrum as officially the only game it’ll work with is Rock Band 4. The release of The Riffmaster is obviously meant to capitalise on Fortnite’s new, free Festival mode, but the updating enabling that isn’t out at the time of writing and the guitar itself is still a couple months out from launch – I’ll amend this review when things get moving on that front. Rock Band 4 is only a $15 download on the PlayStation Store though, and doesn’t come with the added Fortnite baggage that might turn some off, so that’s a good option.

Alternatively, you can use The Riffmaster with free, user-driven PC apps like Clone Hero or YARG. Plugging the USB receiver into my PC, both of these recognised the controller straight away, name and all, and while I had to manually configure each of the buttons it was simple enough and I was up and running in minutes. The only downside (at least when it comes to the PlayStation version, I can’t speak for the Xbox one) is neither recognised the whammy bar or tilt. This is where that neat little analog stick came in clutch, as I simply assigned those two functions to flicking the stick up or down with the thumb that rests right next to it. This actually ended up being a way better solution and makes this super viable for PC users rocking out to custom songs.

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At $200, and with Fortnite Festival set to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to actual play, I don’t think that PDP’s revival of the plastic guitar is going to suddenly bring the heyday of Guitar Hero and Rock Band screaming back into living rooms the world over. For those that enjoy Epic and Harmonix’ free-to-play take, hardcore players still jamming out to this day or just those who long to get that feeling back though, it’s a very well-put-together device that feels great and works seamlessly where intended.

The Riffmaster launches on June 14 and is available to pre-order at local retailers now.

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Conclusion
The Riffmaster might seem niche with the glory days of plastic instruments far behind us, but for those that are still committed – or looking forward to support in Fortnite Festival – it's a superbly well-designed and performant bit of kit that has a heap of potential. If you can stomach the $200 ticket price, you're in for a heck of a show.
Positives
Understated but handsome design
Well-placed and responsive controls
Fold-away design is handy
Added analogue stick has a heap of utility
Rechargeable with a chunky battery life
Negatives
Fingerprint magnet
Tilt can be a bit awkward to activate
Not cheap