February 24, 2010 - ModGuitar Senior Editor
ModGuitar Custom Midi Guitar Build
Midi guitar has long been a frustrating goal of many guitarists intent on expanding their tonal options. A few consumer options exist though they tend to be subject to a new technology premium. Functional and affordable midi guitar options seem to be harder to find with fewer manufacturers devoting resources to the production of midi guitar. With that in mind we set out to design and build our own custom midi guitar.
Why A MIDI Guitar? There are a couple of different good reasons to consider a Midi guitar. There is the ability to play other instruments using the guitar as the ‘controller’, which comes in hand is you’re not proficient with a piano style keyboard. Secondly, there is the concept or recording your guitar performance as a midi file, which can be useful when it comes time to publish your musical creations. As we have discovered both of these ideas inspiring and a little disappointing given the current state of the art. With some patience, and a good system the results can be rewarding. We will take a look at getting great Midi Guitar sounds in another article, for now to get started with Midi Guitar, you’ll need an instrument…
Why A Custom Build? Here at the studio we’ve had a limited run Ibanez RG series guitar with a GK pick-up around for a few years. Coupled with a Roland GI-20 USB midi processor. This system works ok. The suggestion that a piezo based midi pick-up system might track faster and more accurately had us intrigued, so we decided to build our own midi guitar controller. We took a look at everything out there, from Roland and Casio models to Parker, Fender, Brian Moore, and even Ibanez offerings. The consensus seemed to be that while the Roland GK pick-up system works OK, and is easy to install, a custom system utilizing piezo saddles would likely track faster and more accurately due to the direct contact with the strings.
Back In The Saddle(s) Again: Graph-Tech saddles and a midi expansion for the Ghost pre-amp system offered the best look, feel and hopefully, playability. Graph-Tech is well know for it’s string saver saddles made to retrofit many bridges and it’s TUSQ bone-like synthetic nut and saddle material. The Ghost pre-amp, Hexpander midi processing add on card, and a set of Graph-Tech saddles with embedded piezo transducers were around $300 when they where ordered. The bridge itself is a custom part available from Stew Mac and other retailers. More on parts and components in a few…
The Concept: We began by considering all our options for a Midi Guitar. There are literally a dozen or more switching and tonal options that could be installed or added to a a custom midi guitar. Not to mention the standard electric guitar options. It was decided to go simple rather than complex with the on-board controls. There is always that temptation to do an “Ultimate bazzillion options” guitar. This guitar was intended to be more or less a studio instrument, so a complex control panel simply wasn’t necessary. A sequencer on the computer or a midi floor board can easily be used to control midi functions. The final configuration was set to be a single volume control, a three way switch. That’s it, simple as can be.