Racks 201: MIDI Foot Controllers

For many serious guitar players, stomp boxes running into the front end of an amplifier do not provide the audio quality or effects-programming flexibility that rack-mounted effects offer. For others, a combination of rack-mounted effects and stomp boxes are often utilized to create their sounds, and some players take it one step further and include multiple amplifiers and speakers in their guitar rigs, employing a switching system that enables them to access all of their equipment as needed on-the-fly.

We’ll be exploring all of these scenarios in detail at MusicPlayers.com, but for the first article in this series, we’re going to focus on utilizing MIDI foot controllers to manage your rack-mounted effects in conjunction with a single guitar amp or rack-mounted MIDI-controlled preamp.

MIDI Foot Controllers Features Comparison Chart

Click here to view a detailed features comparison chart of popular MIDI foot controllers. The chart will be updated regularly as new products become available and old ones become discontinued.

MIDI – Must I Do It? Technology That Even a Guitar Player Can Understand

Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) technology has been used by keyboard players and recording pros since the mid-80s, but guitar players can still get by without knowing a thing about it. These low-tech guitarists (dare we call them rock-n-roll purists) won’t lose much sleep nor go insane trying to figure out the technical stuff, but they also won’t be able to create the kinds of sounds you’re after for your guitar rig. This article isn’t for the pedal stompers.

The MIDI interface on an effects processor enables you to remotely change its programs/patches as well as manipulate many of its settings in real time: turning effect blocks on and off like a stomp box, adjust parameters such as tremolo speed, reverb depth, tap tempo, and more. The MIDI interface on a guitar amp or preamp enables you to switch amp channels (though this can typically be done with standard analog switching pedals), and on some of the more advanced guitar preamps, MIDI control can enable you to modify amp settings such as your gain level, in real time while playing. Whoa!

There are two basic types of MIDI instructions of which you’ll need to be aware with rack gear and foot controllers: Program Change instructions and Continuous Controller (CC) messages.

Program Change instructions are just that – you select a patch number on the foot controller and it sends a program change instruction to select a specific patch/program on your rack gear.

A Continuous Controller message, or CC message, sends a specific command, typically to turn an effect block On/Off, set tap tempo, select a tuner mute/output, and more (a CC value of 0 or 127 is transmitted). With an expression pedal (looks like a volume or wah pedal, and is described in detail later in this article), a range of CC values are sent from 0 to 127 based on the position of the pedal as you step on it.

Typically, each MIDI-equipped device listens for instructions on a single MIDI channel (of which there are 16 available), unless configured to listen in OMNI mode, whereby it will respond to a command it receives on any of the 16 channels. Many MIDI controllers, such as foot controllers (the subject of this article) or keyboard controllers, can transmit information on multiple MIDI channels concurrently in order to control multiple MIDI devices independently.

By default, all of the MIDI devices you purchase are set to MIDI Channel #1, which is why immediately connecting a few pieces of MIDI gear may seem to work sometimes for some basic tasks.

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