Exploring MIDI as a Guitarist


When people hear the words “MIDI guitar,” usually the first thing they think of is some guy on YouTube ripping a jazz solo with his 6-string, made to sound like a cheesy saxophone or flute. The truth is that there’s a lot more you can do with guitar and MIDI, especially when you start incorporating MIDI sequencing, virtual instruments, and keyboard synthesizers into the equation. We’ll discuss some of the latest technologies in the paragraphs below.

Livid Instruments Guitar Wing MIDI Control Surface for Guitar

Having grown up in the 1990s, I was lucky to have spent my formative years in an era of great music. The musical excellence of the decade transcended genre, and so did my musical tastes. As a child of Hip Hop’s Golden Age, Grunge Rock, and ’90s Electronica, it’s not uncommon for me to listen to cuts by A Tribe Called Quest, Nirvana, and Aphex Twin, all in one listening session.

When I first became interested in making my own music, I experimented with several different instruments, eventually settling on the guitar as my primary songwriting tool. For one reason or another, the layout of the guitar just “clicked” for me, and felt more natural to me than a keyboard. However, as great as the guitar is for playing rock, blues, jazz, and other traditional styles, I got a reality check when I started to get into MIDI to explore my more modern musical influences. For controlling software instruments, workstation keyboards, and sequencers, I was quick to find out that my options as a guitarist were quite limited.

Fishman TriplePlay Wireless MIDI Guitar Controller

The de facto standard for MIDI control has always been the keyboard, and if the guitar is your primary instrument, it used to be that you had to dig pretty deep to find viable options that would allow you to wield your axe while producing styles like hip hop and electronic. Now, however, there are more and more options for guitarists popping up all the time, making MIDI guitar easier to get into than ever before.

The Fishman TriplePlay is a wireless MIDI guitar controller that is simple to install on your guitar, and it allows you fast, accurate note tracking for control of virtual MIDI instruments, music composition, MIDI recording, and live performance using your favorite axe. The set includes the controller and hexaphonic MIDI pickup, a wireless USB receiver, mounting brackets and hardware, a rechargeable battery pack, and USB charging cable. It also includes the proprietary TriplePlay control software, along with Native Instruments KOMPLETE Elements, SampleTank 2 XT, GuitarRig LE, and more.

Fishman TriplePlay Wireless MIDI Guitar Controller

The G2M V3 Universal Guitar to MIDI Converter from SONUUS offers a simple, extremely affordable solution for MIDI guitar and bass, that doesn’t even require a special MIDI pickup. Designed for accurate triggering, with very low latency, it is a true plug-and-play solution. One drawback to the GM2 is that it can only be used monophonically, meaning it can only play one MIDI note at a time. So while you can’t play chords with the G2M the way you can with the TriplePlay, it’s great for sequencing bass lines and melodies, and it can add an edge to your live performances, opening up many creative possibilities.

SONUUS G2M V3 - Universal Guitar-to-MIDI Converter Version 3

If you’re serious about exploring MIDI as a guitarist, one of the most powerful and versatile options on the market today is the BOSS GP-10 Modeling & Multi-Effects Guitar Processor with GK-3 Pickup. Not just a MIDI interface, the GP-10 is also an instrument modeling processor and a powerful multi-effects unit. Its effects section features amplifier models and effects like overdrive/distortion, wah, chorus, delay, reverb, EQ, and noise suppression, all of which can be used with any guitar via standard 1/4" cable.  However, plugging into the GP-10’s GK input with the included GK-3 pickup opens up a world of possibilities, including MIDI control for sequencing, triggering of virtual and hardware instruments, and custom tunings at the press of a pedal without having to touch your guitar’s tuners. Additionally, it features a slew of internal synth patches that let you change your instrument’s entire sound, including modeled electric guitars with single coils and humbuckers, steel- and nylon-string acoustics, basses, and polyphonic effects. There’s also an analog-modeled synth engine with two oscillators and adjustable sound parameters. Synthesizer sounds can be blended with your guitar’s normal sound, allowing for an infinite range of tones.

BOSS GP-10 Modeling & Multi-Effects Guitar Processor with GK-3 Pickup

Although it’s not technically a MIDI guitar interface, the Livid Instruments Guitar Wing  is a guitar-mountable MIDI control surface that makes it possible to trigger samples, FX, and other sounds via 5 pressure- and velocity-sensitive pads with aftertouch, 3 faders, and a built-in accelerometer that allows you to transmit MIDI data by moving your guitar. It’s great for adding another dimension of expression to your live performances, and allows you to go beyond what you can do with your guitar alone.

Livid Instruments Guitar Wing MIDI Control Surface for Guitar

I hope this guide makes your experience as a MIDI guitarist a bit easier. Please let us know your thoughts in the Comments section, below.


To Whom It May Concern

Can the whole guitar midi system be applicable to a mandoline with inner pickup?

Thank you.

Hi Tung Ngo, thanks for your question.  While I have heard of people using the Roland GK-3 pickup in a mandolin, none of these pickups are designed for use in this way.  So while it may be possible, no instructions would be provided for installlation in a mandolin,.