Glenn Poorman, May 2003
As a Stick player of some years now, it's been pretty hard to miss that there
are a lot of Stickists out there that work with rigs larger in size than
your average guitarist. This is partially a result of the type of personality
that tends to gravitate toward the Stick and the type of music that is most
prominently played on the Stick. It also has a lot to do with the fact that,
with two sides of the instrument running separately, you essentially need two
effects chains and generally end up buying two of what your average guitarist
would buy one of. Regardless of the reasons, talk of processors and how to
control them comes up pretty regularly as a topic of conversation in the
various discussion groups devoted to Stick. Having taken part in many of those
discussions and also having put together what I consider a pretty solid rack
system over the years, I figured it was time to put some of what I've learned
down on paper (so to speak) so as to provide a reference for those entering
into this age old conversation for the first time.
Of course, many effects processors come as all-in-one units that rest on
the floor and provide all your processing and foot control in one tidy
package. These are pretty robust units too and I wouldn't suggest replacing
them if you're happy with them. So far, the best multi-effects processor I've
owned has been the Boss GT-3 which is a single all-in-one floor unit. For me
though, the floor units eventually began to simply eat up too much space and
it was becoming difficult to setup on small stages with my band (not to
mention hauling all of that stuff around in various bags). So I switched over
to an all rack mounted system. On paper, this means putting multiple devices
in the rack and using a single controller on the floor to control each and
every device. Of course, not all devices and/or floor controllers are ideally
setup for this type of rig and a certain amount of trial and error (buying and
selling) was involved in eventually getting to the setup I have today.
What follows is a general description of MIDI as it pertains to controlling
effects units along with the pros and cons of various types of setups. I
should pause here also and acknowledge that, in addition to my own research
and trials, I picked up a handful of tips and tricks from fellow Stick players
Louis Hesselt-van-dinter, Tom Griesgraber, and Greg Howard. Hopefully some
of the information contained here will help others in avoiding some of those
early purchases that end up falling short and heading for EBay.
Multi-effects and control
Aside from the widely available array of stomp boxes that still permeate the
market (and are still preferred by many players), there are very few effects
units left that aren't multi-effects. The technology has gotten so cheap that
to find, for example, a dedicated digital delay isn't an easy task. At a
minimum, effects units are made up of at least the time based effects such as
reverb, delay, chorus, flanger, harmonizer, etc. At most, you get all of that
plus everything else imagineable (distortion, compression, wah, envelope
The setups of these units are all basically the same. Configurations of
effects are broken into user programmable patches. A patch is just a single
configuration. You might setup a single patch in a guitar multi-effects unit
to have a little reverb, distortion, and heavy delay. The next patch might
have not so much delay, no distortion, some light chorus. In most units,
you can name these patches something meaningful. The name might describe
a particular song that you play or it might describe the tone itself if it's
something you reuse often. It could be the name of your cat.
Regardless of how you set it up, you're most likely going to want the ability
to change patches on the fly while you play. In many cases, you might also
want to keep the same patch dialed up but change certain parameters of that
patch on the fly. You might want to take the distortion patch described
above and simply decrease the delay level without changing patches. If you
have a floor unit, this is most likely all built-in and ready for programming.
If you've switched to rack-mounted units though, you don't have any way to
control them aside from tweaking the settings on the front panel by hand.
You're not stuck though. Any rack mounted audio processor built since the
mid to late 80s is most likely MIDI controllable. The only hitch is that
you have to go out and get yourself a MIDI foot controller to hook up to
your unit. You also need to know how to setup the controller to talk to
MIDI - More than just notes
If you're anything like me, your early encounters with MIDI (Musical
Instrument Digital Interface) didn't involve much more than seeing some
guy with a generic keyboard plugged into a sound module saying "it's
MIDI" at which point you replied "so what?". MIDI is a lot more than a
guy playing notes though. Born in 1981 and officially published in 1983,
MIDI specifies not only the hardware used to connect devices but also a
rich protocol allowing musical devices from different manufacturers to
speak to one another seamlessly. Almost overnight, the MIDI protocol took
over the music industry and, by the mid to late 80s, every piece of digital
music gear available had some form of MIDI implementation.
In addition to generating sounds, MIDI is also used for general control like
changing programs, turning certain parameters on and off, starting and
stopping a drum machine or a recording device, etc. That means that even
units that don't actually generate any sound (like multi-effects processors)
can be controlled via MIDI as long as they adhere to the MIDI specification.
And, as the MIDI standard dictates, you can have several effects processors
in your rack all being controlled by a single controller. And of course, they
can all come from different manufacturers.
The thing to remember with MIDI is that it is nothing more than a
specification. It's not a product or a thing you can purchase. It's a well
thought out set of instructions for manufacturers saying "if you want your
device to talk to other devices using this language, here is the syntax".
It's then up to the individual manufacturer to make it work. At its heart,
MIDI is simply a series of messages. Each message may or may not have a set
amount of extra data that comes along with it. For example, a "Note On"
message is followed by a number representing the note that is to be turned
on and followed then by a number representing the velocity (or volume) of
that note. Similarly, a "Note Off" message is sent to stop a note. As with
the previous message, "Note Off" is followed by a number representing the
note to turn off and a number representing the velocity (for note off this
determines how quickly the note should be released).
The MIDI specification contains a fairly large number of messages and it
is beyond the scope of this writing to cover general MIDI topics. For our
purposes, however, there are a few pertinent messages that should be
As I said, these messages are sent to a device to instruct it to play notes.
The "Note On" code is followed by a number representing the note to turn on
and a number representing the velocity. The "Note Off" code is also followed
by numbers representing the note and velocity. Some delay units also use note
on/off messages for tap tempo (allowing you to tap twice to set the delay time
on the fly).
"Program Change" messages are sent to instruct a device to (you guessed it)
change programs or patches. Taking an effects processor as an example,
sending a "Program Change" code to your processor tells the processor to
change patches. The message is then followed by a number representing which
patch to change to.
"Control Change" (or "CC") messages can be used to control the parameters
of a patch. For example, to leave a patch on your effects processor dialed
the same but decrease the delay level, you could send a CC message that
instructs the processor simply to decrease the delay. MIDI allows for the
possibility of several controllers to be in use so the CC message is first
followed by a controller number which could be any number from 0 to 127.
The controller number is then followed by a new value for the parameter to
be changed. Typically there are two different kinds of pedals that can be
used to deliver CC messages to a device.
- Control (CTL) Pedals
Control pedals (you also see these called "CTL" or "CTRL" pedals) are pedals
used to perform simple on/off switching. Typically, a lower value and upper
value is set and the pedal can work in one of two modes. In the "momentary"
mode, the upper value is sent as a CC message when you push the pedal while
the lower value is sent when you release the pedal. In "latch" mode, the
upper value is sent when you push and release the pedal. The lower value
is sent when you push and release the pedal again.
- Expression Pedals
These pedals are used to simulate things like volume pedals or wah wah
pedals. They are also referred to as "continuous controllers" (although
that term also includes other types of controls such as sliders and
wheels). As an expression pedal is pushed forward or backward, a steady
stream CC messages is sent each with a value representing the current
position of the pedal. The lower-most and upper-most values are usually
System Exclusive (or "SysEX") messages are sort of a back door allowing
large amounts of MIDI data specific to a particular device to be sent or
received. A SysEX message is immediately followed by a stream of data that
can be of any size. A sentinel is stuck on the end so that any device will
know where the exclusive data ends regardless of whether or not that device
is able to interpret that data. The first piece of information in that data
stream is a manufacturer's ID. From there, it's up to the manufacturer to
determine how to handle the rest of the data. In many cases, a manufacturer
might dictate that the next piece of data be an ID that specifies a certain
device or model.
These are very handy messages. Using a SysEX message, a device can bulk dump
all of it's data to a computer through MIDI software. Later, that data can be
bulk loaded back into the device via a SysEX message. The software doesn't
need to know what it's getting. All it knows is that there is a SysEX message
followed by a bunch of data and that data can be blindly written to disk.
Later, that same software can blindly send that data back to the device and
the device will be able to interpret it and do a bulk load. Similarly, vendors
will often supply software with their devices that allow you to edit the
device's data on your computer. The edits you perform on the computer are then
sent back to the device via a SysEX message.
Figure 1: Simple connection
from controller to device
So now that we know a little more about what MIDI is, let's talk about how
to use MIDI to control our rack mounted effects processors. To begin the
discussion, let's start with a single controller controlling a single device.
This is the easiest thing you'll ever have to setup and, in many cases, a
controller/device combination will work right out of the box just the way you
want it to. MIDI devices have a minimum of two MIDI connections on them. Those
connections are "MIDI In" and "MIDI Out". Most devices also have a "MIDI Thru"
which we'll talk about in the section on multiple devices. Just as you would
expect, MIDI messages that a device generates are sent out via the "MIDI Out"
connection. Messages that the unit receives are taken in via the "MIDI In". So
to connect a foot controller to a single MIDI controllable processor, you
would simply run a MIDI cable from the controller's "MIDI Out" to the
processor's "MIDI In" (as shown in figure 1).
In order for two devices to speak to one another via MIDI, they must be
operating on the same MIDI channel. The MIDI specification states that MIDI
data can be exchanged on up to 16 channels. If a receiving device is not set
to be receiving on the same channel as the sending device, the receiving
device won't hear the message and nothing will happen. Now ... just so you
don't think I lied about stuff working right out of the box, any MIDI
compatible device I have ever purchased came out of the box setup to send
and receive on MIDI channel 1 so, unless you have a reason to change that,
things will work right out of the box. It is something you should always be
aware of for many reasons though. You could, for example, purchase something
used where the previous owner had changed the MIDI send or receive channel
or you could be putting together a setup to run multiple devices (we'll get
to that ... be patient). At any rate, the MIDI channel on the sending device
and receiving device must match. Once you've taken care of that and
established the physical connection (MIDI cable), you're ready to go.
Program change messages
The first and most obvious types of messages you would want to send from a
foot controller to an effects processor would be program change messages.
Just about any foot controller you have will be setup such that there will
be a series of buttons you can push with your feet that are numbered (1
through however many buttons there are). By default, the controller is most
likely setup such that pushing button #1 will send a MIDI program change
message specifying a change to patch #1. Button #2 will generate a program
change to patch #2 and so on. See? Right out of the box.
There are only so many buttons you can fit on a foot controller though and
you would probably like to call up way more patches than that. What you'll
generally find is that foot controllers are organized by "banks". In addition
to the numbered buttons, you will also find a "bank up" as well as a "bank
down" button. This simply shifts the program change messages that the numbered
buttons send. For example, the Boss FC-200 foot controller has 10 buttons
numbered 1-10 and you can generate program changes messages #1-10 by pushing
those buttons. If you "bank up" once, pushing those same buttons will generate
program change messages #11-20. Banking up again will do another shift
(#21-20) and so on.
In some cases, you may not want to have a one to one correspondence between
the program change messages sent by the controller and the patches that come
up on the receiving device. Unfortunately, here you are at the mercy of your
devices. Some foot controllers allow you to specify what program change
messages are generated for any given button push. Others don't. On the
receiving end, some devices allow you to program how MIDI program change
messages are interpreted. For example, you could setup your receiving device
such that when it receives program change message #3, it translates that to
program change message #7 and changes to patch #7. This is called a "MIDI
map". Again though, some devices support this while others do not. For the
purpose of controlling just a single device though, the simplest setup is
most likely sufficient.
As I stated before, the other type of MIDI message that you will most likely
be interested in when controlling an effects processor is the MIDI control
change (or CC) message. Unlike the program change messages, the CC messages
require more forethought and setup. Additionally, there are even less
standards as to how devices handle these messages than there are for program
For starters, there is nothing that says a foot controller will even let you
send CC messages. The Boss FC-50 (for example) has a couple of jacks in the
back allowing you to plug in external switches to send CC messages but, by
itself, it won't send them. In addition, the controller number of the CC
message for either jack is hard coded so you're pigeon-holed into only being
able to send one of two controller numbers with your CC message. If you're
interested in any others, you're out of luck.
On receiving devices, it's even worse. Some processors provide charts for
receiving CC messages mapping what controller number corresponds to what
parameter. In other words, they'll tell you that controller #21 change (for
example) the delay level of their processor. If you're using an FC-50 (where
21 isn't one of the hard coded controller numbers), then you can't change the
delay level ... period. Among the postives of these kinds of devices though
are that, assuming you have the means to generate any kind of CC message,
they usually have a controller number assigned to every single parameter on
their devices meaning that you can do anything via MIDI that you can do by
hand using the device's user interface.
Other receiving devices (such as most Boss/Roland multi-effects processors)
make their CC messages configurable on the receiving end. So on a Boss VF-1
(for example), you can program a patch such that controller #7 will adjust
the delay feedback. This gives you the freedom to work within the
shortcomings of your foot controller (hmmmmm ... so the Boss FC-50 works well
with Boss processors). This approach is also really cool because it allows
you to change more than one parameter with a single controller. The drawback
to this approach is that the Boss processors only allow so many of theses
"assignments" per patch. On the VF-1, that number is four. That means that,
on any given patch, you can't have more than four parameters change via CC
messages. That might not seem like that big of a deal but, trust me, four is
nothing. On some of the Boss floor based effects units (GT-3, GT-6) or even
the full rack predecessor to the SE-70 (Roland GP-100), the number of
"assignments" per patch is more like nine which is a much more reasonable
Figure 2: Connecting
The real power in MIDI control comes in the ability to control many
devices with a single controller. There are a couple of ways to accomplish
this. Before going into that, however, you need to hook up your devices.
When controlling multiple devices, the easiest way to hook things up is
by daisy chaining your devices together. First you must understand the
different connections though. As I mentioned before, all MIDI devices have
a "MIDI Out" where outgoing messages are sent and a "MIDI In" where incoming
messages are received. Most devices also have a "MIDI Thru" connection. This
connection differs greatly from the "MIDI Out". The "MIDI Out" is used for
messages that are generated by the device. The function of the "MIDI Thru"
connection is simply to take all incoming messages (coming in via "MIDI In")
and, in addition to processing them, also send them out the "MIDI Thru". In
simplest terms, this connection makes sure that the next device in the chain
gets every message that the first device in the chain got.
Hooking up multiple devices, then, is a matter of running a MIDI cable from
your controller's "MIDI Out" to the first device's "MIDI In". Another cable
is then run from the first device's "MIDI Thru" to the next device's "MIDI
In". You can then connect to another device and then another in the same
fashion (see figure 2).
Of course, simply hooking everything up won't be near enough setup to make
this all work. If you simply hook it all up out of the box and turn it on,
your controller will send program change messages out on MIDI channel 1 to
two (or more) devices setup to receive on channel 1. That means that pushing
button #5 (for example) on your controller will result in all of your
devices changing to patch #5. If that's what you're after, that's great but
I'm guessing this isn't how you want to work. Suppose you want to push
button #5 and have your first device change to patch #1, your second device
change to patch #12, and so on. This is where things get tricky (but also
powerful) and there are a couple of ways to handle this.
If your devices support MIDI maps, this is a prime example of where they
can come in handy. As I mentioned before, a MIDI map on a receiving device
allows you to interpret an incoming MIDI message anyway you want. If you
were to edit the MIDI map on your first device and program it such that
program change #5 is interpreted as program change #1, then when you hit
button #5 on your controller, your first device will change to patch #1
while feeding the original program change #5 out the "MIDI Thru" to the
next device. Now, you can go down the line of devices programming their
MIDI maps in the same fashion and end up having your devices switch to the
patches you've specified from just a single button push on the controller.
Of course, there are many devices out there that don't support MIDI maps
which leaves you stuck with out some outboard help (see discussion about
MIDI channels (again)
Using multiple MIDI channels is really the best way to control multiple
devices but also requires that you have a controller that allows you to
send messages on multiple channels. All controllers are not created equal
and some popular controllers do NOT support this (more on that when I list
brands at the end). If you do have a controller that supports multiple
channels though, you're in like Flynn.
The physical setup for using multiple channels is no different than for
using maps. The difference comes in the programming of the controller and
the setup of the receiving devices. In the case mentioned above (where
we wanted button #5 to change the first device to patch #1, the second
device to patch #12, and so on), you would start by setting up your
receiving devices. If you have two devices (for example), you could set
the first device to receive on MIDI channel 1 and the second to receive
on MIDI channel 2 (these can be any number from 1 to 16). The next step
is to generate the messages. I use an All Access controller made by
Rocktron. On the All Access, each button push is capable of generating
a program change message on up to 16 channels. So, using the above
example again, I would program button #5 to generate program change #1
on channel #1 and program change #12 on channel #2. Now when I push
button #5 ... voila! No mapping needs to be done on any of the receiving
devices. Aside from setting the MIDI receive channel, all of the programming
is done in the controller.
Lots of variables
Hopefully you're not more confused now than you were when you came here.
There are a ton of variables that dictate what you can do and how you
can do it. Most of those variables have to do with the shortcomings of
various devices. First of all, you may have already spent money on a
controller that doesn't support multiple channels. You might also be hooking
that controller up to a device that doesn't support MIDI maps. Maybe you want
to hook up more external pedals for CC messages than your controller allows.
Or worse, maybe you have devices with no "MIDI Thru".
That last one is a real pet peeve of mine. Roland/Boss seem to have some
sort of aversion to "MIDI Thru" connections and I don't know why. Some of
their devices have them while others don't. On some of the devices that don't,
you can set a parameter that changes the "MIDI Out" into a "MIDI Thru". On
others, you can't. One of the most popular effects setups for your average
Stick player is to run the two sides of the instrument through two Boss SE-70
or VF-1 multi-effects processors. Guess what? The VF-1 doesn't have a "MIDI
Thru" and you can't configure the "MIDI Out" to act like a thru. AAaaaaack!!
Don't sell your gear yet though.
I absolutely cannot say enough good things about the company MIDI Solutions.
They are based out of Vancouver, BC and all they do is solve your little
annoying MIDI problems.
- MIDI Mapper
As I mentioned above, suppose your controller doesn't allow you to send
messages on multiple channels and one or more of your devices doesn't
support midi maps? The "MIDI Mapper" is a little black box about the size
of a cigarette pack. It takes a single MIDI input, has a single MIDI output,
and doesn't require batteries or AC power. Using software provided free by
MIDI Solutions, you can program the mapper to take any incoming MIDI message
and convert it into any outgoing MIDI message. Once your map is all setup,
you can send the data to the little mapper via SysEX messages.
- MIDI Thru Box
Maybe you have two VF-1s that you want to control with a single controller?
As I said, the VF-1 doesn't have a "MIDI Thru" connection and, because of
timing issues when it comes to MIDI messages, it's not simply a matter of
getting a cable that splits into two. MIDI Solutions also makes a little
box called a "MIDI Thru Box". As with the mapper, the box requires no
batteries or AC power. Simply plug a single MIDI cable into one end and
two "MIDI Out" connections are available at the other. They also make a
1-to-4 version of the same box as well as a rack mounted 1-to-8 version.
Figure 3: 1-to-2 MIDI Thru Box
- MIDI Merger
In addition to the thru box and mapper, they also make a box called a
"MIDI Merger". Situations can come up where you have two devices that
you want to run into a single "MIDI In" of a third device. Again, timing
issues dictate that it's more than simply getting a special cable. With
the merge box, you can run two MIDI cables into one end with a single
cable out the other. And just as with the thru box, they make a 4-to-1
version and a rack mounted 8-to-1 version.
Figure 4: 2-to-1 MIDI Merger
That's just the tip of the iceberg of all the gadgets that they make and
sell. These boxes are no frills and in-expensive. It's not often that I'll
really toot a company's horn like this but they really fill a need very
My control setup
Figure 5: My current MIDI control setup
In my current rig, I've had opportunity to put much of this theory to the
test and have run across a few of the little roadblocks I've mentioned.
Figure 5 borrows the image from my cabling diagram and I will try to explain
each link in the chain.
I use an All Access foot controller made by Rocktron. This unit also allows
me to hook up two external volume pedals and converts the input from the
volume pedals into MIDI CC messages. The volume pedals are hooked up with
standard audio insert cables.
My GI-20 GK-MIDI converter (which converts output from a GK-2A pickup into
straight MIDI), as well as the two VF-1 multi-effects processors do not have
"MIDI Thru" connections so I can't simply daisy chain all of my devices. I
should point out here also that most MIDI experts discourage daisy chaining
more than 3 or 4 devices anyway in case your MIDI data degrades as it passes
from device to device. So right off, I put one of the MIDI Solutions products
into play. A 1-to-4 "MIDI Thru Box". A single cable connects the All Access
to that box.
Starting with the simpler connections, a MIDI cable runs from the "MIDI Thru
Box" to the bass VF-1 multi-effects processor. A second cable runs to the
Echoplex Digital Pro. The EDP has a "thru" connection so a short MIDI cable
is run from there to the "MIDI In" of the D-TWO. Yet another short cable is
then run from the "thru" on the D-TWO to the "in" on the melody VF-1.
The cable running to the lowest "MIDI Merger" on the picture is where things
get interesting. The Echoplex generates song start/stop messages as well as
timing messages out the "MIDI Out" connection when you begin and end loops.
I like to use these messages to start and stop the drum machine and also
control the tempo of the drum machine. That way, I can use MIDI to sync drum
patterns up with my looper. The problem is, I also want to use my All Access
to send program change messages to the drum machine as well.
My second MIDI Solutions box comes into play here. A short cable runs from
the "MIDI Out" of the Echoplex to one of the inputs of a 2-to-1 "MIDI Merger".
Another cable runs from the thru box that started all this into the second
input of the merger. The single output from the merger is then run to the
"MIDI In" of the drum machine. The drum machine now recieves all of the
program change and CC messages sent from the All Access as well as the song
start/stop and timing messages generated by the Echoplex.
Similarly, the last cable coming from the thru box is running to a second
"MIDI Merger". In order to generate synth sounds, a GK pickup on my Stick
runs into the GI-20. The GI-20 then converts the signal to MIDI and generates
note on/off messages out it's "MIDI Out" connection. A short cable must be
run from that connection to the "MIDI In" on the XV-2020 synth module (the
module that actually generates the sounds). The problem here is that I also
want to control the patches on the XV-2020 with my foot controller so, again,
we need two devices going to the single MIDI input.
So again, we bring a "MIDI Merger" into play. From the original thru box,
a cable carries messages from the foot controller to the merger. A cable
from the "MIDI Out" of the GI-20 also runs into the MIDI merger. A single
output from the merger is then run to the "MIDI In" of the XV-2020 module.
Lastly, in order to also carry the foot controller messages to the GI-20
(for patch changes), a short MIDI cable is run from the "MIDI Thru" of the
XV-2020 to the "MIDI In" of the GI-20.
The number of patches I use on any one device is actually pretty minimal.
On the melody VF-1, I have around five or six patches that I use regularly.
On the bass VF-1, it's even less. The most patches I use are on the D-TWO
delay as different tunes require different delay times. The All Access
controller is where I have things broken up by song. I have at least one
patch on the All Access for every song I play. Each of those patches picks
and chooses what patch it's going to bring up on the two VF-1s, the D-TWO,
the XV-2020, the GI-20, and selects a rhythm pattern on the DR-770.
Additionally, I have CC buttons on the All Access that globally turn the
delay on or off, send CC messages to either of the VF-1s, turn the synth
module on or off, give me access to parameters settings on the Echoplex, and
allow change of the feedback level on the Echoplex.
That's a boat load of devices all doing what I want them to with just a
simple touch of the foot. MIDI is powerful stuff!
Over the course of the years, several companies have dabbled in trying to
make the ultimate foot controller. Some have survived while others haven't.
Today, there are still several to choose from. Some are marketed as
controllers specific to a certain piece of gear but, underneath, are still
nothing more then general MIDI controllers. It would be very presumptious
of me to claim to know all of the controllers currently available. Especially
considering the used gear market. But I have compiled a list of some of the
more popular devices. I have first hand experience with some of them. With
others, I've culled information either from the manufacturer's websites or
from colleagues who have used them.
Boss GFC-50 (or FC-50)
Figure 6: Boss FC-50
What used to be called the FC-50 is now marketed as the GFC-50 and is
described as a foot controller designed to control Roland's V-Guitar amps.
Don't let them fool you. This is the exact same product as the FC-50 and
is nothing more than a generic MIDI foot controller. For the money and size,
it's a good controller but it's not without it's shortcomings. It will only
send on one MIDI channel. What channel it sends on is configurable though.
Additionally, there are no buttons allowing you to send MIDI CC messages. It
does provide two jacks for plugging in external foot pedals that will send
CC messages. The drawback there, however, is that those CC messages are hard
coded. For simple switching, this unit just might do the trick though. The
switches are comfortable and quiet, the price is right, and it's pretty small
in size (small enough to fit in a rack case).
Figure 7: Roland FC-200
The big brother to the FC-50. This is a great controller. It's very heavy
duty and the switches are very comfortable. It's light weight and runs on
either batteries or AC power. In addition to ten program change buttons,
it has a bank up button, bank down button, a simple on/off switch for sending
CC messages and a built-in expression pedal also for sending CC messages.
There are also several connections in the rear to hook up additional control
or expression pedals for sending more CC messages. The unit does only allow
the sending of MIDI messages on one channel which I look at as a huge drawback
considering the price and quality. It does have mapping built-in so that you
can change the program change numbers sent by each button. It also has two
other modes allowing you to use every button as a CC message sender or to use
the buttons to send note on/off messages to a sound module. That means it can
either be a foot controller or a set of (for example) bass pedals. Nice touch!
All of the pedals designed to send CC messages (the two built-ins as well as
the jacks in the rear) are configurable to send any CC message you want. A
very powerful and comfortable unit. Again ... only one channel though.
Figure 8: Behringer FCB1010
The Behringer FCB1010 has quickly become one of the more popular controllers
and for good reason. This unit borrows much of its appearance from the Roland
FC-200 but also has some of the features found in units like the Ground
Control or All Access. At the same time, they've kept their price way down
making it a very attractive purchase. From what I could pickup reading the
Behringer manual, this looks like the best "bang for the buck" out there by
far. It has ten numbered buttons, a bank up button, bank down button, and two
built-in expression pedals. For each button or preset, you can send up to five
program change messages, two CC messages, two additional CC messages based on
expression pedal positions, and a note on/off message. The MIDI channel that
any of those ten messages are sent on is configurable. The only hitch (and
it's not a big deal at all) is that the channel for each of those ten
functions is a global setting so it remains the same on every preset. I
really can't imagine where that would be a problem though. Whether or not this
unit has any drawbacks depends on what you're trying to do. You cannot send
program change messages to any more than five devices on five different
channels. Using any of the buttons as CC switches can be done but requires a
pretty thorough understanding of the unit and how to set it up. There are no
additional jacks in the back for hooking up additional switches or pedals.
With the two built-in expression pedals though, that makes that aspect of it
roughly equivalent to the All Access.
Rocktron All Access
Figure 9: Rocktron All Access
I personally consider this to be the Cadillac of foot controllers. In
addition to the buttons allowing access to various sytem parameters, the
unit has three rows of five numbered buttons. It can be configured such
that all 15 buttons send program change messages. Or two rows can send
program change messages while the top row sends CC messages. Or one row
can send program change messages while the top two rows send CC messages.
Or all 15 buttons can send CC messages. For each button configured to
send program change messages, what you can actually do is send anywhere
from zero to 16 program change messages (one for each MIDI channel). In
addition, there are a whole bunch of other custom MIDI messages that can
be sent at the same time also. The buttons configured to be CC messages
can also have their default state programmed per patch. So, for example,
I have a button programmed to be "delay on/off". If I store the button state
as "on" for patch #1, then whenever I select patch #1, the light above
that button will illuminate and a CC message will be sent telling the delay
to turn on. If I store the state of that button as "off" for patch #1, then
whenever I select patch #1, the light above the button will be dark and a
CC message will be sent telling the delay to turn off. For each CC button,
you can configure whether what you program into that button is global or
is allowed to differ per patch. There are two input jacks in the rear where
you can plug in additional pedals. I have two volume pedals plugged in there
to operate as expressions pedals. I adore this unit and haven't even begun
to describe all that it will do. My only complaint is that I wish I could
plug more volume pedals into the rear. Of course, MIDI Solutions makes a
gadget that would allow me to do just that. The last thing I should point
out about this unit also is that its about as sturdy a unit as you'll ever
find. The chassis is very thick metal and I'm pretty sure I could run over
it with my car and not even notice. It is, however, very heavy.
Ground Control Pro
Information submitted by Louis Hesselt-van-dinter
Figure 10: Ground Control Pro
The Ground Control was developed by Digital Music Corp to control thier
guitar effects pedals switching system. It will also control up to eight
different MIDI devices. Recently, the Ground Control was replaced by the
Ground Control Pro. The GCP is a larger unit with more buttons and is
designed to compete with the All Access. The buttons can be configured
to all send program change messages or can be split where some send program
change messages and the others send CC messages. The original Ground Control
is still a much sought after unit and can be found use for $150-$200US.
It can be easily upgraded to the newest software (version 2.5) with a new
chip ($30 from DMC). Please note that a chip socket is needed to install the
new software. The Ground Controls with software 1.0 do not have the chip
socket, 1.1 and above do have the chip socket. It's not apparent that,
aside from the different design and increased number of buttons, there are
any other differences between the Ground Control and the Ground Control Pro.
Rocktron MIDI Mate
Information submitted by Louis Hesselt-van-dinter
Figure 11: Rocktron MIDI Mate
The Rocktron MIDI Mate appears to be, at first glance, a fairly sophisticated
control pedal. It has the standard 10 switches. It also allows the switches
to be set up as 5 Program Change switches and 5 Control Change switches. The
only problem with the MIDI Mate is that it is designed to control only a
single MIDI device. It can send additional MIDI information to other MIDI
devices, but you can't select which MIDI device you wish to control.
Lexicon MPX R1
Information submitted by Greg Howard
Figure 12: Lexicon MPX R1
The Lexicon MPX R1 is generally marketed as a companion to the Lexicon
guitar multi-effects processors and is usually only available in a package
along with those processors. At it's heart, however, the MPX R1 is a general
MIDI foot controller capable of controlling any MIDI device with a little
tweaking. As with many of the other controllers, the MPX R1 is capable of
generating multiple program change messages on multiple MIDI channels.
Specifically, eight simultaneous messagess can be generated with one preset
change. In addition, CC messsages can also be sent as part of a new preset
and it has a dedicated CC bypass mode for each program that allows you to
send on/off messages for various parameters. It also has a programmable
relay switch for changing amp channels on many amps and can accept an
additional 3-position on/off switch via a TRS (tip-ring-sleeve) connection
as well as a volume pedal (in addition to the built-in expression pedal).
According to Greg, the menu is somewhat dense for programming but the unit
is very versatile.
MOTU MIDI Time Piece
Information submitted by Louis Hesselt-van-dinter
Figure 13: MOTU MIDI Time Piece
Not a foot controller but this handy one rack space device is essentially
a MIDI router (like a combination thru and merge box but more sophisticated).
It has eight MIDI inputs and eight MIDI outputs. Any input can be assigned
to any output. Any input can be merged with any other input; no limit on the
amount of merged groups. Any MIDI channel can be assigned to any output. MIDI
channels can be individually merged. Any MIDI channel can be muted. This can
all be done with the controls on the unit itself or programmed externally
using a computer.