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Introduction: Guitar effects controllers and MIDI

As a longtime guitarist I have watched and participated in the technological changes around guitar effects and how they are used by guitar players of all genres. My first commercial guitar effect was a phase shifter soon followed by a compressor and a distortion pedal. At some point I had mounted them all to a piece of scrap plywood painted black. That didn’t last long as my musical repertoire expanded I added an analog delay, a wah pedal and a chorus. I scavenged an old mixer case that had handles and was covered in tolex to house my pedals. There were no standards and many pedals ran on batteries only.

It did not take long before I was modifying pedals with LED indicators and power connectors. Soon I had other guitarists and friends asking for these modifications and I started building power supplies to eliminate batteries from these first generation pedal boards. Many high profile guitarists had custom pedalboard switching systems built by designers like Pete Cornish that were notoriously expensive. These designs were built for reliability and low noise required by the touring guitarist and were simply not available to the average guitar player.

I was dimly aware when MIDI was introduced in 1983 but as a guitarist I thought it was only for keyboards and synths. By the mid 80’s manufacturers starting offering MIDI controlled effects systems for guitarists like the Ibanez EPP-400 and the Peavey MFP 2128. These early MIDI controlled effects systems were soon forgotten with the advent of digital and rack based processors. Designers like Bob Bradshaw rose to prominence as integrators of these rack based systems for high profile guitarists. Again the average guitarist could only dream about owning one of these rigs along with the power and flexibility they offered to control effects.

Fast forward to 2016 where things have come full circle and pedalboards are the norm for most guitarists. The last 5 to 10 years has seen a proliferation of effects pedals from mainstream manufacturers, boutique one man shops and a flood of low cost copies from Asia. Digital based pedals now rival effects once only available as rack mounted units designed for studio use. Even the beginner guitarist can now afford a pedal collection to create different tones and musical genres. As most guitarists will acknowledge these modern pedalboards require some kind of signal routing and management to effectively use the sonic possibilities during a performance. Fortunately technology marches on and the ability to control and manage effects is available to all guitar (and bass) players without the high price tag of a Cornish or Bradshaw designed rig.

My goal in writing these articles is to explain the technology around guitar effects systems and how MIDI can play a role in helping the guitarist streamline the use of effects during a performance. More and more manufacturers are offering effects pedals with MIDI capabilities and to realize the full musical potential of these devices requires an understanding of this technology and how it can be used in the creative process.


One Comment

  1. Just stopped by to say thank you for your informational support of mxr dist ii users) this pedal is unique

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