As a typical guitarist, I have to multitask
during live performances. Singing, playing
lead and rhythm guitar parts and working
the crowd all at once can be quite
demanding during a show. To simplify the
performance and not compromise my guitar
tone and effects, I use MIDI switching.
If you’re tired of dancing on your pedals
give this a try.
The main benefit of MIDI switching is it
enables you to organize and change all of
your effects and amp channels
with the touch of a button. Here
are the tools you’ll need to get
started: MIDI foot controller, MIDIcapable
amp, MIDI cables and Guitar
There are several MIDI foot controller
pedals available. Examples
include: Voodoo Labs Ground
Control Pro and GCX Switcher,
Fender Cyber Foot Controller,
Tech 21 MIDI Moose and MIDI
Mouse, Roland GFC-50 and FC-
300, and T.C. Electronic G-Force
and G-System (which is an effects
well as MIDI controller).
As for MIDI-capable effects, almost all
rackmount effects have MIDI In, Out, and
Thru ports, including: Lexicon MX, MPX
and PCM series; T.C. Electronic D-Two,
G-System and G-Force; Alesis MicroVerb
and MidiVerb, and a long list of others. Also,
there is no need to stop using your stomp
boxes – they can be incorporated into this
setup if you have the right MIDI foot controller.
Amps such as the Marshall JVM410 and
Randall RM4, RT2, and MTS Series RM100S
also feature MIDI switching capability.
Once you have your tools, you’ll need to
get them set up. This includes making
the MIDI cable connections, running the
guitar signal connections, and programming
The MIDI foot controller is the master.
The effects and amp are slaves. For this
example, we’ll use two rackmount effect
units (see Fig 1). The signal flow starts at
the foot controller MIDI Out port. Select the
desired length MIDI cable – say 20’ – and
connect the foot controller’s MIDI Out into
the amp’s MIDI In port. The next MIDI cable
is plugged into the amp’s MIDI Thru port
and connected to the first effect’s MIDI In
port. We’ll chain the next effect together in
the same manner from effect one’s MIDI
Thru port into effect two’s MIDI In port.
This connects the controller, the amp and
two effect units together via MIDI. The
reason we use the MIDI Thru ports instead
of MIDI Out ports is because a MIDI Thru
port duplicates the exact message the In
port receives. This allows you to daisy-chain
multiple pieces of MIDI gear together so
the MIDI messages from the foot controller
get all the way through to the last effect in
With rackmount effects, you’ll often get the
best results using your amp’s effects loop
(look on the back of the amp) to do this.
Use a guitar cable from the amp’s effects
loop Send and connect it to effect one’s
mono Input (often the left channel), then
out of effect one’s mono Output (again,
often the left channel) to effect two’s mono
Input. We’ll complete the process by connecting
effect two’s mono Output to the
amp’s effects loop Return.
To program this setup you’ll need to decide
what amp channel (clean, crunch or lead)
and effects you want.
The amp will probably have a MIDI “Learn”
button on it. Once you’ve selected the
channel you want, press the MIDI Learn
button and select the channel you want on
the foot controller. The amp will store
this information and each time you
select that channel on the foot controller
it will switch the corresponding
channel on the amp.
The effects are a little different.
They’re already set up to respond to a
MIDI command. You pick the desired
effect and save it to a user preset
(the same preset number you want
associated with the amp channel).
For example, let’s say that for channel
1 you want a clean guitar tone, and a
small hall reverb and a chorus from
your effects. You would MIDI Learn
the amp to the clean channel, effect one to
a small reverb on preset 1, and effect two
to a chorus on the foot controller’s preset 1.
When you select preset 1 on the foot controller,
the amp and both effects will switch
to the designated settings listed, providing
instant tone without a lot of dancing.
Of course, this is just a basic overview
of the process. Consult the manual
for your MIDI foot controller to get the
specifics for your rig. It’s all pretty easy
once you do it a time or two, and it’s
well worth it to simplify your rig and
streamline your performances.
Tim Harrington performs in the Tim Harrington Band (tim-harrington-band.com
), is a recording and live sound engineer
and has been a Sweetwater Sales Engineer for four
years. You can reach him at tim_harrington@sweetwater
or 800-222-4700 x1395.