Let’s face it, we’re all gear addicts. We love our pedals, probably much more than we like to admit, and try to squeeze all we can onto our pedalboards. Some of us have compact Nano or Metro sized boards that have all we need, some of us have spaceships like those of John Frusciante or John Klinghoffer. Regardless, if you find yourself having to turn on and off several hard-to-reach pedals at a go, or knob twisting song after song for different settings, MIDI could be the way to go.
MIDI lets you turn on and off multiple pedals, sync up tempo times, and change settings with just one switch press. We gave an earlier introduction to MIDI here if you want to know what MIDI can do for you. A couple of questions still remain: Just how do I get MIDI on my board? Is it even easy to get my board MIDI-ed up? Well, the answer is yes, it really isn’t hard to get MIDI implemented on your board regardless of however many pedals you may have. Today we will show you how to set up MIDI on your pedalboard. We've also put together a list of possible accessories you might need to get MIDI on your pedalboard ( list at the end of article).
First, of course you need MIDI-capable pedals. While most MIDI pedals generally cost more than their non-MIDI counterparts, a MIDI pedal allows you to have endless settings at the click of a switch, allowing it to act as multiple pedals, which could actually be a cost and space saving investment. For example, instead of utilizing 2 seperate delay pedals, using the Empress Echosystem essentially gives you 2 different delay pedals in a single stompbox, with dual MIDI-capable delay engines. The same goes for the Chase Bliss Audio Brothers, which lets you run, in series or parallel, any combination of boost/overdrive/distortion/fuzz effects, essentially replacing 2 dirt boxes while having the order be instantly switchable and even set to parallel. Even 2 dirt boxes will not be able to do that at the click of a switch.
Many pedals like Strymon, Eventide and Free the Tone have 5-pin MIDI in and MIDI thru ports, allowing you to easily chain your MIDI pedals together. All you need are 5-pin MIDI cables to connect your MIDI controller and pedals. Other pedal makers such as Empress Effects and Chase Bliss Audio use ¼” TRS jacks for MIDI. Such pedals require a MIDI box (linked a few in the descriptions below) to work with a standard 5-pin MIDI controller. A MIDI box converts standard 5-pin MIDI to connectors to ¼” TRS. Most ¼” TRS MIDI pedals do not have MIDI thru, so the number of pedals you can use is limited by the number of MIDI outputs available on the MIDI box.
A MIDI Controller
And next, you need a MIDI controller. One such example is the Morningstar MC6 which is powerful, fully-programmable (can send any MIDI message you need) and easy to use.
Wiring Up Your Pedalboard
We now move on to wiring up your board. First things first, your pedals audio signal chain should still be connected in the order that you want - audio and MIDI chains are completely separate chains. For example, the sequence in which you connect a Strymon Timeline and Meris Polymoon with MIDI cables will not affect the way in which the audio signal flows.
You will need MIDI cables for this next part. Connect the MIDI out from your MIDI controller (all MIDI controllers have a MIDI out) to the MIDI in port of your first pedal - the MIDI controller will then send MIDI commands to the pedal once programmed! If you have more than one MIDI pedal, as most MIDI users would, you then need to chain these devices together. Most MIDI pedals like Strymon and Eventide pedals have MIDI thru ports, which pass MIDI signals through to the next pedal. Next, connect the MIDI thru to the MIDI in of the next pedal, repeating as needed till the end. This is fairly simple if all pedals have 5-pin MIDI in and thru connectors for receiving and passing on MIDI messages, but this isn’t always the case.
There are 3 scenarios where connecting your MIDI pedals may not be as straightforward:
Scenario 1: The MIDI pedal only has MIDI in and no MIDI thru
If there is only one pedal with no MIDI thru, simply place this pedal last in the MIDI chain. If you have more than one pedal with no MIDI thru port, you will need a MIDI splitter (linked in the list below). A MIDI splitter receives MIDI signals and outputs them through multiple outputs, allowing you to have control over more devices even if they do not have MIDI thru ports.
Scenario 2: The MIDI pedal has a different type of connector other than 5-pin
Some pedals have ¼” (Chase Bliss, Empress, Meris) or 3.5mm (Boss 200 series) TRS ports for MIDI instead of 5-pin ones. If your MIDI controller only has a 5-pin MIDI output, you will need a MIDI box to convert 5-pin to 1/4" TRS. The use of a MIDI box, essentially a MIDI splitter that converts 5-pin to ¼” is needed to connect your pedals to your MIDI controller. The MIDI out from the controller connects to the MIDI in of the MIDI box, and the outputs of the MIDI box should be connected to the 1/4" MIDI in ports of the effect pedals. Your MIDI controller can then communicate with all of them.
Scenario 3: the MIDI cable is obstructing a port
Now this issue might seem trivial, but we’ve seen instances where the MIDI cables are in the way of other cables or simply take up too much space. Rockboard has a solution to both these issues! They have their Flax MIDI Plug that enable you to angle the jack such that it points in any direction you want, to avoid obstruction of neighbouring ports. And the Flat is a low profile MIDI cable that saves space between pedals when other MIDI cables might take up twice the amount of space. And the best part is these cables area affordable too! We use them on our own boards and have no affiliation or agreement with Rockboard. We just believe that these cables are some of the best for their price.
Sure! We can also incorporate non-MIDI pedals like our beloved Tube Screamers, Big Muffs and Klons by including them in our MIDI presets. This simply requires an additional MIDI-controlled loop switcher. A MIDI-controlled loop switcher behaves exactly like a traditional loop switcher, except that it switches loops on/off by receiving MIDI messages. This allows you to control both your MIDI-capable and non-MIDI pedals with a single switch press on your MIDI controller. An example of such a MIDI-controllable loop switcher is the Morningstar ML5. Do note that MIDI-capable pedals do not need to be run through any loop switcher. All MIDI-capable pedals already have the ability to be engaged/bypassed by MIDI. A loop switcher is only needed for pedals that don’t have MIDI capabilities.
Things you need
On a final note, you might be wondering where you could get some of the above-mentioned items for your MIDI pedalboard. We've provide links to some of these items below. We do not earn anything from this and have just listed them for your convenience and because we have found them to be good products.
We really hope that this article has been of use to any soul seeking to get into the MIDI scene, and if there’s anything you’d like to know, feel free to drop us an email any time - we love hearing from our customers and fellow gear nerds! Till the next one guys!
Products you may need:
DIN-5 Rockboard Flat MIDI Cable:
DIN-5 Rockboard Flax (adjustable angle) MIDI Cable:
MIDI Box, Chase Bliss Audio: https://chaseblissaudio.com/product/chase-bliss-audio-midibox/
MIDI Splitter, MIDI Solutions: https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/MIDIthru4--midi-solutions-multivoltage-quadra-thru-1-in-4-out-midi-through-box
¼ Inch TRS (Tip-Ring-Sleeve) MIDI Cable, Hosa CSS: