The Basics of MIDI
for the Guitarist
Setting Up a MIDI Foot Controller
I have always just been a “plug it in and play” kinda guy. But I have also always had dreams of a perfect guitar set-up. You know, like the pro’s – Randy Rhodes, Eddie Van Halen, Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Steve Vai. I want to stay with a natural sound (not all processed) but there’s gotta be a better way than doing the stomp box shuffle. And as a kid I always thought stomp boxes sounded kinda lame compared to a cranked amp anyway. So, how do you blend the best of both worlds? Well, to me, the way to do it is… have your effects set up so that at the click of a button, you can truly bypass them all to get that strait to amp sound. In addition, there should be some kind of way to turn them back on whenever you want, and you should be able to turn on more than one effect at a time! Without going to a rack setup. Enter the solution… THE MIDI FOOTCONTROLLER.
Now with a midi footcontoller, if you pick the right one, you can control a complete rack of effects (if that’s your heart’s desire), switch between channels on your amp (you’ll need a foot controller with this capability built in like the Lexicon MPX-R1, or a remote midi-switcher like the GRX4), and even turn individual stomp boxes turn on and off (and for that, you’ll also need a switcher/router like axess electronic’s GRX4).
After struggling trying to set up my Line6 “Echo Pro” Delay Effect (currently my only rack effect) to use with my Digitech RP-12 foot controller, I finally made some success which I will share with you. Previously, I also struggled with hooking up a Lexicon G2 and a TC electronics G-force multi-effects units to a Lexicon MPX-R1 Foot controller and found it most frustrating. (But I must say the G-force was much easier to work with than Lexicon’s G2.)
The first few tries at hooking up my footcontroller where very frustrating compared to using a multi effect pedal and certainly tougher than plugging in a stomp box. I only had (and still have) just a basic understanding of how MIDI works. I couldn’t find a Simple MIDI Primer for the guitarist on the web anywhere and I thought that “If I ever figure out how all this works, I’ll tell everyone the simple way to hook it up -- or at least explain the basics.” That’s the reason for this page. I hope this explanation of MIDI will help others who are just starting out set up a MIDI guitar foot controller faster and better. That way, maybe it won’t take you so long to hook things up just how you want them. First, I’ll cover a few definitions of MIDI terms. I found these definitions lacking in most of the manuals I read. Then I will tell you, generally, how to hook up your MIDI Foot Controller. Once you understand how it all works, you’ll know what to look for in your manual, or what to look for when picking out a MIDI footpedal. (By the way, my favorite foot controller is currently the Digitech RP-12 which is really designed as a multi-effect floor unit. However, I don’t use any of the effects. I bought it because of the nice layout and because it’s cheaper than buying a new midi foot controller that doesn’t have any built in effects.)
1) “Program Change” Messages – These are the most common. These are what the LED Numbers usually show on the Foot Controller and the Multi Effect unit. Program 35, for example, might be a preset on your multi-effect for “Distortion + Reverb”.
2) “Control Change” Messages – These are the most Powerful.
“Control Change” Messages consist of:
a) Control Change Number – usually 1 to 127. The number that corresponds to an individual effect. Keep in mind that this has nothing to do with the program change number mentioned earlier. Control Changes happen independently of which Program you have displayed. This can develop a consistency. For example, if Control Change number #71 is set up as the Control Change number for your Distortion effect in your multi-effect unit, CC#71 can relate to distortion, no matter which PROGRAM you are on. So, that way, you always have access to turn the Distortion effect on and off (in every program that has distortion available) by pressing the button that is linked to CC#71.
b) Control Change Value – usually 1 to 127. This is the Value that is transmitted for a given Control Change Number. As an example, if your foot controller transmits a VALUE of “0” which relates to Control Change NUMBER 71, this may turn “OFF” your distortion effect in your midi multi-effect unit. Likewise, a Control Change VALUE of “127” over CC#71 may turn the distortion back on.
If your foot controller allows you to send CC’s:
A single Control Change Message (consisting of a CC Number and a CC Value) can be sent by pressing an individual Footswitch (or a button) on the Foot-controller
-- OR --
Many Control Change Messages can be sent as a continuous steam of information by a continuous controller, such as an expression pedal (or Wah Pedal) on your foot controller. In this manner, many different CC VALUES can be sent which relate to a specified CC#. So, that way, you can have constant control over a particular effect such as Wah Intensity, Volume Level, or number of Delay Repeats, depending on which effect the CC# is linked to.
3) “Sysex Change” Messages– system exclusive messages. You cannot change or program these. This is how the Lexicon MPX-R1 sends “Tap Tempo” messages to the Lexicon MPX-1.
The MIDI messages (described above) travel over the midi cable through different Channels:
1) Channels – can be 1 – 16, or ALL channels (Omni). For pieces of equipment to communicate to each other, they must be on the same channel. Messages are usually sent over 1 channel, or sometimes, a message can be sent out on all channels. Likewise, on the other end of the MIDI cable, messages can be received (or “listened to”) by the receiving piece of equipment on one or all channels.
Foot Controller setup
Here’s the basics of how to setup your foot controller:
à Connect your midi cable from the foot controller to the multi-effect.
à Make sure your footcontroller and your multieffects are on the same Channel. If you are just starting out, put both your multi effects unit and your foot controller on Omni so they will “send” and “listen to” all channels for any changes you make (i.e. messages you send) from your foot controller to your effects. (Now here we’re assuming you have (1) multi-effect and (1) foot-controller and nothing else, otherwise you’ll need to pick channels.) Or, you can pick a channel, as long as both units are on the same channel, you’re good to go.
à program changes – Piece of cake. Stomp on a button on your foot-controller and your multi-effect should switch to that number. Note, on my foot controller (the Digitech RP-1), and on others, I notice that the foot pedal sends PC+1 (program change+1). So the foot controller may be set on #3 and the multi-effect may be set to #2. But as long as you press different buttons you should get a corresponding change.
à Effects on and off – This is a little tougher. This involves using CC’s (control changes). The biggest problem I had with setting this up was determining if the manual was talking about setting up the switches on the foot controller, or setting up the Wah pedal. We’ll start with setting up switches first.
You must know what CC NUMBER the effect is looking for. For example, distortion effect (within your midi multi-effect unit) may be set to CC NUMBER 71. So your footswitch must transmit CC NUMBER 71.
Now, CC#71 can have different VALUES. Usually, to turn an effect “OFF” you send a VALUE of “0”, to turn an effect “ON” you send of VALUE of “127”. You must look at your foot controller manual and determine how to set up a footswitch to send a CC NUMBER and a CC VALUE. The Digitech RP-1 has a Toggle feature -- so when you put in the CC number, each time you press the corresponding footswitch it alternates between “0” and “127”.
à Continuous Controller (Volume Pedal or Wah-Wah Setup) – After you grasp the effects on / off setup, then this will be easy. Instead of just sending On (“127”) and Off (“0”) messages, a continuous controller will send a stream of VALUES over a Control Change Number.
Let’s say the “Wah effect” on your multi-effects unit responds to CC (control change) Number 78, then set the CC Number on the footcontroller’s Continuous Controller (the actual Wah pedal on your midi foot controller) to transmit on CC#78. The VALUE that transmits over CC#78 will be 1, 2, 3... 127. Assuming that’s the Range of CC Values you want to transmit. Sometimes you can set the RANGE of the Wah pedal. You may want the pedal to only send a limited range of VALUES (say, 1 thru 100) depending on your equipment and what your trying to do. For example, you want the Continuous Controller Pedal to be linked to the Delay Level you might want to Max the Value at 50 so the delay is never louder than the original signal, therefore the range would be (1 to 50).
That covers the basic concept of midi foot controller setup. Simply turning individual effects on and off will put you way ahead of many other guitarists that just use preset sounds.
P.S. please e-mail me if there are any errors or omissions I should fix. Or if this helped you at all.
Later to come…
Using the MIDI functions of the
Digitech RP-12 Foot Controller
To control Multi Effects guitar processors