As a guitarist, producer, or synth enthusiast, there will come a time when you wish you had an extra arm or two to interact with gear while your two stock arms are occupied with playing. When this is the case, you may find you could benefit from a MIDI foot controller.
As with all gear in this modern era, there are a number of options to choose from with various formats and features. We help you narrow the field and help you choose the right foot controller for your needs.
Let’s dig in!
What Are The Best MIDI Foot Controllers?
It’s rare we recommend Behringer as the “best overall”, but exceptions need to be made. The FCB1010 is a fantastic all-round MIDI foot controller that suits a range of uses. If you’re on a tight budget, check out the Nektar Pacer. If you have cash to blow, the Studiologic Mp117 is definitely worth a look.
With that out of the way, here are the best MIDI foot controllers out today:
Those searching for a MIDI foot controller will have a hard time avoiding the Behringer FCB1010.
The FCB1010 tops many lists for MIDI foot controllers because of its versatility, features, and budget-friendly price tag.
2 freely assignable expression pedals
10 foot switches
10 banks of presets with 10 user-editable preferences (100 presets)
Up to 5 program change commands per preset
MIDI merge function
2 programmable relay-controlled switch jacks (channel changer for amps)
Don’t let the price tag fool you on this one. While Behringer may have a bit of a dubious reputation for quality, the FCB1010 is very sturdy and widely accepted as the best bang for your buck in the MIDI foot controller market.
On its face, it has 10 preset switches, 2 channel switches for guitar amps, and 2 expression pedals. MIDI connectivity has in and out/thru as generally expected, but also features MIDI merge functionality.
There are 10 banks of 10 presets for a total of 100 available presets to manage and use with your setup. For those with multiple devices, they’d like to trigger at a time, the FCB1010 allows for up to five program changes to five different devices in one preset.
Each pedal can send two control change messages. In addition to this there a two freely assignable expression pedals to send smooth controls on your gear or software.
Lastly, they also include two pedals for relay-controlled jacks for amps with footswitch channel changing capabilities.
The FCB1010 isn’t without some flaws. Some find the build quality of the pedals to feel a bit flimsy compared to the metal casing of the overall unit.
The FCB1010 has some editing software, but in general, can be cumbersome to program with the limited display.
The manual is also noted as being notoriously difficult to get through, and some may find limitations in the two CC changes per pedal. The expression pedals do not have a toe button as many wah pedal enthusiasts may be used to.
Overall the FCB1010 is the best value in our book and is perfect for those just dipping their toe in MIDI foot controller waters.
The Nektar Pacer is not only a great MIDI foot controller for performance work, but it also integrates into DAWs very well. This makes it a great choice for not only performers but also producers.
Comes with preset integration settings for many popular DAWs, amp/effects models, and synths/samplers already loaded
A rotary encoder, programmable
Support for 4 external expression pedals
24 user presets
6 messages per footswitch
Solid steel housing
Nektar’s Pacer supposedly began as an idea for a hands-free DAW controller. While it is one of its main uses, Nektar has expanded that idea to a very useful and versatile MIDI foot controller. Not to mention a very fair price tag to boot.
The Pacer very conveniently comes with many presets for popular DAW formats already loaded into it. This means the configuration for hands-free DAW control is a breeze.
The board is marked for easy DAW use with functions like play, stop, record, mute, rew, ff, etc. plainly displayed for quick reference.
They also include presets for popular amp/effects modelers and other electronic instruments like the infamous Elektron Octatrack.
The Nektar Pacer’s preset DAW and amp/effects integration is one of the main attractions here, but its functionality as a MIDI foot controller is also powerful. One footswitch is dedicated for “Preset mode” and the other 10 footswitches can be programmed individually to send up to six steps.
These steps can send MIDI messages, move up and down a preset, and even manipulate the active step in another sequence.
Up to 16 MIDI, messages or relay switches can be recalled instantly. The rotary encoder can also be programmed to control CC or select presets and programs.
As you can see the Nektar Pacer can soon have your head spinning with all the possible configurations and sequencing options available to you.
The Pacer’s drawbacks are few, but significant from a user standpoint when considering it for purchase. The Pacer doesn’t have individual displays for each footswitch so your visual feedback for each is limited to LED colors with two brightness settings.
The lone display is also limited in feedback as it cannot display user-generated names for each setting.
It will only be used for CC and NRPN values and RPN labels. There is also no editor or librarian for the Pacer so recall of the configuration and parameters of your presets will be mostly up to you. Some may also find the 24-user presets a bit limiting.
The Nektar Pacer despite some of its quirks is still very much a top choice for MIDI foot controllers for musicians and producers alike.
The Keith McMillen SoftStep 2 is a highly touted MIDI foot controller with unique construction and layout. It is highly customizable and easy to program making it a top choice amongst musicians of all types.
10 pressure-sensitive keys for expressive control as well as directional sensitivity for additional control values not possible with simple switches
Compact (less than an inch thick) yet very durable design can survive spills and even being run over by a car
10 bi-color LEDs and a 4-character alphanumeric display
Powerful dedicated software editor
Can be used without a computer at all with a MIDI expander
At 1.3 lbs. is well suited for musicians on the go
An entire article can be written about Keith McMillen’s career and accomplishments. He’s pioneered many innovative instruments over his impressive career and one of the more recent ones is the SoftStep 2 MIDI foot controller.
McMillen’s dedication to advancing music technology is soundly embedded into the impressive design and functionality of the SoftStep 2 controller.
While most MIDI foot controllers on this list operate via footswitches with limited on/off functionality, the SoftStep 2 features 10 keys with some very special properties.
Each key features its Smart Fabric technology to not only register that the key is pressed, but also registers pressure, foot position, X/Y directionality, and rotational direction. This alone makes the SoftStep 2 stand out as a dynamic performance tool with essentially 10 built-in expression pedals you can configure to your heart’s desire.
You can adjust the key sensitivity settings for your playing style (for sitting or standing) as the foot pressure will differ for both.
The SoftStep 2 also has pre-programmed setups for popular platforms such as Garage Band, Logic, Traktor, Abelton, and more. This makes integration into your production setup a breeze if you use one or more of them.
However easy it may be to work the SoftStep 2 into these platforms, the labyrinthine level of control you can have is immense once you start diving in. The software editor makes this easy to access and work with, but you can easily get into very complex setups given each key’s capabilities and five points of controllability.
The SoftStep 2 is also surprisingly light and compact at about 1 in. thickness and only weighing in at 1.3 lbs.
This would normally be cause for concern, but the SoftStep 2 is durable enough to withstand spills, a two-story drop, and even being run over by a car as demonstrated on their product page. It is made from carbon fiber and features liquid-proof elastomeric skin.
The cons are somewhat limited here but worth noting. One of the SoftStep 2’s advantages can be a disadvantage in that its small size may be a bit limiting for those with larger feet or footwear. It can be easy to hit another key if you’re not careful and have larger feet.
Some may also find the programming possibilities overwhelming for their more basic purposes.
I think this is one of the best, if not the best, MIDI foot controllers on the market due to its unique features, flexibility, and portability. It’s a bit more on the pricey side, but for the money, you get a ton of features and functionality no other controller really comes close to.
In stark contrast to the SoftStep 2, the Tech 21 MIDI Mouse Pedal is a bare-bones minimalist MIDI controller for those that only require simple channel or program changes for their live or studio setup in a robust and compact package.
Battery operable with a 9V battery
Rugged compact steel case
Small form factor
Very simple operation with only 3 buttons
Access 128 program changes on 16 selectable channels
Tech 21’s MIDI Mouse pedal is the perfect MIDI foot controller for those that do not need complex programs and sequences to achieve their goals.
Often all someone might want is to be able to change patches or programs instantly without the hassle of having to program them into the device beforehand. This is where the Tech 21 MIDI Mouse pedal shines.
The MIDI Mouse sports 3 buttons; that’s it. From here you can use the up and down buttons to scroll through program changes one at a time. In “active mode” this instantly sends the MIDI data out as soon as it is changed.
In “search mode” you can speed scroll through each number without affecting the current MIDI program.
When ready you can then launch the selected program change instantly. This feature is great for performers, as you can set up your next program change well in advance.
The MIDI Mouse also has a unique use case in being a dedicated MIDI switch for each piece of gear you might have.
The compact design and simple layout make it easy to have one setup to a dedicated source instead of having to set up a pedal board beforehand.
Simply plug it into the desired instrument and match the MIDI channels. The affordable price also makes this an attractive solution for this use case.
Being battery operable is also a big plus as it would be one less cable to deal with on your board or rig. It’s also convenient as it is small and lightweight for the traveling musician. No need for a huge gig bag, just put it in your backpack and you’re good to go.
The limitations of the MIDI Mouse’s programmability is its main drawback but can also be an attractive feature. It depends on your use case.
Additionally, some find that the up and down switches could be placed more closely, but a simple mod can fix this quickly (though that’s not advice for warranty purposes).
Studiologics MP117 MIDI Controller Pedal Board is a 17-note Organ Pedalboard with MIDI controller capabilities.
For the user that wants to be able to play along with their feet as a bassline while maintaining foot controller capabilities, the MP117 is a durable high-quality choice.
17 note solid wood tipped pedalboards with velocity sensitivity
Note transposition up to +/- 24 semitones
4 function buttons
Virtual numeric keypad
Program change and full bank change access
Premium build quality
While many of our top picks on this list cover a lot of ground regarding feature sets and controller capabilities, the Studiologic MP117 is uniquely the most musically capable of the bunch.
It is possible to send notes from the foot pedals and/or keys of the previously mentioned MIDI foot controllers, but none offer the range and playability of the MP117.
Right off the bat, you will notice the nicely made wood-tipped pedal boards. Typically pedalboards hanging around this price range will have 13 notes, the MP117 goes a bit further with 17.
This extra range from an octave really opens the possibilities for arrangements and scale compared to a 13-note model.
Other manufacturers will have higher note count boards, but this will typically send you into the $1-2K range pretty quickly. The velocity sensitivity allows far more expressive play than models that mainly serve to send note data only.
Connect this to your favorite MIDI-capable keyboard, synthesizer, or software app and get going with playing in basslines in no time.
On the controller side of things, it is a bit more barebones than our other listed picks. Still, as it’s more of a device you play musically, the focus is more on allowing the user to easily access the program changes necessary for their live act or production setup.
Here you have access to program changes, full bank access, and note data with transposition up to +/- 24 semitones to open up the range and scales you can access. The face features four large buttons spaced out well for use with a foot.
The construction is solid with a nice wood tip on the pedals. It comes in at about 17 lbs. so it’s not quite a behemoth, but solidly made with a quality build. If you search online you will see anecdotal testimony of usage over 10 years.
The aspect of the MP117 that makes it less attractive is the lack of programmability. This can be an issue, but if you’re looking at pedalboards, to begin with, you may not be so inclined to want all the MIDI fiddling you’d have to do on a computer or tediously without one on other controllers.
This is not a small board and can be a bit heavy at almost 20 lbs. It’s also a bit oddly shaped with protruding pedals that would warrant a travel case. In this way, it’s not the easiest to travel with.
The Studiologic MP117 is a well-built MIDI pedalboard controller. The price is a bit on the steep side, but when you consider the features and playability it does carry quite a lot of value with it as well.
Best suited for keyboard players, and musicians looking to back themselves with a bassline while playing other instruments.
What Is a MIDI Foot Controller (And Do You Need One?)
MIDI foot controllers allow the player to control other instruments and gear by sending musical control messages in MIDI format with a foot pedal. MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface.
It was adopted as a technical standard for sending messages to compatible gear, allowing the user to control the equipment externally.
Among the many things that MIDI can control for an instrument are parameters such as a note’s pitch, length, velocity, and on/off state.
MIDI sequencers will use this note data to send information in sequence to play melodies, chords, and beat sequences in the case of drum machines.
This is much like a piano roll you would use in a DAW, but one that would play external gear. In addition to these basic musical parameters, MIDI messages allow the user to interact will all components of a particular instrument coded for MIDI including program changes and complex patch settings in an instant.
So instead of stopping your playing from switching to a new pedal, or fiddle with some settings, you can simply use your feet to activate these various changes without skipping a beat.
MIDI controllers are a powerful tool when making music, especially in a live situation. You can trigger song sequences, change patches, activate pedals, and more.
For this reason, musicians worldwide at many different levels will find MIDI foot controllers an important part of their setup. Allowing us to overcome our physical limitations to create the music in our head.
While the Behringer FCB1010 is our top pick for its price and features, many of our other choices have features that make it much more suited to your needs.
Either way, with any of our picks, you’ll get a quality instrument with capabilities and value that matches its price.