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MIDI guitar controllers are an expressive alternative to keyboard controllers.
MIDI pickups are also an alternative option worth considering.
See our top picks for MIDI guitar controllers and pickups!
MIDI Has Come A Long Way…
We’re sure you’re all too familiar with MIDI keyboards by now and their uses in music production. If not, just know that a MIDI controller communicates with your DAW, telling it how to play your various synths and virtual instruments. MIDI data contains note and velocity information, control change data for automation, and many other messages associated with arrangement and production.
The reason MIDI controllers are so handy for recording is they can be used for almost anything! MIDI not only decides what notes are played (great for recording realistic piano sounds for example) but your controller can also be used to program drums and even automate your parameters.
It’s no surprise to see guitar versions of MIDI controllers becoming more and more popular. You’ll often find these in the form of a ‘guitar’ unit (modeled on the shape and size of a traditional guitar) or a MIDI pickup which translates your guitar signal to MIDI.
Of course, not everyone is a piano player, so having a MIDI electric guitar or MIDI guitar pickup can be a much better way of programming and recording via MIDI than a standard keyboard. Not only that but using a MIDI guitar or pickup can create some cool sounds that might be difficult to achieve on standard keyboard controllers.
There are several options on the market depending on what you are looking for and there is no ‘best MIDI guitar controller’ as such as they all have different features and functions. As mentioned above, there’s also the route of attaching a MIDI guitar pickup to your system, so we’ve included a couple of those as well.
Choosing the correct one for you may take some time and research but think about what you are trying to achieve.
Are you looking for a realistic guitar MIDI controller that feels much like a ‘real’ guitar?
Or are you looking to play your existing electric guitar with a MIDI pickup?
What Is The Best MIDI Guitar Controller?
Our recommendation is the latest iteration of the Jammy. Their first version was a hit, but came with a few limitations. Fortunately, they listened to the feedback and went the extra mile to develop v2.0, which is far more responsive, more playable, and more feature-packed than ever before.
Without further ado, here are 7 of the best MIDI guitar controller options available today (with some MIDI pickup alternatives in there too):
First on our list is the Jammy. We got our hands on this guitar controller earlier this year and were impressed with the unit. The Jammy’s aim is to function much like a normal guitar but with the added benefit of a MIDI!
Updated recently with the new G model, the Jammy utilizes real guitar strings and a MIDI guitar pickup which allows you to strum and pick in the same way you would with a real guitar. The MIDI converter then acts in the same way as it would with another MIDI controller.
The Jammy is designed with a plug and play ethos in mind. After initially setting up, you can either connect to your DAW via USB or you can connect to the Jammy smartphone app. This app includes a selection of guitar sounds much like an amp simulator within your DAW. This allows you to play in real-time as if you were playing through an amp at home with a standard guitar.
This is a great option if you are looking for an easy to use guitar MIDI controller. Of course, the experience won’t 100% replicate the feel of an electric guitar but that isn’t necessarily the point. The Jammy is designed to be portable and quick to set up and this is something they have definitely achieved with both models.
Who Is It For? Guitarists and producers wanting to make music with a MIDI guitar on the go, and those looking for a Jamstik alternative.
When you think of MIDI guitars you probably think about strumming strings (or something that tries to closely emulate an actual guitar). The INSTRUMENT 1 however is more than just a guitar MIDI controller and allows you to strum, bow, tap, slide, and drum.
Instrument 1 allows you to switch between guitar, violin, piano, and drums with a single button making this MIDI controller one of the best pieces of gear if you’re after multiple instruments in one package.
The unit uniquely includes inbuilt speakers that are as loud as an acoustic guitar and the pressure-sensitive fingerboard enables expressive playing. Whilst this may not be for you if you are looking for a realistic guitar playing experience, the INSTRUMENT 1 is certainly one of the best ways to imitate a selection of musical instruments without a DAW.
If you’re into the sound of Artiphon’s INSTRUMENT 1 then we’d also recommend checking out their Orba. The Artiphon Orba is a small synth, controller, and looper that you control by gestures such as tapping and waving.
Who Is It For? Producers or guitarists who want more than just a guitar controller. Anyone wanting to layer strings or program drums via MIDI.
For more information and to hear the INSTRUMENT 1 in action, head to Artiphon’s website.
The Jam Origin MIDI Guitar 2 is a polyphonic MIDI controller that, much like some of the other guitar MIDI options in this list, converts a guitar signal to MIDI in real-time.
However one of the unique aspects of the MIDI Guitar 2 is it’s entirely software based! It has the ability to create a huge array of sounds via MIDI without the need for any extra hardware. That means you don’t have to fuss around installing a MIDI pickup just to have a MIDI guitar controller.
If you’re a live guitar player and you’re looking to get experimental guitar sounds without fitting an extra pickup to your guitar then this might be the one for you.
Setting up your guitar as a MIDI controller in this case is really simple – just download the software and you’ll have access to a huge array of sounds from synthesizers to pianos and more. If you’re not sure about making the leap and investing fully then there is a free trial available as well.
We’re really impressed with the sound you can get from the device and can see it being a lot of fun regardless of whether you’re a touring musician or a bedroom guitarist. The MIDI Guitar 2 will definitely provide a means to elevate your sound!
Who Is It For? Anyone wanting to create a MIDI guitar signal in real-time without the need for external hardware or pickups.
For a free trial and to hear the capabilities of the MIDI Guitar 2 then head to Jam Origin’s website.
The Fishman Tripleplay is a small unit that turns your guitar into a MIDI instrument by fixing to the guitar’s body. This is a great option for guitar players who may not want to invest in a full MIDI unit and would prefer the feel of a heavy chunk of wood over their shoulders! The other bonus is this could be used for creating some really cool sounds during a live performance.
The Fishman is in essence a wireless electric guitar pickup that offers low latency and accurate processing meaning you can get really expressive in your playing. It’ll allow you to create horn sounds, basslines, synth lines and can even be used to trigger loops – the MIDI pickup really turns your guitar into any instrument you desire.
The one downside is if you don’t like the look of MIDI pickups then it might not be something you want to fix to your guitar. However, this is a small trade-off for being able to create some really cool sounds from this intuitive unit.
Who Is It For? Guitarists wanting to create experimental sounds while still being able to play a real guitar.
Check out the Tripleplay and other Fishman products over at their website.
The GK-3 divided pickup attaches to any steel-stringed electric — no drilling necessary — and delivers accurate performance data to guitar synthesizers such as Roland popular GR-55. The GK-3’s slim-line design enables ideal placement on the guitar.
This is actually a really good option for those wanting to take advantage of realistic guitar tones whilst also getting into experimental synth patches. MIDI is often associated with sounds that can’t be made with a guitar, so the Roland GK3 is great for those wanting to have access to both worlds.
The pickup system fixes to your guitar just between the bridge pickup and bridge and from there it connects to your guitar’s input. The GK3 has been on the market for some time now and is a great pickup if you’re looking to get experimental, however it does need to be paired with the Roland GR 55 effects unit (so that is one downside if you are trying to keep costs down).
Unleash your creativity and expand the potential of your guitar skills using the Jamstik as a MIDI controller. You can play synths, strings, keyboards, or any instrument you can think of to create and record entire songs using the Jamstik with compatible music apps and DAWs.
The Jamstik is tailored more towards beginner and intermediate guitarists by allowing you to play in real-time by utilizing optical pickups for a realistic experience.
Of course, if you are wanting to learn to play guitar this won’t be a like-for-like substitute. But then again, this isn’t the aim of the Jamstik. If you are a beginner then the smartphone app or web portal will allow you to play your first chords in minutes and offer real-time feedback.
Included are batteries, a strap, and guitar picks. The simplicity of it means you can grab the instrument, plug it into the software, and play music right away.
The Guitar Wing provides an expressive, MIDI control surface designed for guitar and bass players. It easily attaches to any electric guitar or bass and communicates wirelessly to your computer or USB-MIDI host.
On the Guitar Wing, you’ll find a series of buttons and controls to link your guitar to effects within your DAW via USB.
From there you can change parameters in real-time such as pitch, modulation, and filters as well as your reverb, distortion, and delay settings.
This one has the potential to be a lot of fun, although we can see it coming with a steep learning curve. That said we’re sure once you’ve got the hang of how the Guitar Wing works you’ll see this as much more than a guitar controller. With so many options, it’s easy to see how the Guitar Wing can add a whole extra dimension to your playing.
Who Is It For? Anyone wanting to utilize MIDI as an added effects processor. Rather than simply recreating the notes you play, Guitar Wing uses effects parameters to add another dimension to your playing.
It’s probably best for Livid Instruments to show you exactly how this works, so head to their website for more.