- 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.
MIDI controllers are so handy for recording because 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.
There’s also the route of attaching a MIDI guitar pickup to your system, so we’ve included a couple of options if that works better for you.
Choosing the correct solution may take 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 for the best MIDI guitar goes to the Jamstik Studio. As far as playability, latency and expressiveness goes, the Jamstik is hard to beat. Jammy’s effort comes close, although production and customer support issues have made it hard to recommend them lately.
Without further ado, here are 7 of the best MIDI guitar controller options available today (with some MIDI pickup alternatives in there too):
- Jamstik Studio (Our Pick!)
- Jammy (Runner Up!)
- Artiphon INSTRUMENT 1
- Jam Origin MIDI Guitar 2 (Best Value)
- Fishman Tripleplay
- Roland GK3
- Jamstik Guitar Trainer
- Guitar Wing
1. Jamstik Studio (Our Pick!)
Powered by Jamstik signal processing technology & proprietary algorithms, the Studio MIDI represents state-of-the-art MIDI guitar performance built into a portable, all-in-one solution.
The Jamstik Studio gets our pick for the best premium option. At just under $800, you’d expect to be getting an excellent product, and fortunately — you do.
Unlike most options on this list, the Jamstik Studio is modeled exactly like a standard headless, 24-fret electric guitar.
While not 100% perfect, the MIDI responsiveness is one of the best we’ve tried and champions both feel and performance as far as guitar MIDI controllers are concerned.
This is mainly due to their proprietary MIDI algorithms and signal processing technology. While there isn’t much public info on the ins and outs of this tech, the responsiveness and playability speak for themselves.
- Two humbuckers
- A coil tap switch
- A three-way switch
- A standard 1/4″ out
You also get a bundled bag of goodies with it, including their Jamstik Creator software for Mac or PC, a custom padded gig bag, a USB C to A cable & adapter, 3.5mm TRS-MIDI cable, 1/4” Guitar Cable, Strap Locks, Allen Keys, Manual, & Guitar Pick.
MIDI out options include USB-C, 3.5mm TRS and Bluetooth.
Check out our full, in-depth video review of the Jamstik below:
2. Jammy (Runner Up!)
Use code UTJQRIE1OI to save $50. The Jammy is a backpack-sized controller which successfully raised over $260,000 on Indiegogo and went on to win the NAMM "Best In Show" award.
- Fun bit of kit
Editor’s note as of November 2022: We’ve noticed a high report of customers not receiving their orders due to backlogs. While we think the Jammy guitar is a fantastic product, we would exert caution before ordering.
We got our hands on this guitar controller earlier this year and were impressed with the unit. The Jammy aims to function much like a standard guitar but with the added benefit of a MIDI!
One of the unique aspects of the Jammy is its portability. It breaks down into several pieces which can be carried in the included gig bag and put in your rucksack. This is a huge plus for anyone constantly on the move.
Updated recently with the new G model, the Jammy utilizes real guitar strings and a MIDI guitar pickup, allowing 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 an excellent option if you want 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, which they have 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.
Head to Jammy’s website for more information and prices.
Save $50 by using the code UTJQRIE1OI
3. Artiphon INSTRUMENT 1
The Artiphon INSTRUMENT 1 is a new kind of digital instrument that adapts to the way you play. It’s the first MIDI controller that lets you strum, slide, tap, and drum any sound on a single interface.
- Built-in speakers
- All-day battery life
- Full MIDI compatibility
The Artiphon INSTRUMENT 1 is another guitar/MIDI controller hybrid but one of the more unique on the market at the minute.
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 as loud as an acoustic guitar, and the pressure-sensitive fingerboard enables expressive playing. While this may not be for you if you are looking for a realistic guitar-playing experience, the INSTRUMENT 1 is undoubtedly 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, we 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.
4. Jam Origin MIDI Guitar 2
MIDI Guitar 2 is the most ambitious guitar processor ever made. Seamless integration with your DAW will improve your workflow when recording or composing (and clean up your music studio).
- Extremely ambitious
- State-of-the-art guitar tracking
- Live guitar synthesizer/recording software
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 can create a huge array of sounds via MIDI without needing 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 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 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 a free trial is also available.
We’re 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 provide a means to elevate your sound!
Who Is It For? Anyone wanting to create a MIDI guitar signal in real-time without needing 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.
5. Fishman Tripleplay
TriplePlay is the composing, performing and recording system that puts an unlimited palette of instruments and sounds at your fingertips — all with the freedom of wireless control!
- Comes with a library of sounds and presets
- Completely wireless
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 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.
You’ll also have access to Fishman’s smartphone app, which includes loopers, sequencers, virtual instruments, and effects. You can also use the TriplePlay plugin for Windows or Mac. This is a really cool piece of gear for converting your guitar to MIDI.
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 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.
6. Roland GK-3
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.
- Fully adjustable
- 30% thinner than its predecessor
This Roland GK-3 is a good option for those wanting to take advantage of realistic guitar tones while also getting into experimental synth patches. MIDI is often associated with sounds that can’t be made with a guitar, so the Roland GK-3 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 GK-3 has been on the market for some time now and is an excellent pickup if you’re looking to get experimental, but if you want to fully go down the Roland route it would need to be paired with the Roland GR 55 effects unit (so that is one downside if you are trying to keep costs down). However there are options to hook it up to other processors.
However, considering the high quality of Roland’s products, you certainly won’t be disappointed in your investment. This one of the best (not) MIDI guitar pickups on the market.
Who Is It For? Producers and guitarists who are looking for the best of both guitar tones and synthesized electronic sounds.
For more information on this pickup and the GR 55 head to Roland’s website.
7. Jamstik Guitar Trainer
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 a small, portable guitar MIDI controller that features real guitar strings (made by D’Addario) to make playing guitar possible wherever you go.
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, 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 immediately.
Of course, this may not be the best option if you are a seasoned MIDI professional or an experienced guitar player. But plenty of guitarists will feel perfectly at home with the Jamstik regardless.
Who Is It For? Beginner guitarists or those looking to learn without investing in a full guitar and amp setup.
For more on the Jamstik and its lessons, head to their website.
8. Guitar Wing
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.
- Looks great
Guitar Wing (by Livid Instruments) is a bit of a wildcard on this list. It’s not a MIDI controller in the same way as the other options. However, the unit is an effects processor of sorts, interacting with multiple parameters as you play your guitar to create some amazing sounding effects.
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.
It’s no surprise that guitar versions of MIDI controllers and pickups are becoming increasingly popular. While still in its infancy, the tech has come a LONG way, and we’re now entering an exciting time for MIDI-controlled guitars.
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.
We hope this article has shed light on some of the best options on the market. Happy shopping, and keep on shredding.