Striking a Chord with MIDI Guitar: A Comprehensive Guide to Evolution and Mastery

The advent of MIDI guitar technology has revolutionized the creative potential of the instrument. This comprehensive guide explores the exciting world of MIDI guitars – how they work, their benefits, and tips for getting the most out of them.

midi guitar pickup
midi guitar pickup


What is a MIDI Guitar?

A MIDI guitar is an electric guitar that can output MIDI data. MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface – it is a protocol that allows musical instruments to communicate with each other digitally. On a MIDI guitar, the vibrations of the strings are captured and converted into MIDI signals that can control synthesizers, virtual instruments, and music production software.

A Brief History of MIDI Guitar Evolution

The earliest MIDI guitars emerged in the 1980s [1]. However, early models were limited by tracking and latency issues. In the late 1990s and 2000s, advances in technology like hexaphonic pickups improved MIDI guitar performance [2]. The 2000s saw releases of instruments like the Line 6 Variax, which modeled different guitar tones via digital processing [3].

Recent years have brought major leaps forward in MIDI guitar technologies and techniques, making them more expressive and realistic than ever before [4]. Leading brands today include JamOrigin, Fishman, Roland, and Ztar.

The Importance of MIDI Guitar in Modern Music Production

MIDI guitar opens up new sound design possibilities for guitarists. The ability to control synths and samplers expands the guitar’s sonic palette exponentially. MIDI data enables faster workflow, easier editing, and more flexibility. For guitarists, producers, and composers, MIDI guitar is an invaluable creative tool [5].

Understanding How MIDI Guitars Work

The Difference Between MIDI Guitar and Regular Guitar

On a regular guitar, the vibrating strings produce analog audio signals. MIDI guitars convert those vibrations into digital MIDI data. This allows control of external sound sources. MIDI pickups on each string track pitch, intensity, and other parameters as MIDI signals [6].

The Role of MIDI Pickups

Hexaphonic or divided pickups are used to sense each string’s vibrations separately. This enables the detection of parameters like pitch and velocity for conversion into MIDI data. Analog signals are avoided, eliminating noise and distortion issues [7].

Types of MIDI Guitars

There are several approaches to implementing MIDI functionality on the guitar [8]:

Dedicated MIDI guitars Instruments designed exclusively for MIDI, often with synth-action keys added. Examples: JamOrigin Midi Guitar 2, You Rock Guitar YRG-1000.

MIDI guitar controllers Devices that convert guitar playing into MIDI but don’t produce sound on their own. Examples: Jamstik, Rocktron MIDI Raider.

Guitar synthesizers Guitars with built-in synth engines for internal sound generation. Examples: Casio MG-510, Ibanez E-Gen.

MIDI pickups Can be added to a regular guitar to convert it into a MIDI guitar. Examples: Fishman TriplePlay, Roland GK-3.

Benefits of Using MIDI Guitars

Versatility and Unlimited Sound Options

With MIDI implementation, guitars can produce any instrument sound imaginable – pianos, strings, brass, synths, drums, and more [9]. This massively expands the creative options for guitarists.

Ease of Recording, Editing, and Manipulation

Recording MIDI data instead of audio waveforms makes editing much faster and easier [10]. Notes can be quantized, transposed, edited, and manipulated efficiently. Automation of MIDI CC data enables detailed dynamic and timbre shaping.

Tight Integration with Music Production Software

MIDI guitars integrate seamlessly with DAWs, virtual instruments, and other software tools [11]. MIDI data makes producing guitar-driven music faster, more powerful, and more flexible.

Choosing the Right MIDI Guitar

Key Factors to Consider

When selecting a MIDI guitar, there are several important factors to weigh [12]:

Compatibility Ensure integration with your DAW, software, and devices.

Playability The guitar feel should be comfortable and natural. Prioritize responsiveness.

Features Assess pickup configuration, controls, connectivity options, synth engine, etc.

Price MIDI guitars range from under $200 to over $1,000. Consider budget and needs.

Top MIDI Guitar Models and Brands

Some recommended MIDI guitar options include [13]:

JamOrigin Midi Guitar 2 Dedicated MIDI guitar with excellent playability and software integration.

Fishman TriplePlay Wireless MIDI pickup that can be installed on existing guitars.

Roland GR-55 Powerful guitar synth with COSM modeling technology.

Ztar Z6S Six-string MIDI controller with an innovative fretboard layout.

Jamstik Studio Portable MIDI guitar optimized for studio production.

User Reviews and Recommendations

Checking MIDI guitar user reviews can provide valuable insight. User communities like forums and Reddit offer advice from experienced players. YouTube demos are also very helpful for evaluating MIDI guitars firsthand [14].

Setting Up Your MIDI Guitar

Installation of MIDI Pickups

For existing guitars, installing a MIDI pickup like the Fishman TriplePlay involves attaching the bridge, control panel, and electronics. Proper pickup calibration and positioning is key for tracking accuracy [15].

Connecting to a Computer or DAW

MIDI guitars connect to computers via USB or 5-pin MIDI cables. Ensure proper MIDI input configuration in the DAW. Direct USB provides the fastest, most reliable connection [16].

Configuring Software and MIDI Settings

Proper setup in the DAW, guitar software editor, and MIDI environment optimizes performance. Settings like input/output channels, MIDI mapping, and latency must be configured properly [17].


Essential Playing Techniques and Tips

Adapting Your Playing Style for MIDI Guitar

MIDI requires a cleaner, more precise technique focused on pitch and intensity accuracy. Muting unwanted strings is critical to avoid mis-triggering [18]. Consistent, measured picking produces the best MIDI results.

Expressive Possibilities with MIDI Guitar

Unlike audio signals, MIDI allows continuous control of parameters like volume and tone using CC data. Vary playing dynamics, bends, vibrato, and techniques for more expressiveness [19]. Sound design possibilities are endless.

Overcoming Challenges and Common Issues

Latency, tracking errors, and unnatural sound are common MIDI guitar challenges. Optimizing pickup position, calibration, and software settings helps improve performance significantly [20]. Use quantization judiciously to avoid robotic-sounding results.

Creative Applications

With MIDI implementation, guitars can be used in countless creative ways:

Exploring New Instruments

Trigger synth patches, piano, strings, drums, and any other imaginable virtual instrument.

Layering and Sound Design

Combine your guitar with pads, synth sequences, percussion patterns and more. Craft complex textures.

MIDI Effects and Manipulation

Create unique effects by manipulating the MIDI data itself – arpeggiators, note repeats, generative sequences, etc.


MIDI Guitar Genre Applications

MIDI guitar techniques shine for various musical genres:
Electronic/Dance Music
Produce guitar parts entirely in-the-box, seamlessly integrated with synthesizers, samplers, and beats.
Rock/Pop Production
Record MIDI simultaneously with audio for faster editing and overdubs. Also enables easy key/tempo changes.
Experimental/Ambient Music
Use MIDI guitar to control synths and samples, crafting lush ambient soundscapes.

The Future of MIDI Guitars

  • MIDI guitar technology continues to rapidly advance:
    Hardware improvements – More responsive tracking, modeling algorithms, miniaturization, etc.
  • New brands/models – Younger companies explore new implementation approaches and features.
  • Mainstream adoption – Expect more integration into recordings and live guitar rigs.

MIDI guitars are reaching new levels of playability and expressiveness, and will only continue evolving.

textural guitarist

Artists to Follow

Following pioneering MIDI guitarists like Craig Sharmat, Jim Burgess, and Doug doppler uncovers techniques and inspirational approaches. Building the Cathedral is also well known for the use of MIDI guitars.


MIDI guitar technology completes the guitar’s transformation into a fully-fledged digital instrument. Today’s models offer expansive creative possibilities and tight DAW integration. With so many ways to implement MIDI with guitar, the only limit is your imagination. I hope this guide has provided a comprehensive overview of the exciting world of MIDI guitars. Now it’s time grab one and start exploring!