Midi for pedalboards: Is it only bling-bling or does it make sense?

Tips & tricksTo many guitarists, midi is still a mystery. Although midi is nothing new. Initially, it has been used mostly by keyboarders. Maybe this is the reason why so many guitarists refuse to use midi as well. But besides some disadvantages, even guitarists can benefit from midi.

Midi: From rack effects to effect pedals

Some time ago, most effect pedals were analog. Therefore, there was no chance to think of a midi control. But even with regard to digital effect pedals, midi was usually overlooked. It was supposed to be used for rack effects only. Probably, because at those days, guitarists classified rack effects as uncool as keyboarders.

Advantages of midi

Recently, digital effects mostly provide midi in- and outputs and even some analog pedals also offer midi functions.
Thereby, you can for example save presets which later can be activated by an external control unit.
Especially regarding extensive pedalboards, this can be pretty helpful for it enables you to vary several sounds with one hit on the controller. Thus, it is possible, to save your favorite settings even of your analog overdrive pedal and there is no need anymore to mark the setting with an Edding or Gaffa tape.
And, by using the controller, you can also vary several presets at the same time. A helpful feature for example if you want to switch quickly between verse and refrain.

Many parameters that, some time ago, only could have been varied by the use of an expression pedal, now can also be controlled via midi CC.
By using a switch or even a midi expression pedal, you can now for example, extend trails, make the repeats of the delay become endlessly or vary the speed of the tremolo. A midi control of these parameters offers the advantage, that you can store all settings and values quite exactly and therefore the result will become reproduceable at all times.
On top, you can control several effect pedals with one single expression pedal and therefore, you won’t have to waste the precious space on your pedalboard for several expression pedals.

Especially for sequencers and time-based effects like delays, reverb and tremolo, the midi clock also is an interesting feature. It makes troublesome switching between two songs superfluous. And you can also dispense with tapping the tempo. If the tempo of the song varies during the different parts, the delay will receive the new bpm automatically and will stay in sync all the time.

Disadvantages of midi

But unfortunately, midi does not only provide advantages. The input jacks of many devices vary and therefore, you will need adapters. Furthermore, to use of midi-controlled presets you will have to do some programming before you can enjoy to play.

And the synchronization via midi also might cause some trouble. Some effects for example react overstrained while they receive midi signals. Moreover, a personal computer with a respective DAW software is not even the ideal midi clock, for the midi clock jitter the bpm are not very stable.
In this case, varying speeds can cause unwanted pitch shifting sounds of the delay pedal.

Tips for the use of midi

In any case, it makes sense to keep the midi chain as short as possible. And you ought to use a midi splitter instead of chaining several pedals in a row.

And, just because many devices are able to deal with midi, you are not forced to use it for every single pedal. You can, for example, synchronize a looper via midi with your drum computer, the reverb pedal whereas – connected by a midi cable – can ignore the clock. Thus, you can change the presets via midi without varying the tempo of the pedals. Many devices already offer the possibility to ignore the midi clock.
Depending on your setup, you will get the chance to create the optimal midi rig.