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Choosing the Best MIDI Guitar Controller: 6 Top Options

Last Updated on October 6, 2020 by Ryan Harrell

Turn your guitar into a MIDI instrument with our pick of the best MIDI guitar controller on the market.

Our Top Picks

Best MIDI tracking: Roland GK-3
“The best MIDI guitar controller on the market, hands down”

Best guitar processor: Boss GP10-GK
“Full-fledged guitar processor that also does a relatively good job of MIDI tracking”

Best budget: Sonuus i2M Musicport
“Despite the choppy tracking, the low price makes this a competitive offering”

Best MIDI guitar: JAMMY MIDI Guitar
“Choose this if you want to ditch your regular guitar for a MIDI version”

Before we dive into the details, let me be very clear:

MIDI tracking on a guitar is usually average to poor. It doesn’t matter what MIDI controller you buy, the fact remains that guitar is an acoustic instrument, one that has far too many acoustic-complexities to be fully tracked.

Consider the simple challenge in converting a guitar chord into a MIDI track. The MIDI controller has to:

  • Extract each individual note from the chord strum
  • Figure out the timing of each note
  • Gauge the velocity of each note based on how hard you strummed the guitar
  • Figure out whether you’ve strummed the chord once, twice, or several times

While a good guitar MIDI controller can usually figure out individual notes in, say, a solo, arpeggio, or slow chord strum, our current technology can’t do a good job of tracking complex strum patterns and solos.

As you go through this list of the best MIDI guitar controllers, keep this in mind. If you’re expect the same accuracy as a regular MIDI keyboard, you will be disappointed.

With that said, there is certainly some utility from a MIDI guitar controller. It makes it much easier to bring your practice sessions and solos into your DAW or music notation tool. Unless you’re trying to track complex rhythm sections, the MIDI tracking is even acceptable, if not 100% accurate. A MIDI controller is certainly something I’d recommend any serious guitarist have in his arsenal. It’s not a “make or break it” tool, but it can speed up a lot of workflows.

Which brings us to the most important question: what’s the right MIDI guitar controller for you?

Frankly, your options are limited. You will have to shell out a few hundred dollars to get anything that’s competitive. For a bit more, you can get entire guitar effects processors that also include MIDI tracking capabilities.

On that note, let’s dive into the best MIDI guitar controllers you can buy right now.

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The 6 Best MIDI Guitar Controllers

Here are my picks for the best  guitar MIDI controllers on the market in 2020:

Roland GK-3 Pickup

Roland is the only big name around in guitar MIDI tracking and the GK-3 has been the best of the lot for years. It’s not a complete MIDI controller – you’ll have to plug it into a guitar processor with a MIDI out. But in terms of the actual tracking, the GK-3 remains the best MIDI guitar controller on the market.

The Roland GK-3 is a hugely popular MIDI guitar controller that comes with several settings and features that make it one of the best overall options on the market. Scrolling through reviews of the best MIDI guitar controllers usually yields up the Roland GK-3 as one of the best models.

It comes as a unit with a divided pickup and is compatible with almost every standard guitar one the market. One of the favorite features of the Roland GK-3 is the ease of set up. When it is installed, it will work near-perfectly and pick up all the vibrations from individual guitar strings. These vibrations are then transmitted to the compatible amplifiers, and effects added.

Right from the packaging, it is quite clear that this isn’t your average device. It has a lot of effort and thought put into the creation and packaging. For example, the model we reviewed even came with tape for attaching it to your guitar.

Among the several useful features is the selector switch. This switch allows you to change your playing from the regular guitar sound to a synth and so on. There is a large, easy to reach knob that works in tandem with the switch. This knob makes changing moves so much faster and accurate.

For most standard guitars, a ¼” input is sufficient, and that is what you find on the Roland GK-3. To make it even easier to use, the model has an adjustable curvature that can be adjusted to whatever will suit the strings of your instrument.

Performance is excellent on this model. It sends individual signals from any string and device. Whether electric or acoustic, this is an easy to use pickup. During testing, we also discovered that it has no latency at all. Therefore, it deals with all your MIDI requirements without plenty of fuss. Since it is designed to be clipped on, you do not require to drill the guitar for installation.

What I don’t like

Well, as we said earlier, one advantage of the Roland GK-3 is that you can set it up without drilling it. However, while that is awesome, it can still be difficult to install on your guitar. In our testing, it took multiple tries and watching several tutorial videos to get it right. And of course, there’s the simple fact that this is just a pickup, not a complete unit – you need something like the Roland GR55 to actually get MIDI out.

Recommended for: I recommend this MIDI guitar controller for anyone looking to improve their overall guitar performance. It is very versatile and is compatible with electric and acoustic guitars of all kinds. The tracking is excellent and sensitive enough even for complex instrumentals. 

Best Standalone Unit: Fishman TriplePlay

For folks looking for an affordable and easy to use guitar synth system, they can’t do much better than the Fishman TriplePlay. This excellent system might be just what might convince even the most hardened skeptics to finally use the MIDI guitar controller.

Guitars are beautiful instruments, and a device like the Fishman TriplePlay can make it even better by opening you to the big world of sounds that are beyond the six strings on the guitar. Lets’ consider some of the features of this excellent device.

First, the Fishman TriplePlay comprises of a hexaphonic pickup and mounting brackets made from high-grade materials. You also get the TriplePlay Connect app for free. The pickup is an excellent accessory that is small but mighty. It is fixed to a simple controller that is very easy to use and control.

While this Fishman TriplePlay is not wireless, you can connect it to a different mobile device through the USB cables that are included in the package. I observed that the mounting brackets here do not disrupt your playing and are completely non-invasive.

The app itself is intuitive and easy to navigate. Just like some of the best MIDI guitar controllers on the market, this model is a plug and play option. The app gives you all the instruments available for you to play with.

Impressively, each of the sounds can be customized. You can also put different effects on each sound.

Performance-wise, this is one of the easiest and fastest that I have used. Once it is fixed, you can easily tune it via the app.

Overall, this device does exactly what it claims to do for you. It is an excellent way for any computer user to explore the world of the MIDI guitar.

What I don’t like

The tracking is far from accurate. Be prepared for missing notes and odd timing. Since this is a wireless unit, there’s also some latency – you’ll need to make sure you have a fast computer.

Recommended for: If you are a guitarist looking to explore the control of new sounds with the guitar and found the traditional guitar synth system hard to use or understand, then the Fishman TriplePlay is the best MIDI guitar controller on the market right now.

Best Guitar MIDI Processor: Roland GR-55GK

The Roland GR-55GK offers a veritable concoction of synthesis and modeling that is super impressive and comes in a simple package that will immensely expand your ability to make different sounds from your simple guitar. The Roland GR-55GK is the second product from Roland on this list, which goes on to show that the brand is one of the best brands on the market.

The Roland GR-55GK offers you not just the internal synthesizer but also gives you COSM guitar modeling technology to take your playing up another level. Throw in MIDI outputs, a simple looper, USB to an audio interface, and audio file playback, among other features, and you have one of the most powerful packages on the market. Furthermore, despite all the firepower it packs, Roland has made this unit simple to use and accessible to all types of guitar players.

The Roland GR-55GK has a pair of PCM synthesizer sound engines that have over 900 sounds – each! These sounds range from regular instruments like pianos and strings to modern synth sounds. As if that isn’t powerful enough, it has another engine for modeling and emulating acoustic and electric guitars.

To get the best value, you can combine the three sound engines to give you sounds that you have never heard before.

Additionally, the preset sounds are on the memory and can be used at a moment’s notice.

Another notable feature of the Roland GR-55GK is the industry-standard 13-pin cable that connects you to the guitar and takes signals from the output.

With a pair of USB ports, you have a highly versatile MIDI guitar controller. One of these ports is made to allow the Roland GR-55GK acts as a MIDI interface while the other port can allow you to enjoy real-time playback of WAV audio files.

In use, all the functions of the Roland GR-55GK fit seamlessly and work just fine. To enjoy the best performance, it is important that you visit the Roland website and install the drivers that you need. An interesting feature I observed is that you can use the Audio player to record audio and play around with it as much as you want.

Overall, this is a hugely appealing model that combined playability and an impressive range of sounds.

What I don’t like

Well, the Roland GR-55GK lacks editing software. Aside from that, it is an almost perfect device – as perfect as a guitar MIDI controller can be.

Recommended for: If you want to expand the sounds that you can get from any guitar, then you should strongly consider the Roland GR-55GK. It pairs perfectly with the GK-3 pickup and the combo is easily the best MIDI guitar controller you can buy right now.

Best Budget MIDI Processor: Boss GP10-GK

While many brands have arrived on the scene and left, the Roland brand remains ever strong and present. This company make the popular Boss guitar effects and has always churned out high-quality guitar synthesizer products for more than four decades. The GP–10 model is the company’s first foray into the guitar-synth market and has unsurprisingly proved to be the best guitar processor among its peers.

This unit comes with a mustard-yellow plastic body that proves to be quite durable. What really matters here, though, is what lies under the hood of the device. It comes with a high-grade polyphonic processing system that needs a hex pickup for guitar installation. The Hex pickup installation is important because it allows each string to be processed on its own. Due to this design, you have a device that gives you an incredible range of effects that you’ll certainly enjoy.

Once the hex is set up in your guitar, you are good to go. With this installed, you have a wide door of opportunities opened up to you. It can do so much for. For instance, through modeling, you can transform your guitar into different types of guitars. Additionally, the GP–10 lets you enjoy polyphonic effects. One such effect is the polyphonic distortion that creates a singing distortion that you can maneuver into playing complex intervals on the guitar without the resultant audio hash common to other interfaces.

An already rich device builds on the embarrassment of riches by offering you dual-mode footswitches and an assignable pedal. The device also comes with Tone Studio software for editing sounds. The drivers give you several modes of USB routing, which comes in handy when you are working on your DAW.

The COSM sounds also are improved over what you’d obtain in earlier versions.

There are several advantages and features of this excellent device that cannot all be mentioned here. Overall, rest assured that this is a powerful model that comes as the best in its category.

What I don’t like

While the COSM synth voices sound great, we were somewhat disappointed by the rigid editing ability.

Recommended for: If you want the best-in-class guitar processor, then you would do well to buy the GP–10. It’s slightly laggier and more inaccurate than the Roland, but the lower price and ease of use makes it one of the best MIDI guitar controllers on the market.

Best Budget Controller: Sonuus i2M Musicport

The Sonuus i2M Musicport is one of the cheapest and best MIDI guitar controllers on the market. It comes with a good combination of price and functionality that you will not find in other options at this price range.

UK-based developers Sonuus has created a name that is synonymous with high-quality devices that can make your musical instruments sound better. I was pleased to find the Sonuus i2M Musicport on this list after much extensive review and research.

The Sonuus i2M Musicport comes in two appliances – the G2M and the i2M. The i2M is the focus of this review and comes as a budget option. In fact, it is the best budget option for any music producer or amateur looking to alter the sound of their guitar. This cheap product will allow you to use not only your guitar but almost every other musical instrument as a solo MIDI instrument. Additionally, it doubles as an audio interface. The result? Well, this means that you can record your guitar as you play.

The Sonuus i2M Musicport helps you to combine impressive hardware and software with some of the best features, thus giving you a quality MIDI performance as promised by the manufacturer.

Design-wise, it isn’t much to talk about. It comes in a very compact, sturdy size that is almost the same as the guitar jack. There aren’t many design features except for the mesmerizing LED glow that lights up the logo when you plug it into the guitar.

In terms of performance, you can’t find a model simpler to use. It is purely plug and play. So, just plug the guitar on one side and the MIDI on the other.

With the Sonuus i2M Musicport, you can look forward to playing high-quality sounds and impressive pitch conversion in different modes. Another impressive thing that I fund about this model is the single note tracking. It is simply impressive and one of the best on the market. Overall, it is the best budget option available.

What I don’t like

There are some flaws in this otherwise perfect MIDI controller. For one, you can play monophonically and monophonically alone. There is simply no room to play more than a note at a go. Additionally, the Sonuus i2M Musicport cannot chart out chords for you. It’s as “no frills” as you can get.

Recommended for: This is a device I’d recommend for any guitarist that wants an affordable, simple audio to MIDI converter. It’s not the best MIDI guitar controller, but it does enable you to enter MIDI notes directly from your guitar with little to no tinkering. It won’t change your world, but it will speed up some workflows.

Best MIDI Guitar: JAMMY MIDI Guitar

The JAMMY MIDI Guitar is one of the first of its kind. It is a completely digital instrument that gives you impressive portability. And when it is paired with an app, you can connect it to your phone or device and your headphones.

It is a MIDI guitar that you can fit in your bag and is aimed at expert and amateur guitarists. You can use it as a standard MIDI controller or as a basic guitar using the USB or guitar jack output. The JAMMY MIDI Guitar comes deconstructed, and you’ll have to put all the parts together yourself. While many have complained about the tricky assembly, we found it quite easy to put together once looking over the instructions provided in the package.

It is made from plastic, which makes it very lightweight and easy to move around. One notable aspect of the JAMMY MIDI Guitar is the steel strings. Although other parts of the MIDI controller/guitar are made of plastic, these give an authentic feel and are fun to use.

As a MIDI controller, the JAMMY MIDI Guitar offers some nice features. It comes with built-in sounds that are decent, although we must admit that they sounded a bit off at times.

What I don’t like

Although the idea of the JAMMY MIDI Guitar is cool, it still runs into several problems. For one, tracking isn’t really impressive, and if you are an expert player, you’ll likely be frustrated by this device. Sounds are also not very natural and sound off most times.

Recommended for: If you simply cannot leave your guitar at home and need something to feel the void, the lightweight and portable build of the JAMMY MIDI Guitar will be ideal for you. It’s great for traveling and gives guitarists the experience of playing the guitar while producing. As far as standalone instruments go, this is easily the best MIDI guitar controller you can buy currently.

Over to You

As a guitarist, it’s difficult to translate your audio to MIDI notes. Hopefully, these best MIDI guitar controllers will make your job a tad bit easier.

For more recommendations and advice, don’t hesitate to reach out to me here.

Check our other guitar recommendations:

References:

Changelog
  • October 5, 2020: Article first published

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