MIDI Guitars, Pickups and Processors

Looking to create interesting sounds and effects through MIDI with your guitar? In this article, we go through MIDI Pickups, MIDI Processors (guitar synths), and MIDI Guitars.

Guitars have been part of the MIDI world since the early days. Such instruments appeared in the 80s and have been evolving through all these year. We have seen so many novelties since the arrival of those legendary Casio MIDI guitars but as we’ve just mentioned, things have remained essentially the same. There are still three main things in the world of MIDI guitars. Those would be MIDI pickups, processors and guitars.

1. MIDI Pickups

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How MIDI Pickups Work (Pictured above is the Roland GK-3 Divided Pickup)

These pickups expand the tonal possibilities of the basic instrument significantly. This is still the most common way of converting the original guitar signal into MIDI.

The video below talks about the Roland GK-3 Pickup, along with the GR-55 Guitar Synth (the guitar synth is what we're going to talk about in the next section)

Things are quite simple here. A MIDI pickup mounts onto a guitar and it doesn’t have anything with stock pickups. In most cases, the pickup mounts between bridge and bridge pickup. It is a separated, hexaphonic pickup, which means it picks vibrations separately from every string.

Usually, there is another thing that mounts onto guitars. Of course, we are talking about the control unit, which is usually positioned at the low end of the guitar body, but still on the top side.

A great thing about these pickups is that they usually mount pretty quickly and easily. You can quickly take them off as well and keep guitars in the original condition. On the other side, one of the biggest drawbacks is that these sets of pickups and control units usually look a little bit bulky, so your guitar won’t look particularly beautiful with them.

As you may presume, one of the leading companies in the business is Roland, which has an impressive tradition of making MIDI pickups. They offer the most popular MIDI pickup on the market, the legendary GK-3. The current version of the pickup hasn’t changed for a full decade, so we can say it relies on proven design solutions.

Of course, it features a hexaphonic pickup, which comes in pair with a quite simple and easy-to-use control unit. It’s easy to mount and a great thing to know is that it fits both Strat- and LP-style guitars.

The Fishman TriplePlay is usually seen as a perfect alternative to the GK-3. However, it is a notably different unit. First of all, it is wireless so you don’t need any cables. Also, this is not just a midi controller, but rather a complete package. This means you don’t necessarily need a MIDI processor to convert the guitar signal to MIDI. Therefore, it’s no wonder that the price tag is much higher in this case.

Use the button below to check the current price for the Roland GK-3.

2. Guitar MIDI Processors

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Guitar MIDI Processors (the Roland GR-55 Guitar Synth is pictured above)

While products like Fishman TriplePlay are all-in-one units, most MIDI pickups are nothing more than just pickups. This means they can pick the signal but can’t convert it. So, what you need is a converter, which usually comes in the form of a Guitar MIDI Processor.

These units do a pretty amazing job. Not only that they convert string vibration into a pitch, but they also offer tons of different sound effects. With these processors, you won’t just get a sound that mimics the authentic guitar sound. You can also make your axe sound like pretty much any other instrument around.

Of course, this largely depends on a processor. Some are rather basic, while others offer tons of tonal capabilities.

Our top pick among MIDI processors would be Roland GR-55. With this unit, Roland once again proved its leading position in the business. This unit can do pretty much anything. First of all, it is extremely responsive and offers impressive dynamics. Second, you may count on an impressive sound base. When it comes to synth other sounds that you typically play on a keyboard, you may count on hundreds of them.

Furthermore, the GR-55 also acts as a typical guitar processor. It offers numerous effects, whether it’s about amp simulations, modulation or any other effect. The layout is also very gig-friendly, as you may count on several footswitches and other controls that allow instant patch and tone changes. Finally, the amount of connectivity options is as impressive.

If you’re looking for an alternative, the Boss GP-10 could be a reasonable choice. Practically, it comes from the same company, so we can say it uses the same or very similar technology. At the same time, it is smaller, simpler and cheaper. Of course, the soundbank is smaller, though you may count on more than a decent offer of both guitar and non-guitar sounds.

Of course, this processor also works perfectly in a combination with GK-3 pickup. You may count on tons of MIDI sounds but the thing you will really like is that this unit can work as a typical guitar processor as well. It features pretty much the same software as the famous GT-100, so you may count on all those amp simulations, effects and presets.

Another super convenient feature is that you can get instant access to a variety of tunings, including open tunings, drop tuning, 12-string simulations etc.

The Boss GP-10 is practical, versatile enough and also quite affordable and while the GR-55 is a professional piece of equipment, this one seems perfect for players who are just getting into the MIDI guitar world.

Use the button below to check the current price for the GR-55.

3. MIDI Guitars

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MIDI guitars have been around for decades as well. (JAMMY MIDI Guitar pictured above).

Older generations remember those good old Casio guitars very well. Basically, the thing with these guitars is that everything you need to get MIDI sound is integrated. This includes guitar, hexaphonic pickup and converter. While this sounds really convenient in terms of practicality, such guitars were really heavy in the past. Also, converters were pretty basic, so you didn’t actually have too many sound options at the time.

Fortunately, things have changed over the last few decades and MIDI guitars are now completely different. While old Casio guitars were able to offer a genuine guitar playing experience, things are going in a little bit different direction these days.

There are instruments like JAMMY MIDI Guitar, which may look like a guitar, but offers a completely different playing experience, as there are no things like strings, bending, vibrato etc.

Moreover, these guitars usually offer two playing modes, where you can either simulate picking, or just use tapping and similar techniques. When it comes to bending and vibrato, you will have to use a tremolo bar to get these effects. On the other side, the benefit of guitars like this one is that you can make it sound like any other instrument. Also, a great thing is that you can connect it with any device that has MIDI input.


As you can see, MIDI technology is widely used among guitar players as well. A great thing to know is that there are different ways to implement MIDI technology into your guitar playing. Some of them are more convenient, while others offer a bigger sound library.

On one side, MIDI pickups and processors are great hybrid options that are, despite several drawbacks, still the best option for MIDI guitars.

On the other side, MIDI guitars definitely lack genuine playing experience and they are not particularly great for live performance. They can be a great tool if you are more into music production rather than guitar playing.

Featured Image by Takasaki001 / CC BY-SA

Brian Clark

Brian Clark

I’ve been a writer with Musician Wave for six years, turning my 17-year journey as a multi-instrumentalist and music producer into insightful news, tutorials, reviews, and features.

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