Doing MIDI Guitar Cheap???

Copyright 1996 Joel B. Christian

I know why you're here! You want to play a MIDI guitar, but you don't want to shell out the thousands of dollars it takes to get started in MIDI guitar.

I'm sorry, but there's no way around it, unless you find someone getting out for a "song" you have to spend the bucks. That's my opinion. But the actual dollar count depends a lot on what you already have.

What to get?

There are a few options, but for starters you need a guitar and an amp. If you have a decent steel-strung guitar, you can do it for about $1,000. If you also have a midi synthesizer, you might be able to do it for $500 or so.

Again, my opinion, the Roland GR-30 seems to be a good buy. I have a Roland GR-50 and a Roland GR-1, so they're the only ones I really know. The GR-1 lets you walk around with one sequence ready to play on demand, which is handy. Also, switching to a GR-1 let me carry less cargo, since I was traveling with a rack of sound modules, now I must live with the internal sounds. I've played them with electrics and acoustics, and I prefer to play them with acoustics. I've had fun playing the GR-1 with a Martin "Backpacker" -- all my stuff fits in a grocery bag.

One thing with midi guitar, it is really tough to shop for. I've even made trips to Manhattan to find they don't have any midi guitar stuff out, or even know much about it. It is fairly specialized (that's why we're here on the net). Even the stores where I've found a GR-30 or an Axon, there is nothing set up or the set-ups are poor. Without installing the pickup properly and adjusting string sensitivity, I don't think you can make a good evaluation.

FLASH! Since I wrote the above, the cost of sound modules has been dropping at an alarming rate. I have to add one more (better) CHEAP option. Take the SoundBlaster 32 PnP (the 32 doesn't stand for 32 bit sound) has an e-mu sound engine that sounds great and a street price of $70 on . With that and a Shadow SH-075, you might be able to strum MIDI for $500. Not bad, and great for sequencing and general fooling around. Costs less than the Roland packages are running, but less functional. However, very expandable, and you'll be in General MIDI this way so you can swap sound modules easier (or tap into the keyboard player's synth). Not a bad cheap MIDI guitar. Actually, I've had a lot of e-mails from people who picked up new and used SH-075's for under $400. I suspect music dealers get frustrated selling the SH-075 -- it's not real sexy, and you need to tie up a good guitar and a good synth to show it off.

FLASH! Since I wrote the above, More people have been writing me about the GVOX system. It costs $99.99 including a pickup, converter box, computer interface cable, and instruction software. It includes GVOX Bridge -- which makes your guitar a WIN95 MIDI input. This is the very cheapest midi guitar option. I'm told it works great for sequencing and fooling around by your computer, but you can't take it anywhere else. Wavetable synths are selling for $20 now, if you have a WIN95 computer this is a low-risk way to get started. I also recommend Cakewalk Home Studio or Guitar Studio for sequencing. GVOX also has a lot of educational stuff, which you can use with either the GVOX or any other midi guitar hooked to your computer.

That's it for doing MIDI Guitar Cheap. If you get a cheaper way (excluding one-time good deals) let me know. Otherwise, it's all here. Don't bother asking me if there's a cheaper way. The only cheaper way is used equipment, which is beyond general coverage. There are some good buys out there. Have fun!!


We can't have a web site without a FAQ. Thanks for sending in your questions, here are the winners:


Lots of people ask about price; here's a sampling of catalog "street" prices:

From Interstate in West Berlin WI Winter 1998 catalog (800-462-2263)
  • Yamaha G50 $599.98
  • Yamaha G1D Guitar Divided Pickup $199.98
  • Yamaha B1D Bass Divided Pickup $159.98
  • GR-30 with GK-2A pickup $849.98
  • GK-2A alone $209.98

    From Musician's Friend Holiday 1998 catalog (800-776-5173)
  • Roland Ready Strat $529.99 case 79.99
  • GR-30 $729.99
  • GR-30 with GK-2A pickup $899.99
  • GK-2A alone $229.99

    From AMS in Paramus NJ spring 96 catalog (800-458-4076)
  • GR-9 $999
  • GR-1 $1479
    for package with synth, GK2A pickup, carry bag, and expansion board.

    From Manny's Music 1-800-4-48th-st Spring/Summer 1996 catalog #13
  • Axon NGC-66 $899.95 (requires GK-2A pickup)
  • [Axon now has two models, the NGC-60 and 77, and an option for a midi sound source built in! check out their web site!]
  • Roland GK-2A alone $210.00
  • Roland GI-10 alone $539.00 (requires GK-2A pickup and a separate synth)

    From Elderly Music 1-517-372-7890 catalog 96E-1
  • Roland GR-1 and GK-2 $1423.50
  • Roland GR-9 and GK-2 $1000.10
  • Roland GK-2A alone $220.00
  • Roland GI-10 alone $489.00 (requires GK-2A pickup and a separate synth)

    How can I do MIDI with my...

    (q) I have a MIDI ____ for my guitar, how do I get it to be MIDI guitar?
    (where ____ = Zoom, Boss, ART, Korg, ... effects unit)

    (a) If you're not doing MIDI guitar right off, you probably have one of the many fine digital effects units available for guitar players. These are great and save a lot of stomp space under your feet. They have a MIDI IN/OUT/THRU so you can switch your effects program from another synth or computer or footpedal. Your 1/4" phone plug connects your guitar to the unit. This is NOT a MIDI guitar rig. You need to read "how to do MIDI guitar cheap" (at the top of this document) to see what equipment you need.

    Why would I want MIDI Guitar?

    (q)What is MIDI Guitar?
    (a) MIDI Guitar lets guitar players play a synthesizer with their guitar.

    (q)Why use MIDI Guitar?
    (a) It lets you expand your playing sound and technique into new areas.

    (q)What do I need for MIDI Guitar?
    (a) You need a Guitar Synthesizer and a matching pickup. Click here for some possibilities. A typical set-up is shown here (a Roland GR-1, GK-2A, and 13 pin cable):

    Well, thanks for stopping in. Sorry for the bad news. Drop me a line to say Hi! or to get some free finger-pickin' advice!

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