I’ve been trying to maximize my MIDI setup for live performance for about 10 years now. When I played with our Rush tribute band, I had 2 controller keyboards and my 13-note MIDI bass pedals going into my Mac running Apple’s MainStage for all of the synth and sample patches, plus my bass guitar gear, monitors, etc. Now with our cover band, I’ve scaled down, still playing bass and ditching the keyboards and monitors, but I kept the MIDI bass pedals to trigger samples mostly, and play a synth note or two during a song.
During that time I’ve tried a few different options, including the Roland GK-3B pickup for bass, GK-3 guitar pickup, the Sonuus i2M on the hardware side and have downloaded but haven’t really given the JamOrigin pitch to MIDI software a go. Pitch to MIDI takes the sound from your instrument and converts them into a corresponding MIDI note that your synthesizer or software on a computer or mobile device are running. The Roland pickups work fine and I have had them installed on everything from my doubleneck to my Bass VI (a sort of baritone guitar I made from other guitar parts–a build page will be along shortly) and even a 6-string bass. Recently, I even toyed with buying a Godin A4 MIDI-enabled acoustic bass.
The thing I don’t like about the Roland GK system is the 13 pin cable and the extra Roland GI-20 hardware I have to bring, essentially a box that interfaces the Roland system into my existing MIDI setup that my MIDI bass pedals are using. Dragging around the cables, the “mucky muck” on stage as Nigel Tufnel put it, is no fun and I’m liking not being tied to an instrument or monitor system with a cable or two or three. It’s not a huge box to interface into but now I can only use my GK enabled bass on certain songs, because we play about 1/2 our set in a different tuning (E flat), which means I use a different bass. That’s a $250 accessory for each bass I want to use it on and it’s not something that can be swapped on the fly. It can easily take an hour or more to tweak the setup on the GK pickup so it tracks correctly on a guitar or bass, plus the GI-20 takes some tweaking too. So an in between switcharoo is not happening. The 13-pin cables aren’t cheap and not exactly an off the shelf item if the one I’m using shorts out or breaks. Don’t get me wrong, this system works well, but for me gigging, it’s too much to bring and go wrong. In the home or studio I love it; when it works, it works very well. I realize there are many gigging musicians who use the Roland GK system and don’t share my opinion.
So what’s left? The Sonuus i2M USB interface and a software pitch to MIDI solution such as JamOrigin. My Mac is already running MainStage and software for our PA so I don’t want to overburden it with another big program running all the time–at least not now. Sonuus’s i2M is a lipstick-sized interface that you can fine tune in their software. It’s monophonic, meaning only one note can be tracked at a time. If you try to play a power chord on a guitar for instance, it’s going to choose one of the two notes you’re playing. Try it with a barre chord and the results are less than spectacular–ghost notes or random bleeps or bloops play. This is not a huge deal if you modify your playing style and attack a bit. Also a lot of chord making can be done in a program such as MainStage as you’ll see below. Much of the pitch to MIDI heavy lifting is done by the i2M and that’s going into my Mac via a standard USB cable so there’s no worry of bogging down my system. How to turn it off and on?
This is where the HX Stomp comes in. I’ve been using my Stomp for almost a year now and love it more every day. Every time I watch a video or read an article about the new things I can incorporate into my rig, I smile because it’s the Swiss Army knife of my rig. The Stomp has 3 programmable foot switches built in and those can be configured to turn stomp box effects on and off or to do routing of your signal. Most of the time I stay on one patch, but I’ve got separate ones for distortion or any other non-standard sounding effects such as my Kenny Loggins “Danger Zone” bass patch. The Stomp also has MIDI in and out which is exciting, but I’m not using that–yet. I’m plugging the i2M into the effects send on the Stomp and that goes to my Mac via USB. One of the buttons for this patch (we’re learning Toto’s “Africa”) will switch off my bass signal (mute) and route the signal from my bass into the i2M (into my Mac via USB).
On my Mac I’m running MainStage and have a patch for “Africa” which plays my customized setup consisting of a synth brass note, a synthy string sound and a marimba-y patch. MainStage has a great feature that allows me to substitute notes. For example, if when I play an A on my bass, I can tell MainStage to play a D instead or whatever other note want. This is helpful for 2 handed parts such as the synth hook in “Africa” where a keyboard player would be playing 2 different keyboards with slightly different parts each to get a nice, selective harmony on some notes. That’s what I’ve set up. Check out the video clip above for my progress from when I first started until when it I got it the way I liked.
The synth sounds were originally made on a Yamaha CS-80, according to William Kurk but I tweaked a couple of existing patches for my Arturia Moog Modular plugin. If you have an analog synth with string and brass patches, you should be fine. That’s what I used–and some marimba for color.
“So what does a diagram of all this madness look like?” I’m glad you asked, because I mocked one up. I’ll also be sharing my patches for the Stomp as well as MainStage and Arturia’s Moog Modular.