Hacking MIDI Controllers to Create Drum Machine/Guitar Hybrids

by | Sep 16, 2014 | Best Music Keyboards & Synth Pads

In 2001 I started bringing my Ensoniq EPS sampler keyboard on stage to make freestyle beats. It came about in part because as a DJ and producer, it’s always a challenge to be interesting on stage and keep an audience’s attention. But, it was also something born of necessity. I didn’t necessarily have the super scratching skills like a DJ turntablist or the keyboard chops of my musician friends, but I knew there was something different I could bring to the stage by continuing to incorporate a part of the show that was “off the grid.”

Eventually, around 2003, I replaced my old sampler keyboard with the MPC2000 drum machine so I could do live beats, but I began to see that neither of the machines could hold as many sounds as I wanted.  They were also not as quick to load up sounds as I needed.  At that point, I began producing with various computer programs and also the controllers that went with them.  So eventually I transitioned to using computer controllers on stage instead the analog machines; it was easier and simpler.

After a while, I got restless and didn’t feel like using the normal factory controllers that everyone else had, so I thought it would be cool to combine the old analog I loved with the new digital that I was learning. It was mixing old school quality with the new technology.

Because I have always thought differently and tried to imagine different ways of tweaking anything in my path with regards to music, I knew that I would need to work with a company that felt the same.  I looked around and met with a few different companies, but when I met with DJ Tech Tools, we immediately had chemistry. They totally understood my idea and were down to help me construct the controllers.  So for some time DJ Tech Tools sponsored my custom MIDI fighter controllers, an MPC2000 custom computer controller, and a drum machine guitar that is an MPC with a guitar neck on it. It’s also called the MPG.

The MPG has gotten the best response out of my custom controllers because it looks very interesting on stage. People trip out on it.  I can also play it very expressively because the guitar neck has a touch strip and button that help trigger sounds and actions. The goal is to use it as my main controller, eventually rocking a full show with the MPG!


Amp Live is an American alternative hip-hop producer and DJ from California. He is also one half of the duo Zion I.

Follow on Twitter @AmpLive