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For the past year I’ve been thinking a lot about solo guitar interfaces. One of the challenges with being a guitarist and playing solo is that both hands are almost constantly busy with the guitar and your feet are usually busy with pedals. Doesn’t leave a lot of other options.

I’ve thought up a lot of ways the guitar as an interface could be improved or augmented and the simplest idea seems like it would be to put a bunch of easily accessible buttons in the guitar and have those buttons simulate keystrokes on my laptop. How hard could that be? Let’s see.

Step one:

I ordered some Seimitsu PS-14 arcade buttons. A lot of the buttons I found were wayyyy too deep (such as these) but these ones looked like they might not go all the way through my guitar and halfway into my torso while playing.


I also impulse bought an Arduino. The Arduino is awesome but turning button presses into keyboard strokes isn’t really its main deal. So I ordered an I-PAC VE which is dedicated entirely to simulating keyboard controls.


Step two:

Months later when the I-PAC finally arrived, I wired up the buttons and the board and it all worked on the first try. I made a little cardboard stand for testing:



But it doesn’t look like there’s much testing to do, it’s pretty brain dead easy. I had it entering keystrokes on the computer and triggering clips in Ableton Live within minutes. Windows XP even recognized the I-PAC without any additional drivers, very nice.

Step three:

Where should the buttons go on the guitar? I put some cut-out circles on it to see where they’d fit and be most useful:


This is the layout I’m thinking of right now. There’s a lot to take into consideration, such as:

  1. Ease of access while playing (the upper right ones seem close enough I’d be able to hit them with only a brief pause in playing)
  2. Staying away from locations where accidental hits are likely (the right side is where my arm is while playing)
  3. Making sure I don’t interfere with any of the guitar’s guts
  4. Keeping them far enough away from the edge that I don’t weaken and collapse it

Right now I’m wondering if I should try to house the circuit board inside the guitar and run a USB cable from the guitar to my laptop or should I run the wires from the buttons to the external I-PAC which would be by the laptop? I do not know.

Posted on - February 8, 2009 [at] 11:19 pm by Brad
Tagged in - , , , ,

12 Comments on this post

Lucas Gonze on Project: Guitar with arcade buttons
February 9, 2009 at 2:48 am

I’m excited to see how this works out.

One way to think about it would be to mount the button box on a violin chin rest. That way you could move the box around from guitar to guitar.

Felix on Project: Guitar with arcade buttons
February 9, 2009 at 7:18 am

Another way would be to mount the board in a project box to live on the floor with your pedals. This keeps your cables really tidy, especially if you clip or tape the button cable(s) to your guitar lead.

Depends where the laptop is though.

Cool concept btw, I’m looking forward to seeing it working too.

etcetera on Project: Guitar with arcade buttons
February 9, 2009 at 12:29 pm

So you’re gonna trigger song parts using your guitar? Cool.

It looks like you’ve placed the buttons were there are no guts to interfere with. tough the lower 2 might get close to the output jack. (this might be a good thing for wiring reasons.)
The one on the pickgaurd has a pretty good location as it’s easy to acces and the pickgaurd allow routing to be done behind it without being visible. Which leads me to my next question: How are you gonna wire this up?
The top 3 buttons near the upper horn are going to be the biggest challenge.
If I were you I’d start with the one on the pickgaurd and consider placing another one between the volume and tone knob (where the middle pickup tone knob would be on a normal Strat) and near the 5 way switch (you wouldn’t have to route any cavities for the last 2)

etcetera on Project: Guitar with arcade buttons
February 9, 2009 at 12:31 pm

Also, weakening the wood on the upper horn might make it collapse, I’m not sure. I don’t think it could hurt much if you did it like this tough.

Good luck, the arcade buttons will earn you major geek cred.

Bill on Project: Guitar with arcade buttons
February 9, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Major geek cred is right. Cool idea.

I’m guessing you don’t really switch guitars ? I’ve just starting playing with Abelton and will be looking at some sort of automation setup for playing live soon too. Think I’ll do the old “find a usb keyboard and bung most of the keys off it and map the rest” method though. Reckon I can live with that in addition to my pedals.

Good luck with this though, interested to see how it pans out.

Seamus Anthony on Project: Guitar with arcade buttons
February 12, 2009 at 10:01 pm

Awesome – put me down for three …

jack-anthony-cox on Project: Guitar with arcade buttons
February 13, 2009 at 10:26 pm

Nerdtopia XD I love it! Ace idea Brad!

Jon on Project: Guitar with arcade buttons
February 15, 2009 at 7:15 pm

Any possibillity for sending the signal from the guitar buttons to the laptop via bluetooth?

Dave Norris on Project: Guitar with arcade buttons
March 5, 2009 at 7:10 pm

Dude, this is beyond awesome.

George Sanger on Project: Guitar with arcade buttons
March 14, 2009 at 1:40 am


We’re building a similar thing for Jonathan Coulton–the arcade button idea came up there as well–it’s lovely!!

Our goal was to make a musical, sensitive, incredibly dorky and innovative instrument that would suit our Fan-ee so well that he would put down the Martin and pick this up for most of the set.

It is based on a line-6 acoustic variax, so that we can hack the living heck out of it and keep the excellent tone.

The zendrum thing is one component that Jonathan had asked for (we hadn’t seen yours–it’s COOL!), and I think you’ll find our approach different and interesting. Circuit Girl is pretty smart and she’s innovating the buttons in some very cool ways–she’s figured out some tricks using capacitance and proximity sensing and such. There will be display components (at least LEDs. Maybe lasers), and fancy pitch-shifting tricks.

We’ll be brainstorming with Jonathan on Sunday–you should drop in on the chat room–and we’ll be showing footage of that during our weekly webcast.
(click on “live show”)

Sunday 5 pacific on
or tune in earlier for the whole thing raw (if Joco allows it) and live.
We’ll keep you in touch on


dingo on Project: Guitar with arcade buttons
December 9, 2009 at 9:14 am

hey i know this is a late message but i was just wondering how you got the ableton part to work? In other words what keyboard buttons were your arcade buttons simulating being pressed (do you get to decide?) and how did you get these to control ableton (just like mapping a midi cotroller?). Please reply if possible

dingo on Project: Guitar with arcade buttons
January 5, 2010 at 2:19 pm

well thanks for your help!.. I got it sorted. Used MACIpac to convert the original message into the desired keyboard stokes. Works perfectly

Comments are closed on this post.