Introduction to DIY Midi Controllers Part 1

This tutorial is the culmination of over 30 years of dedication to electronic design. Ok, Enough of the silly marketing nonsense, we will have none of that here.

Basically, we need to grab a bunch of decentish (is that even a word?) low-cost electronic components and an Arduino, stick them all together and make some midi controllers that can be used for synths and mixing. So, let’s get started on how you can build your own controller that has all the twisty goodness you could want.

You will need:


Arduino Leonardo – Or any Arduino/Teensy that has built in USB functionality. You will also need a nice long USB cable to connect the board to your computer.


Breadboards – The electronic type, not the ones for your sandwiches. We use these to test out our ideas.


Cables – grab a few bunches of male to male and male to female in different lengths and colours.


Potentiometers – B10k will get the job done.


Push Buttons – Momentary switches not the on/off type switch. Get a few different types to see which you like best. Some buttons flush mount so they are easier to fit in boxes.


LEDs – having a few different colours can be useful.


Resistors – 220 Ohm for the LEDs. Be careful you don’t get mixed up with 200k Ohm they are different.


This list is all you need to get started prototyping and learning how to build midi controllers from scratch. I would suggest buying an Arduino, a few breadboards, six pots, LEDs, resistors and a few buttons to build a small controller first. Once you have an idea of how to build a simple controller then you can start designing your own to suit your needs.

The other reason to only purchase a few items in the beginning is to test the quality. Where I live quality parts are not readily available, so I had to purchase several different brands to test them before buying a whole bunch. If you live in a developed country then chances are you have access to an awesome online store for Arduino goodies so it probably doesn’t matter.

Please note: This is a beginner tutorial aimed at anyone who wants to learn how to make their own midi controllers. It includes step by step basic tutorials on Arduino coding, breadboards and how components go together. It will take a while to get through, so grab some coffee and get your best head scratching finger ready.

Edited to add: At the time of writing I’m using Ableton 10, if you use a different DAW some steps will need your input.