June 12, 2011, 2:39 p.m.
Those of you that use Ableton for looping know how nice it is to have a foot pedal to start and stop recording when your hands are full playing an instrument. The problem is, many MIDI pedals are expensive. So I developed a workaround solution that involves using Ableton's great keymap feature. By gutting the inside of an old PS/2 keyboard, and rewiring the keys to a series of buttons, you can make a great footpedal for very cheap or even free. Keep reading below to find out how!
To start you need an old keyboard (if you wanted to get crazy and use a wireless keyboard, you could even make a wireless pedal), and an encolsure that will let you mount a small board and momentary switches. Also, if you get lucky like I did, you can find and cannibalize an old proprietary guitar amp footpedal that you can find cheap or free.
Ibanez Pedal I Used
First attempt, Radioshack Parts
First, tear the keyboard apart and remove the main PCB (this process will be different for different keyboards). Find two rows that make up the matrix that the keys connect to create the keystrokes. By leaving the board plugged in and having a word processor open, you can use a long jumper and connect pads to see which connections create which keystrokes. Then find keys that aren't assigned to something else in Ableton and solder leads onto them (use stranded wire, I used some solid core at first and ended up with problems and having to go back and fix it).
Some soldering and circuit experience is recommended/necessary for this project. Solder these leads onto momentary buttons in your own enclosure or a foot pedal that you have repurposed. Now onto how to actually utilize this new pedal. I typically use the Novation Launchpad, which with measure quantizing on recording start, works great to start recording a clip. However, stopping a clip requires me to stop playing, reach down and hit the exact right pad in time to keep the performance going. By assigning each pedal to a scene, and restarting that scene when I'm done recording the loop, the recording stops and the scene continues. You can also use the pedal to switch between different song sections without lifting your hands off your instrument.