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Parker MIDIFly

Parker MIDIFly

Guitarists who use sequencers have been waiting many years for the perfect MIDI guitar. John Walden tries the Parker MIDIFly to see if the wait is over.

What's your mental arithmetic like? Pretty bad? Well let me tell you, my keyboard playing is worse... probably a lot worse. Hence my interest in MIDI guitar technology, which started well over 10 years ago when I first began using computer‑based sequencers. A number of big‑name companies (Roland, Casio and Shadow to name but three) have spent a lot of R&D money on MIDI guitar systems. When (if?) someone finally succeeds in bringing us the perfect combination of guitar and MIDI controller, there should be a long queue of guitarists waiting to try it out. The latest company to try is Parker, headed by the intriguing Ken Parker, and based in the USA. Ken's offering is the MIDIFly, which follows the same design principles as the other electric guitars in the Parker range, but includes a MidiAxe guitar‑to‑MIDI converter from the Virtual DSP Corporation. Parker pride themselves on making very high‑quality instruments and, as such, all their guitars carry a hefty price tag. The MIDIFly is no exception, but given the company's reputation for innovative design, I was more than a little interested to sample the Parker slant on the MIDI guitar.

The Guitar's The Star

Emagic's Logic being used to test the multi‑channel mode of the MIDIFly. Each string produces MIDI data on a separate MIDI channel and this can simplify subsequent editing processesEmagic's Logic being used to test the multi‑channel mode of the MIDIFly. Each string produces MIDI data on a separate MIDI channel and this can simplify subsequent editing processes

Like all Parker guitars, the MIDIFly has a distinctive, futuristic body shape. Included in the price is a practical hard case designed to accommodate the guitar and a CD‑ROM containing PC configuration software for the MidiAxe system. While the MIDI performance of the guitar might be of interest to SOS regulars, it is well worth describing the guitar itself, around which the MIDI technology operates, for the guitar junkies in the readership.

Whatever your views on traditional versus non‑traditional body shapes for electric guitars, there is no doubt that every component within this guitar is top‑notch. Both body and neck are made from mahogany, and although the body finish of the review instrument was Transparent Honey, a Heather Gray model is also available. The neck follows the Parker TurboTone design and is therefore backed with high‑modulus carbon and glass fibre, while the flat‑profile fingerboard is a composite material. The neck features 22 jumbo frets constructed from spring‑tempered stainless steel.

The stylish bridge is made of cast aluminium with stainless‑steel saddles and is also a Parker design. It incorporates a very sturdy vibrato bar, which can be used in one of three settings: balanced (free floating), fixed and bend down only. At the other end of the strings are a set of Sperzel locking machine heads that feel very positive in use and help provide excellent tuning stability. The 'home' position to which the bridge returns after the vibrato has been used can also be adjusted. The bridge also incorporates a Fishman piezo pickup, and it is this pickup that is used for the guitar‑to‑MIDI conversion. The piezo's power comes from a 9 Volt battery which is accessible via a small hatch on the guitar's back. The other pickups are all custom‑made DiMarzios: two single‑coils (neck and middle) and a humbucker (bridge position).

The guitar feels comfortable and well‑balanced either slung around your neck or played when sitting. This is partly due to the body shape and contouring but also because it is fairly light relative to some solid‑body electric guitars — for example, the MIDIFly is approximately two pounds lighter than my own Fender Strat.

Flight Controls

The MidiAxe Utilities screen, with the tuner function in operation at the base of the Window.The MidiAxe Utilities screen, with the tuner function in operation at the base of the Window.

With both the piezo and the MIDI functionality, the controls on the MIDIFly are slightly more complex than on your average electric guitar. That said, the design keeps things as simple and neat as possible. Three connectors can be found on the bottom edge of the guitar: a jack socket, a MIDI Out and, unlike some MIDI guitar systems, a MIDI In socket. Both MIDI sockets have standard 5‑pin connectors.

The manual refers to the jack socket as the 'MIDI On' connector. As the MidiAxe conversion unit uses the piezo pickup, a guitar lead must be inserted into this socket for the MIDI circuit to operate. The output is, however, stereo. The jack has 'smart switching' that can sense whether a mono or stereo cable is connected. With a stereo cable, the output from the piezo and the magnetic pickups is split and could be sent to two separate amplifiers or mixer channels to create some interesting stereo effects. If a standard mono guitar cable is inserted, the pickup signals are combined and the relative balance between the piezo and magnetic pickups can be set using the guitar's controls.

The cable from the MIDI Out socket must be attached to the small (7 x 5 x 2cm) MidiAxe junction box supplied with the guitar. The MIDI Out from the junction box can then be sent to your synth or sequencer. The junction box itself has a wall‑wart power supply about twice its own size. The guitar's MIDI In socket serves two functions. First, it allows the user with a suitable Windows PC (no Mac version of the software is currently available) to run the supplied MidiAxe Utilities software for configuration of the MIDI converter system. This is described more fully below. Second, the manual suggests that a MIDI Thru facility between the MIDI In and MIDI Out supports the use of a breath controller or similar device. I did not get the chance to explore this possibility during the review. The MIDI In would not be needed in routine use, so only your guitar lead and MIDI Out cable will be there to trip you up in the studio or on stage!

The controls on the guitar are placed in two clusters. The standard guitar controls include a master volume for the magnetic pickups (directly below the humbucker) and a volume control for the piezo (immediately beneath the bridge), followed by a three‑way switch for selection between the piezo pickup only, the magnetic pickups only or a combination of both types. Underneath is a single tone control for the magnetic pickups. This group is completed by a Stratocaster‑style 5‑position pickup selector for the magnetic pickups.

The three controls on the lower horn of the guitar affect the MIDI output. They start with a MIDI volume control, followed by a MIDI 'mode' switch and finally an 'octave' switch. The latter simply allows the MIDI output to be set as 'normal' or transposed up or down one octave. This can be useful for playing the different types of MIDI instrument (such as bass guitar patches). The 'mode' switch selects between three different MIDI modes. Mode 1 is a single‑channel mode that triggers MIDI output from all strings to a single MIDI channel (the default is channel 1) with no pitch‑bend. Mode 2 is similar except that pitch‑bend messages are sent as long as only one note is on. In Mode 3, each string outputs to a separate MIDI channel and pitch‑bend is always on.

Get Ready For Take‑off

The MIDIFly's MIDI output is generated by a piezo pickup in the bridge.The MIDIFly's MIDI output is generated by a piezo pickup in the bridge.

The manual provides a concise description of how to connect the MIDIFly in the most obvious configurations. The PC software is not essential in order to get started as the MIDI converter is pre‑configured to some sensible default settings (a good job if you don't happen to own a PC!), so only a few minutes after getting the MIDIFly unpacked, I was all plugged in and ready to sequence. The installation of the MidiAxe Utilities on my Windows 98 system proved just as painless, and the documentation suggests that the software will also run on Windows 95 and NT. The software itself is not overly complex, with only a single page of controls.

With all the necessary cables connected, the appropriate MIDI ports can be selected from the drop‑down lists in the top right of the window. Clicking on the Initialise button then allows the software to interrogate the MIDIFly and upload all its current settings. Most of the software‑editable parameters are fairly obvious. For example, the MIDI channels for either of the single‑channel modes or the multi‑channel mode can be specified. In addition, the relative sensitivity of each string can be altered. Being able to do the latter from software is considerably easier than the fiddling about I had to do with a small screwdriver to adjust the tiny sensitivity pots on my own current MIDI guitar pickup. The pitch‑bend range can be adjusted from a default of two semitones. In some circumstances this might be useful (say to inhibit triggering of a new MIDI note when bending a string up by this amount), but the default is a sensible choice for most uses. The 'velocity curve' can be switched between three alternatives, and affects the responsiveness to picking strength. Varying this setting does seem to change the triggering response of the guitar, so it's worth experimenting to find the setting you prefer.

The Tuner button produces a simple but effective graphical display for tuning purposes, but I would guess that most people will not run the software just to access the tuner. Potentially more interesting is the Upgrade button which, according to the manual, will be used to update the operating system for the MidiAxe converter. Any such updates will take the form of SysEx files and will be made available for download from the MidiAxe website (

Any parameter changes sent by the MidiAxe Utilities software are stored by the guitar. Therefore, in most circumstances the software will not be needed before each use of the MIDIFly once you have the MIDI converter configured to your own preferred settings.

As supplied, the action of the review model was comfortable but not as low as on other Parker Fly guitars I have tried. Guitar action is, of course, a matter of taste and it is also true that most MIDI converters will produce more 'glitches' if a low action generates a lot of fret noise. Adjustment of the action is achieved via two screws on the back of the guitar using the supplied Allen key. This is a very simple process, so I was able to experiment easily with the trade‑off between the height of the action and the stability of the MIDI tracking. The results were impressive and it was possible to achieve a very comfortable (lazy?) low action without a significant increase in the number of false triggers generated.

Test Flight

Unlike many MIDI guitars, the MIDIFly incorporates a MIDI In socket to allow configuration of the guitar via software.Unlike many MIDI guitars, the MIDIFly incorporates a MIDI In socket to allow configuration of the guitar via software.

As a conventional electric guitar, this Parker is, quite simply, fabulous. The combination of the finish on the neck and the low action makes it very easy to play. With a single‑amp (or recording preamp) setup, the choice of pickup combinations can produce a wide range of tones. The single‑coil pickups give a really round, full sound but with enough 'ping' to keep any Fender fan happy. The humbucker can go from full‑on metal through to blues overdrive by just rolling off a little on the pickup volume. The piezo pickup, as expected, produces quite a bright sound when used in isolation. When the peizo is blended with any of the magnetic pickups, the result is a nice bit of extra bite, giving the tonal range even more variety. Essentially, whatever tone you're after, it would be surprising if the pickup combination on the MIDIFly could not provide something very suitable.

The MIDI converter coped very well with slides and bends, jumping smoothly to each new semitone as the pitch rose.

But what about the MIDI performance? I started my testing with Mode 1, which on many MIDI guitar controllers produces the most stable tracking. When picking single‑note runs, the tracking was pretty much spot‑on. The MIDI converter coped very well with slides and bends, jumping smoothly to each new semitone as the pitch rose. It also fared well with single hammer‑on/off notes, on the whole. Full chords were tracked well if a single chord was played but, as with most MIDI guitar systems I've used, rapid rhythmic strumming is a non‑starter. I've always found finger‑picking a better option for chordal work on MIDI guitars and that held true here. (It can also stop you from playing six‑note chords with a piano sound — not the most realistic voicing!)

The MIDI velocity response was good, accommodating both hard and soft picking and producing good dynamics in the MIDI output. What was equally impressive, however, was the tracking speed. This was particularly true with the lower notes where, on many MIDI guitar systems, tracking delays can make timing an issue for some players. For bass sounds, with the octave switch set to an octave below, this makes a big difference to putting parts together in your sequencer. Your software's quantise functions can therefore be used to add a groove rather than to rescue poor timing resulting from tracking delays.

In Mode 2, single‑note playing and sensible chordal work all track well. The pitch‑bend response means that your playing style has to be adjusted slightly compared with Mode 1. For example, sliding into a note must be done with care to avoid giving the MIDI converter too much of a hard time. The tracking of a small amount of finger vibrato is excellent, and this can really add life to many types of sounds. It should, for instance, be possible to create some pretty convincing string sections with the MIDIFly. More extreme note‑bending produces slightly less consistent results, particularly if rapid bends are employed, but even then the sequences generated contain far less 'MIDI noise' than any other MIDI guitar system I've used.

Mode 3 also worked well, allowing the vibrato (why do we still call this a tremolo?) bar to be put into action. As long as you don't do anything too extreme (keeping in mind the pitch‑bend range that has been set with the MidiAxe software), the results are excellent.

The more I experimented with the different MIDI modes and, in particular with the vibrato bar in Mode 3, the more impressed I became with the tracking of the MIDIFly. As with any MIDI guitar controller, I found myself gradually adjusting my playing technique to improve the results. If you have not tried one of the more recent generation of MIDI guitar controllers, you may have a nice surprise playing the MIDIFly. The compromises needed in playing technique to ensure clean, reliable tracking, while still there, are not as great as with earlier MIDI‑conversion systems. It is, of course, perfectly possible to make the MIDI converter generate some spurious notes, but it is also possible to produce some excellent MIDI output, including pitch‑bend data. Again, the ability to add a little vibrato to chords (from a pad sound, for instance) really does add an essential something to a performance and is preferable to having to add such nuances via a pitch‑bend wheel during a second recording pass, as is often the case when recording with a MIDI keyboard.


Occasionally, doing equipment reviews is a double‑edged sword: a piece of equipment as classy as the Parker MIDIFly is a real pleasure to experiment with, but the downside is that once the review is written, you have to send the gear back! OK, so I know that this guitar costs a lot of money... and no, it is not the perfect MIDI guitar controller... but it is, by quite a margin, the best MIDI guitar controller I've ever used. It is also an absolute gem of an electric guitar, both in terms of design and construction. I sincerely wish I could keep this instrument.

If, like me, your budget will not stretch to the Parker price tag, then there is some able competition (such as the Roland‑ready Fender Strat or one of the Godin 'synth‑access' models) this side of £1000. However, for those MIDI guitarists with access to a genetically modified money tree, the MIDIFly is something you really should try. Gradually, over the last 10 years, the quality of MIDI guitar controllers has steadily improved. The Parker MIDIFly represents another significant step in the right direction.

Keeping Track Of The Time

If you're worried about the accuracy of the MIDIFly's timing, you can use Mode 3 in conjunction with any MIDI + Audio sequencer to get an idea of typical delays for a given phrase. For example, I can simultaneously record all six MIDI channels along with the audio output of the guitar using Emagic's Logic. Then, using Logic's 'demix by event channel' function, I can split the notes from each string onto six separate MIDI tracks. I can then compare the Audio with the MIDI notes to help me tweak my sequence‑data, though with the quality of the MIDIFly's tracking there is very little need.

"It is, by quite a margin, the best MIDI guitar controller I've ever used. It is also an absolute gem of an electric guitar, both in terms of design and construction."


  • A fabulous electric guitar!
  • Excellent MIDI tracking in all modes.
  • Do you need anything else?


  • A hefty price tag!
  • Futuristic looks might not be to everyone's taste.


The Parker MIDIFly is, quite simply, the best MIDI guitar controller I've ever used, beautifully disguised as a versatile and extremely playable electric guitar. If you can afford one, then try it. If you can't afford one, try it anyway to see what you're missing!