MOD Devices' New Pedal Makes Your Guitar Double as a Synthesizer

A new way to rock out

  • MOD Devices' effects pedals now turn your guitar signal into a synthesizer.
  • It's fast, accurate, and even follows string bends. 
  • Guitar players don't need to learn keys to get experimental.
Mod Devices Mod Dwarf Floor audio processing device

Mod Devices

When you hit a key on a synthesizer, it takes the velocity and other information from your keypress and turns it into a "control voltage," or CV, which can then be used to manipulate sounds. This MOD box lets you use a guitar instead of a keyboard to make that CV.

MOD's Guitar Synth—available as a free software update on all its current devices—takes the audio signal from your guitar and uses that as the controller. This lets guitarists do all the cool, fancy stuff they can do with a synthesizer, only they don't have to learn to play keys to do it. What's more, you can use all the guitar tricks you already know, like string bends, legato, and fancy jazz chords, and use them to make otherworldly sounds.

"This is brilliant!" musician Christian Zelder told Lifewire via email. "This changes the way I can creatively add my own style to music. Instead of playing it on the keyboard or inputting the midi notes, I can add a whole different vibe, including a human element into the sound."


You can already use a guitar to control a synthesizer, but it's often a bad experience. You either need a special pickup on the guitar that reads the vibrations of the strings and turns them into MIDI signals, or you use an app that does the same. Some, like MIDI Guitar, are excellent but can be extremely clunky and confusing to use. Others just don't work that well. 

"The main issue I've had with [MIDI converters] is latency and jittery tracking," UK-based music director and musician Paul Ortiz of ALIBI Music told Lifewire via email. "Plus, the fact that what you can actually do with the converted note information once you get it out is usually pretty limited. Also, having everything in the box and not running off a laptop is a huge plus for live usage."

MOD’s pedal takes the incoming audio from an electric guitar, cleans it up, and converts the pitch of each note into a CV signal. All the synthesis then takes place inside the box, which is a little computer in pedal format. It’s a subtle difference but an important one. If nothing else, it improves the speed and accuracy of tracking the notes played on the guitar compared to MIDI converters, as you can see if you watch any of the demo videos. It’s extremely sensitive to the dynamics of the player. That is, if you play soft or hard, the pedal tracks this perfectly. 

And with an added twist, the pedal can actually output MIDI, so you can use it as a translator to play any other synthesizer or software synth plugins on your computer. 

Free Your Guitar

As a guitarist, I love this concept. Electric guitar players are often self-taught, which means we’re often lacking when it comes to theory, so even if we can play keys, the accumulated guitar knowledge doesn’t translate. Mod Devices’ new synths let us take our existing skills and use them to create all kinds of sounds that would be impossible even with a whole rack of effects pedals.

And then there are the things you can do with a guitar that key players can only dream of. For a start, you can bend strings to change their pitch, play microtonally, or add vibrato. You can also use the misnamed tremolo arm to wobble pitch, which is the entire basis of surf music. Try that on a piano. 

This changes the way I can creatively add my own style to music.

And then there's the performance aspect. If you play keys and you want to rock out on stage, you either have to play a keytar—which, in terms of coolness, is like the fanny pack of musical instruments—or you have to go full-on Jerry Lee Lewis and clamber up on top of your baby grand.

"Whenever you play the piano, it's kind of difficult to give a fantastic performance with expressive body motions…," says Zelder, "but with an electric guitar plugged into this rig, you can move around [and really] full on explode in character and shred your soul out."

Now you can employ all the usual guitar rock-god cliches, only with the sounds of hyper-experimental synths. Although, good luck filling a stadium with that.

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