Something struck me while watching Glenn Fricker’s excellent Axe-FX/Real Amp comparison. It was when he pointed out that part of the cost investment in the Axe is that you’ll need a foot controller, and the one that Fractal Audio makes for the Axe-FX costs $750. Well, you certainly could buy that unit, but the price is off the charts, and it has a lot more power than many of us need. What if you just want to use a modeller like an amp, and switch between a few channels (and maybe tap some tempo)?
For whatever reason, the majority of Axe-FX users seem to either use the full-blown Fractal MFC-101 or the very inexpensive Behringer FCB1010, which in my opinion isn’t as rugged or as user-friendly as some of the other options out there. So here are 5 inexpensive midi foot controllers that will at the very least change presets on your Axe-FX, Kemper Profiling Amp, Line6 Pod, or midi-controlled amps that Egnater, Diesel, Randall, Engl, etc have on the market.
I chose controllers that are either small or inexpensive, often both. They’re not as powerful as some other foot controllers on the market, but they make up for that with price and durability. Of course, your needs may vary.
This might be my favorite little affordable controller on the market right now. It only costs $320 but it gives you 5 presets per bank: 4 actually stored in each bank, plus a global preset that’s always accessible if you step on the button for the preset you’re already on, and 6 or 8 built in audio loops depending on if you choose the 6M or 8L version (the 8L makes room for the two extra loops by removing the midi in and thru jacks). Those loops are the killer feature: use them to add analog pedals to your signal chain and bypass them directly with the controller. Plus two of the loops can be used to change channels on an amp. I often recommend the EFX Lite to midi-haters who just want to add a “3rd channel” to a 2-channel amp, and/or avoid some pedal tap dancing. On the downside, the EFX Lite can only send out 2 program change messages and 8 CC (continuous control) messages per preset, so it’s not ideal if you have a 12-space rack full of gear you need to synchronize. But if you did, I doubt any of these pedals will fit the bill.
This one is as meat and potatoes as it can get: one bank of 8 presets, and that’s it. No controlling two devices simultaneously unless you have them both synced so that preset 2 on one unit matches with preset 2 on the other, always in tandem. The only option is the ability to change the buttons to CC switches, so for example buttons 1-6 are your presets and 7-8 send out predetermined CCs. So what’s good about the RF8? Well, mainly the price. For $180 you get a small, rugged, no-frills unit. If you’re just looking to use your modeller like an amp, with a bunch of channels to switch between and maybe just one or a couple effects to turn on and off, this will do the job while giving you a lot of presets in a small package.
The Liquid Foot Mini is the reigning monarch of lots of power in a little shell. It’s so powerful that FAMC don’t even need quality photography to sell the thing. The Liquid Foot Mini lets you control lots of units just like you’re using a flagship controller, plus it has expression slots, flexible power supply options, song/setlist functionality, and colored LED lights that allow you to do nerdy shit like give your clean channel a green light and your distortion channel a red one. And this muscle is obtainable for the reasonable, smoky price of $420.
If you need to go a little larger with 10 presets per bank, and easy access to bank up and down buttons, then the Softstep2 might be the controller for you. Axe-Hacks recently did a video extolling its virtues far better than I could, and demonstrating how to maximize its compatibility with a Kemper Profiling Amp, so give it a watch. The Softstep2 is only $300.
The Mastermind is the only unit on this list that I recommend with caveats, since I think it’s a tad on the large side, but that’s a minor complaint. I’m completely in love with RJM’s current product line, which just reeks of smart design. The “alternate preset” function is a great idea, and like the Liquid Foot, the Mastermind has the kind of power you don’t expect from a $330 controller, like the ability to send 4 PC and 8 CC messages, all on separate channels. It also has link functionality, and the ability to receive phantom power. I’ve heard rumors that RJM has a new controller in the works as well, so I’m eagerly looking forward to what they come up with next.