Kids today. They just love their Ableton Live and their Rock Band and their alternative tunings and their Live triggers and touch controllers stuck to their far-out new boutique controllers and high-end MIDI guitars.

Starr Labs has a line of MIDI controllers for Rock Band gamers and musicians on a budget, real guitarists (that’ll be the pro MIDI guitarists, not the gaming ones), and a novel new controller designed especially for Ableton Live. We saw their wireless line earlier today, which interoperates with these; here’s them exploring control.

Gaming and serious musicianship have some surprising overlaps here. Look at the new Ztar, the ZS-XPApros, which is a MIDI guitar – complete with advanced features for hammer-ons, sensitivity, and programmable zones – that also can manipulate Ableton Live right out of the box. Triggers are pre-mapped to Live control layouts. Like the game Rock Band, there’s cheery color coding to match what’s on the screen to what’s on the instrument. Unlike the game Rock Band, you’re playing an actual guitar and controlling advanced music software at the same time. (Show that to the next Xbox gamer who thinks they know it all.)

If you don’t play the guitar, there’s also the airPad, a wireless controller for Ableton with pots, X/Y pad, nav control, and 4×4 light-up pads.


The Ztar Z6S-XPA and Z7S-XPA are advanced MIDI guitar controllers with “the industry’s only zero-latency, 6-string x 24-fret touch-sensitive keyed-fingerboard.” (I actually think that’s not hyperbolic; this is the only one I know of.)

Each string trigger has its own tuning, so you get what amounts to a combination between a sophisticated MIDI guitar and an alternative key layout. It’s a controller singularity, as if an alternate-tuning keyboard and a MIDI guitar had a love child.


6 Velocity sensitive, Zero latency String Triggers
4-Way programmable Joystick and programmable Mod Wheel
24 fret touch sensitive Ableton Live color-coded fingerboard
Ableton Live control layouts and set-up templates
Ribbon Controller with 2 touch pads (Z7S) / six touch pads (Z6S)
Unlimited String and Fingerboard Tunings
32 Mappable Zones
Programmable Chording System
Arpeggiator & Sequencer
Volume Pedal Port & Sustain Pedal Port
MIDI and USB i/o

The Z6S-XPApro adds six pots.

Scott Caligure has more on the updates to the Ztar.

“The Z6S-XPApro and Z7S-XPApro are newer/updated versions, with improved sensing, latest drivers, multiple sysex ‘layouts’ for various software not only Ableton Live, color coded fingerboard soon to be led-illuminated. We are currently working on the instrument to be a class-compliant device.”

I would call this more like an keyboardaraaytrixocontrollatar. I’m not sure the music this instrument plays has been invented yet. (Microtonal breakcore psychedelia?)

Ztar Rock Controller

The “Rock Controller” is marketed partly for use with the Rock Band 3 Pro Mode, but it looks to me to be just as practical as a MIDI instrument – maybe even a little more so for some users, as it’s a bit simplified in contrast to the Ztar. With USB and MIDI connections, it’s just as happy to be plugged into your computer as an Xbox or PS3, and Starr are quick to say it’s not a toy. With zero-latency string triggers, a four-way joystick, five-way knife switch, muting, and two pedal ports, it’s still out there controller-wise.

And like the others, it has actual strings (to make absolutely certain this isn’t just a toy). But it might be a more down-to-earth alternative if the Ztar is a little too alien or pricey for you. It’s also a huge leap up in quality and versatility from the (also useful) MIDI guitar controllers designed for the game.

airPad for Ableton Live

It might seem a bit out of place here, but the airPad is a more traditional Ableton Live controller. It does boast a novel control layout, and it’s wireless, working in the 2.4G ISM band.

It’s well worth a visit to the Starr Labs site; they make an array of controllers and guitar electronics, including some fascinating alternate keyboard arrays. Makers like this make me wish I’d cashed in on some Web startup boom with an inexplicably-successful idea so I could squander part of my fortune collecting these designs. And for someone, I’m sure, they’ll find a real musical place in performance.

  • I was dreaming a octinct/rgb wireless keytar for some time…

    I will love to share some concept designs, are they interested?

    Great Entry Peter!

  • Deaq

    and I was playing with guitarhero guitar with midi yoke recently and this news popup.

  • BlackEdition

    that airPad looks really cool, but i can't find any more information about it at the site… anyone know where i could find more info?

  • Spazmatron

    I'd like something like this for creating guitar tabs, or even midi files for use with my other synths( my guitar skills are much better than my key skills). 

  • oh comeon peter, you know you are equally guilty of making sure that the "kids today" actually wants all these things you list, because you are as much of a peddler of those items as the companies and their promotionmachines themselfes. these things are incredibly expensive though. id rather just the pro rock band guitar and a keyboard, or that harp thing you posted about at one time, 

  • I'm such a geezer – I just like regular keyboards with knobs and wheels. And my APC40. And the giant touchpad on my Macbook Pro. 

  • Peter Kirn

    @gbsr: Uh, yes, indeed. I was being facetious. I was also certainly including myself with the kids. I think these things are quite clever, truthfully.

  • Legs Mechanical

    I'm wondering how the game-oriented control will compare to the yourock guitar (which i've nearly pulled the trigger on a million times). They look very similar.  Ever since I got rid of my yamaha ez-eg i've been looking for a competent guitar controller that was robust enough to use with live.

  • im guessing

    funny how i gave up my pursuit of midi-guitars and decided to just hone my keyboard skills to control synths… owell

  • @peter, clever, how so?
    its a guitar without the possibilities of a guitar.
    wouldnt it be better to get something like the rockband (was it?) pro guitar and a knob box?

    this is a fret with buttons. about as expressive at an usb cooking plate.

  • as an usb cooking plate, mind you.
    also, surely that harp controller would be a better choice if you wanted a fret with buttons?

  • Steve Angstrom

    Do we know how much these items cost?
    I can't tell if I am looking at a bargain, or not

  • jakub

    So those colored buttons on the guitar's neck may be used to launch clips in Ableton? So we finally have ablet-tar? Ableton players looking cooler onstage than ever before?

  • @Steve – Starr Labs aren't known for their competitive pricing. I've wanted one of their z-tars for the last 10 years or so, but they've always been in the $2k-4k price range, which is why too much for a midi controller of any type. Yes, even for you, eigenharp.

  • Though, you know. If Starr Labs did a colaboration with the Eigenlabs guys and made a z-tar with the eigen type bendable buttons that would be something special.

  • We're currently developing side-bending on our fretboards. @gbsr I would buy a usb cooking plate if it were as expressive as our Ztars. (Which I can tell you've never used.) The YRG is a toy, the RockBand pro is a toy, which is ll fine and dandy if you're into toy music making machines. I'm not attacking either of those products, but its beyond apples and oranges when comparing (or shall I say, contrasting) the feature sets, technology and robustness between the ZS-XPApro and these other products.

  • I owned both the yamaha ez eg, it was terrible.  I also bit on the YRG, the fingerboard sensing is quite amazing, but the right hand string sensors are garbage.  I'm crossing my fingers for a pitch to midi converter for the basic midi pickups in plugin form as a way to bypass the whole roland setup.

  • airpad!!!!

  • @gbsr You really need to inform yourself before you start spouting on these posts dude. Ztars can do 'hammer-ons', 'pull-offs', 'chords', 'tapping', 'slides', etc… these are all playing possibilities of a guitar that no other 'guitar controller' can do as well as a Ztar. Check this SOS review for a critical analysis of the above Z7S-XPA (we do not advertise in SOS so don't look for a bias).