Hacking a USB footswitch

Recently, on the Six String Bliss forum, there was a discussion about using a Behringer FCB1010 MIDI footpedal to control Reaper. It struck me as a great idea but a bit excessive to be spending in the region of £100-150 on something for this relatively minor convenience. My natural instinct, when faced with something cool that I can’t justify buying, is to work out whether I can hack something together on the cheap.

After plenty of research, the route I chose was to buy an old USB gamepad, a footswitch enclosure which was pre-fitted with four momentary (non-latching) footswitches. The main inspiration for this was this post on the Reaper forum.

The gamepad provides a USB interface connected up to a couple of potentiometers and a bunch of switches. Initially I was only interested in the gamepad’s switches but I may come back to the potentiometers later, if I can think of a good use for them, such as controlling the volume and L/R balance of the active track.

Including postage, the gamepad cost me £5.25 (incl postage). The footswitch enclosure, was a Seymour Duncan controller for a KTG amp. This cost me £16.00 (incl postage). I was lucky enough to find that the four existing footswitches were of the type I required and so I could reuse them. If this hadn’t been the case, a job lot of six footswitches would have cost £16.50.

Reaper can accept the joystick/gamepad input directly and has the macro-like concept of being able to string together a bunch of commands into a single action.

The things I wanted to be able to control with the footswitch were:

  • Arm/disarm the active track;
  • Start recording;
  • Stop recording, save what I’ve just recorded and return to the start point marker.
  • Stop recording, delete what I’ve just recorded and return to the start point marker;

After gathering all of the parts and tools together what I did was:

  • Plugged in the gamepad and checked that it was recognised;
  • Started Reaper to make sure that I could trigger the above actions just using the gamepad;
  • Cracked open the gamepad and stripped away everything, leaving just the circuit board and the USB cable;
  • Soldered trace wires to replace each of the switches and then confirmed that, by shorting the wires, I could still trigger the Reaper actions.
  • Connected the wires to the footswitches and popped it all in the enclosure.

And here’s the end result.

Not very pretty but it works like a dream.

In the course of my research I also found that I could potentially use these footswitches to perform other, non-DAW related actions. A program called “xpadder” allows you to map gamepad actions to generate keystrokes. Some of the initial ideas that spring to mind are:

– Next/previous email in Google Mail;
– Next/previous story in Google Reader);
– Alt-tab to switch to the previous application;
– Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V to copy/paste.

I’d be interested to hear of any other suggestions that you can come up with.

In the next post I’ll go through the Reaper configuration steps in more detail.

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One thought on “Hacking a USB footswitch

  1. This is excellent, Dave! I’m really inspired by your ingenuity.

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