You would think that you should just be able to plug your $500+ set of electronic drums into your game console and drum away, but unfortunately, its not that easy. But, it is possible to play Rock Band with a real MIDI drum kit.
Thanks to the ingenious ideas of some members of the rockband.com forums, this mod can be achieved with commercially available parts and a little electronics know-how. Here is my step-by-step guide for the methods I used to get my Yamaha DTXplorer working with Rock Band.
ALL THE CREDIT FOR THIS MOD GOES TO THE MEMBERS OF THE ROCKBAND.COM FORUM THAT CONTRIBUTED TO THIS THREAD, including (but certainly not limited to):
- Aelius27, who started the thread and came up with the first working solution, building an impressive MIDI interface from scratch, and who has now come up with a solution involving a PC interface with custom software.
- Blanko, who has been extremely active and helpful on the thread and was the first to complete the mod using the MSA. He also posted an awesome YouTube video showing off his mod and giving an overview of how its done.
- zolon, who discovered the MSA as a possible solution for connecting the Rock Band drum kit to the game console and has also completed this mod with a Yamaha DTXpress.
First, a DISCLAIMER: I am providing this as a guide to the mod that I personally performed on my Rock Band drum controller to allow me to play the game with my Yamaha DTXplorer electronic drum kit. Whether you chose to attempt this mod is your own choice. I cannot guarantee that this will work for the drum kit you are using. However, I CAN GUARANTEE a couple of things: (1) YOU WILL VOID YOUR WARRANTY FROM HARMONIX OR ANY OTHER WARRANTY THAT COVERS YOUR ROCK BAND CONTROLLER. Further, if you break your controller and try to convince Harmonix to give you a new one under their RMA program, you are committing fraud. For more warranty information, see the Rock Band Warranty Site. (2) If you are not sufficiently skilled in fine electronics work, such as soldering and general wiring, etc., YOU ARE GOING TO BREAK YOUR ROCK BAND CONTROLLER (AND MAYBE EVEN YOUR ELECTRONIC DRUM KIT) BEYOND REPAIR. I am not responsible in any way for problems that may arise if you try doing the mod I describe here. It is you responsibility to fully educate yourself and consult any warranty information before you attempt to do anything I describe here. This guide and the activities described herein are meant for informational and entertainment use ONLY.
When I initially set out to play Rock Band with my Yamaha DTXplorer, I first wanted to know why I couldn’t just use a MIDI-USB converter and plug it into my XBox 360. The simple answer is that Microsoft keeps the XBox 360 controller standard close to the vest, revealing it only to licensed manufacturers.So the solution that the members of the rockband.com forum came up with was a way to translate the messages that an electronic drum kit sends out via MIDI into simple relay signals that trigger the XBox 360 controller.
Since the source of most the material in this guide is the thread on the rockband.com forums entitled “Rock Band with Electronic Drums (HOWTO),” I will refer at various points to posts in that thread with links in this format: See HOWTO Thread, Post #123.
You’ll need the following equipment to complete this mod:
- A Rock Band drum controller. I really feel the need to re-state my above warnings and disclaimer again: Taking any of the steps toward completing this mod will definitely void your warranty from Harmonix. In writing this guide, I am not trying to induce anyone to do this mod. The decision to void your warranty is your own. Altering your drum controller then attempting to get a free replacement under the RMA program is fraud. Don’t do it. See the Rock Band Warranty Site. NOTE: This mod will not work with a regular XBox 360 controller. This is because the Rock Band drum controller has a special chip in it that identifies itself as the drum kit. Unless and until someone figures out how to “trick” the game into thinking a regular controller is drum controller, we are stuck modding the original. See HOWTO Thread, Post #249.
- A MIDI Drum Kit. I am using my Yamaha DTXplorer. Other modders have been successful with a Yamaha DTXpress as well as various Roland kits using this same method. This guide will focus exclusively on the DTXplorer.
- An MSA-P MIDI Decoder (with appropriate firmware). Available here from Highly Liquid. This is the device that takes MIDI signals from the drum kit and toggles PhotoMOS relay switches in response to certain MIDI notes. The MSA-P must be assembled, but Highly Liquid will do that for you for a fee. I also recommend purchasing and having them install the MSA Terminal Block Set. You will also need a power supply. See MSA-P at Highly Liquid for more details. UPDATE: Highly Liquid has updated the firmware of the MSA-P and the current “production” firmware supports the Rock Band mod. So special instructions are no longer necessary when ordering. See HOWTO Thread, Post #361.
- A MIDI Interface for Programming the MSA-P. As explained further below, the MSA-P is programmed via SysEx message, which requires a MIDI interface with your computer. I used the M-Audio Uno from Radio Shack.
- Additional Parts & Supplies:
- A standard MIDI cable.
- Small-gauge wiring (I harvested a Cat5 cable, as have several other modders).
- A soldering iron suitable for fine electronics work and high-quality solder with flux. I used a 15-watt model from RadioShack.
- A project enclosure (optional). I used a 6x4x2″ box from RadioShack.
- Screwdriver, drill, screws, etc. as needed.
At this point, for reference, I put together this diagram to explain the various connections that need to be made to get this mod working:
(click for full size)
The electronic drum kit connects to the MSA-P via a MIDI cable. The MSA-P listens to MIDI notes coming from the various triggers on the drum kit and flips one of eight relay switches (numbered 0-7). Soldered connections from the Rock Band drum controller are wired into each of these eight switches. I used a simple barrier strip to split some of the connections. Others have been successful using a breadboard.
As will be explained, I wired the Yellow, Green, and Blue connections into two switches each, to facilitate using multiple triggers to set off those buttons/commands (i.e. Hi-Hat and Hi Tom for Yellow, etc.).
Stage One: Preparing the Rock Band Drum Kit
This first stage requires only the Rock Band drum controller, soldering tools, and wiring, so I recommend completing it while waiting for your MSA-P to be delivered
What you need to do at this stage is solder wires at very specific points on the controller’s circuit board so that you can essentially create your own external “switch” to activate the buttons on the controller. So, you’ll solder on a ground wire and, for each button, a lead wire.To get to the controller board, you’ll need to remove the trapezoidal plate behind the central controller section (just three small Philips-head screws).
The board looks like this (picture by rockband.com forum member Blanko):
Note however, that there are at least two different types of control boards used in the various versions of the Rock Band drum controller. The one shown above is the “green board,” but there is another type which I will call the “blue board.” ON A BLUE BOARD, THE SOLDER POINTS WILL BE COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.
I have no personal experience with the blue board, but rockband.com forum member Aelius27 successfully modded his. His photo shows the correct solder points on the blue board, See HOWTO Thread, Post #38:
UPDATE: [For all you PS3 users] I also have no experience with the PS3 RB drum kit controller board, but rockband.com forum member gclabbe does and he’s put together an awesome post with a good detailed walkthrough of how to solder up the PS3 board. Here’s one of gclabbe’s photos of the PS3 board:
UPDATE: Another one for you PS3 users, rockband.com forum member rmurwin posted this super-clear wiring guide that should make it very easy to find the proper soldering points (click to enlarge):
The solder points for the green Xbox 360 board are circled (in the first photo). Red, Yellow, Blue, and Green are self-explanatory. Orange indicates the solder point for the bass/kick pedal and White is the ground.I did not completely remove my board from my kit, so I cannot speak as to how that is done (i.e. disconnecting other wires coming from the drum heads).
As I said above, I harvested wiring from a Cat5 cable. This worked well because the soldering points are pretty small and it was nice to have all the wires bundled together (for later steps).
So, the next step is to solder your wires to the solder points. I am certainly no expert in soldering techniques so if you don’t know how to do this, do a TON of research like I did before you commit to soldering. You can (and if you don’t know what you’re doing, probably WILL) fry some of the other components on this board, making the controller completely inoperable.
This is what my board looked like, post-soldering:
Here is another modder’s board as well (picture by rockband.com member zolon):
Next you’ll need to close the controller back up. I cut a small notch out of the back plate so I could run my Cat5 cable out:
I checked that everything worked by connecting my controller to my Mac, and firing up the XBox 360 Controller SysPref Pane. With this tool, I was able to confirm that all my buttons still worked and that I could signal Red/B, Yellow/Y, Blue/X, Red/A, and Bass/Kick/LeftTrigger by shorting each wire (i.e. stripping the other end of the wires and touching each one to the ground wire.
Ok, that’s Stage One.
Stage Two: Preparing the MSA-P
The MSA-P basically listens for MIDI notes coming in through its MIDI port and then toggles any of its 8 switches in response to certain notes.
So, for example, if your snare drum sends MIDI note 1, and you wire your Red/A to output 0 on the MSA-P, you need to program the MSA-P to toggle output 0 whenever it hears MIDI note 1 played. The way you program the MSA-P is with a SysEx message. For an explanation of MIDI messaging, see MIDI Machine Control.
First, you need to have the MSA-P assembled. Hopefully, as I suggested, you ordered it pre-assembled from Highly Liquid. Regardless, you’ll have to wire up the included MIDI Jack Panel and your power supply. See the Highly Liquid site for details.
At this point, in order to send the SysEx message to the MSA-P, you’ll need to connect the MSA-P to your computer via a MIDI interface. As I said above, I used a USB-MIDI adapter from RadioShack.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention that you need to set up the MSA-P to receive MIDI input on the correct channel. The DTXplorer is set to MIDI channel 10 (and this cannot be changed). See the DTXplorer User’s Manual, p. 31. On the MSA-P, flip DIP switches 1 and 4 to “on” (and 2 and 3 to “off”) to set it to channel 10. See the Highly Liquid Firmware User Manual, p. 6.
Follow Highly Liquid’s instructions for composing and sending the SysEx message in the Firmware User Manual. In order to figure out the message you should use, you need to look up the MIDI note numbers in your drum kit’s owners manual. You may also be able to change each trigger’s MIDI note number, but that is not possible with the Yamaha DTXplorer. One of the big benefits of using a real kit is that you can map multiple pads to the Rock Band drum controls (for example, you can make both your Lo Tom and Ride Cymbal trigger the Blue button). In order to do this with the DTXplorer, you have to use all 8 PhotoMOS relays on the MSA-P and wire the Yellow, Blue, and Green buttons in parallel. See below for details.
For my setup, I used the following SysEx message:
F0 00 01 5D 02 01 03 1F 03 2E 03 30 03 33 03 2F 03 31 03 2B 03 21 00 4F F7
In English, this message says: “when you hear the SNARE, toggle the RED switch; when you hear the HI-HAT, toggle the YELLOW switch; when you hear the HI TOM (TOM1), toggle the YELLOW switch; when you hear the RIDE CYMBAL, toggle the BLUE switch; when you hear the LO TOM (TOM2), toggle the BLUE switch; when you hear the CRASH CYMBAL, toggle the GREEN switch; when you hear the FLOOR TOM (TOM3), toggle the GREEN switch; when you hear the BASS/KICK PEDAL, toggle the BASS/KICK switch; and do each toggle for 40ms.”
I know I’m not providing a ton of guidance on this stage, but there are just too many combinations of computer (i.e. Windows/Mac), MIDI interface, and SysEx software to cover here. It would be too difficult for me to try to explain how all this works, and there are better sources for explaining how to come up with the right SysEx message. See HOWTO Thread, Post # .
Once you have successfully sent the correct SysEx message to the MSA-P, you’ve finished Stage Two.
Stage Three: Connecting the Modded Rock Band Drum Kit to the MSA-P
As this point, you have wires coming out of your drum controller and your MSA-P is all set to go. Now you need to connect the wires you soldered onto the controller to the corresponding switches on the MSA-P.
On the MSA-P you’ll connect two wires for each XBox button/command; the lead wire and a ground wire. So, you’ll have to do some splitting because you at least need a total of 5 ground wires. In my implementation, I also connected the Yellow, Blue, and Green buttons to two switches each, in parallel. I did this so I could map multiple pads to each of those buttons.
For splitting and to make all the wiring easier, I used an 8-position dual-row barrier strip from RadioShack.
I harvested more wiring from a Cat5 cable and I was pleased with the results.
Here is what it looked like, all wired up, after which I mounted it all in a project box:
So, to sum up, at this point, you have a Cat5 cable running from your Rock Band drum kit to the project box, where your MSA-P is stored (with power supply connected) and your MIDI jack mounted. Assuming you have correctly programmed your MSA-P and your DTXplorer is working properly, you should be ready to go.
Stage Four: Connecting the DTXplorer and PLAYING!
If you’re using a DTXplorer and the SysEx message I posted above, you shouldn’t have to do any additional configuration on the DTXplorer. This is because the MIDI notes sent by each trigger are pre-determined in the Yamaha brain and CANNOT be changed.
Therefore, you should be able to just connect your DTXplorer brain to the black box you just made via MIDI cable, and plug in to your XBox 360 and you’re done. Please note that the sensitivity of your DTXplorer pads is affected by the way you set up your DTXplorer, so consult the User’s Manual if you have any problems with sensitivity.
UPDATE: Personally, I had a problem with cross-talk, which would send extra notes (obviously a problem for playing Rock Band). I posted a quick guide for fixing that problem.
UPDATE: I’ve posted my first impressions of playing Rock Band with the DTXplorer.