Custom Ableton Controller: Part 1 – The Design

I’ve been looking at getting an APC40 for a while and starting a band based around that Ableton Live, allowing us to do some cool stuff from remixing, processing to tweaking major sections of songs in a real time environment on stage, bringing a whole new level of performance and technological harmony.

Partnered with AKAI, ableton made the APC40, the ultimate ableton controller, but at £300 I cant help feel its a bit of a rip off for something that just sends MIDI data over USB at the end of the day.

Why spend £300 on something when I can build something totally custom and of better functionality and quality than what you can get off the shelf? Makes sense? Or am I biting off more than I can chew.

Taking interest in the Arduino projects recently and the Hale UMC32 Microcontroller, it seems perfectly feasible. Building the button matrix seem on the APC40 would be difficult, but its possible with an Arduino to create a Monome clone, but i’d sacrifice the ability to have the buttons change colour in relation to their clip status, and I like the option of having different lit buttons depending on whether a clip is loaded, cued, or playing.


Whatever it ends up being, my custom MIDI controller would have to have the following MINIMUM.

  • Ableton compatibility
  • MIDI over USB connectivity
  • 8×8 Tricolour Backlit Button Matrix
  • Clip Launch Matrix Feedback
  • Backlit Buttons
  • Clear perspex case
  • Joysticks
  • Dials
  • Light Sensors (LDRs)
  • A tonne of LEDs for added awesome


As an Arduinome or Monome route wouldn’t give me the full feedback about clip statuses, my only other option is to buy a Novation Launchpad, rip it apart, and build it as a separate circuit along side, my custom MIDI controller in the same case.

This will also be an upgrade from the APC40, allowing me to control sends and the mixer view of ableton, all from the button matrix, whilst assigning the cool things to physical dials and buttons so you can really get your hands on and tweak those glitch sounds.

The other circuit, consisting of a tonne of dials, switches and joysticks, will be based around a Hale UMC32 MIDI over USB microcontroller, giving me 32 digital or analog ins and outs.


Casing is awesome, its the one part you can go totally nuts and do some really cool stuff with, and for a project that’s going to be front of stage, there’s no other casing than transparent acrylic, backlit with blue LEDs and illuminated buttons 😀

This is going to be a long project, but thats the general idea, novation launchpad, integrated with a custom MIDI controller based on a Hale UMC32 microcontroller, all mounted in a backlit perspex case. Maybe i’ll install a powered USB hub, just to make sure that the lights can cope being drawn from the USB port, and that they can share the same USB port out to my Macbook.
More to come on the build when I get some money and get started! If anyone has a Novation Launchpad for sale (I’ll pay £120), get in touch at


3 responses to “Custom Ableton Controller: Part 1 – The Design

  1. Ken :

    Cheers Kenny, im scoping eBay for parts every day. Balancing it with releasing my album this year, im going to be pretty skint.

  2. Nice! i need to get somthing sorted. just need inspiring again!

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