26
Nov

I’ve owned an Akai MPK-49 controller keyboard for nearly three years. It’s built (fairly) well, surviving a couple of years’ worth of gigs with only minor damage and almost totally functional. What isn’t so good are the pads. They’re dreadful. Akai’s MPC series drum-samplers have legendary pads – their 4×4 layout, solid construction and that slightly grippy rubberised texture are an iconic design.

an mpc 60

So why did they make the ones on the MPK range (and I’m told, the MPDs) so dreadful? The problem is that there’s a mm or so space between the bottom of the pad’s rubber top and the sensor beneath. This means you have to stab the pads hard to push the rubber down to meet the sensor, making it very difficult to articulate any subtle control, or play quickly or accurately.

Prompted by a friend who told me people have been DIY modifying their gear, and that kits are available, I looked into how to improve mine. There are numerous threads, blog posts and a few videos showing the process, so I thought I’d have a go.

There are 20 screws on the underside of the keyboard, sunk into depressions. Unscrew these.P1020120

Carefully turn the keyboard back the right way up, and lift off the top of the casing. You’ll need to lift it up and forwards to slide it around the keys themselves. All the controllers and the logic boards they’re connected to will come up with this and the cables connecting the top with the bottom half of the unit are long enough for you to tilt and rest the ¬†whole of the top half backwards.

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Once you’ve got access to the underside of the top half, unscrew the four screws holding the circuit board shown above on. Don’t pull it off just yet. Next, unfasten the screws on the metal plate to the right. This is the mounting for the pads.

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Most of my screws came off with some plastic residue stuck to them. I suspect (hope) this wont cause any problems.

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You now can lift both panels up and over the ribbon cable shown in the previous photo. I found that you can rest the metal plate on the ribbon without putting too much tension on it. Be a bit more careful with the shorter ribbon connecting the two boards you’ve just taken off:

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The blog post at Off-White Noise recommends NOT using electrical tape for the modification. I didn’t have any duct/gaffa tape about, so I went with the inferior solution. I used 7 layers of tape for each pad. Gaffa tape is thicker, so you’ll need fewer layers. I’d actually started out with just three layers, but after testing, found this wasn’t enough.P1020133

For testing, I set up a Drum Rack in Ableton Live with some good percussion sounds and tapped around to see how sensitive they were. I went over all the pads three times adding more layers to get the kind of sensitivity I was after. I also altered the pads’ sensitivity and threshold settings on the keyboard itself. I’m now using threshold “1″ and sensitivity “14′ (16 was just a little too sensitive – my dynamics were too wild – I need more practice!). It was great being able to get really low levels of signal from the pads, with just the lightest touch. I can now do rolls, flams and much better intonation changes with the multi-sampled triangle patches I was playing with. It almost sounded realistic ;-)

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This is my first mod. It was a great introduction to hacking up my own gear – something I’m usually resistant to. It’s made a huge difference to the controller, as the pads were previously so disappointing I’d given up using them for anything other than scene launch button in Live. Here’s something I rattled off after I’d packed the screwdrivers away.

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