Lead Machine

Categories: Hardware Prototypes/Non-Commercial products

Submitted by:Preston Steimel

10 May 2022

Elevator Pitch

Lead Machine

Based on video game controllers, the Lead Machine can be your gateway to playing your digital instrument intuitively and comfortably with complete expressive control.

Product Description

Lead Machine

The Lead Machine is a MIDI controller that augments the expressive capabilities of existing MIDI instruments primarily in lead playing or soloing. The high precision joystick is very flexible in its function and natively supports pitch bend range manipulation. Configurations are stored in user-customizable presets and can be accessed through the buttons on the device. These configurations can change the functions of sensors, including their MIDI mapping, as well as the current pitch bend range settings. Pitch bend ranges can also be temporarily modified by pressing the joystick in or pressing the trigger button. This opens up an avenue for spontaneity in soloing that isn’t traditionally available with lead keyboard. The video game controller form factor allows more fingers to participate in Continuous Control, deepening the expressive possibilities that are allowed through MIDI. It can be handheld or suspended by the industry standard 1/4”-20 mounting options, including tripods and goosenecks.

How It's Innovative

The Lead Machine brings multiple dimensions of control and high-resolution pitch bending to a more affordable price point. It also introduces variable pitch bend ranges so that keyboards and other digital controllers can bend notes much like a guitar can: to whatever degree is desired at the moment. Here’s an example of what’s possible with the Lead Machine: one preset has a bend range of -2 semitones and +2 semitones, with the dial wheel mapped to the filter of a synthesizer. Pushing the joystick up increases vibrato depth, and pushing it down adds a harmonic to a concurrent tone. When another preset button is pressed, those functions shift to a bend range of -12 semitones and +2 semitones instead, with the dial wheel now mapped to a distortion effect, while not impacting the vibrato and harmonic mappings. This is just the tip of the iceberg of limitless possibilities afforded by this multi-dimensional control.

See MIDI Innovation In Action

Most Inspiring Use Cases

A keyboardist in a band with a MIDI keyboard that has few to no continuous controllers can, with the help of some free software, for a low cost, transform their instrument into an expressive powerhouse. With the Lead Machine, they can now play lead lines, duel their guitarist, and find other creative ways to augment their role in the group.

Expansion Plans

My expansion plans can be split into hardware plans and software plans. Hardware: - Adding extra sensors such as buttons, potentiometers, and accelerometers - Adding visual feedback hardware such as LEDs and displays. - Switching to USB Type C - Building a custom circuit instead of using the Teensy platform for more control over components - Using a more resistive, sensitive joystick Software: - Implementing more complex signal processing - Creating a graphical user interface that can be used to create custom setups and presets on the device itself - Creating a companion app that allows the device to be visually configured by a computer or mobile device - Upgrading to MIDI 2.0 for selective pitch bending, per-note controls, and even better resolution


My current plans for commercialization start with university. I’m graduating High School this year, so college will be a place where I have more access to equipment, peers, professors, funding, and other opportunities. In terms of manufacturing, I already commission custom PCBs. Currently, the blanks are being populated manually, which will shift to pick and place machines at scale. The enclosure is currently being 3D printed, which will be moved to injection molding. Other plans I have include ensuring the device is compliant with FCC guidelines and upgrading my provisional patent to a full patent. I need to work with retailers to establish distribution channels, as well as create marketing content to reach a wider audience. I will also create support documentation and video material relating to configuring, using, and repairing the device.