Alternate Mode malletKAT: An Excellent MIDI Percussion Controller For Drummers

Alternate Mode Malletkat Review

UPDATE: I am selling the very malletKAT you see in this post. You can view my eBay listing here.

Are you a drummer who wants to expand your tonal palette? Do you wish to play marimba or other keyboard percussion without spending a fortune on a five-octave marimba or a vibraphone?

The malletKAT is the best MIDI marimba on the market. You can have the flexibility to play the marimba, vibraphone, chimes, or even a synthesizer!

What is a malletKat?

It’s a pitched percussion MIDI controller. The malletKat functions like an electronic xylophone. Using your sticks or mallets, you can play the pads that are laid out like a keyboard.

These types of instruments are very similar to that of electronic drum pads, but are different because they feature the chromatic scale rather than just a grid of pads.

What do you get with the malletKat?

The malletKAT comes standard with MIDI in and out, so you can connect to any MIDI keyboard/sound module to play sounds from it, or connect to a computer with a DAW to play virtual instruments.

MalletKat Front

You do have the option to buy a malletKat with internal sounds, but I recommend using the malletKAT with a computer to play sounds. You will have WAY more options later on.

As of September of 2018, the Kurzweil Sound Card will no longer be made with the malletKat. Alternate Mode is reportedly working with IK Multimedia for the next gen of controllers.

MIDI controllers are becoming more popular in drummers’ setups these days, and it’s the same concept when using a malletKAT in your setup.

Choosing your MalletKat

You have quite a few options when it comes to purchasing your malletKAT. In the chart below, we will look at the breakdown of the different versions that Alternate Mode offers.

You can choose to buy just the MIDI controller without sounds or you can buy one with built-in internal sounds from Kurzweil Music Systems.

The malletKat ships standard in the following options: Express, Pro, and Grand.


For those with no internal sounds

If you use Ableton Live for playing gigs, you can use the MalletKat to your benefit. Any note on the MalletKat can be programmed to any parameter inside of Ableton Live. Footswitches and pedals also have MIDI capability.

Famous drummer Neil Peart from Rush has used a malletKAT in his touring drum set for many years and is included in many of his drum solos for melodic parts and is also used to trigger various samples during the live show.

Neil Peart Drums

The malletKat “Grand”

For those looking for a five-octave marimba experience, the Grand might be the option worth looking at. While I only own the Express, I can imagine playing the Grand would be an awesome experience.

The MalletKat Grand comes standard with four octaves, but with the expander, you can have a five-octave marimba for a fraction of the cost!

Sometimes you can find a used malletKat for sale, but I highly recommend you buy new as there can be issues with buying things secondhand, no matter what the product is!


The back portion of the malletKAT contains all the I/O you will use. MalletKAT offers two sustain pedal inputs, two-foot control inputs, MIDI in/out (2), and two expander inputs. If you plan to extend the size of your malletKat, these are the inputs you will use to get more octaves.

malletkat IO

The Edit FTSW is used to control every parameter on the Malletkat. You use a sustain pedal in this input to make changes to MIDI information, octave settings, sustain and hold modes, and much more. It can be a little tricky to understand at first, but it’s less complicated than it seems.

If you decide to get a malletKAT and do not want to spend the extra money on the internal sounds, you will need a dedicated computer to play virtual instruments from. For this to work, you will need the malletKAT, a MIDI to USB cable that connects to your computer, a Macbook Pro (or a PC, but Macs seems to be very reliable when it comes to music), and a copy of Ableton Live.

Something also worth considering is an audio interface. My favorite one for live use is the MOTU 828 mk3.

Alternatives to the malletKat

Alternate Mode is not the only instrument maker out making MIDI percussion. In fact, just last year Pearl released their own instrument: the malletSTATION.

Here are some other options to check out:

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of companies making MIDI percussion controllers, as the demand isn’t that great.

Protecting your malletKat

If you have already purchased a malletKAT and are in need of a great ATA case for it, consider checking out this case from Roadie Products.

These cases are made EXACTLY to your specifications, so you know it will fit your malletKAT, no matter how many octaves you may have. The build quality is incredible and will last for many years to come.

Wrapping up

I love my malletKAT. I was lucky enough to find a used seller on eBay and I scored a great deal on it. It’s been reliable through many tours in small clubs and venues.

I wish the foot switch system was a little more intuitive, but it still works fine. Triggering has always been reliable and I’ve never had an issue with it yet.

My malletKAT does have the internal sounds from Kurzweil, but I never use them. I always thought they sounded pretty poor, honestly.


Do you own a malletKAT? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you down below in the comments! Thanks for reading.

Hey there fellow drummer, thanks for reading the post. I’ve got a private Facebook group called Drum Junkies. It’s made up of people just like you and me who are sharing pictures of their drum kits, talking about industry trends, and sharing tips about drumming. I’d love for you to join! Here’s a link to the group; we’ll see you on the inside.

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