Everything saxophone (reviewed) …reviewed

There are so many saxophone blogs around and it’s hard to keep track of all the good material out there. The beauty of running a blog myself is that I can publish my favorite bookmark list instead of just keeping it for myself.

Today’s choice is Everything Saxophone (Reviewed) site,run by Ben Britton,an experienced sax player who lives near Philadelphia. Ben posts about 3-4 articles a month and virtually all of them are worth reading (and often re-reading).

As the blog’s title suggests,you can find many reviews of saxophones and related accessories and I was delighted to find articles about most of the stuff I use,including Mayer and Vandoren Jumbo Java mouthpieces,Vandoren Optimum Ligature (see image),Jody Jazz DV NY mouthpiece,and Zoom H4N handheld digital recorder.

Interestingly,Ben provides sound clips for all its reviews. For example,here’s a comparison between filed and unfiled Rico Select reeds (incidentally,the reeds that I use regularly).

Ben’s blog abounds of practical suggestions for jazz sax players,such as how to experiment with ligature position,practicing the altissimo register,playing odd time signatures,improvising using motifs and large intervals (see also here).

Ben also transcribed a Coltrane’s solo,which I promply added to the solo transcriptions page.

Fingering diagram builder

I wish I had discovered this great tool a couple of months ago,when I built the fingering charts for the normal and altissimo register.

The Fingering Diagram Builder,courtesy of Bret Pimentel,is an online tool that allows you to create a fingering chart for a variety of woodwinds,including saxophone,clarinet,flute,oboe,and recorder,plus the AKAI EWI 4000s and Yamaha WX5. You can select the key size and colors,and you can save the image to your computer or your Dropbox account.

The most serious limitation to date is the fingering diagram builder doesn’t support any version of Internet Explorer,even though it should work fine on most other browsers. For sure,it works great on FireFox.

You can learn more about the fingering diagram builder in these blog posts.

EWITool,the “other”EWI 4000s editor

The Akai EWI 4000s comes with 100 presets which,quite frankly,don’t do justice to its internal synt. There are just a handful of patches that are really playable,and none of them vaguely resemble an acoustic instrument,including those that are relatively easy to reproduce with a synt (e.g. clarinet or recorder).

Short of using an external expanders or computer,for us EWiers the choice has always been between these two options:

1) purchase the fantastic Patchman Music EWI4000s collection of sounds by EWI guru Matt Traum
2) create your own sounds with the Vyzex UniQuest Editor that you can download from AKAI website,available for PC and Mac.

(Incidentally,if you don’t have the Patchman collection you are leveraging only a small fraction of the EWI 4000s potential,thus you should order a copy as soon as possible from Matt. At 90$ it’s a bargain.)

However,if you are looking for “that specific sound”and even the Patchman collection doesn’t have anything like it,your only option is to built the patch yourself with the Vyzex editor,which isn’t exactly fun. Or at least,I always found it a bit counterintuitive and unnecessary difficult to use.

Only recently I discovered a third option,in the form of an alternative,open-source EWI 4000s patch editor named EWITool,which you can download from here. Its author Steve Merrony did a great job,and the fact the the documentation is very concise is just another evidence of how simple the software is.

Obviously,to use it at its best you still need to understand how the EWI oscillators and filters work,but in general everyhting seems simpler than with the other editor. By the way,there are two versions,for PC and Debian (but I tested only the former).

EWITools has several neat features,including the ability to load and save all the 100 patches in the EWI,a clipboard where you can store as many patches as you wish (and the clipboard is preserved between sessions!),the creation of multiple libraries,and the ability to work with SYX and BNK files,including single-patch SYX files. Plus a few unique features,such as

  • the ability to create random patches,either from scratch or by randomizing some parameters of an existing patch
  • the ability to “merge”two patches,to create a sound that combines the characteristics of two patches
  • easy acccess to the EWI Patch Exchange.

EWI Patch Exchange was an attempt to create a “marketplace”for EWI players wishing to exchange (for free!) their favorite patches. Unfortunately this attempt should be considered as a failure,because after 3 years there are only about 20 patches in the marketplace,and there haven’t been any new items in the last year. But it’s there and it might resurrected when needed. If nothing else you can find a few new sounds for your EWI.

It seems that –like the EWI Patch Exchange –EWITool is a “dead”project that hasn’t been updated since 2008,which is a real pity because it was a very interesting project. At any rate,the source code is available and maybe not all is lost,because some other developer might pick it from there. Regardless,even in its “current”version 0.6,EWITool is an editor that all EWI players should have at hand.