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I got an EWI USB about two weeks ago, and after I got it to produce sound in a reasonable manner (which took a couple days, it really shouldn't be that hard) I decided to fix some of the things that annoyed me. I cut air release holes in the mouthpiece rubber, which makes an annoying hissing noise but won't matter at all in a nightclub. But that 's a five minute hack and a new mouthpiece is $25 if I change my mind. So far I really like the change, but it's the circuit bending that has been interesting.

First, the side Bb/C and the G# key are electrically the same out of the box. I didn't particularly care for this, as I wanted to use the two of them together to produce a whole step up, so I cut the PCB trace that connects side Bb/C to the connector (between the finger board and the main board) and connected it to low Eb instead. It still behaves the same, except that I can now use it and G# at the same time. Then I put a screw into the body above the left hand where a palm key would be on a saxophone, and connected that to the G# key. These two hacks combined mean I can reach a high Eb by using both of them. This was a "void the warranty" kind of move, but other ones aren't.

I swapped the LH pinky keys around so that the long one is G#. This keeps me from accidentally over-reaching G#. (Unfortunately the new gen EWI USB has hidden the screws for these two keys inside -- I did have to open it to do this.) Similarly, I moved the RH pinky keys around since I don't particularly care for the C# key being in the middle. I swapped the Eb and C# keys and swiveled the low C around to be near the Eb. The C# key is tiny and hides in the triangle between Eb and C. Not a warranty-voiding move. Also, I put aluminum tape under the Eb and extended it up to the left of the key to form an "alternate F#" touch. This is as simple as removing the key, applying the tape, and putting the key back on. Just remember that the adhesive is not conductive; you need metal-on-metal contact.

Finally I used a rotary tool to cut out some of the plastic below the octave rollers. I had a really hard time staying on the lowest roller alone and I don't have a particularly fat thumb. The rollers themselves are OK, I just needed more room. I didn't know if I'd carve through the body or not (I figured I'd patch it from behind if I did), but I was able to remove a good 1.5 mm of plastic without cutting through.

The only bad things (other than voiding the warranty) are that all this extra capacitance in the system seems to make low Bb unreachable, and I've marked up the body a fair bit with hacks I ended up not keeping. I'll trade the low Bb for the high Eb, I can use pitch bending to get to the low Bb (or A) if required. This does make it possible for me to run out of notes at the top though -- if I'm already on the highest D and use the unused side key, the whole thing just goes silent. It doesn't have a high Eb in its library. Considering you could get a high Eb out of a stock EWI (finger C# and hit both side Bb and low Eb at the same time), I think this is a little bit of a silly oversight. My hack didn't make this possible, just more likely.

I was worried that the EWI USB would not work well with my Atom-powered netbook. I thought maybe it would just not be able to keep up. Well I was half-right -- it didn't work very well at all, even with ASIO4ALL and turning off the after-effects. The sound was just all choppy and crackly. The problem though is not the Atom, it's the 50 cent Realtek sound. I got a Turtle Beach Amigo II USB sound device for $25, and the problem is solved. If you have an Atom netbook (this probably will not work with Celerons), you have enough computer for the job. You may need a bit of outboard sound help though.

Finally I realized I needed a case if I'm going to tote this around to gigs. I grabbed the case that came with my straight soprano (removable neck), and with the EWI upside down, it very nearly worked! I had to scrape some foam out at the bell end to let the EWI nestle in a bit, otherwise the mouthpiece gets pinched in the end of the case. This won't harm the case's ability to protect the soprano either. Best of all, the outside zipper pouch accommodates an 8.9" Acer Aspire One PERFECTLY. Those of you looking for a cheap EWI case should consider slightly hacking a straight soprano case.
 

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The problem is the Atom. ASIO4ALL is faster than a lot of pro card drivers usually. The Garritan software also is too intense for that computer, also on any computer, USB reliability can vary from computer to computer and even from port to port. You don't need to use that software if you have a sequencer such as Reaper etc.. You could find some free VST synths for it. I hate the Garritan software that comes with it. I'm using Vienna Symphony Library special edition which is an introductory version of their more expensive software. I set a controller in Cubase to change breath to volume and set volume in VSL to also control Expression and played with the curves for that and velocity. Sounds really good on oboe and flute. I would love to have Synful Orchestra but it costs too much for me. Maybe Synful jazz when it comes out.

There is another hack for the EWI if you open it up. There is a heavy weight inside that does absolutely nothing. It's only there to make it seem like less of a toy. You can take it out. I'm afraid to because I opened my WX5 and couldn't get it back together right. It's probably easier on the EWI though. You seem more mechanical than I am.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
There is another hack for the EWI if you open it up. There is a heavy weight inside that does absolutely nothing. It's only there to make it seem like less of a toy. You can take it out. I'm afraid to because I opened my WX5 and couldn't get it back together right. It's probably easier on the EWI though. You seem more mechanical than I am.
Oh yes, I forgot all about that. There are two plates of metal at the top and a large lump at the bottom. The lump at the bottom is worse than useless, it makes the instrument not want to stabilize on your right thumb. Remove this but leave the upper plates in place and balance will improve considerably. I also glued a stack of quarters into some empty space at the top of the EWI to make it even more stable. I would have recycled the big metal slug from the bottom but it didn't fit anywhere.

Opening the EWI is easy as these things go. Remove the mouthpiece (one screw holds it on, then pull). Remove all the screws from the back, including the ones holding the USB cable clip but EXCLUDING the ones holding on the right thumb sensors -- leave those alone. Then grip the keyboard (black) section right between the G# and side Bb and gently wiggle. Do not pry on the ends. Nothing will fall off when it pops open, and getting it back together is a snap too. Just line up the single connector and press it back together, then put the screws and mouthpiece back on. The screws are all interchangeable except for the one at the bottom that is not holding the cable clip, which is a little shorter than all the rest.
 

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Very interesting thread, Mal2! The only hack I might do to my EWI is drilling those holes in the mouthpiece, though I'm pretty used to the impedance by now. I think the 4000s does allow you to use the G# and side Bb together if you set the fingerings to "EWI" mode. How high up did you drill the holes in the mouthpiece?

I hate the Garritan software that comes with it. I'm using Vienna Symphony Library special edition which is an introductory version of their more expensive software. I set a controller in Cubase to change breath to volume and set volume in VSL to also control Expression and played with the curves for that and velocity. Sounds really good on oboe and flute. I would love to have Synful Orchestra but it costs too much for me. Maybe Synful jazz when it comes out.
Somebody, maybe you, mentioned the Synful software earlier this year. I am inclined to get it, but I did ask around and hear that it doesn't work particularly well with the EWI in live mode. I guess the continuous Breath data is a lot to process. Haven't tried it yet, though, which is retarded since there's a free demo... I'll get right on that! Wallander stuff seems to work brilliantly, by the way. Though, if Synful was expensive...
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Very interesting thread, Mal2! The only hack I might do to my EWI is drilling those holes in the mouthpiece, though I'm pretty used to the impedance by now. I think the 4000s does allow you to use the G# and side Bb together if you set the fingerings to "EWI" mode. How high up did you drill the holes in the mouthpiece?
I also think the 4000S is set up the way I just reconfigured my USB, at least that's how I remembered it and was expecting it to act out of the box. I cut the holes into the rubber beak itself, maybe 5 mm above the plastic. I wanted it to be further from my mouth so if I was only taking a little beak (for vibrato) or a lot (for wide pitch bends), it wouldn't change the airflow. I didn't realize the right breath hole feeds the sensor and the left one just goes straight through the instrument until I got it apart. Thus, it is better to ONLY open a hole on the left side where there is no pressure sensor. Also it means that rapid-fire tonguing is easier if you aim to the right or pull the instrument to the right like a flute (well not that far, but same idea).

There are other things about EWI fingering mode I like -- like being able to use LH1 and LH2 to trill a minor third and whole tone, respectively. (It's more useful than you might think, try it. Play F, then lift your index finger. It'll go up to Ab. Or E to G, or Eb to Gb, etc. -- it works from any bottom note except B or the bis-Bb fingering, and of course high C, as you're not using it.) Or the "low B" key will lower any note a half step, the "low C" will lower any note a whole step, and the Eb, side Bb, and G# all raise any note a half step. Unfortunately, side Bb doesn't have its own circuit, it's slaved to either the low Eb (as in the 4000S, I think) or the G# (as in the USB). I imagine it's marginally cheaper to slave the side Bb to the G#, as far as circuit layout goes, but it works better when it's slaved to Eb.

The minor third trill is useful for the descending minor third trill in "The Hut of the Baba Yaga" from Pictures at an Exhibition. That's just the first thing that popped into my mind, but I'm sure there are others.
 

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Somebody, maybe you, mentioned the Synful software earlier this year. I am inclined to get it, but I did ask around and hear that it doesn't work particularly well with the EWI in live mode. ..
Come to think of it, you are right. It's not good live for anything because for articulations it uses a "look ahead" method. Brilliant idea for recordings though.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
I have solved the "too much capacitance" problem, and in a way most people should still be able to do on the workbench. If you add a key, just add a 10 ohm 1/4 watt resistor in serial with the extra key. This means a little more work than just adding a wire, but not THAT much more. This means the low C behaves correctly, as does the right hand low C#/Bb.

However, I am not accustomed to taking Bb with the right pinky, and even with the keys swapped around it was too easy to catch the middle pinky key unintentionally -- so I wrapped it in shrink tubing to keep me from touching it, and added a LEFT pinky touch instead. Now for low Bb, I roll the left pinky down from low B, as a saxophone player would expect. I do have to touch both the B and Bb at the same time, but that's something I can deal with. If I touch just one (either one), I get only B natural.

This has some significant advantages I hadn't though of beforehand, but am very pleased with.

First, I can use the left pinky hitting both the original half-step-down and the newly relocated half-step-down at the same time. This does exactly what you'd expect and lowers the pitch a whole step, no matter what note is being played. It helps that I've switched the two stock pinky touches, so that the simple screw in the body is reachable at the same time as the lower touch.

Second, I can still play low C# with the right pinky alone, by hitting both touches. I have rotated the low C around to make it easy to do this, as there is only about a 5 mm gap between them which is easily bridged by a fingertip. I did have to shave off some of the plastic underneath to allow the key to be rotated this far, but that is not very visible.

Since the G# key can also be used in place of Eb, this means the instrument now has pinky-alternating capabilities much like those on a clarinet. C, C#, and Eb can all be taken by either pinky alone. Only for B and Bb are both required. Low C# can still be played with G# and low C together, but it is now just one of three available fingerings (or four if you count the extra LH touch, but it's a bit hard to reach alone).

The low Eb is still extended up the side with aluminum tape to form an alternate F#, but I cut it a lot narrower to cut down on the extra capacitance. Only a little circle remains at the end to form a touch, the rest is all 1.5 mm wide. This eliminated the need to use a resistor.

Even on a stock EWI, there are some useful alternate fingerings that can be brought into play. First, "fork Eb" works exactly like it does on a very vintage horn enabled with that mechanism (except without the stuffiness) -- XXXXOX produces Eb. This makes Eb-F trills very easy, and makes phrases involving the low C key a lot easier as well (which was the original purpose). Of course, fingering Eb the normal way and lifting either LH2 or RH1 will get you the whole step trill. For a D#-E trill, finger D# either the normal way or as a fork Eb, and trill the G# key. You can also trill Eb-F by fingering F and adding the low C key to lower it to Eb (the low C lowers ANY note a whole step).

Another useful alternate (probably derived from clarinet) is XXOXOO or XXOOXO for G#. When alternating A-G# or Bb-Ab it's a whole lot easier than the usual XXXOOO + G# (since Bb can be fingered XOOXOO or XOOOXO just as you'd expect). XXOXXO does not produce the expected G#, it produces G natural.

Another less-than-obvious but very useful alternate is OXXOOO for Bb. This makes C-Bb and Bb-G alternation a piece of cake. Also it can pay to think a half step away and use a held key to make the difference. For example, D-C-Bb can be fingered by the left hand as if it were C#-B-A, while holding the low Eb or side Bb to raise it a half step.
 

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Well it looks like I may have bent the poor EWI beyond design specs -- it now has a habit of going insane periodically, requiring it to be reset. Fortunately, all that has to be done is to hit the RESET button on the back, then re-load whatever patches I'm using (to restore my volume settings). Since I have my patch settings assigned to hotkeys, this is not much of a problem, but the couple seconds of wrong notes preceding the reset ARE a problem.

I also have had a very good experience thus far using a TC Helicon Harmony G-XT with the EWI to fake being an entire horn section on those gigs where we don't HAVE a whole horn section. Even if we have two people (a trumpet and me), I'll play a real sax, but when I'm all alone this works better. I'm using the harmonizer as an old-school "fixed key" unit rather than an intelligent harmonizer because it is more predictable -- something the TC Helicon does but my Digitech Vocalist Live 2 did not. I line up parallel major and minor on the A/B settings so I can switch to the "A" (major) side even when the piece is a minor key as a whole. This allows me to get my dominant chords at the right times. Generally the songs in major keys do not require A/B switching, but even there I have exceptions. Sometimes I even use the "wrong" harmonizer setting (like C minor for a song in Eb major) so that I can switch to the "A" side for secondary dominant chords.

I practiced this for a couple months, but it was still a nail-biter the first time out on a live gig. It worked well enough though. I knew things were going well when the bandleader (who is lead vocal and plays trombone) STOPPED playing trombone and just let me handle all the horn section work alone.

The only complaint with the TC Helicon is that it does not track well with high input pitches such as those produced by a trumpet in the upper range. My fix for this was to feed it a signal an octave below the lead part and let it harmonize up from that, rather than harmonizing down from my lead part. However, it was designed to track VOCALS, not trumpets, so I can't fault them for not doing what they didn't design it to do. I'm using it in an "off-label" way, and sometimes I just have to figure out ways to make it work. Fortunately the EWI USB will happily output completely different patches (and pitch shifts if need be) on the right and left channels -- problem solved.
 
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