2014 Review Part 1 – The Gear

It’s been a long tough slog through this year following my wife’s illness and subsequent passing last year and I really haven’t kept up on things the way I was. ¬†I’m hoping to be able to change that and I’m starting up front of the New Year so it’s not just another silly resolution. ūüôā This update will concentrate on some new gear that went into steady use this year in the form of some mini reviews. The next one will focus on some of the projects I have had going this year as well as some plans for the near future.

Phil-Tone Equinox/Eclipse Hybrid

If you spend any time reading this blog you’ll see a lot of reviews of Phil’s stuff and you would think that I’m some kind of paid spokesman but the truth of the matter is I’ve just in found Phil someone who makes the kind of mouthpieces I like as well as someone who is open to sending mouthpieces out on pass around for people to try. Phil is also an awesome guy and a great craftsman.

Phil came out with an Equinox mouthpiece a couple years ago and it really sounded like something I would like but I was pretty comfortable with my Eclipse (the first piece I ever got from Phil not including his cleanup and refurb of my Otto Link Florida STM). I finally decided to pull the trigger and get one and you know what? I absolutely hated it! Well, hate is a strong word but it wasn’t what I thought I was going to get at all. I talked to Phil and he said to send it back and he would fix it for me…he had made it a little brighter than usual and that’s part of what I didn’t like. In the back and forth while he was fixing it he offered to undercut the table and open out the chamber in what he called an Equinox/Eclipse Hybrid. That sounded great so I went with that.

When I got it back I was absolutely thrilled and this has become my main piece after many years on the Eclipse. It’s a 7* (105) while my old Eclipse is an 8 (110). It’s a little easier to play because of the opening but the undercut table does require a little more air. This is something that may or may not be on Phil’s website but it’s something he can easily do and something he’s happy to provide. The lesson here is that by being open and communicating with him I was able to turn something that didn’t fit me at all into something I love.

Phil Tone Rift (alto)

I was playing on another of Phil’s alto pieces called an Aurora I think and it was good but I wanted something with a little more drive. It’s funny but on tenor I’m moving a little darker but on alto and bari I’m embracing the cut and edge. Phil had a sale on Sax on the Web Forum and one of the pieces was an unbranded Rift prototype.

The Rift is something that I think is rather unique to Phil. It has an interesting double baffle that looks a little like a clamshell. He used to make the baffle completely by hand but he recently started having blanks made to this new spec. This is one of those prototypes but I think it is very similar to the branded production models if not identical. This mouthpiece is a screamer that never loses it’s core…it’s like the best of both worlds and it’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had on alto. I’m using it with Van Doren Java 3 (green box) and they seem to be perfect for me. I’ll try to post an audio sample soon but it may be an edit after the first of the year.

Phil Barone customized Otto Link Tone Edge (bari)

Phil Barone is the other Phil I love to work with. He’s an amazing mouthpiece make and refacer. I started talking to him several years ago about doing the “Ronnie Cuber” treatment to a Tone Edge – apparently Phil did the work on Ronnie’s TE back early in his career…a sound I love. Now I know that a mouthpiece is not the ticket to sounding like someone but I also felt like it would at least have some of the characteristics I was looking for and I could handle the rest.

Phil did a reface with a new facing curve and he cleaned up the tip and rails extensively. The magic, though, is in the baffle work in my opinion. Phil takes out the rollover baffle and then adds a step baffle later in the chamber. The end result is a screamer that is both easy to play while allowing a ton of nuance and color. I don’t play nearly as much bari as I used to but this mouthpiece has replaced my Lawton which I’ve had for over 20 years. I think the mouthpiece I sent him was an 8 but I think the one I got back is more like a 7*.

I use Rico Select Jazz 3 Unfiled (at Phil’s suggestion) and they seem to match it really well. This is not something you’re going to be able to find easily and I doubt you will be able to get one from Phil. The baffle work is very labor-intensive and he told me he really didn’t want to mess with these any more. I’m just glad I was able to get one before he decided to stop. You can still get his regular pieces from him and he will do other refaces. He also sells amazing horns for great prices so he’s definitely someone to keep on your radar.

EWI 5000

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been an EWI guy for many years (probably more than 20). I’ve had pretty much every model since the 3020/3030 came out. My primary EWI for the last few years has been the 4000s but I didn’t ever use any of the internal sounds except maybe at rehearsal when I was being lazy. Instead I just used it as a driver for my virtual rack in my laptop. The 5000 was announced over a year ago I believe and I knew as soon as I saw the announcement I was going to have one. As it got closer to shipping I went ahead and pre-ordered one from Patchman Music.

The key selling points of the 5000 over previous versions are an enhanced synth engine with real samples (the 4000s was virtual analog), rechargeable internal batteries, and built-in wireless audio. I’ve had mine for ¬†couple months now and I really like it a lot. It was instantly comfortable because it feels just like my 4000s. The sounds are a mixed bag. There are definitely some much better sounds but they require a lot of tweaking (especiialy the overuse of effects) and there are WAY too many saxophone patches while there are absolutely no strings either solo or ensemble…that’s strange. I haven’t had a chance to use the wireless but I’m told it works as expected.

NOTE: Many people are confused about this but it is wireless audio only…Midi is NOT wireless in the 5000 but you can order wireless midi from Patchman. I really like the rechargeable internal batteries and I love that it hooks right up to the computer with the included USB cable. It’s like the best of the 4000s and the EWI USB all in one. All in all I’m pretty happy with this but I’m waiting for the Patchman patches that will make things even better.

Cannonball Big Bell Stone Series Tenor

I really need to post an actual review of this horn. I actually bought this horn over two years ago and it has been my main horn ever since. I love how it feels and people love how it sounds. I also love the way mine looks. So nothing actually new here but I just wanted to put that out there.

EWI Corner (The Hardware Years)

It's a little freaky looking but still kind of cool.

It’s a little freaky looking but still kind of cool.

I remember the first time I heard Tom Scott play a Lyricon a very, VERY long time ago.¬† I was instantly intrigued and I was pretty much hooked on the idea of playing a wind-driven synthesizer even though it would be quite a few years before I even had the chance to start playing something myself.¬† In the interim I started listening to Michael Brecker playing his early EWI’s and I went out to hear a great local guy named Paul Soroka tear it up on a Lyricon pretty much every week for several years.¬† Both of them just made me more interested in getting a wind controller for myself.¬† I finally got the chance when Yamaha released the WX7 in the mid ’80’s.¬† I had to have one.¬† My local music store got one in and I went in, tried it, and bought it on the spot even though I was demoing it through a synth that wasn’t set up for breath control at all‚Ķof course, I didn’t know that – I was still in heaven.¬† l picked up a Yamaha TX81Z to use with it so I could use the Sal Gallina patches that came with it.

The TX81Z was a decent place to start but I never sounded like Sal did on any of the patches‚Ķmaybe because I had no other effects other than the pseudo reverb that was built into the unit.¬† I soon added a Korg M1 keyboard to the mix and that’s when I started buying patches from Patchman Music – a relationship I maintain to this day.¬† Matt Black is Patchman and he’s a gifted player and an inventive and knowledgable patch programmer who provides a great value for anyone playing any type of wind controller.¬† I used these two synths for several years and really started to learn a lot about wind synthesis and using the WX7 in performance.¬† I did everything from wind-driven solos to helping cover keyboard parts.¬† Even though I liked playing the WX7, I was drawn very much to the Akai EWI.¬† Maybe it was because Michael Brecker played one or maybe it was because it was analog like the Lyricon but I had to have one and I finally made the leap with the 3020 and the 3020 module.

The 3020 module was the analog version…they also made a 3030 at the same time that was sample based with more effects.  I kind of wanted to go more analog anyway but the fact that the 3020M was cheaper was probably a deal sealer for me at that time of my life.  Of course, all of that dreaming about an EWI did not prepare me at all for the adjustment of actually playing one.  I had remembered reading how MB had to completely change his way of playing and learn to keep his fingers off the contacts and I can say that if you are the kind of person that keeps your fingers on the pearls, then the adjustment to the EWI will be long and somewhat arduous.  Anyway, I can go more into technique building in another post but for now I will say that for a long time I actually brought out both the EWI and the WX7 using the EWI for more flowing and expressive sounds and using the WX7 for more percussive attacks and for very technical things.  However, keys started to stick on the WX7 and it seemed like time to make the move so I eventually switched to the EWI full time.  Around that time I also got rid of the M1 keyboard and the TX81Z and moved to an M1 rack and a Kurzweil K2000R (also with Patchman patches).  I also switched to an Ensoniq TS10 keyboard but did not use it for wind patches…just as a controller.  This was an incredibly versatile setup for the time.  Finally, I bought an new EWI 3020 and a 3030 module as a backup during this period although it has remained largely unused in that capacity.

TurboVLEventually, I got rid of the TS10 and moved to a less expensive and lighter Yamaha CS1X but that sits at home in the studio now along with a lot of other gear.  I added a Yamaha VL70m which is just about the holy grail for any wind controller player.  It used advanced physical modeling so you can easily emulate a wide array of woodwind, brass, string, and analog synth sounds.

I started with Patchman patches but eventually upgraded by swapping out for the Patchman Turbo chip (an aftermarket mod for the VL70m that adds custom banks designed by Matt) and that was one of the best purchases I ever made.¬† So by then my rack was down to just the K2000R and the VL70m and the then newly-released EWI 4000S which didn’t require a module to convert to MIDI and also had built-in sounds.¬† The rig was incredibly flexible and musical and I had a really high level of comfort with making my own sounds in that environment.¬† Unfortunately, the display on the K2000R started to get dimmer and dimmer until it was practically unreadable and I knew the time had come to put the old workhorse out to pasture (in the studio or what passes for a studio at my house). ¬†I made that decision in no small part because the thing is big and HEAVY…three rack spaces and super deep.

After a lot of research I decided to replace it with the Roland XV5050 since it is both lighter and still capable and expandable (oh yeah, and it also has Patchman patches installed – I’m sensing a pattern).¬† I bought an Alesis Quadrasynth+Piano rack at around the same time (used from Patchman and of course I installed his patches) with the intention of adding it to the rig but I never pulled the trigger on that even though it’s actually a great wind controller synth.

Also in the rack are a mixer and my wireless in-ear unit. It's all pre-wired and it's on wheels so set up and tear down is a breeze.

Also in the rack are a mixer and my wireless in-ear unit. It’s all pre-wired and it’s on wheels so set up and tear down is a breeze.

This was my last hardware setup before switching to my current rig which is entirely software based and probably something for me to talk about in another post.