Guide to EWI

Often regarded as the robo-oboe and fondly pronounced Ee-wee, EWI is the electronic counterpart of the acoustic wind instruments, such as the clarinet, horn, trumpet, and saxophone. While there aren’t many choices of EWIs out there as not all are enticed with their musical idiosyncrasy, these electronic wind instruments promise the same expressiveness boasted by its traditional versions and elevates it by adding even more wonderful features.

History of the EWI

Studio musician and experienced trumpet player Nyle Steiner first thought of creating an electronic synthesizer in the 1960s. He then started prototyping the idea and completed the first working EVI or electronic valve instrument in the mid-1970s. Soon, Steiner also developed the EWI or electronic wind instrument as players started to notice and wanted to experience the technology.

What is an EWI?

EWIs are digital wind synthesizers or wind instruments that serve as the electronic versions of the traditional wind instruments. However, as the acoustic version only has the power to produce its distinct sound, the EWI boasts all the sound characteristics of different wind and even non-wind musical instruments.

That marks the significant advantage of the EWI over the traditional instruments as it rolls many types into one. Thanks to its sound module, the EWI allows the user to play and control pre-recorded and pre-installed notes.

Basically, the early models of the EWIs refer to the controller alone and function as the user interface. A separate external synthesizer is needed for the EWI to play and control the sound module’s sounds. But, as years passed, the design and functionality of the EWIs improved and combined those two parts in one compact and portable instrument. Thus, allowing players to achieve better expressiveness and natural feel.

EWI Models

In 1986, a Japanese-company licensed Steiners’ EVI and EWI and released the first EVI1000 and EWI1000 controllers alongside the sound module, the Akai EWV2000, a year after. The subsequent models also featured the controller and an external box unit from the EWI3000, EWI3020, and the EWI3030 systems.Japanese company Akai licensed Steiners’ EVI and EWI models in 1986Having two parts has not become ideal as players need to make two purchases, buying the controller and sound module. The items also cost nearly the same price, making it more expensive. Not to mention that having a rackmount box with the sound module entails bringing another equipment in order to perform.

With that, the introduction of the built-in digital synthesizers in the top models, the EWI4000S, EWI5000, became a breakthrough as it no longer needed the rackmount box.

How The EWI Works

The EWI utilizes the same Boehm fingering system, which is present in most woodwind musical instruments. Alternatively, it can also be used using a much simpler system, seemingly like a recorder.

EWIs provide the same feel as a clarinet or saxophone, but the difference is that the keys are touched rather than pressed for a longer time in the acoustic versions. Moreover, the latest models, EWI4000s, EWI5000, and the portable and most affordable EWI USB, feature the multi-mode, which can be switched to different fingering modes, such as oboe, flute, and the sax. The fingering system is the same as each octave, but keys and rollers are allotted to produce portamento or increase, decrease, or bend the pitch.

When it comes to breathing control, the EWI is much more sensitive and needs less effort from its player. With the air pressure sensor, it allows users to adjust the instrument sensitivity based on their liking, providing more comfortability and the ability to reach dynamic ranges, genres, and styles.