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Chapman Stick®

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The Chapman Stick, or more commonly, the Stick, is a member of the guitar family, invented by Emmett Chapman. It has ten or twelve strings and needs to be amplified.

  Photo Chapman Stick  

Figure 1



Unlike a guitar, which is normally plucked or strummed, the Stick is played by tapping, that is tapping on the string over the fret or just behind it.

  Sketch of tapping strings on Stick  

Figure 2



Note that the tops of the flats are machined flat, and the action, that is the distance between the stings and the top of the frets, is very small.

Sketch of playing the Chapman Stick

In Figure 1, there are three black rectangles, perpendicular to the strings at the top or head of the instrument. The small piece and the next full length piece are dampeners that stop the string from vibrating when the tapping finger is lifted away from the string.

Both the left and right hands can play, like a keyboard, the left playing the bass and the right playing the melody or treble strings. It can be played sitting or standing.

The sound of the Stick is very much like the clavichord of the 15th to 18th centuries, which was Bach’s preferred keyboard instrument. It used a brass tangent at the end of the long key. It struck the string, both defining the vibrating length and energizing it, like the Stick.

Emmett Chapman began customizing his guitars between 1959 and 1969, to  accommodate an evolving tapping technique.  In the summer 69, he realized that he could expand the tapping technique to include both hands

Figure 3

He built the first precursor to the Stick in 1970 out of an ebony guitar neck. And in 1974, he built the first production model: with ten strings, five bass and five melody, 25 frets, covering 5 1/4 octaves, with an overall length from bridge to nut of 34 or 36 inches.

The body of the Stick can be wood (hardwoods, or bamboo), hardened aluminum, or polycarbonate resin. The frets are very carefully milled so that the string height can be as low as practical.

Starting In 1987, an optional MIDI pickup is available. Originally it was for the melody strings, but MIDI pickups are available for both the bass and treble strings.

The current prices range from $2,100 to $3,200 new.

Stick Enterprises for information, books, videos, articles, new and used instruments, and more!


Electronic Wind Instrument (EWI)


These are my experiences with the EWI, electronic wind instrument. It is also called a wind synth or wind synthesizer. The specific sounds produced by way of the synthesizer can be called patches, tones, programs, sounds, voices, instruments, or virtual instruments. I will use the word “tone.”

The EWI is made up of two parts: the controller, which controls what notes are played, it’s analogous to an the keyboard portion of an electronic keyboard, and the synthesizer, which generates an audio signal. In some EWI’s, the synthesizer is a separate component (the Yamaha WX5 is a controller only), whereas the Roland AE-10 and the Akai EWI 5000 have the synthesizers built into the body of the controller itself.

  Diagram of controler, synthesizer, and speaker  
  controller synthesizer speaker
Figure 4

The MIDI controller can also connect to a computer, using VI, virtual instruments, to create the audio signal.

The EWI grew out of the inspiration and work of Nyle Steiner. He conceived the idea in the 1960’s, but he didn’t develop a working instrument until the mid 1970’s. He is still producing a MIDI EVI, which, true to his original conception as a brass player, fingers like a trumpet. EVI, electronic valve instrument, is also kind of fingering setting on other EWIs.

  Photo of Nyle Steiner EVI electronic valve instrument  
Figure 6

Simplistically: Fingering the controller determines the pitch of the pitch of the note. Blowing into the instrument controls a variety of qualities (event messages): initiation of the note, the attack, dynamics, vibrato, pitch control (although many electronic instruments have a pitch control wheel, that is controlled manually).

Most digital/electronic instruments are MIDI instruments, Musical Instrument Digital Interface. This is a technical standard that provides a protocol for electronic musical devices and all related devices that enable playing, editing, and recording, from connectors and cables to software.

The various features of each note (attack, volume, pitch, etc.), are designated by CC (continuous controllers) numbers. These are signals ranging from a value of 0 to 127. Many, not all, of these are dedicated, for example: CC4 foot pedal, CC7 volume, CC64 sustain pedal. Full list: Industry Standard MIDI CC List

With the EWI, wind pressure triggers the CCs. Simply fingering keys does nothing. Blow into the instrument and MIDI information is generated.

Wind pressure effects a variable pressure transducer (D; there may be more than one in an EWI), which produces an electrical current proportional to the pressure acting on it. The current then changes some of the characteristics, by way of the CCs, for the note being played.

  Diagram of EWI breath sensor and pitch bar  
Figure 6
A. Mouthpiece  B. Bite Sensor Bar  C. Breath Sensor Adapter Tube  D. Breath Sensor

The breath sensor adapter tube is the way by which all breath pressure information gets to the breath sensor. It is, on the WX5, about 0.125” o.d. It connects directly to the breath sensor. I assume that the breath sensor is vented. There is a larger, second tube that runs from the inside of the mouthpiece cavity to the bottom of the unit to allow condensation and most of the air to vent.

When I first began recording on the EWI in the mid-1990s, the files seemed inordinately large, and the rendering time—the time between recording the raw data and that data being converted into a standard musical file—was upwards of twenty minutes for say a three minute piece. I compared the size of a very short MIDI file, one from an EWI the other from a full size, high end, electric piano, where I depressed as many keys as possible with my arms. The EWI file was around hundred times bigger.

The following descriptions represent my experiences with a few electronic wind instruments. The failures of the Roland AE-10 and the Akai EWI 5000 are, I believe based on where I live, which is a mile in altitude. Most people I've spoken to about this are either skeptical or hostile; however it is the only explanation for the failures, unless, I am simply making them up. I include these because it is often difficult to get information.


Yamaha WX11 with WT11

  Developed in 1987, the WX11 is the controller, the WT11 the matched synthesizer. There is no MIDI connection on the controller to let it be used with other synthesizers; although the WT11 does have MIDI IN, OUT, and THRU. The cord between the controller and the synthesizer appears to be proprietary; it is interchangeable with the WX5 to VL70-m cable. This is my current backup controller.  
  Yamaha WX11 electonic wind instrument controller  
Figure 7
  Yamaha WT11 electronic wind instrument synth

The tones are not as good as in the Yamaha’s XL-70m synthesizer, which was introduced in the mid 1990’s.

The controller is comfortable to hold and play. The mouthpiece is realistic and the pitch control is good: In what looks like a standard sax or clarinet mouthpiece, there is a pressure bar inside, that just touches the plastic reed. Although the reed does not vibrate, it can be moved in or out using jaw pressure. This pressure move the bar, which changes the pitch.

It can play “polyphonically”: that is, with the WT11, it can sustain a tone while playing over it. It’s an interesting effect.

Figure 8

Yamaha WX5 with VL70-m


These replaced the WX11 and WT11. Both offer many more features and virtually total control over both the controller (transposition, fingering, sensitivity, etc.) and the synth (almost all of the parameters of each tone are addressable and can be set and saved in a user bank). The only thing it cannot do is polyphonics.

  Yamaha WX5 electronic wind instrument controller  
Figure 9

The tones are much more realistic. I tend to play most winds (sax, clarinet, flute, trumpet, trombone, etc.) and some strings (violin, cello, jazz guitar), and the occasional synth sounds.

Yamaha VL70m synthesizer The amount of pitch bend using the bite can be adjusted from a semitone up and down, to an octave up and down—all in less than 1/16” of an inch. This permits a lot of expressiveness, through both a bite pressure vibrato and bending notes. There is also a pitch bend wheel on the back. Growl is available on most tones.

Many of more realistic tones (saxophones, brasses (trumpets, trombones, etc.) woodwinds, strings (guitars, violin, cello, etc.) can take from minutes to months/years to learn to control, for example: The flute and clarinet took no time to adjust to. There are several violin tones. One, Bright Violin, will feedback if I don’t think bowing (down bow and up bow) as I play. The feedback is bad enough that the VL70-m must be powered down to stop it. More recently, because I’ve been playing the AE-10 more, my embouchure isn’t as secure, it will play an octave higher, unless I am very careful in my attacks. For performance, I tend to use a different violin sound, Nu Violin, not as realistic, but much easier to control. The trumpet had a 2-octave range for the bite sensor, and the high notes break. It took around six months to learn to control it.

I read an interview with a musician who formed a group to play brass ensemble music from the Renaissance. All the musicians were playing the newly released WX5 and VL70-m. At their first rehearsal, they were curious why one of them consistently sounded better. “What tone are you playing?” It turned out it was the same they were all playing. It turned out that that player’s first instrument was, in fact, trumpet, and he was applying the basic embouchure (less the buzzing lips), to playing the WX5. I cannot imagine how a small tube dead-ending in the Pressure Sensor can be sense subtle embouchure (diaphragm, throat, tongue, muscles around the mouth) differences and make significant tonal changes.

Unfortunately, Yamaha discontinued the VL70-m about five years ago, and they stopped making the WX5 about four years ago.


Akai EWI 5000


I got this in December, 2014. It was, then, a relatively new instrument.

This is an interesting instrument. The synthesizer is built in, and is addressable through an editing program. The tones are not as realistic as with the VL70-m, nor as expressive, but they all can be improved through editing; and some tones are incredibly expressive and beautiful.
  Akai EWI 5000 electronic wind instrument  
Figure 11

The keys do not move. They are metal, and a circuit is made by maintaining contact with the thumb, and the notes are triggered by touch, using body capacitance switching (the human body can store electricity—the property is known as capacitance). This makes for what is at first unconstrained, wild fingering, but after you get used to it, which is not hard if you play open hole instruments like recorder, Baroque flute/oboe, the fingering is easy and comfortable. The entire key system is well thought out. It has five fingering systems.

The mouthpiece is a small, open, chunk of silicon. It’s is comfortable. It enables a reasonable bite vibrato, but the bite pitch effects of the Yamaha system are not possible. However, the left thumb has access to a glide plate, parallel to the octave rollers, which controls a portamento effect covering the range of the tone, and the right thumb can control pitch bend up and pitch bend down.

Bernie Kenerson has an excellent set of tweaks for the EWI 5000, . They hugely improve the quality of the tones. I would argue they are a must if you play the EWI 5000.  

Download blank EWI5000 editor page sheet, perfect to keep track of your settings. EWI Blank Editor Page

The downside to the EWI5000 was that it was not reliable for me in performance. Let me say first that I know of six other players, through various forums, with similar problems to mine. Akai was gracious enough to replace this instrument five times. However, all six had the same problems:
—Notes gurgle as if blowing through water
—Notes sustain for minutes even if the instrument were placed on a table with no blowing or physical contact
—Notes shriek
—Tones change from one tone to another
—Notes detune.

Akai had no suggestions, no “Hold that button . . . reset the . . .” I sent audio recordings of the failures, and even a video tape, playing with Jo Berger, where you can watch my fingering and you can hear the instrument detune while I’m playing. She witnessed all of the problems with all of the instruments. Akai claimed, and I believe them: the returned instruments worked okay for them.

I looked for environmental changes (temperature, humidity, the kind of surface I was standing on (concrete, synthetic and natural carpeting, etc.), barefoot, different shoes, hand cream (Akai recommends hand cream if the EWI does not play right), different kinds of hand cream, no hand cream, a grounding wire etc. For the gurgling sound, as an example, I let the instrument stand upright, during very dry weather, for two days, to permit any condensation from evaporating or draining out. Then I attached a 5’ clear plastic tube to the mouthpiece, which hung down like a giant S, or a sink trap. There was no way condensation would form inside the mouthpiece, certainly not in a few minutes, and it gurgled. I played with battery power, plugged in, wirelessly and with a cable to a variety of speakers. 

Recently, I tried a seventh EWI 5000.  It too produced the buzzing/tremolo, and an occasional large vibrato. Here are two audio files: Good/Bad Notes Buzzing Good/Bad Notes Tremolo  

Hypothesis: If every EWI 5000 over a five year period did this, I have to ask, what do they all have in common?  Me and my environment.  I want and need a reliable instrument, so if it is not me, then it is something in my environment: altitude.  I live at 5,300’.  This could be the problem.  I believe the breath sensor is vented, which should make it more sensitive to nuances in the air column.  If so, it is reasonable to expect that the ambient air pressure could make a difference in the signals it sends.  One could imagine either a vacuum where it vents or a completely open breath sensor versus a completely closed sensor: both extremes would produce less sensitive responses and could even generate bad signals.   

Despite my problems, which I presume are rare, I would recommend the EWI 5000, but make sure that you can return the instrument if it fails. It comes with a transmitter/receiver, so that you can play without an “umbilical” cord to your speaker; I experienced no latency problems with it. With Bernie Kenerson’s tweaks, it is an impressive instrument.

EWI 5000 User Manual
EWI 5000 Editor Manual
EWI 5000 List of Tones  Bernie Kenerson’s 100 EWI 5000 Presets  Bernie Kenerson’s EWI 5000 Setup process discussion on the tonal qualities of some of the EWI 5000 tones dissertation on the EWI 4000“Failure Mechanisms of Capacitive MEMS RF Switch Contacts”


Roland AE-10 Aerophone


I’ve had problems with the AE-10, and Roland has graciously replaced it twice, so the following is based on having had three of these since March, 2018.

Like the Akai, the AE-10 has a built in synthesizer. It has a mouthpiece/reed/pressure bar similar to the Yamaha. Despite settings that permit setting bite pressure for pitch up, it does not do pitch up, only pitch down (less bite pressure), several Roland presenters have commented on this. The mouthpiece is not as comfortable or sensitive as the Yamaha; the reed is thick and it tends to pinch a little flesh now and then.
  Roland AE-10 Aerophone  
Figure 12  

The keywork uses buttons, with palm and pinky keys, simulating a saxophone fingering, and it offers a seven fingering systems. On the whole, it is not as responsive as the Yamaha or the Akai—but it has moments when it is the most expressive of the three—but this comes and goes.

Sometimes there is a problem with very fast sections where notes drop out: I do not know if this is mechanical or firmware based. Several people on the Patchman AE-10 Forum have observed this. 

The tones are better than the unedited Akai, but not as good as Yamaha’s.

There is an editor program that permits adjustments to the tones (parameters), not as many as either Yamaha or Akai. However, the thumb controller has four positions, and it is possible to create chords or ensembles using the editor and mapping to it. The Aerophone Editor does not work on all the devices Roland claims it does.

One feature that I like is over blowing, which distorts the sound. It does not have an effect on all tones, but on some (e.g. Mute Trumpet or Alto Sax), it is fantastic. But over-blowing is also playing at max volume, so a volume pedal allows the effect without playing fff.

Growl is controlled by the thumb controller, and is not as good as Yamaha’s, which is produced by growling while playing.

It also has two small speakers built into the instrument. The sound quality is poor, and the volume is low, but it is good for practicing or rehearsing with an unamplified guitar and vocal.

I have found that the AE-10’s qualities are erratic: I discovered over-blowing when I was rehearsing using the mute trumpet, only to have it disappear that evening during a performance. Pitch down, which was a gradient like sliding one’s finger down a violin string, has been on my current instrument step-like, almost as distinct as fingering down half a step, which makes it useless. The built in vibrato of some tones comes and goes, and in the clarinet tone on the first instrument, it was excessive and I could not get rid of it. The Breath Threshold adjustment has not worked on any of the three instruments. The required air pressure changes: Roland has a setting for this (Breath Sensitivity), with a scale of L3, 2, 1, H1, H2, H3, the changes in breath pressure would be H9 if the scale were extended.

If vibrato or pitch down disappears, one can keep playing, but all three AE-10s detune. I have recorded dozens of examples, [Link] documenting as much as I can, and have sent them to Roland. They have sent me two replacements, and all three have detuned. Unlike the EWI 5000, where the only constant I could find with regard to the failures was me (body capacitance), the only constant here is either the physical instrument or the firmware.

I have tested the detuning: Usually it will disappear if the unit is cycled off and on.  However, I have had it return in less than a minute. Twice, I kept playing to see if it lasted “forever” or not.  It lasted for 2-3 minutes, disappeared for 2-3 minutes, then came back.  This cycled lasted for 35 minutes, until I couldn’t take it anymore and shut it off. 

My current AE-10 has been more reliable than the previous two. I’ve used it on half of the recordings on In the Moonlight. The sax tones, for example, are better for 2 ½ octaves, if you ignore the disappearing effect of bite pressure; but for notes in the altissimo range, the quality is shrill, nasal, and unmusical. The violin and cello are “better” than the Yamaha, but have a built in lag or latency that makes quick passages difficult. With regard to detuning, I assumed I could always stop during a recording: I cannot stop and power down and start over during a performance.

Roland also has come out with the AE-05 Go and AE-01 Mini, thus three models in the Aerophone line in only a few years. I believe despite having recorded examples of detuning going back to mid-2018, it was more important to them to develop new products than fix what is out there. 

Other than replacing the instrument twice Roland has done nothing to help. The first instrument I sent back for factory repair. It passed all bench tests (no one actually played it) and was returned. It detuned the minute I unpacked it.

Because all 10 electronic wind instruments have failed (7 EWI 5000s and 3 AE-10s), and I now think it is due to my altitude (see Hypothesis above), I recommend the AE-10 with reservations—and be sure you can return the instrument if it does not work.

AE-10 User Manual
AE-10 List of Tones with specific tone related features

AE-10 Complaint: PDF with embedded examples


DynaSample XpressO


At this time (01.21.20), I have been using the DynaSample’s XpressO for two months, to replace my Yamaha VL70-m, which is 26 years old. The XpressO is a synthesizer that is designed to “bridge between acoustic and electronic sound generation.”  Most of the patches are acoustic instruments and the synth sounds are things like Syn Trumpet, Synth Bass, etc.

DynaSample XpressO synthesizer

Compared to the AE-10 or the EWI5000, where the quality of the instrument sounds changes very little regardless of practicing (practicing is very important for fingering and tonguing), it is a considerably more interactive, but rewarding system, similar to the Yamaha VL70-m, only more so.  It takes practice to develop the full capabilities of most of the tones.

It has been over 25 years since Yamaha developed the VL70-m. The AE-10 and EWI 5000 do not show a significant improvement, except to have the synthesizer incorporated into the body of the controller itself. The XpressO does represent a big improvement in sound quality and expressiveness.

The clips on the back hold the XpressO to the lip of a music stand.


DynaSample makes a more powerful unit: the Expression. The tone and basic settings are the same, however the Expression has more connections (USB, 1/4" jacks, etc.), and permits layering more voices.

I have had a problem with articulated notes sometimes not sounding. DynaSample suggested a tweak (set Preset Voice Limit from 2 to 3). This fixed the problem by about 98%. It's annoying, but no one, except me, knows when it occurs (and now, it is rare). It is likely that my 26 year-old WX5 controller is causing the problem.

There are 9 user banks, which lets you duplicate banks—invaluable in case something corrupts—and you can make external USB backups.

XpressO Manual
Xpresso Connectors
Xpresso FAQ
Xpression Manual
Xpression LE Sound Libraries