“Live” Clip of a Yamaha WX-5 Harmonica Solo

I didn’t think I would ever do this but…………about once a month I get an email from someone asking if I can put up some sound clips and lessons on the Yamaha WX-5 wind controller.  A Yamaha WX-5 is what is known as a wind controller.  You blow air into and finger it just like a saxophone.  The air and finger movement trigger sensors in the electronics of the instrument and then signals are sent to a sound module to trigger specific sounds.  You can trigger any sound that a synthesizer can make.  There are no limits to the number of sounds you can make with this instrument.  The cool advantage this has over a synthesizer is that you can shape the dynamics and other characteristics of the sound with your airstream.  You can’t do that with a keyboard.  These are really cool instruments that a saxophone player can use to be even more useful in todays music as the saxophone isn’t as common as it was 20-30 years ago.

Here’s a sound clip of me using it on a gig.  Typically when I the WX-5 I would play mostly harmonica, muted trumpet,jazz flute and various string sounds.  Once in awhile i would get bored and do some bari sax funk lines on it (I know, I know it’s sacrilege).  Sometimes, I would even play some  distorted guitar that would totally upset the guitar player.(I still smile about that)  Here I am playing a solo on “Have I Told You Lately” using a harmonica sound.  Now I will admit to you here and now,  I almost never practiced the WX-5.  To me it played just like a saxophone so I would just bring it to the gigs and pick it up and play it like my sax.  I even set it up so it was in the same key as my tenor saxophone.  I had to keep things pretty simple because of this and I could have really improved stylistically with bending and shaping notes by practicing on it more but I was always too focused on the saxophone to give it much time.  In this clip I’m using a Roland XV-5080 with the Patchman sounds added as a sound module.

The biggest benefit for me to using a wind controller is the string lines.  There are string lines all over todays pop music and many times the keyboard player can’t play all the parts.  It really fills up the sound just to add a few string lines here or there in a tune.  I know some of you will email me and ask what I think of the EWI and why did I pick the Yamaha over it.  The answer is that I wanted something that I could learn and pick up relatively fast that I wouldn’t have to practice on too much.  I had an EWI back in the early 90’s and I had a really hard time adjusting to the touch sensitive keys and the octave rollers.  I remember trying to master the EWI for months and I still had glitches with the octave rollers.  The Yamaha took me about a week to get down as I remember…………….Let me know what you think.    Steve

Steve About Steve

Steve Neff has been playing and teaching saxophone and jazz improvisation around the New England area for the last 30 years. He is the author of many effective jazz improvisation methods as well as founding the popular jazz video lesson site Neffmusic.com.


  1. Avatar Gerardo Avila says

    I missed the vibrato

  2. Ditto Steve – I was wondering if the sensors picked up your vibrato. I’m a keyboard player as well as sax so I’ve never used one of these and I don’t know.

    The solo was very nice and you kept right to the scale so it sounded like a real harmonica. Good mix too; impressive in a live recording!

    • Thanks. I had the vibrato turned off on the WX-5 for that tune. The lip an reed movement were hard for me to dial the intonation in on those loud live gigs. I might have some other recording where the vibrato sensor is on.

  3. Also: I don’t remeber who, but someone made a wind controller (years ago) out of an ACTUAL alto sax, so it really had no learning curve at all. Have you ever played one of those?

  4. Verry nice Steve.
    I have the wx-11 myself and would love to hear more of this.
    Gives a good impression how to use it live.

  5. Avatar deolsaxman says

    As usual, nice solo, BUT I didn’t like the mix at all. Somebody was embarrassed to put you out front.
    I’ve got the VL70, with patchman’s chip, and one of the few good sounds he has is “blues harmonica” – VERY believable with its vibrato.

    • I hear what your saying but on a live gig you get what you get. This is actually one of the better clips I have. I have tons of recordings where you can’t even hear the sax solo because the soundman isn’t paying attention.

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