EW20 (WindJamm'r) Wind Controller First Impressions

EW20 WindJamm'r Review by Art Whitfield circa 1999

Recently I purchased a used Yamaha WindJamm'r (EW20). One of the trill keys is non functional, and the thumb bender runs fast, but otherwise it seems in new condition. This is quite a beautiful instrument. Very sleek, dark metalflake black/gold finish, and less of a toy than I had envisioned. Comes with a FM synth - seems to be the WT11 w/64 voices instead of 96, and the effects that the TX81z doesn't have. And it has a really, really nice soft-sided case that's like a laptop case. In fact, I'd argue that this setup is not much less plastic toy-feeling than the WX5, excluding the vastly superior WX5 software considerations and the differences in synth technology (assuming a WX5 is nominally plugged into a VL70m). Sure I miss the key levers, but the buttons seem to work decently enough. This was a pleasant surprise. There are bar-shaped buttons for G# and side Bb, as well as pinkey buttons for low C and D#/Eb. They feel comfortable and are easy to hit at playing speeds. Likewise for the primary note buttons. There are 3 octave buttons, 2 above and one below the thumb. The alternate fingerings like on the WX7 are also available for higher octave notes (lift left index finger while fingering a D and it goes up an octave).

No reed, but it has a thumb bender. The bender is unique - it sits under your right thumb and swings to the players right. You twist your thumb counterclockwise to activate. Only a single ended bend, not up+down, but it can be selected on the synth for bend up, bend dn, or vibe on. There are 4 bend curves. Volume and reverb are nicely controled on the desktop style synth with two horizontal slide pots. Two buttons allow selection of bender function, and another allows selection of the effect (plate, room, hall, dist, gated dist, etc). The display is the WT11 style 2-line LCD, and patches are selected via +/- buttons or up/dn footswitch jacks from the rear panel of the synth like on the WT11. Also on the rear are L, R, and headphone 1/4" outputs, plus standard midi in, out, through. On the left side of the synth is a Yamaha mini-din jack. It is similar to the WX-style jacks found on the WX7, WX11, and WX5, but a different mini-DIN configuration. While similar, you can NOT plug this interchange this cable with the WX-style mini-DIN. You CAN play the EW20's synth with a WX controller, but only via the normal MIDI input port on the back.

All in all, this horn is markedly better than the Casio DH100/200 in playability and key feel, and a little behind the WX11 if you ignore the lack of a reed bender. As I mentioned before, it's on a par with the WX5 in the 'plastic feel', and when you look at what you get in the complete package - synth, case, cable, AC line plug (no wall wart), and simple "play right away", I'd argue that Yamaha hit a bulls eye on this design, considering they were targeting school band players. Too bad it flopped in the market.