The EVI Steiner

Jim Bruno:

So what is the EVI Steiner? The Electronic Valve Instrument is an analog synthesizer that is played like a brass instrument; at it’s core, it’s a single oscillator synth that reads incoming air pressure to control the volume, and pitch is set by a twisting a cylinder at the end of the instrument while pressing combinations of four keys. Produced by Steiner-Parker during the second half of the 1970s, it allowed brass players to get in on the synthesizer game. Not many were made, and between the limited manufacturing and the introduction of similar but more advanced instruments, the EVI has become increasingly rare.

I really don’t know that much about the inventor, Nyle Steiner, as I never met him, but you can Google him for information. I am, however, very familiar with his instrument. The EVI Steiner was originally conceived as a brass-style electronic synthesizer in the 1960’s. He began prototyping the concept in the early 1970’s and in 1975, he completed his first playable electronic valve instrument. 1975 and 1976 keep popping up in regards to unique musical instruments, as it was a creative time when these types of instruments were just starting to hit the market. 

I actually own two of them, although I’ve spent a lot more time with the old Steiners, and there is now a more updated Midi version of the EVI Steiner and I do own one. The Steiner that I used in Stickband has been modified; not very many of those modifications were ever done so it makes my Steiner, which was already uncommon, extremely rare.

The modification allows me to instantly transpose the instrument to three separate keys. The keys of B-flat, E flat, C major or what’s known as concert pitch. Horn players will immediately recognize these other two keys B-flat is the same key that both trumpets and tenor saxophone are in. The key of E flat is the same key as alto saxophone. 

Matt of did the modification; I don’t know how many other modifications he did on other instruments but I know it’s a very small number. Matt told me it was a extremely tedious and hard process to make this modification and I think he just decided he wasn’t going to do anymore of them. Anybody reading this who also owns a Steiner and has had this modification done – consider yourself extremely lucky, as you are on a very short list. 

As to why we used one in Stickband, we had a great time going to sci-fi movies such as Star Wars and Star Trek and using the soundtracks as inspiration in writing songs. The Steiner really fit perfectly into those types of songs and that way of thinking, and was great for getting spacey effects and super low tones as well as high octaves. We came up with a lot of cool impressionistic jazz rock fusion type instrumentals using the various instruments in the band, and the EVI fit more into our vision than a typical keyboard synthesizer would have.

Because of my experience with the Steiner and the Stick, I got the privilege of working in some LA Studios working on soundtracks for an animation project for a artist by the name of Gage Tayler.

If you are another Steiner player, I would love to see you respond here on the site to give us some information about your instrument –  how long you’ve had it, when you started playing it, etc. I would find it extremely interesting, and I’m sure that others would as well. 

Nyle Steiner’s instrument is an incredible invention and was used on many movie soundtracks. The list is pretty long, but here are some notables that either Nyles himself played on or his instrument was used by other artists: Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, The Color Purple, The Garden Planet Revisited, and The Black Stallion. The list goes on and on, and some famous artists that featured the Steiner in their music are Barbra Streisand on ‘One Voice’ and Neil Diamond on ‘My Lifetime’. It really is quite impressive.

I really had a lot of fun with this instrument, and I still have a few of them, although I very seldom play them anymore as I have a modern electric horn that I play a lot. It’s called the Morrison digital trumpet and the experience and knowledge I gained while playing the Steiner gave me great head start for picking that instrument up. I also just recently purchased a EWI 5000 Wind instrument. One of the cool things about the EWI 5000 is you can change the finger in settings on it because it’s electronic. There is a EVI Steiner fingering setting on it as well as a saxophone and flute fingering to choose from. 

Keep Singing!

Jim Bruno’s pair of EVI Steiners. The one on the right, the Stickband Steiner, has had some electrical modifications.