A saxophone made out of computer keys? That would be pretty crazy.
This is a Haxophone. So why would you want to make an electronic saxophone?
If you have been following my YouTube channel for a while, You’ll know that I enjoy all things to do with electronic saxophones, from the Akai EWI to the Aerophone. One of our tutors, Fred, even made a video about the Travel Sax2 recently.
But the Haxophone popped on my radar when Mike, one of our Sax School students, asked in the community if anybody else fancied making one.
This is exactly the sort of thing I love to do.
But I’m so busy making videos for you guys, that I asked Mike to go ahead and make one of these and send it to me. And here it is.
So let’s talk a bit about this project.
What is a Haxophone
The Haxophone was created by Javier Cardona. It’s an Open Source Project. And that means that he’s made all of the resources available for you to download so you can build it yourself or get someone to build it for you.
The Haxophone Inspiration
I asked Javier how a project like this gets started. “This was a COVID project,” says Javier. “I moved from San Francisco to Portugal. And I said, look, let’s just build something with all the ingredients, all the things that I like to do, and put them together into a project.”
For Javier, that meant something pretty unusual. “I like playing the saxophone, and I like programming. I like tinkering and I like Open Source. And I like mechanical keyboards. So, I started prototyping. When I realized that I had something that worked and it was fun and interesting, I said, let me publish it. Let me put it out there”.
Sharing through Open Source
It was important to Javier to share the Haxophone with others. “I’ve been contributing to open source all my life. And I like the idea of sharing. So I put it out, and maybe somebody else finds it interesting.”
I’ll tell you in a second, how Javier is running a crowdfunding campaign to get these haxophones built and sold that way.
But for now, it’s available on the open source platform. And that’s exactly where Mike Turner, our Sax School student first discovered the project. Pretty cool though. All the information is online. So you can build your own.
“So I shared the hardware design. The files that you would send to a factory to build the printed circuit boards, the software, everything is out there,” says Javier.
Building The Haxophone
So that’s exactly what sax School student Mike did. He ordered the PCBs and the printed circuit boards. That’s this big yellow part here.
And he ordered all the keys and all of the electronic components and all that sort of stuff and started assembling it.
Now the heart of the Haxophone, like a lot of these sorts of projects, is a Raspberry Pi.
If you’re not familiar with the Raspberry Pi, it’s this cool microcomputer. They’re about $35 US and you can do so many things with them, including making an electronic saxophone.
Now I did contribute something to this project. I 3D-printed the mouthpiece parts and the thumb rests as well, for me and Mike.
But Mike did all the hard work, it’s amazing. He soldered everything together, assembled them, and tested them before sending them over to me.
Okay, so it’s not perfect and things do fall off, but that’s part of the fun of making a project like this.
But what if you’re not the sort of person who likes to get a soldering iron out and assemble something like this?
Crowdfunding for Haxophone
So, as Javier explains, people started getting interested the Haxophone, even if they didn’t want to build one themselves. “It started getting a little bit of a buzz,” says Javier. “People reached out and said, look, I’m a musician. I’m not a hacker, but I like the instrument. Is there any chance that you can build a few for those of us who don’t know how to solder, who don’t know how to program? And that’s how we did the crowdfunding campaign where I will be building them with a partner.”
Here’s a link if you want to find out more about the crowdfunding for the Haxophone, if it’s still running as you read this.
Who is the Haxophone for?
So I asked Javier to explain more about the Haxophone – who is it for and why would you use one?
“I never claimed that this was a saxophone. I never claimed that this can replace your horn, right?,” says Javier. “What I claim is that whatever you learn on the Haxophone, you can transfer to a real horn.”
And I completely agree with Javier too. I’ve been having so much fun with the Haxophone over the last few days. And it’s amazing how quickly it feels like a saxophone underneath your fingers.
The Layout of Haxophone
Let me just show you around the Haxophone and its layout.
So you’ll notice I’ve got a mouthpiece at the top here. This is an alto saxophone mouthpiece.
And the little mouthpiece part here is just the right diameter for an alto mouthpiece to fit on. But of course, you don’t need the reed on there. It’s just a familiar shape to have in your mouth.
The mouthpiece supplies the air down the air tube into a breath sensor. So you’ve got breath control on this, which means you can play louder and softer with your air, just like you would on a saxophone.
And like every other digital saxophone, there’s a little tube here for all of your spit to come out the bottom too.
Haxophone key layout and fingering
Now these are computer keys, but the layout of them is very similar to a standard saxophone’s keys.
You’ve got your B, A, G, F, E, and D keys. You’ve got your low C and E flat keys.
You’ve got your left-hand table here with your G sharp, B, C sharp, and low B flat.
And you’ve even got palm keys. So, I know that we’ve got D, E flat, and E on the side. And, you’ve got your side trill keys as well.
So you’ve got all the notes from a saxophone. There’s an octave key at the back.
So once you get used to the shape and the feel of it, it does feel like a saxophone.
Using the Haxophone
So apart from the keys, there’s a mini headphone jack at the bottom, and a USB for power. You can connect the other USB directly into a computer, and it shows up as a MIDI device. Which is very clever.
So I guess the cool thing about this too is it’s so portable. Apart from the clicky keys, no sound comes out of it part from through the headphones. So you could take it anywhere.
“I’ve tried it on airplanes,” says Javier.”I flew to Japan this summer and I was just there and people look at you and say, Oh, wow, that’s pretty cool. They would not probably give me the same look if I had a real tenor sax and I was annoying everyone on the airplane!”
Future plans for the Haxophone
Something I think is super cool about the Haxophone Project is it’s something that’s going to be developing over time, because it is a hackable, customizable product. You can build it yourself. You can change the way it looks. You can even change the software so that you can make it do other things.
Javier was telling me about all sorts of different ideas that people already using the Haxophone have been experimenting with, or suggesting to add to the Haxophone itself. If you’re the kind of person who likes to hack things and modify things and make things their own, then this will appeal to you.
“Somebody was telling me they would like to incorporate a metronome on the Haxophone. It doesn’t have a metronome right now,” says Javier.” I was also exploring the idea of including backing tracks or games. Like Simon – the old game where it plays a sequence of notes, and you have to repeat it with the Haxophone for ear training. It could even tell you if you did it right or wrong. I mean, the possibilities are endless.”
Now, I mentioned Javier is running a crowdfunding campaign. It may have finished by the time you are reading this. But here is the link again. And you can find out more about the Haxophone here. You can download the parts and build your own Haxophone. I do think it’s an exciting project, and if you like to tinker with stuff, this is a fun thing to play with.
And I also love the fact that even though we talk about saxophones every day, and I love playing a real saxophone, sometimes it’s fun to just do something a little bit different.
“To me, it has already been a surprise that there’s more than one person interested in it,” says Javier. “So anything that comes after that is a bonus. It’s just pure happiness. I’m a big fan of open source. I think it brings out the best in people. I don’t know, just yesterday somebody found a problem when we were using the Haxophone with an old Raspberry Pi. They suggested a solution, and to make it even better, the solution involved duct tape. So that’s perfect. …It just makes me happy. You know, I was smiling for hours after that.”
I hope you enjoyed exploring the Haxophone. If you want to have fun on the saxophone, or the Haxophone, try our lessons, courses and tutor support at Sax School Online. Get a 14 day free trial now.