Help me I'm an idiot

Posted: 11/28/2006 8:03:26 PM

Joined: 11/28/2006

Yes before I begin I must clear that up, just tos top you wondering, yes I am an idiot, a complete buffoon. I was fine being that way until one day I decided I reeeeeally wanted ... neeeeded a theremin.

So I still don't have a theremin but I have the option to get one really soon, trouble is I know NOTHING about them.

I promise you good people I have read through faq's and threads here and wikipedia things and I'm still at a loss so I'm here typing on my knees. I'm at your mercy. Could someone please answer a few questions about the things for me ?? Like I said I am an idiot so I apologise in advance for how stupid these questions may sound.

(from here on I'm assuming you've said yes, if not just skip the rest and have a reasonable day)

1.) Does the theremin need an amplifier ?? Not for live gigs or anything just to get any sound out of it. I am talking modern top of the range things, they don't have any inbuilt amp ???

2 ) Do any of the modern theremins come with inbuilt effects ?? I've seen videos of people playing them with delay and reverb on and there's all those pretty looking knobs and dials and I had thought maybe that's what they were for.

Again these queations may be too obvious but I really have no idea about the things. I'm not looking at the thing as a toy I play a lot of musical instruments and am almost musical with some of them so I plan to learn the thing properly I just have no idea at all how the things work. Plus I can afford to get a theremin now but not also an effects processor and/or amplifier.

Thanks if you've read this far.
Posted: 11/28/2006 8:41:59 PM

From: Kansas City MO USA

Joined: 11/26/2006

This may be a case of the blind leading the blind. But I’ll try to help.

All of the Theremins that have a pitch AND a volume antenna that I have seen require an amp.
I have plugged my etherwave in to my computer speakers, in to the AUX input of my TV, a “really” cheap guitar amp. I haven’t found a keyboard amp yet.

With my computer speakers and the guitar amp, the volume range of motion was about 2 inches from silence to full loud.

With the AUX input on the TV I had a better range of volume control but it was very quiet, even with the TV turned up all the way.

Effect… My etherwave doesn’t have any built in effects. That’s all I can comment on.
Posted: 11/28/2006 9:13:20 PM

From: Perth, UK

Joined: 5/17/2005

Hi and welcome to TW.

As Buddy says, most, if not all, theremins need an amplifier. Many do have headphone sockets so that you can hear yourself without one, but for any performance and best results an amp is required. It might seem extreme on the more expensive instruments, but really no different from electric guitars, synths or most other electric instruments. A

mplification is a pretty subjective topic, which will depend on the needs of the instrument and instrumentalist - you can buy anything from a cheap practice guitar amp to a top quality dedicated keyboard amp - you get what you pay for.

All those knobs you see on theremins will usually include 2 for adjusting the sensitivity (pitch and amplitude), possibly one or two for tone and/or waveform and maybe filter and handphone volume. These will help you shape your sound, but I'm not aware of any that include reverb, delay or any other effects. Again, this is a subjective area - classical players prefer a pure tone with perhaps a little reverb, whilst rock players may want distortion and delay as well and avant gardists may delight in filters, ring mods and more obscure effects. This would add to the cost and place restrictions on use, so most manufacturers keep it simple.

If money's tight, and you've got you heart set on the theremin, I'd suggest you get the best one you can, and get by with either headphones and/or cheap guitar amp to start with. You're better to start learning the basics without effects - by the time you're ready to use them, you should hopefully have enough cash tp invest in a decent amp and an FX processor (guitar stomp boxes are a good starting point).

Hope that helps in some way...

Enjoy the ride!
Posted: 11/28/2006 11:37:56 PM
Jeff S

From: N.E. Ohio

Joined: 2/14/2005

Tombs - Welcome to Theremin World!

No, you are not an idiot. The theremin can seem to be a rather curious and mysterious device if you've never actually seen one in person.

As J_D stated, the theremin is a purely electronic device, therefore it needs amplification. Separate components are the standard today as it allows the greatest flexiblity and keeps the cost down.

Some theremins do have their own amplifier and some even have a speaker. The 1929 RCA theremin has a built-in amp and was designed to drive a separate RCA-106 floor speaker, also used for some radios at the time. The few RCA theremins with a full, floor-length cabinet had a built-in speaker. Dr. Samuel Hoffman's theremin, which is now owned by Peter Pringle, is an example. (see Although there were some electronic organs at that time, the electric guitars and the Hammond Organ (and others) were developed a few years later, so there were no stand alone "amps" as we know today.

In the sixties, Dr. Robert Moog offered a couple of theremins, the Vangard and the Professional, that included their own amp and speaker.

More recently, some tube theremins have a built-in amplifer, with the Keppinger theremin being a notable example.

A search for theremins on eBay will produce perhaps a couple of examples of theremins with a built-in amp and speaker. They are under-sized and under-powered, so are likely to be a disappointment.

Finding an amp/speaker combo of the proper size and power, and perhaps tone color, is essential for the fullest enjoyment of your theremin regardless of the make or model, at least in my opinion.
Posted: 11/29/2006 8:28:02 AM

From: Jax, FL

Joined: 2/14/2005

It sounds like your initial round of questions has been answered.

I am sure more will come up so don;t be afraid to ask.

Nobody will flame you or tell you to read the FAQ or anything like that. Some of us here actually like helping newbies!
Posted: 11/29/2006 11:44:57 AM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

One of the trickiest issues (and most often discussed) with amplifiers is to match the output of a Theremin to the input of the amplifier.

We often speak of audio signal [i]levels[/i]. "level" refers to the strength of the signal.

In addition, we use the terms: input and output. In simple terms, you will connect the Theremin's OUTPUT to an amplifier's INPUT. You will use a [i]patch cord[/i] (sometimes called a cable) to connect the Theremin's output to the amplifier's input.

Theremin (out) --> (patch cord) --> Amplifier (in)

Amplifier inputs come in three basic varieties:

1) Microphone (Mic) level

Mic Level is the weakest level -- thus a mic-level input is designed to handle a weak signal and will be quickly overdriven by a higher level signal.

2) Instrument Level

This level is stronger than Mic Level but still relatively weak. Generally instruments such as electric guitars put out an instrument level signal.

3) Line level

This is the strongest signal level and is produced by CD players, sound modules, and keyboards.

For a single input to handle line, instrument, or mic levels, the amplifier will feature an input trim pot. This is simply a knob that sets the input gain from Mic level thru Line level. Note that a trim control is NOT the same as the amplifier's master volume control.

Some amplifiers, rather than having trim pots, will have seperate inputs for mic, instrument, and line level signals.

So what happens if the Theremin's output and the amplifier's input is mis-matched?

To run an instrument level signal to a line level input will result in a weak and noisy sound. To compensate, one has to turn up the master volume on the amp -- and increase the audible noise (hiss and hum) along with the Theremin's signal.

To run a line-level signal into a mic or instrument level input will exceed the headroom of the input stage and cause an unpleasantly loud and distorted sound. You can turn down the master volume control to reduce the overall volume, however you would need a trimpot or an attenuating patchcord to get rid of the distortion.

If you plan to run your Theremin thru effects pedals, then a good plan is to choose effects pedals that have input trimmers (many if not most of them do). One must be vigilant about signal levels across the entire effects chain and input trimmers will make the job much easier. The goal is to achieve "unity gain" through your effects meaning a unit produces the effect without changing the overall volume. When things are mis-matched, unwanted noise and distortion can accumulate from one effect to the next.

The Moog Theremins and the Theremax all work well with line-level inputs. I have read that some other Theremins produce instrument level signals (not sure if any produce mic level, though).

When you pick out an amp, find a knowledgeable salesperson, bring in your Theremin, and you might say to them:

Hi. I need an amplifier for my electronic Theremin. I am not sure whether it puts out a line or instrument level. I'd like to find an amp that will match the output of this Theremin. Can we try some out? ... and go from there.

A well-matched system will give you the widest dynamic range and the lowest noise. Such a setup will give you the greatest enjoyment from playing.

All the best!

[i]-- Kevin[/i]

[i]edited for clarity re trimmers on effects[/i]
Posted: 11/29/2006 2:29:41 PM

Joined: 11/28/2006

Thanks alot everyone you've helped a great deal already. Who would've known Theremin enthusiasts were so nice, I'd always thought the instrument was primarily played by evil mad scientists who live in gothic mansions on crooked hills in constant thunder storms (which I admit is partly why I got interested in the thing).
Posted: 11/29/2006 3:42:53 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Ah, but evil mad scientists [i]are[/i] nice. They will welcome you into their gothic mansion with open arms, give you tea and crumpets and invite you on a tour of the castle, starting with the laboratory, where they bid you sit just where the patient would sit, on the chair with the clamps...

...which snap shut as they produce a [i]theremin[/i] from seemingly nowhere, and announce "I've had this a whole week now, and I think I'm getting pretty good. Listen..."

Welcome to Theremin World.

Mwah hahahahaha ha haar.
Posted: 11/29/2006 5:30:42 PM

From: Kansas City MO USA

Joined: 11/26/2006


...which snap shut as they produce a theremin from seemingly nowhere, and announce "I've had this a whole week now, and I think I'm getting pretty good. Listen..."[/i]

that's funny right there... i dont care [b]whooooo[/b] you are
Posted: 11/29/2006 6:51:10 PM

Joined: 11/28/2006

Funny agreed but god danged scary too, I'll be having that nightmare tonight.

okay .....

Sorry to really milk the kindness here but if I can just ask one more thing and then I'll speak only when spoken to or I have something good to say (never) but if you could just help me out with this one last thing...

I live in the UK ( the north of England to be exact ) and I'm not sure how I'd be able to get one of these theremin dealies here. I hadn't thought about it before but if I were to buy one from the U.S. I don't think it'd work here with our freakish three pronged plugs and all. And the only theremins I can find for sale here are not so great looking ones.

the type I'd hoped to get was the pre assmbled kit ones like this ...

But I actually have no idea, I'm actually just looking for a good enough theremin (not just a novelty one) at about that price or preferably lower (though I don't really know what that price would convert to in english pounds) that I can get in the UK

Again sorry for the barrage of questions in such a short period of time and sorry if this should have been in one of the other forums.

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