Shopping Suggestions Wanted

Posted: 7/31/2009 6:46:05 PM

Joined: 7/30/2009

Greetings folks,

I've been playing theremin now for about 5 years, and I really love it. I feel it's time to invest in a new one, but I'm not sure my options. I know what I'm after though.

I currently own and primarily play an Etherwave standard, I also own a Theremax that a friend and I built about three years ago. I prefer the way the Etherwave plays and don't really like the Theremax much, the Theremax just seems sluggish and it's tone is terrible. My only real trouble with the Etherwave is the tone also. I feel like there isn't enough control over the sound. I had the chance to play a Etherwave Pro and I found that while there was a lot more control over the sound that it still lacked what I was looking for. The sound I'd like to hear is that rich sound you hear from old Clara Rockmore recordings. That full almost sine wave quality with mellow highs and deep rich lows. I find everything in the Etherwave line to sound, no matter how hard I try, digital and "buzzy" like a bad casio keyboard.

I've been looking into tube theremin plans and such, thinking perhaps I could get the sound I'm after from the more analog circuits, but it'd be nice to know what to expect from these before I invest a lot of money in parts (I'm not that great of an electrician, so I'd end up hiring help, pricey).

Does anyone out there know what I mean by the sound I'm looking for? If so, I'd love any suggestions into which theremins to look for, plans to build.

Thanks in advance!
Posted: 7/31/2009 6:57:28 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Hi Carricre, welcome to Theremin World.

What amp are you using?
Posted: 7/31/2009 7:09:02 PM

Joined: 7/30/2009

I have two amps that I use often. A Laney AH100 and a Roland KC-550, both which I use an old speakeasy tube preamp with. When playing at home however I tend to play through a Behringer desk console that has Roland studio monitors.

Why do you ask?
Posted: 7/31/2009 8:30:50 PM
Jeff S

From: N.E. Ohio

Joined: 2/14/2005

Carricre - Welcome to Theremin World.

"Does anyone out there know what I mean by the sound I'm looking for?"

I'm not certain, as some of your statements seem contradictary to me.

The theremin Clara Rockmore played is a custom tube theremin, which is a close cousin to the old RCA theremins. To me, and many other people (I believe), it has a rich, full-bodied sound and not at all sine wavey.

To me, the theremins that sound sine wavey are the Tvox Tour and the Tony Henk theremins. Neither of which are in production or available in any market.

If we forget about the sine wavey part, it sounds like you prefer the sound of a tube theremin. (Who doesn't? LOL) You have a couple of choices here, but none of them are cheap or easy.

One option you may want to consider first is to modify the sound of your Etherwave with a tube preamp. Years ago, Peter Pringle (coalport) used the T.L. Audio 5051 tube preamp ($$) with his standard Etherwave to great effect. He now uses a Millennia STT-1 ($$$), although we haven't heard him use his standard Etherwave in ages (but that's OK).

You may also want to try one of the relatively inexpensive tube guitar preamps/processors first just to see if they fit the bill. I know ART makes one (or more) and there are others.

As Gordon pointed out, and rightly so, the amp/speaker you use can have a dramatic effect on the sound of your theremin. If you feel comfortable, take your theremin to a good music store and try it with other amps. A tube amp might be a good place to start.

As has been said many times, do not attribute too much of the sound of Clara's theremin to the theremin. Much of it comes through Clara herself.
Posted: 7/31/2009 8:31:25 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

I have encountered some amps that have made my etherwave sound as you describe - in particular the one sold by Moog - and wondered if that was the source of your dissatisfaction.

For audio samples of various theremins, try here: (

In particular look for the playlist "Thereminist: Philip Neidlinger" for an example of a good self-build tube theremin.

I also wonder if the Tak E-Winds Theremins fit your requirements, although I should mention I have no idea of their playability, nor if it is even possible to buy them outside of Japan.
Posted: 7/31/2009 8:56:03 PM

Joined: 7/30/2009

Well, I'll guess then what each of us hear as a sine wave is subjective, mostly because those old RCA theremins and Clara's sound like a pure (nearly) sine wave to my ears. I already use a tube preamp, but even the worlds best preamps can only work with what is input.

Anyway, thanks for confirming what I was thinking, that I want to go the tube theremin route, but could I get some feedback on the different plans, since none seem to be commercially available pre-built, perhaps?

There are lots of different tube theremin schematics and I was looking for people views on which are worth the time. From what I can tell I think perhaps I'd try the Art's 126 Vacuum Tube Theremin as it seems well designed. But I don't really know for sure. I certainly don't want to invest a lot of money into an instrument I'd rather not play. I already did that once with the Theremax, by the end I spent close to $700 on what has ended up being a paperweight.

Thanks for the link to the different recordings, very good selection there, but it offers no insight into which theremin I sould buld. Most of the videos don't mention what theremin is being played sadly, but good stuff. And it certainly solidified the fact that, yes, I want a tube theremin.

But which one?
Posted: 7/31/2009 8:57:36 PM
Jeff S

From: N.E. Ohio

Joined: 2/14/2005

I forgot to mention...

Depending on which recordings of Clara Rockmore you are listening to, you need to keep in mind that the sound reproduction is not ideal. Therefore, the sound is being colored (or coloured, for you Brits). It is a bit more mellow (or muffled) than it would likely be if heard live and in person.
Posted: 7/31/2009 9:25:33 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Philip is playing a Keppinger theremin.

Here ( is his construction diary.

(The theremin-like sound on Good Vibrations is a sine wave generator. That's what a sine wave sounds like. :-)
Posted: 7/31/2009 9:51:29 PM

Joined: 7/30/2009

Thank you for the link, that lead me to Mark Keppinger's theremin page. I sent him an email as it seems Mark is a theremin builder, so perhaps an expensive messy situation can be avoided by paying him to build one.

Yes, that "Good Vibrations" sound is a sine wave, and that is what old RCA theremins sound like to me. Clean and clear tone, as opposed to the buzzy digital sound of most modern theremins like the Etherwave and the Theremax. Thank you for your concern however. :)
Posted: 7/31/2009 10:21:14 PM

From: Eastleigh, Hampshire, U.K. ................................... Fred Mundell. ................................... Electronics Engineer. (Primarily Analogue) .. CV Synths 1974-1980 .. Theremin developer 2007 to present .. soon to be Developing / Trading as . ...................................

Joined: 12/7/2007

You could try a simple modification to your EW.. change C23 from 4.7nF to something larger.. 10nf or even up to 47nF... The output level will decrease as the value of this capacitor increases, but so will the harmonic content (waveform will become more sine-like.. particularly at higher frequencies).. The brightness control will have less effect on the sound.

4n7 (present value) rolls of frequencies above 20kHz
10n will roll-off frequencies (harmonics) above about 10kHz
22n will roll off ~> 5kHz
47n will roll off ~> 2.5kHz
100n will roll off ~> 1.25kHz
220n will roll off ~> 500Hz

I do not know what the largest value you can have is, that will still result in adequate amplitude and S/N (it takes time to calculate.. the above calculations are rough mental calcs which take no time - and may be wrong! :-) .. I suspect the best value will probably be 47nF

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