Which Kit?

Posted: 11/27/2006 10:27:00 PM

Joined: 11/17/2006

I'm looking to build a theremin rather than buy. Building one will give me a better understanding for future mods, plus keep my expenditures minimal should I decide that the theremin is not for me. It will also makes the whole ownership experience that much more enjoyable (much like working on one's own motorcycle). I want to spend about $100 US and was wondering what is the best deal for the money? I would like a two antenna model with somewhat low sensitivity to make it easy to play, yet still have some personality. The Thereminkit and the Theremax are both in the price range. Any suggestions?
Posted: 11/28/2006 1:06:33 AM

From: Undisclosed location without Dick Cheney

Joined: 2/21/2005

Well, Not having yet built either I can't tell you if one is vastly superior to the other in terms of playability... but I can tell you that the kit from thereminkits.com [i]looks[/i] very much like it's the same one sold by Jaycar for somewhat less:
Jaycar Mk.1 Theremin Kit (http://www.jaycar.com.au/productView.asp?ID=KC5295&CATID=&keywords=theremin&SPECIAL=&form=KEYWORD&ProdCodeOnly=&Keyword1=&Keyword2=&pageNumber=&priceMin=&priceMax=&SUBCATID=)
Including shipping to the US, I think the Jaycar kit comes out to about $66, if I'm remembering the shipping cost correctly. They also have several other, more expensive, models.

The Jaycar instrument is not reputed to be very good (to put it politely) [i]if you build it precisely as it comes out of the box[/i]. However, there are some mods pages here on Thereminworld which tell you how to improve it extensively. (And, I plan to contribute at least one more mod to the collection if possible: pitch preview.) I understand it's used as the basis of the Kees instrument, (in other words, Kees starts with the Jaycar design and makes extensive mods), and the Kees has an excellent reputation, so I would say that at least it's possible to modify the Jaycar into being a good instrument.

Some people have said nice things about the Theremax, others have spoken fairly negatively of it. One thing that does seem to be a universal comment is that it's not an easy kit. I do *have* the Jaycar kit, although I haven't put it together yet. I would say that, as electronics kits go (I've made a few in the distant past), it's an easy-to-medium kit. (My friend the technician who is assisting me with the mods says it's easy, I think it's medium.) Making the modifications would be somewhat more difficult as the mod documents sort of assume you know what you're doing.

The Jaycar includes a built in speaker. (I don't remember if it has an amp out jack, but if it doesn't you could easily put one in, as Kees does.) I believe the Theremax requires an external amp. This constitutes an additional expense, but would provide louder sound if you want to do more than play quietly at home.

Another thing I'll point out is that the Theremax has control voltage output, which might be of interest to you if you plan to hook it up to an analog synthesizer with CV inputs, or if you plan to get a CV to MIDI converter. It may or may not be possible to mod the Jaycar to have CV outputs, but I don't think anyone has actually tried to figure out how to do so. (I'm not planning on it: while hooking a Theremin up to an external sound source is interesting to me, CV to MIDI converters are expensive, and I already bought a MIDI Theremin kit for about half the price of such a converter.)

Finally, give some thought to the case. If you buy the Theremax kit, either you'll have to build a case for it, or buy theirs, which I think is over your stated budget. If you buy the Jaycar kit, it comes with a case, but if you're planning to play melodic (as opposed to "free") music with it, you'll find that the case is unacceptably small: the volume hand is so close to the pitch antenna that it can't help but interfere with pitch control. So, if you get the Jaycar you'll probably want to build a new case for that too. Of course, if you just want to make wobbly noises, the case that comes with the Jaycar kit is just fine.

Personally, I already have an Etherwave, so any kit for me constitutes a second Theremin that I am making just for fun. I chose the Jaycar because it's cheap: nothing more should be read into my decision than that.
Posted: 11/28/2006 1:23:28 AM

From: Undisclosed location without Dick Cheney

Joined: 2/21/2005

Oh, and regarding the two other issues you bring up:

None of the instruments we've mentioned here are "low sensitivity" or "easy to play". While a number of people have described them as being good instruments and playable, I don't think there's any disagreement that the commercial models (especially the Moogs) are at least slightly easier, and that there's no such thing as a "low sensitivity" Theremin or an "easy" Theremin.

And, you said that building your own would give you a better undersanding of it for future mods. If you understand electronics and can read a schematic the Moog Etherwave would be easier in that regard, because not only does it come with a schematic (or at least, mine did), it also has nice neatly labeled contacts for various mods right on the board and comes with instructions for a number of mods. If you don't understand electronics and can't read a schematic, having assembled the parts won't make a kit any clearer to you.

However, I recognize that the Etherwave is substantially more costly than your stated budget. I'm not trying to talk you into one, I'm just pointing out that only some of your reasons for wanting a kit are likely to really matter.
Posted: 11/28/2006 8:56:05 AM

Joined: 11/17/2006


Thanks for the insight. I've always been interested in the theremin and now that I've found this sight, I've gotten the bug to get one.

The Etherwave standard would definitely be my first choice if I had the cash, and given that, I'd spend the extra $50 and buy it already built.

I have very limited electronics knowledge and little soldering experience to boot. I'm currently practicing my soldering technique via cheap electronic kits, and was considering the minimum theremin kit as a first step. I do want to be able to play melodically, so I figured I should go with a two antenna model. As far as whether the kit has a case, I can make one so that is not a concern.

I am hoping that with the support of the forum, I will be able to later improve my theremin via some of the mod articles I've seen floating about.

I'm leaning toward the Theremax, but I guess I should do a bit more research before I make a final decision.

Posted: 11/30/2006 12:00:33 AM

From: Toledo, Ohio United States of America

Joined: 2/22/2006

I have built a Theremax, built a case, and made mods to the kit. Mods both suggested by PAiA as well as the esteemed Kevin Kissinger that posts regularly to these forums. Mods that consist of timbre changes and pitch preview.
The Theremax is a very good starter Theremin. The kit is an easy to moderate project, but, PAiA has written a construction manual that is darn near idiot-proof,(I am an Idiot!). The customer support is super top notch, available via email from PAiA, if you should have a problem. I love my Theremax almost every day, but never touch her, but I still make her and me, squeal with delight! Hee!
Good Luck!

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