Tom Farrell -> Theremin -> Theremin makers and models

Theremin Makers and Models

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There are several companies which presently manufacture Theremins and Theremin kits. There are many cheap models available with poor features, which are usually very difficult (if not impossible) to play. Unless you're only planning to use it as a toy, I recommend you get a quality model from a reputable company. This page attempts to give an overview of some models which may be found on the market, but I make no effort here to completely catalog all models ever made. Prices mentioned here are accurate as of the time of original publication of this page and may become out of date with time.

You may wish to read about how to shop online before buying, to help you get a better price.

Manufacturers: If you are not listed here and wish to be, please let me know and it will be my pleasure to list you here when I get a moment to freshen the page.

Feature comparison of current models

I've prepared a feature chart of current thermein models. It's too large to fit here, so I've placed it on a separate page.

Stuff You'll Need Regardless Of Instrument

Regardless of manufacturer, any serious Theremin requires a separate amplifier system. While it's possible to use an inexpensive guitar amp, a keyboard amp or specialized Theremin amp is preferable. Theremins tend to put out a very strong signal that easily overpowers and overdrives a guitar amp, and guitar amps sometimes have some built in distortion which may be desirable for a guitar but which alters the output sound in ways not necessarily desirable with the Theremin. I have a cheap guitar amp as my amp, but I'm not happy with it. I recommend the Moog Music theremin amp instead. (See below.)

Most models also require a stand. Usually, this is just an ordinary microphone stand, which you can get at practically any music shop. They cost about $15 to $35, depending on the model and the store. I paid $20 for mine at the guitar store just down the street from my home.

While there are some Theremins which don't require a stand because they have attached legs, these are usually more expensive models which are probably not intended for a beginner.

You'll also need to need to learn how to play.

Moog Music

The Etherwave model is extremely popular among beginners, at about $400, or an unassembled version for about $350. It's the model I have, I'm very happy with it, and I recommend it. I also strongly recommend you buy the $100 amp that goes with it (it's really a respectable price for an amp and you'll have the peace of mind of knowing you have the perfect amp for your Theremin), or even better, just buy a complete set which comes complete with Theremin, amp, stand, audio cable, and padded carry bag, at a slight savings for about $560.

As you no doubt see from the links on either side of these paragraphs, Amazon.com has substantially better prices on the standard and kit Etherwave Theremins than ordering directly from Moog Music. Assuming you buy the finished instrument from Amazon, if you add in the cost of the rest of the contents of the complete set (using Moog Music's prices for the remaining items), it would come to about $555. So, if you only want the instrument, or don't want everything in the complete set (for example, if you already have an amp), Amazon's price is a bargain. If you want the complete set, you don't save much by buying it piecemeal instead of as a set directly from the manufacturer.

Here's Randy George playing "My Funny Valentine" on the Etherwave:

My experience with my own is that it depends a lot on the amp: on my crummy little amp it sounds tinny and small, while using my friend's recording studio's pro equipment it sounds huge, rich, and lavish.

PAiA Theremax

This model is also somewhat popular among beginners because it's relatively cheap, at about $230 for the kits for both the Theremin and its case.

On the negative side, I've heard it's very difficult to control. Also, the Theremax is a kit, not a completed instrument. Unlike the Etherwave kit, which simply requires you to install the circuit board in the cabinet and tune it, the Theremax comes as a blank circuit board and a collection of tiny electronic parts which must be individually hand-soldered to the circuit board. While the idea of soldering together a circuit board isn't scary to those with electronics experience like myself, beginners will probably find such a complex project daunting, and it's easy for an inexperienced beginner to make a subtle mistake which will render the instrument completely nonfunctional. Please note that the Theremax is substantially more complex than the Jaycar kit described below.

On a more positive note, the Theremax case is somewhat more functional than the Etherwave case because it provides a place to put your sheet music while performing. Also, the Theremax has CV (control voltage) outputs, which allow it to be connected to a CV to MIDI device if desired, which opens a substantially increased range of tonal possibilites through connection with a synthesizer.

Kees Enkelaar

Kees is taking a break from making theremins for the moment; you may wish to check his web site to see if he's started again by the time you're reading this. The instruments he makes are based on the Jaycar kit, with a bunch of improvements he created, in a beautiful wood case. He also has a superb reputation for taking care of his customers. Up until he took his break, they were selling for about $205 (US).

If I was looking for a Theremin at a lower price than the Moog Etherwave, I'd consider the Kees Enkelaar theremin.

Jaycar Electronics Theremin

Jaycar makes a real Theremin, available as a kit for only about $52, and as a completed and tested unit for only about $75. (These prices are in US dollars, converted from prices listed in Australian dollars, as of August 28, 2006.) Apparently, Kees Enkelaar is making his instrument by starting with this kit and making some (major) improvements.

The immediate problem I see with this unit is that it's much too small: the case is only 15.5 centimeters long. With the volume antenna so close to the pitch antenna, there would be no way to control the pitch without the volume hand interfering with the pitch control field. This would make it essentially impossible to play melodic music.

On the other hand, a kit has no such constraints: you could buy their $52 kit and make your own cabinet to install it in with more space between the antennas. At such a low price, I decided to do this just to see how it goes. I've got my kit, I'll publish an update when I have something assembled and ready to show.

Oh and by the way, the shipping charges are largeish. It was about $19 to ship my kit to the US. (And that was at a better exchange rate because it was a while ago before the dollar tanked. Thanks Mr. Bush.) It's not Jaycar's fault, my Australian friends tell me that shipping anything to or from Australia costs a lot.

Additional resources for this instrument:

Burns

Pitch-only instruments

Dan Burns makes a number of pitch-only instruments. They have a low cost and can be used to play a melody, although they don't offer volume control. (You could use a third party foot pedal to control volume.) You can find details on the comparison chart.

B3 Theremin

The B3 is probably the cheapest real Theremin (with both pitch and volume antennas) available in the US (I'm excluding the Kees here because it's an import). As of December 2007, it's $152. That's cheap. A downside is that it's quite small, which means you're going to be playing in quite a compressed playing field. However, it's definitely playable as the following video shows.

Wavefront Technologies

Wavefront is a very small quantity Theremin manufacturer that attempts to focus on instrument quality. I haven't seen or heard one, but some reputable experts say lovely things about the instruments, their quality, and their tone. Their portable model - which is actually built into a briefcase - is $625, and their floor model is $1350. They are, therefore, not ideally priced for the beginner. (I believe the briefcase model is no longer in production, but if you want one, do ask them about it.)

They also sell a CV to MIDI converter for $675, which would allow use of a Theremin as a MIDI input device. This would theoretically enable a vastly increased range of tonal possibilities through the use of MIDI sounds on a synthesizer or computer. I haven't heard anything, good or bad, about the quality or usefulness of this particular model of CV to MIDI converter, so I can't comment further.

Theremin.co.uk

I know nothing about the instruments sold by this web site, so if you have any information to share, do let me know. I was only able to find one customer review of their "Elysian" model, which was negative, but it's only one so I don't feel I have sufficient information to have an opinion about their quality. They also make a "pocket theremin", which is pitch-only but could be a fun toy.

No1derland

I know nothing about the instruments sold by this web site, so if you have any information to share, do let me know.

Theremaniacs

A kind person gave me a Theremaniacs pitch-only instrument to be given to a friend of mine who is disabled. If I remember correctly, the gentleman who runs Theremaniacs complained to me in the past about my remarks about pitch only instruments, so I want to give him a fair assessment here regarding the device's quality. Theremaniacs sells inexpensive pitch-only instruments on ebay.

The instrument I received was basically a circuit board with attached knob, jack, battery connector, and antenna wire. This is a model Theremaniacs sells as a kit: I see one on ebay at the time I'm writing this for $79.95. In addition to the board and its attached parts, it comes with the actual knob that gets mounted on the outside of the case, a clip that holds the 9v battery, a handy screwdriver that is used to tune the circuit boad, and an antenna. The gentleman who so kindly gave me the kit to put together for my friend replaced the knob with a more attractive knob, and enclosed two alternative antennas. Also, he no longer had the instructions originally enclosed with the kit, so I was flying blind on how to tune the board.

I bought an unfinished pine jewelry box at the local craft store for $8, and a bag of 1/4" wood cubes for $2. I bought a can of wood finish that combines stain and polyurethane at the hardware store for $5, and some brushes for $1. Using the wood finish, I gave the outside of the jewelry box five coats. This was "the hard part". I then took it to a friend. We decided where on the box to put holes for the knob, the jack, the antenna, and the battery connector. (I decided to use a battery eliminator instead of an actual 9v battery. Thus, I wasn't using the battery clip.) We glued several of the wood cubes inside the box to mount the circuit board to, drilled holes in the blocks for screws, and screwed the board into the blocks. We drilled holes in the box for the knob, jack, antenna, and battery connector, and some ventilation holes. We then installed the unit's parts into their respective holes. This was all pretty easy with some hot glue, a screwdriver, and a drill. We chose to use one of the alternative antennas that was given to me: the original antenna from the kit was perfectly okay, but it would have been inconvenient to mount that particular kind of antenna in the particular box I was using, and I liked the appearance of one of the other antennas better anyway.

The resulting unit looks terrific. It'll look even better when I get the battery eliminator and connect it and place the connection inside the box, so the 9v battery connector isn't sticking out the side of the box.

Tuning the unit was a snap. It took me about 30 seconds to figure out how to tune it (lacking the instructions) and about 5 minutes to tune it to my satisfaction. I then taped the tuning screwdriver to the inside of the box in case it's ever needed again.

The sound of the instrument is very simple, almost a sine wave tone. Its linearity is neither the best nor the worst I've seen: I think it has about an octave of playable area, and while that area isn't very linear, it could be dealt with. Having discussed this with the manufacturer, we believe that the antenna I used gave it less linearity and less range than it would have had if I had used the manufacturer's original antenna.

Theremaniacs has kindly offered to provide an evaluation unit, which I declined, at least for now. This seems to be a good gesture of good faith and of their belief in their product.

Hiwatt Echo-Theremin

I have insufficient information on this $150 device to make substantial comments. An anonymous reader wrote to tell me about it: "Basically, it's better than a toy but not by much. It has very little range and almost no pitch control, mainly useful for zappy noises. Fun for a keyboard player to throw on top synth and play with but not really an instrument per se." Thanks, anonymous reader, I'd have wrote back to thank you but I don't know your email address.

Here's a video:

I'm not impressed.







Related Links:

Theremin World's list of Theremin makes and models

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