Clueless Mom Seeks Theremin Help

Posted: 11/15/2006 8:42:55 AM

From: Massachusetts

Joined: 11/10/2006

Oh, dear, I find I've become quite obsessed with All Things Theremin ... and I'm just the mother of a possible future player! I've read nearly everything on this site, and browsed through lots of music and discussion elsewhere -- I really need to get back to my day-job! -- and I'm still having a hard time deciding what to do about Will's birthday present.

It seems that the Kees is all but impossible to order ... and the Moog Etherwave Standard sounds great, literally and figuratively, but it is VERY expensive to buy for a kid who just might not get hooked.

My latest inclination is to get Will a PAiA Theremax kit for his birthday (or Christmas, probably, by the time I get this decision made!) I figure the nerdy electronics construction of it will be part of the fun (and/or frustration), and could be a nice project for him and his Dad. (If we decide on this, I'll leave it to him/them to ask you all their questions about mods ... that discussion leaves me a touch cross-eyed!)

But ... are there reasons we should NOT buy the Theremax kit for our newbie?! Thanks for sticking with me a little longer! -- Will's Mom
Posted: 11/15/2006 9:22:10 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

You can always eBay your instrument if it turns out to be a fad.

Visit the Kees site daily while you make your mind up. :-)
Posted: 11/15/2006 10:45:51 AM

From: Kansas City MO

Joined: 10/24/2006

agreed, they do hold their value pretty good on ebay.
Posted: 11/15/2006 1:53:06 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Will's mom asked:

[i]"...are there reasons we should NOT buy the Theremax kit for our newbie?!"[/i]

The Theremax kit has been built by many people (including me) however I would suggest that the Theremax is a moderate to difficult project for someone with no kit-building or electronics experience.

If your Theremax doesn't work the first time you turn it on (which is normal), expect to spend quite a few evenings troubleshooting it. The good news is that the folks at Paia will go out of their way to help you.

The Theremax is a nice instrument however it seems susceptable to external electrical interference. One can apply modifications (mods) to it to reduce the problem.

However, by the time you acquire tools to do the kit (soldering equipment, a few small tools, etc), and apply some mods to improve its playability, and spend many hours to do this, the Etherwave standard starts to look like a pretty good deal.

Ok, to answer your question: if you want the kit-building experience, then get the Theremax. If your interest is primarily in learning to play the Theremin, get the Etherwave Standard.

If your son takes to the Theremin, he will most likely want to upgrade from the Theremax within a month or two anyway.

All the best to you and your son. Keep us posted.

[i]-- Kevin[/i]

P.S. -- You ask very intelligent questions. You don't appear to be clueless. :)
Posted: 11/15/2006 2:56:09 PM

From: Jax, FL

Joined: 2/14/2005

All I can add is... You sound like a really cool mom!

He is a lucky guy.

Posted: 11/16/2006 2:26:42 AM

From: Undisclosed location without Dick Cheney

Joined: 2/21/2005

It's hard to compare Theremins unless you have both and you're good enough at playing them to be able to play both well and be able to articulate the difference. Not a whole lot of people have a [i]collection[/i] of Theremins. They tend to be pros, and they tend to start with a Moog and move up from there, so they don't usually have a Theremax to compare.

I've seen only one report from a person who owned a Theremax and then bought an Etherwave. My recollection was that he said, in effect, that he had thought the Theremax was okay, but when he got the Etherwave he realized how incredibly much better the Etherwave really was, and had no desire to go back to the Theremax. That's only one data point, so I can't say I'd make a decision on that basis.

What I can say is that most of what I see posted on the web about Theremaxes is people complaining that they put it together but can't get it to work. It's not that the kit is bad, I'm sure the design is just fine. It's just that it's a very complex thing for a home tinkerer to build, and electronics kits are easy to mess up and hard to diagnose. Remember, if you buy a Moog and it doesn't work, they'll replace it... if you are able to buy a Kees and it doesn't work, Kees has a superb reputation for helping you to diagnose and fix it, and if necessary I'm sure he'll replace it. (I haven't heard of any cases where it was necessary.) If you buy a Theremax kit and your son can't get it to work... well, I've never heard of a kit manufacturer that takes returns of partly or wholly assembled kits.

I've said a number of time recently here that I have two different theremin kits (not the Theremax) that I plan to build in the near future. However, I was taught how to put together electronics kits by my father, who was an electronics technician in the Marines, and I'll be doing it with the assistance of a friend of mine who is an electronics technician professionally.

It's my personal opinion that if you don't have an electronics professional locally who your son can turn to for help, a Theremax kit, or any Theremin kit, could end up being a tedious frustration instead of a christmas joy. Yeah, I know I'm basically recommending you spend hundreds of extra dollars. Unfortunately, it's not a mass manufactured commodity item. But fortunately, at least in the case of the Moog instruments, you get what you paid for: a real Moog instrument that can last for decades.

One additional thing you may wish to consider (yes, yet another expense, but this could be the one that makes the others worth it) is instructional material. The Moog Etherwave Standard comes with an instructional video of Lydia Kavina, and that may be good enough, but I personally didn't take to Lydia's method. While she's unquestionably one of the top masters of the instrument, I found her technique to be awkward and uncomfortable. I personally recommend a DVD called "How to Play the Theremin with Peter Pringle", which is available from Peter Pringle:
The DVD is a masterpiece of Theremin education, covering every detail from how to stand in front of the instrument to how to make notes. It also contains several superb performances. I can not recommend it strongly enough.
Posted: 11/16/2006 10:22:17 AM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

Tom wrote:

[i]"They tend to be pros, and they tend to start with a Moog and move up from there"[/i]

Are there any Theremins in production that would be a "move up" from a Moog Etherwave Pro?
Posted: 11/16/2006 10:38:33 AM

From: Massachusetts

Joined: 11/10/2006

DiggyDog wrote:
[i]You sound like a really cool mom![/i]

Well, thanks for saying so ... but that noise you hear is the sound of my teenagers' eyeballs rolling at the thought!

-- Will's (and Brinna's) Mom
Posted: 11/16/2006 11:11:10 AM

From: Undisclosed location without Dick Cheney

Joined: 2/21/2005

[i]Are there any Theremins in production that would be a "move up" from a Moog Etherwave Pro?[/i]

Well, perhaps a Wavefront, or (when they were in production) maybe a Tvox Tour. And remember, the Etherwave Pro is a relatively recent product, so people who collect theremins will have bought one and may have stopped there, but they may well be just waiting for the next high end model to come along. And, eventually one will.
Posted: 11/16/2006 11:46:08 AM

From: Jax, FL

Joined: 2/14/2005

I know I say this every time someone asks about what kind of theremin to get but I really love my Etherwave Standard.

Price-wise, it's a lot cheaper than the Pro but it is an instrument you can actually play music on. (one day I may try that!)

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