I'd Like to Learn About Theremins and Related Electronic Components

Posted: 5/6/2006 11:55:02 PM

Joined: 5/6/2006

I am a grandfather with some limited non-electronic music background (trumpet playing). I have a granddaughter that is learning to play the electric guitar. She seems to have a talent for music and is particularly fond of the sound of guitar effects, moog synthesizers, and other electronic music sounds. I also enjoy listening to a variety of electronic music. I try to keep her inspired about electric guitar playing and music in general.

I recently discovered some online information about theremins and I'm interested in learning more about them. I think my granddaughter will find theremins interesting as well. I have ordered a theremin DVD that should arrive within a week or so.

I have some specific questions regarding the types of amplifiers, cables, and other electronic accessories that people use with their theremins. My granddaughter presently has two guitar amplifiers. One is a small Fender 15G Frontman practice amp and the other is a larger Fender Deluxe Hot Rod tube amp. Can theremins be used successfully with these guitar amplifiers? Or, do they work best with some other type of amplifiers? Do theremins use the same types of cables and jacks as electric guitars? Are there other electronic accessories that you need to acquire to operate a theremin? For example, if I purchased a Moog Etherwave Pro theremin - what are the specific electronic components that would be needed to complete the set-up?

My granddaughter also has a digitech processor that can create many different guitar effects. Do some theremin users play their instruments with effect processors of any sort?

I would greatly appreciate some guidance on the related electronic issues for theremin operation. Please advise me. Thank you.

Posted: 5/7/2006 2:16:48 AM
Jeff S

From: N.E. Ohio

Joined: 2/14/2005

Welcome to Theremin World from another ex brass player!

I'd be interested to know which theremin DVD you found and ordered.

The basic theremin set-up is very simple. All you need is a theremin, an instrument cable, and an amp.

A guitar amp works just fine, although the signal from some theremins can be a little "hot". In that case you just need to keep the volume/gain knobs turned down. A keyboard amp is build to handle a stronger signal.

All theremins (as far as I know) use a standard instrument cable with a mono 1/4" phone plug at each end.

Any effects unit or pedal for the guitar can be used with a theremin. As Gordon recently mentioned, some effects work better if your theremin has a timbre richer in harmonics than a simple sine wave.

A great source for examples of the theremin in all styles of music can be heard on the internet radio show "Spellbound" on Sunday nights at 10:00 EST on Cygnus radio. Podcasts of previous shows can be downloaded on the "Spellbound" website.


It's great that your granddaughter is showing an interest and talent for music. That doesn't mean she would fall in love with the theremin, but it sounds like her grandfather just might.

Feel free to ask anything you'd like to know. We'd all be glad to help. And, please let us know if you, or your granddaughter, find that the theremin is something you decide to persue.

Posted: 5/7/2006 3:46:09 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005


I'm using a Fender Frontman 15R (same as the G but with a reverb knob) with my Kees Enkelaar (http://people.aapt.net.au/~fwhite/theremin/) theremin, and it works just fine. As Jeff suggests, I keep the output of the theremin down low and have had no problems. In fact this gives me the option to split the output in two, so I can feed it to my amp and my computer at the same time and just ramp up the volume a notch to compensate for the weakened signal.

With regards effects, the Kees has half wave rectification (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rectifier#Half-wave_rectification) built in as an option, which gives the instrument a brassy sound. Kicking in the drive on my amp makes it more electric-guitary. I don't use that often - I rather like the very pure theremin voice (actually I'm off on a flight of fantasy about a multi-voiced theremin at the moment, but that is for another thread. (This one (http://www.thereminworld.com/forum.asp?cmd=p&T=1420&F=557).))

Either way the sound is very, very dry, so my reverb knob never goes below 3. I have a Danelectro PB&J delay box (user reviews (http://www.harmony-central.com/Effects/Data/Danelectro/PB_J___Delay_-01.html)) plugged in most of the time and just love it! By all means plug your digitech processor in and see how the various effects sound - they are a very subjective thing - effects one person loathes could be just what another person wants. (Effects that bend the pitch or modulate the volume would seem rather redundant on a theremin though - these can be achieved by tiny movements of the right or left hand respectively!)

Posted: 5/7/2006 10:53:48 AM

From: washingtondc metro area

Joined: 2/8/2006

guitar amps will work fine but the are designed to "color" the sound which gives electric guitars much of their characteristics. keyboard amps are more "accurate" but good ones tend to weigh a lot.

i prefer the jbl eon speaker mounted on a speaker stand. they are easy to carry and having the speaker elevated to ear level makes playing the theremin easier. a speaker on the floor can get lost in the mix in a band performance.

the guitar amps should work fine until she has demonstrated that she is interested in playing the thing. most people give up rather quickly as playing a melody is seldom an easy thing to do on a regular basis with the instrument unless one has a knack or perseverence.

most people prefer playing with a delay and/or reverb as this makes the natural offness of the instrument sound more palatable and actually aids in maintaining pitch. guitar distortion pedals work very nicely to add harmonics and grit to the sound of the theremini and being able to "rock out" as in lead guitar riffs is very motivating, especially to youngsters.

a decent rack mount effects unit or guitar effect pedalboard is nice for artistic nuance once one learns how to play. some of the guitar pedal boards have "vocalizing" effects using a "wah" type pedal and this is very effective at making the theremin "sing". i use an old korg effects rackmount and overdrive the input to produce a nice distortion sound and this will work on most units that allow for controlling the level of the input signal.

the digitech processor your granddaughter has should work fine and produce very satisfying results.

it is best to learn to play the instrument with and without the effects. plain and unvarnished theremin is the true test of a player.

i would not recommend a one antenna theremin or a cheap alternative to the etherwave as playing the volume antenna is half of the game.

so, basically all that she needs is a etherwave and a phone to phone cord which she already has (guitar cord) and you may want to invest in a pair of good ear plugs.

once she becomes adept, a mixer with two auxillary sends and preferably with an onboard effects processor (i just got the behrenger 1204 fxpro $149) will allow for more precise and artistic mixing of the theremin with the processed signals and other instruments and voice. singing while playing the theremin is great fun.
Posted: 5/7/2006 2:47:21 PM

Joined: 5/6/2006

Thank you all for your kind responses to my post. The information that you've provided is helpful to me.

The DVD that I've ordered is "Theremin-An Electronic Odyssey". Do you have any recommendations for other DVD's?

If the input into an amp is too "hot" does that cause damage to the theremin and/or amplifier?

Posted: 5/7/2006 4:17:31 PM
Jeff S

From: N.E. Ohio

Joined: 2/14/2005

"Theremin - An Electronic Odyssey" is a great introduction to the theremin, most importantly to Leon Theremin and Clara Rockmore.

If it should fuel your interest in playing the theremin seriously, there are a couple other DVD's you can consider.

The first is a great two-part DVD from Moog Music of the two theremin masters Lydia Kavina and, of course, Clara Rockmore. Quoting Moog Music...

"Two video landmarks in theremin history - this DVD presents both the instructional video "Mastering the Theremin" featuring world-renowned thereminist, Lydia Kavina, and "Clara Rockmore - World's Greatest Theremin Virtuosa"."


The second is an informational and instructional DVD from Peter Pringle. He offers insight into the history of the theremin as well as a wonderful demonstration of his philosophy and technique. It's just a shame he didn't realize how popular it was going to be and had it professionally filmed, but it's well worth getting none-the-less.


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