Opinions/Advice on different Theremins

Posted: 9/6/2007 1:46:27 PM

Joined: 9/5/2007

Hi everybody. My name is Michael. I am an experimental rock musician from central Ohio. I have been looking at Theremins on eBay for awhile now, and finally decided on a cheap one to take the plunge.

I was torn though. I had a choice between one made by "Theremaniacs", which claims to be a 'true analog Theremin' because it uses oscillator coils but doesnt have a volume antenna, and one by "Captain Theremin", whose B3 Theremin uses transistors and chips, but has the volume control.

They both made different claims about thier tone, playing range, octaves, this and that etc etc.

Does anybody have any experience with these Theremins? I ended up buying the Theremaniacs one out of frustration and impatience, but I can always return it. Did I make the right choice?

Hopefully somebody has some advice.
Posted: 9/6/2007 3:14:59 PM

From: Redmond, WA

Joined: 9/1/2007

I think it depends on what you will be using it for. I haven't heard much about the Theremaniacs model, but I've heard good things about the B3.

If you are looking for special effects, than a volume control is most likely not as important. Yes, volume can help special effects, but is probably not as necessary.

If you plan on playing melodies, volume can come in quite handy. Yes, you can play melodies without a volume, but volume helps.

Another aspect is octave range and note spacing. For melodies, the tighter the range is, the more difficult it is to play. The B3 is pretty small, but playable and adjustable. If you feel comfortable about electronics, you could even make your own enclosure for it, thus spacing out the volume antenna away from the pitch antenna, therefore spreading out the octave range.

Thomas Grillo plays 'Vocalise' on both the EtherWave Pro and the B3. EtherWave Pro is much higher end, but this video demonstrates the sound comparison to the much less expensive B3. He makes playing an already challenging instrument look easy.
Vocalise on E-Pro (http://youtube.com/watch?v=qfZP7v_X0sU)
Vocalise on B3 (http://youtube.com/watch?v=3btSH5cOxlc)

Hope this helps!
Posted: 9/7/2007 1:29:16 PM

Joined: 6/29/2006

Michael - Welcome!

By central Ohio, I assume you mean the Columbus area? I live near Canton.

If you have any interest, we might be able to get together somewhere and you could try a few different theremins for yourself.

From the samples on the website, I like the sound of the Theremaniacs very much, and I wouldn't mind trying one in person.

Posted: 9/7/2007 4:56:32 PM

Joined: 9/5/2007

(cant see who said what but here's all my replies!)

So do you think that is the "Captain Theremin" B3?? He has that same Vocalise video on his auction site, but I questioned its validity.

What made you like the Theremaniacs one better? I hope its better, its paid for and on the way!

I plan to use this in a space rock setting, to play real, tuneful melodies on - not sound effects or noises, for the most part. We have a pretty crowded stage plot, too.

Can you set how far the Theremin detects?

Something tells me I made the wrong choice but who knows...I could always return it and get the other one if I needed though, so maybe its not so bad.

Anyway, thanks everybody for all the replies!
Posted: 9/7/2007 6:28:48 PM

From: New York, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

>>"cant see who said what"
curious, what browser are you using?
I'd want to know if we have a bug.

as to the theremins I'm useless,
I love the Moog's which seem to me
the best you can find and just today
as the latest of countless times
their support technicians
were incredibly helpful.

Posted: 9/7/2007 8:02:45 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Hi, Michael. GordonC here. [i]Very[/i] experimental thereminist. Proof: http://myspace.com/beatfrequencyuk (Check the videos page.)

From what I have seen and heard in the video and audio clips on the theremaniacs website, their instrument appears to be a reasonable one stick theremin.

One stick theremins are by no means ideal for melodic playing, as one might imagine volume is an important component of music. (Perhaps not as much as pitch - a fixed pitch, variable volume theremin would be as much use as a poke in the eye - but nonetheless.) There are alternatives to a volume antenna - the cheapest and possibly most useful is to know that sudden, rapid movements in the pitch field create harmonics in the audio output of the instrument (via FM synthesis - when you wave your hand in the pitch field, it really is a wave in the scientific sense) which spreads the energy over a wider range of the audio spectrum, causing a reduction in the perceived volume. In other words when you have finished playing a phrase snap your arm quickly out of the playing field to avoid playing a long glissando on the way.

Also you may like to know that the first version of the theremin developed by Lev Termen - the aetherphon - was a pitch only instrument, which was equipped with a cut-off switch for staccato playing, and an expression pedal for, er, expression. Not as good as a volume antenna but if you've got a pedal knocking about it's worth a try. Likewise, if you can wire a push-to-break switch into an audio cable, I'd say give it a go - if you make it hand-held you have a close relative of the aetherphon, the electronde. Scroll down this page for a sample of a simple recreation made with a modern theremin.


Yes, the range is adjustable, and from the video clip looks to be a sensible size. What I cannot tell is the linearity of the instrument. The various notes of the scale are not evenly spread apart in the playing field like a piano, the low notes are further part, the high ones close together. In between the two extremes is an area where notes are comfortably spaced and don't vary dramatically from one end to the other. The number of octaves that lie within the playable area varies from theremin to theremin - in theremin-speak, the wider the playable range and the more evenly spaced the notes within it, the better the linearity of the instrument - my guess is that the theremaniacs instrument does not have great linearity, as this is usually a feature of high-end instruments.

The B3 is not an easy instrument to play, simply because of its size. The playable pitch area of a two stick antenna can't extend over the volume loop, and the pitch rod is rather close to it. The video is valid, but Mr Grillo has invested a phenomenal amount of time in acquiring the skills to play it so well. Consider that a trained classical pianist can make a child's toy piano sound better than it ought to.

I would say to either the B3 or the theremaniacs, have fun, don't expect miracles - these are low end instruments, and if you can wrangle a decent tune out of either then you probably have something of an aptitude for the instrument and may want to consider getting, say, a moog etherwave if it's going to be an important part of your live performance.

Oh, and bravo for wanting to play melodic theremin, but if you're doing space rock, nothing does space effects like a theremin, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with using it for both melody and effects! You have a delay pedal lying around? Good. Have some fun - you deserve it. :-)

Posted: 9/8/2007 10:13:00 AM

Joined: 9/5/2007

To whoever asked about my location : Sorry, missed that one last night. I live in New Phila, like 20 minutes south of you!! It'd be really neat to come up and try some theremins! I'll email you in a minute!

(Ohmage - I have been using IE from school and the public library for this forum. There might be some confusion though - I mean I can't see usernames and posts when I am in reply mode. Everything is fine on the actual board.)

Gordon - Thank you for all the info!! Awesome you basically answered all my questions. I had emailed Theremaniacs and they cautioned me about the playing field of the B3, which is one of the reasons I ended up getting the Theremaniacs one.

You're dead on too, I figure this will give me a chance to see if I can play the thing and see if its keeps my interest, then maybe i'll try and get an E-Wave or something on eBay.

I actually just ran to one of my old practice spaces and dug out a very close-to-death Roland keyboard volume pedal. Maybe I can fix it up and use it.

In case anybody is curious, "This Level Is Clouds!" is the band I'll hopefully be using a Theremin for. We are an Ohioan duo of multi-instrumentalists trying to make alot of sound. We use drum machines, guitars, bass, live drums, samples, loops, and the like. We exchange instruments throughout different pieces. The videos of us represent our current form alot better, as we've been through alot of different lineups and formats. Sound quality could be better. We've got regular tracks too, of course. Here's our link - www.myspace.com/thislevelisclouds

I'm the darker one with the curly, poofy hair.

Gordon - I can't wait to hear your music. Once I am at a PC with speakers, I will!

Thanks everybody! I think I'll stick around, this is a neat place!


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