Theremin guitar?

Posted: 11/24/2008 10:03:56 PM

Joined: 11/24/2008

Today, I had an idea that's probably too crazy to work. First off, let me say that I know next to nothing about the theremin, other than the fact that they usually involve two metallic antennae and make interesting noises. So with this basic knowledge of a theremin, I want to know if it would be possible to theoretically build a theremin into a working guitar, with perhaps a switch to control which instrument's signal is sent to the output jack. My thought was that you could solder a wire to the trussrod in the neck for one antenna and have a metal plate on the back of the other end of the guitar for the second antenna.

My question to the people who better understand the inner workings of the theremin is: could it work, or would there be complications with the guitar's magnetic pickups and the like? Thank you for your time.

- Yvarg
Posted: 11/25/2008 3:46:29 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Welcome to Theremin World, yvarg.

I believe I have discovered a fundamental flaw in your proposal. The theremin is played without physical contact. In order to play your conjoined instrument as a theremin it would be necessary to cease holding it, at which time it would most likely succumb to the force of gravity and tumble to the floor.

Nonetheless, the idea of building a second instrument into a guitar is appealing. Perhaps, rather than adding a theremin, you could hollow out the neck of the guitar, add a few holes along the length of it and play it like a flute by blowing into the head.
Posted: 11/25/2008 8:13:31 PM

From: Eastleigh, Hampshire, U.K. ................................... Fred Mundell. ................................... Electronics Engineer. (Primarily Analogue) .. CV Synths 1974-1980 .. Theremin developer 2007 to present .. soon to be Developing / Trading as . ...................................

Joined: 12/7/2007

I think what you are suggesting is possible (in theory anyway) but FAR from simple.. I did explore a similar group of ideas for my FrAEdom range of "Theremins" - but, as people here have no doubt realised, when I have thought of something and done a few 'proof of concept' tests, I have a tendancy to think the job is nearly done - I am starting to learn that, with theremins, the job aint done till the lady sings!

Problems: GRAVITY - can be solved by a neck strap.
BODY CAPACITANCE: - You will need to ensure that there is either a constant capacitance between your body and the instrument, so that only your hands / arms influence the fields, or that you have a capacitance "invisibility screen" between your body and the instrument.. I think I am the only person with access to "invisibility screen" technology at present! ;)

Forget protruding antennas - use insulated metal plates on the guitar body, Art Harrison has some designs you may be able to adapt.

You need a Theremin 'mute' switch, then you could mix the guitar and theremin outputs when playing theremin.. This could giva an advantage as the strings / pickups would still be free to get feedback from the amplifier .. could (combined with the severe difficulty you would have getting any kind of tunefull playing from the instrument) lead to soundscapes of unimaginable complexity !! 8(
Posted: 11/26/2008 12:58:46 PM

From: Escondido, CA

Joined: 2/6/2008

Years ago there was this Teisco (sp?) guitar with a built in organ. It was a novelty thing, but not so useful.

There are existing guitars that have a Roland interface that allows the guitar to activate MIDI devices ... that may be better suited to what you want than trying to build a theremin into a guitar.

Posted: 11/27/2008 6:49:12 PM

From: Alberta Canada

Joined: 1/5/2008

It may not be quite what you have in mind, but I am aware of a guitar that Matthew Bellamy from the band Muse used that had a theremin in it used to create effects. I'm not so sure if it was used independently, or it worked like a d-beam that affected the tone, but it worked on the same theremin principle. This sound is most notably heard in the song "plug in baby."
Hope thats helpful, I still don't know which guitar it was though.
Posted: 11/29/2008 4:32:03 PM

Joined: 11/24/2008

Thank you for all the replies!

Gordon - While a flute is indeed a nice instrument, I have no plans to build a flute-guitar anytime in the near future. :)

Fred - I know that if it is possible it will not be simple (somehow, my ideas never are). Thanks for the advice, those are important things to consider.

Don - Yes, I know that if such a guitar is possible, it will not be much more than a novelty item.

Richie - I wasn't aware that Matt had such an instrument. Thanks for informing me, I shall look up information about it.
Posted: 11/29/2008 6:00:02 PM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Slightly more seriously, moving a little away from the novelty zone, I imagine you could probably bolt a z-vex probe onto your instrument for the hands free experience, but on a guitar effect rather than an oscillator. (I have no idea whether the fuzz-probe can be made to self-oscillate!)
Posted: 11/30/2008 1:06:17 AM
Brian R

From: Somerville, MA

Joined: 10/7/2005

Not to mention the Pagelli Avantair guitar, which incorporated an Alesis AirFX:

(about 1/3 of the way down this page (
just after the hollow-body jazz guitar covered in Swarovski crystals... no, really*)

*I could swear I've typed those words here previously, but my searches turned up empty-handed... so, please excuse any duplication.
Posted: 11/30/2008 4:07:03 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

Oh, Brian, I wish you hadn't! It looks like you're going to cost me money again. :-)

Mmmm. AirFX. Kiki Moorse (ex Chicks On Speed (*)) has one of those - I sat on a divan right next to her playing one when we were recording Abbatoir Hoedown for the Sonic Weekend 2 Kitchen Cuts, and it makes some truly wicked sounds. Very organic and alive - it's the space control interface - infrared on three axes. Synth patches and effects.

I can't believe that I was so busy watching der blinkenlights on my laptop that I didn't pay any heed to it at the time. Now I come to read the manual I can see one mike-stand mounted just beyond the volume loop of my theremin so I can control the volume with my elbow whilst shaping the sound with my hand.

(*) They don't play guitars. (yT (
Posted: 11/30/2008 9:39:42 AM
Brian R

From: Somerville, MA

Joined: 10/7/2005

Oops! Pardon, Gordon...somehow, I was expecting [i]you[/i] to be selling [i]me[/i] on this.

My friend Mark Christensen (
/MC.html) tells me that when Dalit Warshaw was here at Middlebury College, the two of them performed a collaboration of theremin and AirFX. But I agree, the possibility of actively shaping the sound (with more flexibility than an auto-wah) is mighty enticing.

See? You [i]have[/i] sold me on it. Here's hoping we don't wind up bidding against each other for one.

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