Thoughts on building the Theremax

Posted: 1/30/2009 3:17:01 AM

Joined: 1/20/2009

Hi all,

I just finished building and testing my Theremax, and wanted to jot down as much as possible before I forget the details. Hopefully someone who's intending to build a PAiA Theremax will find this information helpful.

1 - Difficulty: This kit was probably an intermediate level electronics kit. The solder points are fairly decently spaced apart. I had trouble with some of the contacts popping off the board (oops!), and gooping solder a bit too much. If you're unsure if you're ready, try building a couple of basic kits first (like the $10-30 ones at Radio Shack; I built a dice roller, led candle, rolling "robot" car and a couple of other goofy things). That way you'll learn to solder (and make your mistakes) on cheap stuff. Some people recommend soldering wires together and whatnot instead; however, the kits make it pretty obvious if you've messed up or broken a part :P

2 - Time: Took about 9h to build all the electronics. That includes 3h of rework due to not following the directions... Take your time if you're a beginner or if you don't know how to troubleshoot. Unless you're looking forward to learning how to troubleshoot. :P

3 - Kit quality: Excellent. The kit gives enough detail that even a total beginner could understand it. (I still recommend practicing on other kits first because although you may understand it, soldering takes a bit of practice to do nicely.) I didn't have any missing parts in my kit. Actually, I ended up with an extra transistor. Someone in the forums recommended lining up all the components on tape - this is excellent advice in terms of checking for missing pieces and being an efficient builder.
Also, do try reading (and understanding) the directions a full time through before starting construction. It's difficult to conceptualize some of the parts, but it could save you a lot of time (I would have saved 3 hours if I'd just realized PAiA wants you to use the bare wire in various spots!)
The one ambiguity in the instructions is the use of a "turn" as it pertains to turning the pots. How far is a full turn? Is that 360 degrees? Is it one turn of the wrist? How far through the turn of the wrist? I wish different wording was used there...

3.5 - Tools: You'll need:
Soldering iron
Helping hand (magnifying glass and pincers)
Screwdrivers - phillips and flathead
wire cutters / wire stripper
Solder sucker (unless you don't make mistakes! ha... I used this a lot, particularly when doing the wiring, ugh)
Solder wick? (Used this twice, ended up pulling up the contacts against the PCB each time too.. ugh)
File (I didn't have one; it would have been nice for cleaning up messes though)
analog multimeter (not necessary if you don't make mistakes. :P I ended up buying one!)

4 - Case: I opted to go for the electronics+panel kit, so my Theremax is in a cardboard box right now! This kit was a lot cheaper, and you may feel you can build a nicer case than the lectern. Personally, I didn't budget enough time for building the case, which seems more difficult than the electronics. The panel was definitely worth getting as I wasn't up for the mystery of building a panel.

5 - Setup: take your time tuning it - the sounds you're listening for can be subtle!

6 - Sound: Sounds like... a theremin? To be honest, I was expecting a more musical sound. It does sound pretty much like a square/triangle wave. Maybe this comes down to skill. I may cheat by running it through some VST processors on a PC to beef up the sound. The timbre control is pretty subtle, and I've read there are some mods you can do to the theremax to improve it.

7 - Playability: You'll probably be all over the place at first. It feels like there's a sweet spot that has good response using aerial fingering, and anything outside that octave is too far apart or too close. Again,apparently by using wider brass/copper rods, the Theremax
Posted: 1/30/2009 6:54:20 AM

From: Croxley Green, Hertfordshire, UK

Joined: 10/5/2005

I'm sure your posting will be of benefit to people in the future.

But... a cardboard box? Shame on you! I do hope that at some time in the future you will be inspired to remedy this. :-)

(Here's a great home-made enclosure I just found on yT - for a Jaycar kit, as it happens.)
Posted: 1/30/2009 3:14:09 PM

Joined: 1/20/2009

the enclosure is the hard part :P still not sure what to do about it... neat enclosure there, looks like one of the moog enclosures!

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