Theremin Cello

Posted: 12/2/2006 12:35:29 AM

From: Seattle

Joined: 4/19/2005

I am taking the leap and buying a theremin cello from Floyd Engels. It should get to me within a week and a half or so.

I was/am a bit nervous about it. I have never played a cello or bass before, and it seems those who have done best were cellists. Pamelia played the cello in her past. The couple that played the Varese on two theremin cellos were cellists.

Here are some links for those of you who want to know more:

Peter Pringle's new page on theremin cellos innards..

A recording of that Varese concert.

I'll let you know how it goes. I love learning to play these unusual instruments, but really am a total beginner on them all.

When I record on it I will post it here..

By the way... has anyone tried the persephone?

Posted: 12/3/2006 12:27:51 PM
Charlie D

From: England

Joined: 2/28/2005

Not meaning to step out of line, how much did it set you back to buy one? Feel free not to answer, but I'm interested to know how much they cost in comparison to a top-model theremin (or even RCA).
Posted: 12/3/2006 2:04:05 PM

From: Seattle

Joined: 4/19/2005

He wants $5500.

There appear to be two originals left in the world, neither of which play.

He made ten of these, and is keeping two for himself. My guess is one for him and one for his son, who helped on the project.

He says that since he is 71, and each one of these took about 350 hours to make, he will not be making any more.

All who have seen it rave about how well he built them.

He does have some nervousness about it being such an accurate replica of 1930's technology. It is far from UL approved.

Interestingly enough, to me anyway, he was a toy builder for Fisher Price. He would make the prototypes. He really is not an electronics wiz, as I would have expected. However, his son is an electronics specialist of some kind.

Normally I wouldn't have the money for such a thing, but I vowed to spend my small inheritance on some things that would bring me joy through the years to come. Pretty extravagent, but a unique opportunity for a gift to myself.

There are two more left if I remember correctly.

Posted: 12/4/2006 8:54:01 AM

From: Jax, FL

Joined: 2/14/2005

Fell free to post pics, schematics, or anything else regarding the thing here.

I have an old cello in the garage and would love to reverse-engineer one.

I have also been toying with the idea of mounting three ribbon controllers and a volume control on it and hooking it up to a synth.
Posted: 12/4/2006 9:06:36 PM

From: Hillsborough, NC (USA)

Joined: 2/13/2005

Congratulations Bryan! Of course I'm envious, but also eagerly awaiting your report on receiving it, opening the box, plugging it in, and blowing a fuse or two while you figure out how to play it. What an incredible opportunity! I'm very happy for you!
Posted: 12/16/2006 12:17:21 AM

From: Seattle

Joined: 4/19/2005

My theremin cello arrived yesterday, just before the lights went out in a major Seattle area storm! More than one million people in the area lost electricity and several died.

The theremin cello was shipped from Floyds house in NY. He had packed it VERY well in two boxes filled with foam boards and the like. To my surprise, the cello part itself came in a very nice guitar case. The peg at the bottom of the cello removes, as does the "bow" handle that controls volume.

Floyd has done a beautiful job. The cello portion looks beautiful in person. Brass with shiny black "body" and fingerboard. And those knobs on the front look great. The case that houses the tubes and all looks like an amp, but really it is the sound making portion of the instrument. It is also beautifully done. Looks very nice and very retro. The instrument would look beautiful hanging on a wall!

But that isn't my plan. I want to play this thing.

Floyd asked me to call him as soon as it showed up. Given the storm my half hour commute home took three times as long... but Floyd and I talked a bit on the phone on the way home. ONce home, and after I had vacuumed up some water that had flooded parts of my basement due to the storm!... I inserted all the tubes. They all come in original old RCA boxes... all clearly labeled and all wrapped in extra layers of tissue. The boards in the box are also clearly labeled, so inserting tubes took just four minutes or so. Before turning it on i called Floyd, at his request. As he said, he was as excited about getting it to me safely as I was in getting it! As he said, this represents six years of his life... his baby. After having me check to be sure the shipping didnt loosen anything else, we turned it on. All the way home, in stop and go traffic, I had been reading the manual he sent.. a multipage notebook filled with wiring diagrams, pictures, stories, and user hints. But having him on the phone made the start of process even easier. Tune the knob on the front of the box to get a zero beat. Pick up the cello, and play the lowest note, while doing fine tuning control on the zero beat on the cello itself. Then, adjust the volume and the six position tone setting. The tone ranges from fairly bright, to a more soft or muffled sound. I like position three.

To play the instrument you squeeze a finger from your left hand against the shiny black membrane on the neck, while using your right hand to open the volume with the volume bar. You really have to push pretty hard on the membrane, or it cuts out. Very doable, but don't be light about it. The volume handle is pretty expressive.

Within the first hour, before the lights went out for a million people... and my new instrument.. I was playing The Swan... and After the Dream by Faure. Not well mind you, but you would recognize The Swan!

Like any instrument, this will take practice, but even for a non-cellist I think this one is possible. Perhaps a little easier than the theremin.. but not too much!

I am very happy.

We are still cleaning up a bit after the storm... but I will try to record something in the next few days and post it on my account..
I will let you know when.

Let me know if you have any questions.

So far... great. What a beautiful job he did.. and what a unique instrument!

Posted: 12/17/2006 2:13:53 PM

From: Seattle

Joined: 4/19/2005

very beginners sound sample of the theremin cello. I recording two songs straight through without edits.. though it certainly needs edits! I have had the instrument a few days, but the electricity was out due to a storm on two of those days!

Posted: 12/17/2006 9:12:03 PM

From: Undisclosed location without Dick Cheney

Joined: 2/21/2005

It has a really lovely tone, which reminds me strongly of a french horn.
Posted: 12/18/2006 1:44:20 PM

From: Jax, FL

Joined: 2/14/2005

Any idea what Floyd is using for the ribbon controller or where he gets them?

I would love to make a theremin cello out of the old cello I have in the garage.

I don't have a problem with using modern circuitry. It should be relatively easy to house a kit in the body of the cello and wire up pitch and tone controls using a lever and a ribbon controller.

Has anybody done this yet?

I would like to have tow or three ribbon controllers on the neck and a control for the interval between them so I could play chords.
Posted: 12/18/2006 1:46:05 PM

From: Seattle

Joined: 4/19/2005

Basically the neck is a giant wire wound resistor. When you push down on the vinyl fingerboard you are pushing down a copy mesh.

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