For those who don’t know what a theramin is it’s that wavery sound generator that you play without touching it. I know a little about them because literally the first electronics project I ever built at around the age of 12 was a Theremin kit from SWTPC, the Altair computer people.

Here’s an interview with inventor Leon Theremin done in 1989, 70 years after he invented the device. He was determined to make it a standard instrument in orchestras. That hope was dashed when it became a staple of cheesy science fiction films in the 50’s. But if you Google Theremin, you’ll find they’re anything but forgotten analog relics in this digital age.

Interestingly, Theremin was also the inventor of the first passive electronic bug which changed espionage (and Mafia conversations) forever.

Here’s an article from the 1955 issue of Popular Electronics on building one using tubes. And here’s the Nov. 1967 issue of PopElec on building the SWTPC Theremin. Plus let’s not forget the Jan. 1961 issue of Electronics World with an article on building one by electronic synthesizer pioneer, Robert Moog.

For those of you who can’t get enough of that cool Theremin sound, check out Project: Pimento, the Theremin lounge band from San Francisco. Their MySpace page has the Star Trek theme (original series version, of course) played on this super hip instrument.

  1. rectagon says:

    A guy in our church plays one of these every couple months or so. How hip is that all of a sudden!

  2. Peter Rodwell says:

    I tried playing one once – it’s really difficult. Extremely difficult. I just produced ghastly, untuneful wails (but then I do that with just about any musical instrument).

  3. Danijel says:

    Nice post Uncle Dave! Do you still have your hand-made theremin?

  4. andrew says:

    My favorite musician Jean-Michel Jarre uses a Theremin in several of his songs.
    Though this is not the best example, it is the only video I could find:

  5. Danijel says:

    The links you gave are very interesting. Maybe one day we will be able to control the computers in a similar fashion. People are very hyped about touch screens recently, but this could be even more fascinating. Something like a 3D touchscreen maybe?

  6. sinisterdesign says:

    incredibly well done! it sounded like the teacher from the Peanuts singing the song.


  7. AdmFubar says:

    A few years ago I saw a documentary on Theramin, also in this film was Clara Rockmore, she could play the Theramin, well more like make it sing, like a concert violinist can with a violin. The sound was anything but cheesy!
    if you can check out out this film

    #4 I really like Jarre as well and have heard him playing a Theramin. It pales compared to Clara’s ability though.

  8. hhopper says:

    The guy was really great. However, it’s really difficult to keep the theremin from being pitchy.

  9. Uncle Dave,

    SWTPC is not the Altair folks but they did sell home computer kits based upon 6500 and 6800 type CPUs.

    The Altair people were MITS.


  10. RBG says:

    Good vibrations.


  11. Uncle Dave says:

    #3: It still might be somewhere in my parents basement, but don’t know. FYI, I could never get the tuned circuits tuned just right, so it never played very well. Either that or I was just as bad a musician with it as I was on the accordion and clarinet.

    #9: Yes, you’re right. My bad. I even did a post on them a while back.


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