Electronics Illustrated Magazine, January 1961

                 

This January, 1961 issue of Electronics Illustrated magazine includes a construction article for a tube-powered Theremin. Theremins were invented in the 1920s by a Russian, Leon Theremin. While not strictly radio-related, they illustrate an important chapter in the development of electronic music and they may be appealing to anyone with an interest in tube devices, along with early instruments such as my Clavioline and Solovox.

My other Theremin article has more Theremin history, so I won't repeat that content here.

The 1961 Tube Theremin

The cover shows a lissome lady playing a Theremin. Unlike all other instruments, the Theremin is played without any physical contact. You move your hands in the air near two antennas to control the pitch and volume of the Theremin's single note.

The other pages contain the complete construction article.

           

This design employs five tubes (12BE6, 12BE6, 12AU7, 6AN8, 6X4) with a transformer-type power supply. It is somewhat more sophisticated than the 1955 design shown in my other Theremin article.

The antennas can be any large pieces of metal. This 1961 cover photo shows a futuristic loop on one side and a metal plate on the other. The 1955 construction article shows large metal letters—a V for volume and a T for tone. The original 1920s RCA Theremin used plain metal rods about two feet in length. If you build your own Theremin, you can let your imagination run riot!

The last page of this article explains the theory of operation. Simply put, the Theremin produces a tone by combining the output of two oscillators. The tone's frequency is affected by your body capacitance as you move your hand near the tone antenna. Similarly, body capacitance makes the volume louder or softer as you move your hand near the volume antenna.

While simple in theory, playing a Theremin is difficult in practice. I have played two original RCA Theremins in different museums, and found it quite taxing to produce a simple tune without going off-key. Lacking keys or frets, the instrument provides no physical feedback to the musician, and thus, it demands great control.

Nevertheless, they can fun to experiment with, and with practice, perhaps you can become a Thereminist. I have heard only one Theremin in live performance, by the Minneapolis avant-garde poetry/music group known as DaDa Cha-Cha, some years ago.

Tube Theremin, 2013 Style

In 2013, several years after I first published this article, I was contacted by Craig Hanson, who had built a Theremin by following these plans. The photo shows Craig's Theremin in a custom wooden cabinet:

In his article in our Building section, Craig explains how he successfully completed this project. Congratulations, Craig! If anyone else builds a Theremin using these plans, kindly contact me via email.

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