Dave's Theremin Home Page presents...

The Paul Tanner Electro-Theremin Page


Frequently Asked Questions


Did the Beach Boys use a theremin on the recording, Good Vibrations?

No. The instrument was not a real, traditional, two antenna-type theremin. It was the Electro-Theremin, a mechanical instrument developed for Paul Tanner by Bob Whitsell in 1958. In addition to Good Vibrations, two other Beach Boys tunes used Tanner and his Electro-Theremin, I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, and Wild Honey. Also, there appears to be another (possibly unreleased) tune, Inspiration, that Tanner recorded in 1966 for the Beach Boys.

What is a Tannerin?

The Tannerin is what I named the modern recreation of the Electro-Theremin that Tom Polk and I have developed. Brian Wilson is currently using a Polk Tannerin.

What's that rectangular box-like instrument I've seen Mike Love play on earlier live versions of Good Vibrations?

That is the Moog ribbon controller, an instrument developed for the Beach Boys in the 1960's for use on live performances.

What is an Electro-Theremin?

An Electro-Theremin is the creation of actor/electronics wizard, Bob Whitsell. It is a mechanical controller of an audio oscillator. Whitsell invented the first one in 1958 and it was with this instrument that Paul Tanner recorded Music from Heavenly Bodies. Several weeks later, Whitsell began designing an improved version, one that was played in a straight, linear movement of the hand (as opposed to the first version's arc-like movement). It was with this instrument that Tanner recorded the numerous TV and movie soundtracks as well as the LP, Music from Outer Space and the three Beach Boys' tunes.

Whatever happened to the original Electro-Theremin?

Tanner sold it to a hospital to use for checking hearing when he felt keyboard synthesizers were taking over (late 1960's).

Did Paul Tanner ever play a traditional, two antenna-type theremin?

No. Paul only played the Electro-Theremin. By the way, his "theremin" playing was a sideline. Tanner was a major Hollywood session trombone player who got his start with Glenn Miller.

How is the Electro-Theremin different from the traditional theremin?

The Electro-Theremin is a mechanically controlled electronic musical instrument. It uses a mechanical linkage to control an audio oscillator. This makes the instrument extremely accurate. The traditional theremin is a space-controlled electronic musical instrument. It has two antennas, one for pitch, the other, for volume. It is the distance of the performer's hands from the antennas which determines how high or low the notes are, and how loud or soft the instrument is.

In addition to the physical differences, the Electro-Theremin and traditional theremin differ in the tones they produce. The traditional theremin's tone is rich in harmonic content, producing an almost string-like quality in the low to mid registers, and a human soprano-like quality in the upper register. The Electro-Theremin, on the other hand, utilizes a sine wave as its tone. The theremin's tone is earthy and organic. The Electro-Theremin's tone more easily conjures up imagery of space and of the heavens.