Tannerin 2004
(Electro Theremin, Slide Theremin)
     In 1966, "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys hit #1 on the music charts, wowing listeners worldwide with its distinctive electronic sweeps and trills never before heard in pop music.

     For years listeners have asked "What is that sound?"  Was it a theremin? No, it was not a theremin.  Then what was it?  Thanks to David Miller, now we know.

     To hear a Public Radio story by David Brown, click here, then scroll down to the "download this sound" button.

 Tom demos "Good Vibrations": Click here for video
 Tom demos "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times": Click here for video

My Encounter with Greatness
Brian Wilson comes to Austin!

Click here for Video of Brian Thanking Tom

Theremin? Tannerin? What's the difference?

Played by waving hands in the air (difficult)
Volume control antenna at left
Pitch control antenna at right
Played by slide in front of marked notes (easier)
Volume control knob on left end (not shown)
Pitch control slide along horizontal bar
Electronic sound, complex waveform, kind of a
mixture of a human voice and a violin
Electronic sound, pure sine wave, 
ethereal space sound
Where you've heard it
Movie: "The Day the Earth Stood Still"
Movie: "It Came from Outer Space"
Movie: "The Delicate Delinquent"
Movie: "Spellbound"
Movie: "The Lost Weekend"
Movie: "The Ten Commandments"
Movie: "Mars Attacks"
Where you've heard it
Radio: Beach Boys "Good Vibrations"
Album: "Pet Sounds" ("I Just Wasn't Made for These Times"
Radio: Beach Boys "Wild Honey"
Television: "Lost in Space"
Television: "My Favorite Martian"
Television: "Dark Shadows"
Movie: "Straight Jacket"
The Tannerin is an electronic instrument that produces a pure sine wave, variable over three or four octaves.  It is played by sliding a knob along the length of the instrument, on some models starting and stopping the tone with a contact switch located on the pitch knob and operated by one's forefinger.

Like the theremin, the Tannerin is a portamento instrument. Unlike the theremin, the Tannerin has fixed reference points on a mock keyboard so the musician knows exactly where notes can be found.  Also, unlike the theremin, the Tannerin's contact switch can allow for staccato notes, which can be played as fast as the forefinger can move.  The attacks are naturally hard, but can be softened by quick rotation of the volume control.

Below is the instrument that was used on the 1999 Brian Wilson solo tour and continues to be used in the 2004 Smile Tour.  This actual instrument can be heard on Brian's "Pet Sounds Live" and "Smile" albums. Darian Sahanaja, leader of the Wondermints, Brian's back up band, commissioned me to build it.

This is the side the audience would see.  The volume control knob is at the right.  The paper keyboard can be exchanged for one of other tunings or scales.
The nameplate was added after the above picture was taken.  It covers the two screws at the mid-right of the front panel.
The performer sees this (photo was taken before the keyboard was added.)

  The pitch knob is visible on the brass rail just to the left of the flash reflection.  Attached to the pitch knob, you can see the needle that points to the notes.  The contact switch is the little bright silver horizontal bar that forms an inverted cross with the needle.

These are the 2005 models, built for the 2005 Broadway production of "Good Vibrations."  Two instruments were ordered.

The "Twin Sisters" are fraternal twins, not identical twins, i.e. there are minor construction differences. For example, one has a nylon slide, the other has  a brass slide. 

Because these were built for a single use, specifically for two Beach Boys songs, the range is restricted just to the needed notes.

For this reason, the notes are marked on the top in a different manner than previous Tannerins.  Instead of a mock keyboard, the individual licks are notated on different lines for easier playing.

2016 Tannerin     Early in 2016, in preparation for Brian's European tour and at the tour manager's request, Probyn Gregory contacted me to build a backup instrument.  Having been the Tannerin player since 1999, Probyn is intimately familiar with its needs.  He's used my 18" versions and likes the 24" size.

     The original 24" instrument has held up remarkably over 18 years, needing my adjustment only twice.  However, conceived and built in a hurry, I never was satisfied with it. I was particularly bothered by the uneven key width on the dummy keyboard.  Over the years I've figured out various ways to fix that.  This new instrument is designed to be as bulletproof as the original, yet it's enhanced by a perfectly linear keyboard, full four octave range, and improved aesthetics.

   I didn't have much more than a couple months to get it ready.  I couln't keep taking off work to meet the deadline, so to make the wooden case, I enlisted the help of my work associate, Jeff Stewart.  Jeff is a woodworker hobbyist who has a professional shop.  I gave him a mock up made of scrap wood and needed dimensions, and he did the rest.  He presented me with this beautiful cabinet with solid red oak sides.

Click Here for My Broadway "Good Vibrations" Review

Tannerin Description

Tannerin Demonstration

Other Tannerin Information

Tannerin Audio Clips
Quotes from the Press

     "One of the most famous sounds in Beach Boy's lore-the ethereal and haunting vibrato of a Theremin [sic] heard on "Good Vibrations"---found its way onto the live tracks not as a sample, but from an actual instrument designed and built by Tom Polk expressly for Wilson's touring and the live CD"...

     "Tom Polk was called in to build the Wison camp's Electo-Theremin-inspired device after a genuine Moog Theremin proved, according to Sahanaja, to be "not quite right"...
--September 2000 issue of MIX Magazine

     From WEB SITE OF THE MONTH (David Miller's Website) "In 1999 Darian Sahanaja of the Wondermints commisioned instrument designer Tom Polk to build an updated version of the Electro-Theremin (renamed the Tannerin) for an upcoming tour with Brian Wilson....

--February 2001 issue of Electronic Musician

I quickly return emails to those who properly identify themselves.
 I also appreciate the courtesy
 of telling me how you learned of this page.

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My encounter with Greatness --meeting Brian Wilson

     I was thrilled to learn that Brian Wilson was bringing his "Pet Sounds Live" tour to Austin, because I would finally get to meet Darian Sahanaja (Brian's music director) who actually commissioned the instrument I built.  I hoped to meet Brian! 

     Darian contacted me ahead of time requesting a refurbishing of the instrument.  I took the whole day off from work and met Darian at his hotel.  Darian introduced me to some of the musicians, particularly Probyn Gregory, who is the one who actually plays the instrument.  We made arrangements for me to show up at the 3:00 sound check with the refurbished instrument.  I took it to my workshop and got to work.

     The circuitry was completely redesigned to fix some stability problems.  My job was to replace the tone production module and the job was going well.  Around 1:00 I was about to put the instrument back together when I broke the main linkage that connects the slide to the pitch module.  I was both horrified and gratified, horrified because this was a several hour job to repair, gratified because it had weakened and would have broken in another city if I'd not broken it here.  The repair caused a two hour delay, and I arrived at the sound check at 5:00 instead of the agreed 3:00.

     I expected to find some disappointed and nervous musicians.  Instead I got treated like royalty.  I cannot say enough about how warm and respectful Brian's and Darian's musicians are.  ("You're Tom Polk?  Hey, everyone, here's the man!" ) They were glad to have the instrument back, put it on-stage, and marched me backstage where they laminated an "all pass" badge, complete with my photograph.  I got to finish hearing a preview of the show at sound check, then Darian invited me to eat BBQ with Brian and the crew.

     There were wonderful conversations with Darian, Probyn Gregory (who plays the instrument), Paul Mertens (formerly of Poi Dog Pondering, and who did much of the orchestration), David Leaf (Brian's biographer), and even Brian's wife, Melinda.  We talked about children and fun stuff.  Then Darian asked me if I'd like to meet Brian.  Of course you know the answer.  Darian led me to a small room in a kind of basement of The Backyard, where I heard some piano riffs floating down the hall.  When he opened the door, there was Brian, doing his thing, working something out on an old upright piano.  Darian introduced me to Brian, took our picture, and Brian said some very kind words about the instrument.  I was in heaven!

     Then I met my wife and daughter to enjoy the show.  After the show, we went backstage where there were tables of snacks set up for the musicians and guests.  I was particularly impressed with Taylor Mills taking the time to talk to my teenager, making her instantly comfortable in what could have been an intimidating setting.   My family got to meet Brian, too.

     The experience was repeated almost exactly in October 2004, when Brian brought his "Smile" tour again to The Backyard.  Again, we were treated like royalty.  This time my brother, who first introduced me to the Beach Boys, got to meet Brian.  What an experience.  And this time my younger daughter got to come.  She fell in love with Scott Bennett, "the good looking one," who made her day by giving her a hug.   These are good people.

     This time I didn't need to refurbish the instrument.  It continues to work well, and has stood the test of time.  I feel gratified by it all. 

     Many thanks to Darian for crediting me on the program and CD.





Stanberry & Associates has operated as a real estate brokerage firm licensed in the State of Texas since 1985.

Tom Polk is a real estate broker licensed in the State of Texas.

Counter added July 28, 1999


     The instrument used to produce the "woo-woo" sound in the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" is similar to a theremin only in that it is electronic and it outputs a continuously variable pitch.  The actual instrument used in "Good Vibrations" was a Heathkit tube-type audio oscillator coupled to a mechanical action that allowed the player to mark notes along a ruler-type scale where notes could be located quickly and precisely.   For live performance, this configuration outperforms a Theremin probably 10-1.  The one and only original instrument disappeared in the late 60s, donated to oblivion (a hospital, actually, for audiology work!) due to the advent of more flexible and configurable synthesizers.

     30 years passed, then fate happened.  Pausing for a while at the intersection of Nostalgia and Internet, I found myself being commissioned to build a modern version of Tanner's instrument for Brian Wilson's 1999 "Pet Sounds" tour.  My instrument has held up well and continues to be played on Brian's "Smile" tour.  The instrument is called either a slide theremin or a Tannerin, respectfully named after its originator, Paul Tanner.

     A few months ago, the Broadway Production of the musical “Good Vibrations” contacted me, wanting a couple of authentic slide theremins for their show at the old and classy Eugene O'Neill Theater.  I built them as fast as I could  (they look like twin sisters with slight differences) and shipped them off.  Little did I know that my daughter's high school band would be performing in Carnegie Hall not too long after the opening of the show.

     So in late March I made the trip to NYC with my daughter and her 200 classmates. We decided to go see Good Vibrations.  David Holcenberg, the musical director of the show, was gracious enough to get tickets for us.  In short, GOOD VIBRATIONS IS FABULOUS.

     It puzzles me that some snooty NYC reviewers panned the show.  All I can figure is that these writers must be way out of step with theater-goers, or they must have some agenda.  Boy, were they wrong!  The theater was PACKED, standing room only.  Thirty of the the best of Brian's and the Beach Boys' songs crammed into two acts, crowds singing and clapping, ovations after almost every song.   I confess, my mind wandered during the dark “Phantom of the Opera”, but not at “Good Vibrations.”   My eyes and ears were riveted.  It’s a simple story (apparently critics can't handle that), but just perfect for promoting the MUSIC, which was crystal clear, brilliantly arranged and performed, faithful to Brian's vision.  I know why some fans see it over and over.

     During intermission, I found the stage manager, introduced myself, and asked him what the chances were of meeting the musicians so I could check on how the instruments were working out for them.  He cordially told me he'd see what he could do, and suggested that I check with him after the show.

     We had excellent seats near the front.  At intermission's end, I struck up a conversation with the couple sitting by me, asking them what compelled them to see this particular show. Turns out they were childhood friends of the writer, Richard Dresser.  They'd had dinner with him earlier that evening.  When they learned of my connection, they insisted on introducing me to Richard.  So after the show, I met him, and he very graciously told me how much the slide theremin adds to the production and how much he appreciates it.

     I asked him if my daughter and I could talk to the musicians.  He replied, “Of course!” and led us backstage.  Backstage was really downstairs.  Very cramped downstairs.  Richard introduced me to Henry Aranson, who plays the instrument.  Henry was already expecting us and gladly told me all about his experiences with the instrument, how it was perfect, except for the bottom plate warping a bit (dadburn particle board!)  He likes the slide action, and he keeps the second instrument only as a backup.

     I was intrigued that the keyboards (and slide theremin) were in one cramped room, the guitars and drums in another (actually staying on a lift that brought them up to stage level), and the saxophone player in his own little room with the door shut, all connected by audio and video terminals.   Then I recalled, upon leaving the stage area, I noticed a couple of video monitors on the front face of the balcony.   In the monitors, I had seen gray-haired woman playing a keyboard and conducting the closing sequence Paul Schaeffer style.  I saw her cut off the band, close her music folder, get up and leave, oblivious to any audience that could turn around and see what was going on.   I then realized that that’s how the stage performers get their cues.  Nifty.

     My teenaged daughter had other plans.  She proceeded to get the autograph of the lovely Amanda Kloots (Bikini Girl) for her boyfriend, who had seen Ms. Kloots in costume on a poster and thinks she’s hot.

     What a thrilling end to the evening!  Amanda was very sweet and appreciative.  Stunning beauty, too, absolutely radiant during the show.