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.

My Encounter with Greatness
Brian Wilson comes to Austin!


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 latest 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.

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

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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 arrangement 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