Homebuilt Musical Instruments

Click here to see the Tannerin I built for the 1999 Brian Wilson Tour

 Click here to see professional Tannerins and slide theremins I've built


Hear this Tannerin:

Dave Miller's Tannerin Page

This is an electronic instrument that can produce an almost pure sine wave. The pitch is continously variable within three ranges, each about three octaves.

The pitch control is the knob at the paper keyboard, which exists only for letting the player know where the notes are. The volume knob is on the left end. The other controls select pitch range, waveform and master volume. I made this instrument for David Miller, who whetted my interest in putting one of these together. To learn more about this instrument, check out David's web page referenced at the left.

A Different Approach to the Same Sound


This is an updated version of an early electronic instrument called a Trautonium.

Like the Tannerin, this one produces a sine wave. Unlike the Tannerin, which uses a mechanical linkage to control a pitch potentiometer, this Trautonium uses a brass tube pressed against a long wirewound resistor to change pitch. The resistor is barely evident as a black line along the top front edge of the instrument.

Where It Started

My First Tannerin

This ugly thing is my prototype Tannerin. The pitch knob is the black blob at the upper right. The volume knob is hidden under the left end of the top surface, but you can see the lever to which it is attached sticking out of the top left.

I never intended to make this instrument look more elegant. It was just the framework that started it all.

It is this instrument that you hear playing the lovely music at Dave Miller's Tannerin Page.


A Theremin is an electronic instrument played without touching it. There is a pitch antenna (vertical) and a volume antenna (loop at left). The player stands with his body motionless 1 1/2-2 feet away from the instrument and moves the right hand toward the pitch antenna to raise the pitch, and moves the left hand toward and away from the volume loop to control the volume.

The instrument was invented early in the 1900s by a Russian, Leon Theremin. He customized the newly discovered circuit that causes screeches and howls in radios so that it could be used to play music. Theremin was the inventor of the first electronic bug (for surveillance) and a proximity detector for security. He spent some time in America, where he had enough influence for RCA to make and sell 300 Theremins.

Most often you hear Theremin music in movies; for example, it produced the ooOOoo sound in "The Day the Earth Stood Still" and "Spellbound."

This is a closeup of the Theremin above. This instrument came as a kit (Etherwave) from Bob Moog, inventor of the Moog Synthesizer (remember "Switched-On Bach?)

The controls set the range, overall volume, brightness and waveform. 

It is notoriously difficult to play, and a heckuva lotta fun!

This nondescript circuitry is my first homebuilt Theremin, nowhere nearly as classy as the Etherwave above. It was built from an article in a 1967 Popular Electronics.

I omitted the antennas from this picture to save space. The long wooden rods have a similar function to the controls on the Etherwave.

A commercial version of this instrument is also known as the Southwest Technical Products Corporation theremin. The San Antonio, Texas company sold it as a kit, which I never had access to, and wished I had, because my homebuilt was difficult to get to work.

My Aeolian Harp with the lid off

To hear this instrument

click here

Aeolian Harp Links

Aeolian Harp

Little Aeolian Harp Page


Retail source

Aeolian harps are ancient stringed instruments that are played by the wind. They are named after the Greek god, Aeolus, god of the wind.

Aeolian harps are most often built to fit on one's windowsill; a strong breeze generates lovely, ethereal harmonics as it vibrates the strings. Like wind chimes, the music is random. Unlike wind chimes, the pitch combinations fade in and out unpredictably. Sometimes one note will hang in the air for several seconds, then be joined by a chorus. Sometimes the harp will not sing at all, especially if you are trying to show it off for someone. In cases like that, I turn on my attic fan and use a sliding glass door as a huge air valve to control the chord production.

Interestingly, the strings (eight to twelve) are tuned to the same pitch. This tuning eliminates dissonance, as the vibrations produce only one harmonic series with nothing else to clash.

I built this horn on my kitchen table in the mid 70s.

It is a descant horn. It it a type of french horn, but it is pitched an octave higher than the standard F horn. It looks skinny because it is half the length of a standard horn.

Because it is pitched higher, the notes are farther apart than normal, making it very easy for the player to hit the desired note. In the lower range,this instrument sounds less like a french horn than a fluegelhorn.

I worked at a musical instrument factory and from time to time they gave us scrap parts. The brass colored section is part of a trombone!


Counter added July 28, 1999