Soda Can Theremin Made In Minutes

Looking for a fun weekend project? How about building your very own sci-fi Theremin using just a soda can and a few simple components you probably already have.

Not familiar with Theremins? It’s an electronic instrument that can be played without any physical contact. Essentially, the antenna (soda can) acts as half of a capacitor — your hand acts as the other. By varying the distance of your hand to the soda can, you change the capacitance, which can then be used to modulate a sound. It was invented in 1928 by the Russian inventor [Leon Theremin], and you can actually see a video of him playing it on YouTube — we’ve never seen this before, but we must say it’s actually quite impressive!

Anyway, back to the hack. All you need are some op-amps, a few capacitors, some resistors, a diode, a breadboard, and of course — a speaker. [Will's] gone into great detail in how each circuit works with both schematics and diagrams of the breadboard configuration — it’s a great little project even kids can follow along.

Take a listen after the break.

Need more cowbell Theremin? Check out this IR based setup that puts a twist on the normal design, with multiple ways to control the volume and pitch. Or if you’re feeling extra steam punky — Theremin goggles? Finally we also have the very unique Theremincello!

18 thoughts on “Soda Can Theremin Made In Minutes

        1. Got my Digilent for $99, but that’s with the educational discount (took a MOOC that counted). I absolutely love it and would like to see them do well, but that picture is a tad obvious :-).

  1. I’m going to go off topic at a wild tangent here.. One of the Youtube suggestions I got after watching that, was https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62wmi8z7mnQ#t=105 – which is an excellent tutirial.. however it reminded me of one of my lecturers many years ago, who was also from India.

    He caused much confusion by use of “into” to mean multiplcation rather than division, thermionic valves might have remained a mystery to me if I hadn’t twigged what he meant. It seems using into in this way is a common idiom in India, and I have heard it many time since when visiting the country… I wondered if anybody had come across any similar differences, either in technical language “across the pond” between the US and Europe, or elsewhare.

    I would also recommend you watch the rest of that series if you want to learn some analog electronics, the IIT campuses are some of the best technical institutes in the world. My real question is has anybody got any other recommendations for clear and undersandable electonics talks they think we should all watch.

    I’m not looking any negative feedback here, I’m sure we all have been to some pretty incomprehensible talks over the years (I may even have given a few), just talks with the “ah! thats how it works…” factor.

  2. Theremin was a soviet spy also. Lenin sent him here to raid the US Patent office during the off time he wasn’t giving concerts here. Pretty good one too, as he got lots of goodies. Nobody really questioned him about what he was doing.

    And you heard the story about Kim Jong Ill I think it was, that when he played his first round of golf ever, he got something like 11 holes in one. Lenin was similar. As the story goes, Theremin was giving a private concert for Lenin and Lenin was fascinated by the instrument, and stopped him in mid-play. Theremin offered a few pointers to Lenin and Lenin finished the concert himself, with nary a mistake.
    A “natural expert” at playing the theremin.

  3. Oh… so that’s what makes that sound. I’ve heard the music in a few old films but never figured out what instrument was responsible until now.

  4. It can be made better by adding more VCO’s, or some type of filter so it doesn’t sound like a mosquito. Theremin himself used an 8 and 12 voice theremin. He built the first synth.

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