Theremin!

I cannot say enough nice things about Noisebug in Pomona. Moog Music, unfortunately, not so much. Don’t get me wrong – Moog makes some great musical instruments, and Robert Moog was a genius. But my first interaction with the company has not been exactly an excellent experience.

I have, needless to say, been wanting a theremin for years. The spooky wooo-ooooo sound is unmistakably atmospheric and eerie, and it’s a sound I’ve been unable to reproduce by other means. Iit’s easy to get close, but there’s something special about a genuine theremin. Just listen to the soundtrack for the original The Day The Earth Stood Still (a fantastic score composed by Bernard Hermann, featuring a theremin played by the great Dr. Samuel Hoffmann) if you need to be convinced.

Theremin

There are a number of theremins currently available, and none of them are terribly expensive. Sure, an original RCA lectern style Thereminvox will set you back a pretty penny if you can find one. But the most you can spend on a new Theremin is only about $500 (for a Moog Etherwave Plus), and there are kits that cost less than $100. So I’m not sure why I never bought one. Probably because I wanted a Moog Etherwave, since it uses the same basic circuit that Leon Theremin’s original instruments did, and some of the cheaper theremins are imitations with a harsher tone. Every time I remind myself that I can get a theremin for less than $200, I upsell myself to an Etherwave, and they seem somewhat less affordable.

The missus decided to get me one for Christmas. It wasn’t much of a surprise gift, because she had to ask me which one to get. I settled on the Moog Etherwave kit. I was looking forward to putting it together (there’s not much to do – the main circuit board is pre-built).

But there was a snag. Moog was out of the kits. Apparently unable to keep up with demand on the assembled units, they weren’t able to spare enough parts for the kits.

That’s fine. I’m glad they’re doing well enough to turn away orders. Unfortunately, they didn’t tell her that they were out of stock until she called to ask why she hadn’t gotten any kind of an order confirmation, at which point it would have been too late to ship it in time for Christmas anyway. They knew it was a Christmas present, so it was a bit of neglect on their part to not say something right away. When my wife called to ask, they told her that there was a kit that got returned at Noisebug, but that was the only available kit they knew about.

OK. That would work. The timing worked out such that I had to go pick it up to ensure it was under the Christmas tree. Noisebug is in Pomona, which is about a half hour drive. It’s a really cool store, just around the corner from the Glass House, where I saw the Flaming Lips play one of their headphone concerts on the Soft Bulletin tour (which may be the best show I’ve ever seen). I ended up buying the missus a Electro Harmonix vocoder effect pedal that she wanted, as well as a delay pedal for myself.

Theremin

Christmas Day, I opened the box and took inventory of the kit. The story was that the person who returned it wanted an assembled unit but ordered the kit by accident, so returned it unassembled. Unfortunately, there were a number of parts missing, and it looked like the purchaser had started to assemble it. My guess was he decided it was too much work and not worth the small price break.

This is where purchasing from a small independent music store paid off. I called Noisebug and told them about the missing parts. I spoke to Antonio, who was the person I picked it up from, and he remembered me. He asked how I wanted to handle it.

The problem was that there just weren’t any kits available to swap it out. I didn’t want to get a refund and wait for kits to show up. I wanted to start building the kit in as much as I could – first off I wanted to stain and finish the case. So I asked to get the missing parts as soon as possible.

Antonio asked for a list of the missing parts and said he would talk to Moog. So I went shopping for wood stain and waited.

This past week, I realized I hadn’t heard back from Noisebug. So I e-mailed. I got a phone call from Antonio apologizing that he had been unable to get any joy from Moog, so he had an offer for me. Would I be happy getting an assembled Etherwave Plus rather than the spare parts, no extra charge?

(The Etherwave Plus adds control voltage (CV) outputs for the pitch and volume antennas, which could be used to control any analog synthesizer, as well as a variety of other electronic instruments. I’m now thinking about designing a CV Arduino shield that would let me use the theremin as a controller for Pure Data or Max/MSP.)

Strike two for Moog. But a home run for Noisebug.

I wanted to build the kit, but the point was to end up with a theremin. And since it seemed unlikely I would be able to get a complete kit, the upgrade seemed a fair solution, and a very generous offer. (The Etherwave kit lists for $359, a $40 break off the assembled unit. An assembled Etherwave Plus lists for $519.) So, this was a $160 upgrade that Noisebug was offering for free, just to keep me happy. I’m sure they ended up eating their margin on this in the interest of keeping me a happy, potentially repeat customer.

Theremin

It probably helped that, between my wife and I, we spent several hundred dollars on the theremin and effects pedals plus some other accessories, but I don’t think that was the main reason. Antonio did not want me to walk away disgruntled with Noisebug over something that was Moog’s fault, and out of his control. He wanted me to come back to Noisebug next time I wanted to buy a synthesizer or pedal.

And it worked. Believe me, when I decide to get my Korg Monotron or Kaossilator Pro, I’ll be calling Noisebug. They ship, so I won’t even necessarily need to drive out to Pomona, though it’s a short drive and there are lots of fun toys in the store to look at.

Pictures are, of course, of my new assembled Moog Etherwave Plus theremin. It looks and sounds so pretty.

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