I built a $40 theremin to annoy friends and learn circuit fundamentals
There’s nothing spookier or more haunting than the soaring sounds of a theremin, an instrument that uses electromagnetic fields to produce various pitches when you move your hands around it. You’ve probably heard one in your favorite science fiction flick. It’s one of my favorite instruments of all time. I tend to gravitate towards the weirder things in life and the theremin is definitely one of the most bizarre instruments out there.
That’s why I decided to put together a theremin on a breadboard. Not only did the high-pitched sounds annoy both my dog and husband (much to my wicked delight), but it also helped me better understand circuitry. If you’ve got little ones, this is a fantastic project to do with them. It’s easy to assemble and the price is surprisingly affordable. Read on to learn more.
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Where the heck do you even get a breadboard theremin?
I purchased the $39.95 Theremin Kit from MicroKits on a whim one evening. The price is reasonable, as it comes with all the bits and bobs you need. MicroKits is run by David Levi, an electrical engineer and toy designer who wants to inspire the next generation of engineers. I love finding affordable, accessible products and the small businesses that make it happen.
The company also sells a tiny synthesizer that serves as a great introduction to analog sound synthesis. You can even hook the touchpad up to a couple of bananas (they’re considered conductive objects!) and make a working keyboard out of them. Cool, right? Maybe the synthesizer will be my next project…
It’s wonderfully easy to assemble
I’m no electrician, but I have small fingers and I’m naturally dexterous. The whole process involves putting the wires, resistors, speakers, and antennas in the right spots. The instructions are broken down into stages, which I found helpful. The rows and columns on the breadboard are labeled and the wires are color coordinated.
I was able to assemble the parts in about twenty five minutes. That said, the holes on the breadboard are rather microscopic. The kit doesn’t come with any tools, so you may want to pick up a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers. I managed OK with no tools, but I had to lean in close to see what I was doing.
It’s ridiculously fun to play with
As you can see in the video above, I was having a grand old time playing with the breadboard theremin. The square-shaped antenna deafens the sound while the triangle-shaped one controls the pitch. It doesn’t sound like a real theremin, but the concept is definitely there. I haven’t quite mastered the Doctor Who theme song yet, but give me time and I’ll be the life of the party soon enough.
I have a better understanding of circuitry
The instructional booklet does a fine job of explaining what each and every part does. The resistors, for example, resist the flow of electricity whereas transistors amplify the power. The transistor is the thing that makes the speaker louder on this particular device. The whole thing is super cool and I feel like I gained something from it—and I’m not just talking about my rad new instrument.
If you’re looking to learn something new, you should really consider picking up the Theremin Kit from MicroKits. It’s definitely worth it.