1929–30 “North Carolina” Theremin

1929–30 Theremin

Who Commissioned This Instrument?

Currently unknown.

Who Owned This Instrument?

Purchased at auction in 2016 in Asheville, North Carolina. Prior provenance unknown.

Where is This Instrument Now?

Private Owner

What Do We Know About This Instrument?

While nearly visually identical to a factory-made RCA Theremin from the outside, this instrument consists of a special-order cabinet containing handmade internals, originating from Theremin Studio at 37 W 54th St., New York, built sometime between 1929 and 1930.

Although the cabinet looks like a factory-made Jamestown Mantel Co. cabinet from an RCA Theremin, on closer inspection there are noticeable differences. It bears no manufacturer's label, has removable legs, and features different door construction, hinges, and veneering details, as well as some hidden construction details like blind tongue and groove joints in places where the Jamestown Mantel Co. cabinets do not.

This cabinet bears the roman numeral ⅩⅧ (18) on the doors and chassis rails, indicating that it might be from a small run of cabinets that Theremin Studio ordered for use as prototypes or custom theremins. According to Albert Glinsky in Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage, an internal RCA memo stated that it is believed that Mr. Theremin has a design of cabinet which he requests used for this outfit. It is very probable that this cabinet is of that design.

Electronically, this theremin is very similar to the RCA Theremin, employing the same tube complement, similar oscillator frequencies, and same principles for generating sound and controlling volume. We have observed, however, that the overall performance is superior to the factory production run, likely due to the handmade character and Theremin's personal attention to this instrument.

All of the electronics are mounted to the same wooden breadboard style chassis including the power supply, which on the RCA production is mounted to the floor of the instrument's cabinet. The pitch and volume resonant coils are wound on cardboard tubes, hand-painted black at the exposed ends. The passive electronic parts are atypical of the RCA production, being high quality and sometimes laboratory-grade components, thoughtfully selected from independent suppliers of the day.

Why is it Special?

This is the most intact, and the only unmodified currently known surviving Lev-built theremin with all of its original electronic components, including tubes. Only the antennas are not original. The missing set has been replaced with high quality replicas made by Mike Buffington. Differing slightly from stock RCA antennas, these were custom made for this theremin in the uniquely handmade style of Theremin's orignal antenna set, the details of which were provided by the Greenfield Theremin.

The paper label on the door has an original autograph of Leon Theremin, dated December 12, 1930.

The cabinet legs bear the distinctive script of Lev's handwritten front left, front right, back left and back right in pencil, only visible when the legs are removed.

December 4, 1930 dated Serco labels have similarly been discovered on a few tubes in the Greenfield Theremin.

Tube Complement:


Not currently available, but predominately similar to the RCA factory schematic, with minor differences.