Paul Tanner and the Electro-Theremin.
The signature theremin sound in “Good Vibrations” was produced not by a traditional theremin but by an invention created in the late 1950s by big band trombonist Paul Tanner and actor Bob Whitsell. They called it the Electro-Theremin. It created a sound similar to the theremin, but was easier to play. Instead of passing your hands over two antennae (which required a lot of practice to get right), you would mechanically control an audio oscillator. A simpler process, but far less beguiling to watch than the traditional method of playing the theremin.
Mr. Tanner died this past week at the age of 91.
In addition to “Good Vibrations,” Tanner played his Electro-Theremin on The Beach Boys’ “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” and “Wild Honey,” as well as on the soundtracks of movies and TV shows (My Favorite Martian). He also recorded two albums of Electro-Theremin music: Music from Heavenly Bodies and Music from Outer Space.
Tanner’s proto-type was the only authentic Electro-Theremin ever made. He didn’t see much of a future for his instrument. He correctly read the writing on the wall: synthesizers. Therevox created a variation on Tanner’s invention that worked using the same basic principals.
To hear Paul Tanner playing the Electro-Theremin click here.
In the video below, Mike Love is playing a Moog ribbon controller, an instrument developed for the Beach Boys for the sole purpose of simulating the sound of Tanner’s invention.