by Brad Coates (www.melmusic.com.au)
The first minimoog rolled off the assembly line some 26 odd years ago with the last 25 commemoratively badged "minis" being manufactured in 1981. All in All some 12,000 minimoogs were produced making this ground breaking instrument extremely successful. This was realistically the first mass market portable synthesizer. (The VCS3 by EMS was actually a year earlier, but as only some 1400 - 1500 were manufactured in total they can't really be considered as mass market)
Bob Moog, (pronounced Moag), had been making modular synths up till this time mainly for educational institutions, but was able, with a little forward thinking, to see a possible market for a portable synthesizer within contemporary music. Thus was born the Minimoog model A - basically made up from existing modules with a small keyboard but still utilizing patch cords. This was tried out on a few musician friends, who liked it but found it still a little intimidating. The model B surfaced - a purpose built, single piece front panel, hard wired switches for signal routing, no patch cords. The encouraging response from musicians led to the model C - basically the template for the production model Minimoog. This had the inclusion of pitch bend and modulation wheels and the lift up front control panel. This too, was sent out for testing with a number of musicians and was a resounding success. Manufacturing commenced in 1970 with the model D, the Minimoog as we now know it, starting with the production numbers of just 3 or 4 per week, increasing to around 75 units per week by 1973 / 1974. In contrast with most collectables, one can safely assume that due to the contrast improvements in both reliability and sonic quality, the later models are probably the better models to obtain. This is particularly so for models with serial numbers from 10175 onwards with the development of a new stable oscillator board. Tuning on the earlier models is a tad dodgy, to say the least! As this article is not intended as a review of the Minimoog per se, I'll just go into a simple description for those who aren't already aware of it's features and functions.
Basically the Minimoog is a monophonic, analogue synthesizer with a 44 note F to C single trigger, low note priority keyboard. It has 3 voltage controlled oscillators which are all independently tunable from subsonic through to supersonic audio frequencies. This means that you can assign one of the oscillators as a modulation source with, (for the time), an extremely wide range of waveshapes. There is also a white noise / pink noise (switchable) generator, again assignable as an audio or modulation source which can then be cross mixed with the third oscillator for complex modulation effects. The unit also has an external input for processing outside signals through the voltage controlled, 4 pole lowpass filter. There are 2 envelope generators, (ADS) : one for VCA and one for the VCF with a contour amount control. Added to this are pitch bend and modulation amount wheels for greater player expressiveness. But what really makes the Minimoog so desirable is its PHAT sound!
There are a couple of neato little techniques that can be used with a Minimoog, the most notable being the old Jan Hammer "keyboard guitar" trick : feeding the low output back into the external input and winding it up almost to feedback level, (overload light just coming on). This is great for fat guitar - type sounds. So is tuning two oscillators together and bending one of them out of tune with the other. This sounds similar to a guitarist bending one guitar string against another obliquely. There are a variety of other tricks with the Moog, but finding them out for yourself is part of the fun of front panel analogue synthesis!
Moog continued to produce the Minimoog until 1981, manufacturing some 12,000 units in total. These days a Minimoog is as good as cash in virtually any country in the world, ( although prices have been falling lower in Botswana in recent years ), and is the single most sought after analogue synth ever made. If you can't find an original Minimoog, Studio Electronics in Encino California manufacture an excellent rackmount copy called the Midimoog. This has some very worthwhile extra features and, as its name suggests, sends and receives midi data. Trouble is, you'll be looking well in excess of US $3,000.00 to obtain one.
Originally published in Australian Musician Magazine, 1996.
Used here with permission from the author.