MinimoogThe Minimoog is an analog synthesizer first manufactured by Moog Music between 1970 and 1981. In the 1960s, synthesizers—in the form of large, expensive, and complex modular synthesizers—were inaccessible to most musicians. The Minimoog was designed as an affordable, portable, simplified instrument which combined the most useful components in a single device. It was the first synthesizer sold in retail stores. It was first popular with progressive rock and jazz musicians and found wide use in disco, pop, rock and electronic music.
After the sale of Moog Music, production of the Minimoog stopped in the early 1980s. In 2002, after founder Robert Moog regained the rights to the Moog brand and bought the company, the Minimoog Voyager, an updated version, was released. In 2016, Moog Music released a new version of the original Minimoog.
In the 1960s, RA Moog Co manufactured Moog synthesizers, which helped bring electronic sounds to music but remained inaccessible to ordinary people. These modular synthesizers were difficult to use and required users to connect components manually with patch cables to create sounds. They were also sensitive to temperature and humidity, and cost tens of thousands of dollars. Most were owned by universities or record labels, and used to create soundtracks or jingles; by 1970, only 28 were owned by musicians.
Moog engineer Bill Hemsath wondered if the company could create a smaller, more reliable synthesizer. He created a prototype by sawing a keyboard in half and wiring several components into a small cabinet. Moog president Robert Moog felt the prototype was fun, but did not initially see a market for it. Hemsath, other engineers and later Moog created several more prototypes, adding features such as the suitcase design to aid portability.
In early 1970, Moog Co began losing money as interest in its modular synthesizers fell. While Moog was away, the engineers, fearing they would lose their jobs if the company closed, developed a version of Hemsath's miniature synthesizer, the Minimoog Model D. Moog chastised them, but came to see the potential in the Model D and authorized its production.
The engineers could not get the power supply to stabilise properly, which meant that the Minimoog's three oscillators were never completely synchronized. Although unintentional, this created the synthesizer's "warm, rich" sound. Its voltage-controlled filter was unique, allowing users to shape sounds to create "everything from blistering, funky bass blurps ... to spacey whistle lead tones". The Minimoog also was the first synthesizer to feature a pitch wheel, which allows players to bend notes as a guitarist or saxophonist does, allowing for more expressive playing. According to David Borden, one of the first users of the Minimoog, if Moog had patented the pitch wheel "he would have been an extremely wealthy man".
ReleaseMoog Co released the first Minimoog in 1971. Moog said it was "conceived originally as a session musician's axe, something a guy could carry to the studio, do a gig and walk out. We thought we'd sell maybe 100 of them." Moog hired engineer and musicologist David Van Koevering to travel demonstrating Minimoogs to musicians and music stores. Van Koevering's friend Glen Bell, founder of Taco Bell, allowed him to use a building on a private island Bell owned in Florida. Van Koevering used the building to host an event he billed as "Island of Electronicus", a "pseudo-psychedelic experience that brought counterculture (minus the drugs) to straight families and connected it with the sound of the Minimoog".
The Minimoog was in continuous production for thirteen years and over 12,000 were made. It was the first synthesiser sold in retail stores. Despite the success, Moog Co could not afford to meet demand, nor had credit for a loan, and Moog sold the company. Production of the Minimoog stopped in 1981 and the company ceased all production in 1993.
In 2002, Robert Moog reacquired the rights to the Moog name and bought the company. In 2002, Moog Co released the Minimoog Voyager, an updated version of the Minimoog that sold more than 14,000 units, more than the original Minimoog. In 2016, Moog Music began manufacturing an updated version of the Model D. Moog announced the end of Model D production in June 2017. In 2018, Moog Music released the Minimoog Model D app for iOS.
ImpactAccording to TJ Pinch, author of Analog Days, the Minimoog was "the first synthesizer ever to become a 'classic'". Wired described it as "the most famous synthesizer in music history ... a ubiquitous analog keyboard that can be heard in countless pop, rock, hip-hop, and techno tracks from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s". It was also important for its portability. David Borden, an associate of Moog, said that the Minimoog "took the synthesizer out of the studio and put it into the concert hall". According to the Guardian, "Tweaked now so that the synthesiser could reliably perform as either a melodic lead or propulsive bass instrument (rather than just as a complex sound-generating machine), the Minimoog changed everything ... the Moogs oozed character. Their sound could be quirky, kitsch and cute, or pulverising, but it was always identifiable as Moog."
The Minimoog changed the dynamics of rock bands. For the first time, keyboardists could play lead solos in the style of lead guitarists, or play synthesized basslines, which became particularly popular in funk, as in the Parliament track "Flash Light". Rick Wakeman of Yes said: "For the first time you could go on [stage] and give the guitarist a run for his money...a guitarist would say, 'Oh shoot, he's got a Minimoog', so they're looking for eleven on their volume control - it's the only way they can compete." Wakeman said the instrument "absolutely changed the face of music".
The Minimoog took a place in mainstream black music, most notably in the work of Stevie Wonder. It was popular in jazz, and Sun Ra became perhaps the first musician to perform and record with the instrument (on his 1970 album My Brother the Wind). Herbie Hancock, Dick Hyman and Chick Corea were other early adopters. It became a staple of progressive rock. In the early 1970s, Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer made the Minimoog a central part of his performances. Wakeman used five Minimoogs on stage so he could play different sounds without having to reconfigure the synthesizer. It was also used by electronic artists such as Kraftwerk, who used it on their albums Autobahn (1974) and The Man-Machine (1978), and later by Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and Gary Numan. In the late 1970s and the early 1980s, it was widely used in the emerging disco genre by artists including Abba and Giorgio Moroder. In 2012, to celebrate Moog's birthday, Google created an interactive version of the Minimoog as its Google Doodle.