Moog synthesizer

Last updated

Moog synthesizer
Moog Modular 55 img2.jpg
A 1975 Moog Modular 55 system
Manufacturer R. A. Moog Co.
Technical specifications
Oscillator VCO
Synthesis type Subtractive
Filter VCF

The Moog synthesizer is a modular synthesizer developed by the American engineer Robert Moog. Moog debuted it in 1964, and Moog's company R. A. Moog Co. (later known as Moog Music) produced numerous models from 1965 to 1980. [1] It was the first commercial synthesizer, and is credited with creating the analog synthesizer as it is known today.


By 1963, Moog had been designing and selling theremins for several years. He began developing the Moog synthesizer in response to demand for more practical and affordable electronic music equipment, guided by suggestions and requests from composers including Herb Deutsch, Richard Teitelbaum, Vladimir Ussachevsky, and Wendy Carlos. Moog's principal innovation was to use voltage to control pitch via a voltage-controlled oscillator. He also introduced fundamental synthesizer concepts such as modularity and envelope generation.

The synthesizer consists of separate modules—such as voltage-controlled oscillators, amplifiers and filters, envelope generators, noise generators, ring modulators, triggers and mixers—which create and shape sounds, and can be connected via patch cords. It can be played using controllers including musical keyboards, joysticks, pedals, and ribbon controllers, or controlled with sequencers. Its oscillators can produce waveforms of different timbres, which can be modulated and filtered to shape their sounds (subtractive synthesis).

The Moog synthesizer was brought to the mainstream by Switched-On Bach (1968), a bestselling album of Bach compositions arranged for Moog synthesizer by Wendy Carlos. In the late 1960s, it was adopted by rock and pop acts including the Doors, the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles. At its height of popularity, it was a staple of 1970s progressive rock, used by acts including Yes, Tangerine Dream, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. In 1970, Moog Music released a portable, self-contained model, the Minimoog.


Robert Moog with a Moog synthesizer in the 1970s Bob Moog3.jpg
Robert Moog with a Moog synthesizer in the 1970s

In the early 1960s, electronic music technology was impractical and used mainly by experimental composers to create music with little mainstream appeal. [2] In 1963, American engineer Robert Moog, who designed and sold theremins, [3] met composer Herb Deutsch at a New York State School Music Association trade fair. Deutsch had been making electronic music using a theremin, tape recorder, and single-pitch oscillator, a time-consuming process that involved splicing tape. Recognizing the need for more practical and sophisticated equipment, Moog and Deutsch discussed the notion of a "portable electronic music studio". [4]

Moog received a grant of $16,000 from the New York State Small Business Association and began work in Trumansburg, New York. [4] At the time, synthesizer-like instruments filled rooms; [5] Moog hoped to build a more compact instrument that would appeal to musicians. [6] Learning from his experience building a prohibitively expensive guitar amplifier, he believed that practicality and affordability were the most important parameters. [6]

Previous synthesizers, such as the RCA Mark II, had created sound from hundreds of vacuum tubes. [7] Instead, Moog used recently available silicon transistors — specifically, a transistor with an exponential relationship between input voltage and output current. With this, he created the voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO), which generated a waveform whose pitch could be adjusted by changing the voltage. Moog designed his synthesizer around a standard of one volt per octave. Similarly, he used voltage to control loudness with voltage-controlled amplifiers (VCAs). [4]

Moog developed a prototype with two VCOs and a VCA. As the VCOs themselves could output voltage, one could be used to modulate the output of another, creating effects such as vibrato and tremolo. [4] According to Moog, when Deutsch saw this, he "went through the roof" and immediately began making music with the prototype, attracting the interest of passersby: "They would stand there, they’d listen and they’d shake their heads ... What is this weird shit coming out of the basement?" [4]

Herb Deutsch in 2011 Herb Deutsch 10-2011.jpg
Herb Deutsch in 2011

In 1964, Moog and Deutsch demonstrated the synthesizer at the electronic music studio at the University of Toronto. [4] After the presentation impressed the composers, Moog was invited by the Audio Engineering Society to present at their annual convention in New York that October. [5] Though he had not planned to sell synthesizers there, some customers placed orders at the show. The choreographer Alwin Nikolais became the first person to purchase a commercially made Moog synthesizer. [4] Moog constructed synthesizers to order. [7] The first order for a complete Moog synthesizer, for which Moog had to design a keyboard and cabinet, came from composer Eric Siday. [4] With no Moog books and no way to save or share settings, early users had to learn how to use the synthesizer themselves, by word of mouth, or from seminars held by Moog and Deutsch. [2]

Moog refined the synthesizer in response to requests from musicians and composers. [8] For example, after Deutsch suggested Moog find a way to fade notes in and out, Moog invented an envelope module, using a doorbell button as a prototype. [4] At the suggestion of composer Gustav Ciamaga, Moog developed a filter module, a means of removing frequencies from waveforms. [4] His first filter design created a sound similar to a wah-wah pedal; he later developed the distinctive "ladder" filter, which was the only item in the synthesizer design that Moog patented, granted on October 28, 1969. [4] Further developments were driven by suggestions from musicians including Richard Teitelbaum, Vladimir Ussachevsky, and Wendy Carlos; [8] it was Carlos who suggested the first touch-sensitive keyboard, portamento control, and filter bank, which became standard features. [4]

Moog initially avoided the word synthesizer, as it was associated with the RCA synthesizer, and instead described his invention as a "system" of "electronic music modules". The classical meaning of "to synthesize" is to assemble a whole out of parts. [4] After many debates, Moog eventually told composer Reynold Weidenaar: "It’s a synthesizer and that's what it does and we're just going to have to go with it." [4] Moog used the word synthesizer in print for the first time in 1966. By the 1970s, "synthesizer" had become the standard term for such instruments. [4]

There was also debate as to the role of the keyboard in synthesizers. Some, such as composer Vladimir Ussachevsky and Moog's competitor Don Buchla, felt they were restrictive. However, Moog recognized that most customers wanted keyboards and found it helped make the instrument approachable; by including keyboards in photographs, it helped users understand that the synthesizer was for making music. [4] Moog also developed alternative controllers, such as the ribbon controller, which allows users to control pitch similarly to moving a finger along a violin string. [4]

Most of the Moog modules were finalized by the end of the 1960s and remained mostly unchanged until Moog Music ceased trading in the 1980s. [2] Moog had pursued the development of his synthesizer as a hobby; he stressed that he was not a businessman, and had not known what a balance sheet was. [4] He likened the experience to riding theme park amusements: "You know you're not going to get hurt too badly because nobody would let you do that, but you’re not quite in control." [4]


Modules: 921 VCO, 911 Envelope Generator; 902 VCA Moog 921, 911, 902 modules.jpg
Modules: 921 VCO, 911 Envelope Generator; 902 VCA

The Moog synthesizer consists of separate modules such as oscillators, amplifiers, envelope generators, filters, noise generators, ring modulators, triggers and mixers which can be connected in a variety of ways via patch cords. [7] [4] The modules can also be used to control each other. [4] The Moog does not produce sound until a workable combination of modules are connected. [2]

The synthesizer can be played using controllers including keyboards, joysticks, pedals, and ribbon controllers. [7] The oscillators can produce different waveforms with different tones and overtones, such as a "bright, full, brassy" sawtooth wave, a thinner, flute-like triangle wave, a "nasal, reedy" pulse wave, and a "whistle-like" sine wave. [4] These waveforms can be modulated and filtered to produce more combinations of sounds (subtractive synthesis). [4] The oscillators were difficult to keep in tune, and small temperature changes would cause them to drift rapidly. [2] As Moog's early customers were more interested in creating experimental music than playing conventional melodies, Moog did not consider keeping the oscillators stable a priority. [7]

The Moog's 24db [9] low-pass filter is particularly distinctive, with a "rich", "juicy", "fat" sound. [4] The filter, based on pairs of transistors connected by capacitors arranged in a ladder-like layout, attenuates frequencies above a level set by the user, and boosts the frequencies around the cut-off frequency. [4] When overdriven, the filter produces a rich distortion described as "the Moog sound". [4]


Keyboardist Keith Emerson performing with a Moog synthesizer in 1970 Emerson moog.jpg
Keyboardist Keith Emerson performing with a Moog synthesizer in 1970

The Moog was much smaller than previous synthesizers, and much cheaper, at US$10,000 compared to the six-figure sums of other synthesizers. [5] Whereas the RCA Mark II was programmed with punchcards, Moog's synthesizer could be played in real time via keyboard, making it attractive to musicians. [5] New Scientist described it as the first commercial synthesizer. [10] According to the authors of Analog Days, "Though the notion of voltage control and Moog's circuit designs were not original, Moog's innovations were in drawing the elements together, realizing that the problem of exponential conversion could be solved using transistor circuitry and building such circuits and making them work in a way that was of interest to musicians." [4]

Most Moog synthesizers were owned by universities or record labels, and used to create soundtracks or jingles; by 1970, only 28 were owned by musicians. [11] The Moog was first used by experimental composers including Richard Teitelbaum, Dick Hyman and Wendy Carlos. [8] In 1968, Carlos released Switched-On Bach, an album of Bach compositions arranged for Moog synthesizer. It won three Grammy Awards and was the first classical album certified platinum. [12] [6] The album is credited for popularising the Moog and demonstrating that synthesizers could be more than "random noise machines". [8]

For a period, the name Moog became so associated with electronic music that it was sometimes used as a generic term for any synthesizer. [8] Numerous novelty records were recorded with titles such as Music to Moog By,Moog Espana and Moog Power. Moog liked the idea of his name becoming a generic term for synthesizer, but disliked the "cruddy" records that had been released with his name attached. [8]

An early use in rock music came with the 1967 Monkees album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. [8] In the same year, the Doors used a Moog synthesizer on their song "Strange Days". [13] In 1969, George Harrison released an album of Moog recordings, Electronic Sound , and that year the Moog appeared on the Beatles album Abbey Road on tracks including "Because", "Here Comes the Sun" and "Maxwell's Silver Hammer". [8] Other rock bands who adopted the Moog include the Grateful Dead, and the Rolling Stones. [3] It was also adopted by jazz musicians including Herbie Hancock, Jan Hammer and Sun Ra. [8]

In the 1970s, at the height of the Moog's popularity, it became ubiquitous as part of progressive rock bands such as Yes, Tangerine Dream, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. [8] Keith Emerson was the first major rock musician to perform live with the Moog, and it became a trademark of his performances; according to Analog Days, the likes of Emerson "did for the keyboard what Jimi Hendrix did for the guitar". [4] In later decades, hip hop groups such as the Beastie Boys and rock bands including They Might Be Giants and Wilco "revived an interest in the early Moog synthesizer timbres". [8]

The Guardian wrote that the Moog synthesizer, with its dramatically new sounds, arrived at a time in American history when, in the wake of the Vietnam War, "nearly everything about the old order was up for revision". [6] With its ability to imitate instruments such as strings and horns, synthesizers threatened the jobs of session musicians. For a period, the Moog was banned from use in commercial work, a restriction negotiated by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). [4] Robert Moog felt that the AFM had not realized that the synthesizer was an instrument to be learnt and mastered like any other, and instead imagined that "all the sounds that musicians could make somehow existed in the Moog — all you had to do was push a button that said 'Jascha Heifetz' and out would come the most fantastic violin player". [14]

Moog features such as voltage-controlled oscillator, envelopes, noise generators, filters, and sequencers became standards in the synthesizer market. [4] [15] The ladder filter has been replicated in hardware synthesizers, [16] as well in digital signal processors, [17] field-programmable gate arrays, [18] and software synthesizers. [19] According to the Guardian , Moog's 1964 paper Voltage-Controlled Music Modules, in which he proposed the Moog synthesizer modules, invented the modern concept of the analog synthesizer. [7]


A Minimoog Minimoog.JPG
A Minimoog

In 1970, Moog Music released the Minimoog, a portable, self-contained model, and the modular systems became a secondary part of Moog's business. [2] The Minimoog has been described as the most famous and influential synthesizer in history. [11]

After the sale of Moog Music, production of Moog synthesizers stopped in the early 1980s. The patents and other rights to Moog's modular circuits expired in the 1990s. In 2002, after Robert Moog regained the rights to the Moog brand and bought the company, Moog released the Minimoog Voyager, an updated version. In 2016, Moog released a new version of the original Minimoog. [2]

See also

Related Research Articles

Electronic musical instrument Musical instrument that uses electronic circuits to generate sound

An electronic musical instrument or electrophone is a musical instrument that produces sound using electronic circuitry. Such an instrument sounds by outputting an electrical, electronic or digital audio signal that ultimately is plugged into a power amplifier which drives a loudspeaker, creating the sound heard by the performer and listener.

Robert Moog American engineer and electronic music pioneer

Robert Arthur Moog was an American engineering physicist and pioneer of electronic music. He was the founder of Moog Music and the inventor of the first commercial synthesizer, the Moog synthesizer, debuted in 1964. This was followed in 1970 by a more portable model, the Minimoog, described as the most famous and influential synthesizer in history.

Subtractive synthesis is a method of sound synthesis in which partials of an audio signal are attenuated by a filter to alter the timbre of the sound. While subtractive synthesis can be applied to any source audio signal, the sound most commonly associated with the technique is that of analog synthesizers of the 1960s and 1970s, in which the harmonics of simple waveforms such as sawtooth, pulse or square waves are attenuated with a voltage-controlled resonant low-pass filter. Many digital, virtual analog and software synthesizers use subtractive synthesis, sometimes in conjunction with other methods of sound synthesis.

Analog synthesizer Synthesizer that uses analog circuits and analog computer techniques to generate sound electronically

An analogsynthesizer is a synthesizer that uses analog circuits and analog signals to generate sound electronically.

Minimoog Synthesizer

The Minimoog is an analog synthesizer first manufactured by Moog Music between 1970 and 1981. Designed as a more affordable, portable version of the modular Moog synthesizer, 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.

Modular synthesizers are synthesizers composed of separate modules of different functions. The modules can be connected together by the user to create a patch. The outputs from the modules may include audio signals, analog control voltages, or digital signals for logic or timing conditions. Typical modules are voltage-controlled oscillators, voltage-controlled filters, voltage-controlled amplifiers and envelope generators.


CV/gate is an analog method of controlling synthesizers, drum machines and other similar equipment with external sequencers. The control voltage typically controls pitch and the gate signal controls note on-off.

Buchla Electronic Musical Instruments

Buchla Electronic Musical Instruments (BEMI) was a manufacturer of synthesizers and unique MIDI controllers. The origins of the company could be found in Buchla & Associates, created in 1963 by synthesizer pioneer Don Buchla of Berkeley, California. In 2012 the original company led by Don Buchla was acquired by a group of Australian investors trading as Audio Supermarket Pty. Ltd. The company was renamed Buchla Electronic Musical Instruments as part of the acquisition. In 2018 the assets of BEMI were acquired by a new entity, Buchla U.S.A., and the company continues under new ownership.

ARP Odyssey

The ARP Odyssey is an analog synthesizer introduced by ARP Instruments in 1972.

Moog Music

Moog Music Inc. is an American company based in Asheville, North Carolina, which manufactures electronic musical instruments. It was founded in 1953 as R. A. Moog Co. by Robert Moog and his father and was renamed Moog Music in 1972. Its early instruments included various Moog modular synthesizer systems, including the world's first commercial synthesizer, followed by the launch of the Minimoog in 1970, which became one of the most coveted and influential electronic instruments of all time.


The Multimoog is a monophonic analog synthesizer manufactured by Moog Music from 1978 to 1981. Derived from the earlier Micromoog, the Multimoog was intended to be a less expensive alternative to the Minimoog. It nevertheless had some advanced features which the Minimoog did not—most notably, it was one of the earliest synthesizers to feature aftertouch capability.


The Memorymoog is a polyphonic electronic music synthesizer manufactured by Moog Music from 1982 to 1985, the last polyphonic synthesizer to be released by Moog Music before the company declared bankruptcy in 1987. While comparable to other polyphonic synthesizers of the time period, such as the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5 and Oberheim OB-Xa, the Memorymoog distinguished itself with 3 audio oscillators per voice and greater preset storage capacity.

Polymoog Synthesizer model manufactured by Moog Music

The Polymoog is a hybrid polyphonic analog synthesizer that was manufactured by Moog Music from 1975 to 1980. The Polymoog was based on divide-down oscillator technology similar to electronic organs and string synthesizers of the time.


The Moog model 2090 Micromoog is a monophonic analog synthesizer produced by Moog Music from 1975–79.

Serge synthesizer

The Serge synthesizer is an analogue modular synthesizer system originally developed by Serge Tcherepnin, Rich Gold and Randy Cohen at CalArts in late 1972. The first 20 Serge systems were built in 1973 in Tcherepnin's home. Tcherepnin was a professor at CalArts at the time, and desired to create something like the exclusively expensive Buchla modular synthesizers "for the people that would be both inexpensive and powerful." After building prototypes, Tcherepnin went on to develop kits for students to affordably build their own modular synthesizer, production taking place unofficially on a second floor CalArts balcony. This led to Tcherepnin leaving CalArts in order to produce kits commercially, starting in 1974.

Synthesizer Electronic musical instrument

A synthesizer is an electronic musical instrument that generates audio signals. Synthesizers generate audio through methods including subtractive synthesis, additive synthesis, and frequency modulation synthesis. These sounds may be shaped and modulated by components such as filters, envelopes, and low-frequency oscillators. Synthesizers are typically played with keyboards or controlled by sequencers, software, or other instruments, often via MIDI.

Analog sequencer

An analog sequencer is a music sequencer constructed from analog (analogue) electronics, invented in the first half of the 20th century.

Korg PS-3300

The Korg PS-3300 is a polyphonic analog synthesizer, produced by Korg between 1977 and 1981.

Steiner-Parker Synthacon

The Steiner-Parker Synthacon is a monophonic analog synthesizer that was built between 1975 and 1979 by Steiner-Parker, a Salt Lake City-based synthesizer manufacturer. It was introduced as a competitor to other analog synthesizers, like the Minimoog and ARP Odyssey.

In sound and music, an envelope describes how a sound changes over time. It may relate to elements such as amplitude (volume), filters (frequencies) or pitch. For example, a piano key, when struck and held, creates a near-immediate initial sound which gradually decreases in volume to zero.


  1. Chronology 1953–1993, Moog Archives
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Leon, Richard. "Dr Robert & His Modular Moogs". Sound on Sound . Retrieved 20 January 2020.
  3. 1 2 "Obituary: Dr Robert Moog". BBC News . 22 August 2005. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 Pinch, Trevor; Trocco, Frank (2004). Analog Days: The Invention and Impact of the Moog Synthesizer. Harvard University Press. ISBN   978-0-674-01617-0.
  5. 1 2 3 4 "Robert Moog biography (1934-2005)". Retrieved 3 December 2017.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Stearns, David Patrick (25 August 2005). "Obituary: Robert Moog". the Guardian. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 McNamee, David (10 August 2010). "Hey, what's that sound: Moog synthesisers". The Guardian . Retrieved 12 October 2018.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Kozinn, Allan. "Robert Moog, creator of music synthesizer, dies at 71". New York Times . Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  9. Sam Gallagher (17 July 2019). "Analyzing the Moog Filter". all about circuits.
  10. Hamer, Mick. "Interview: Electronic maestros". New Scientist. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  11. 1 2 Weiner, Sophie (20 October 2017). "Minimoog: The First Truly Portable Synthesizer". Red Bull Music Academy . Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  12. Bernstein, Adam (23 August 2005). "Robert Moog Dies; Created Electronic Synthesizer". Washington Post . ISSN   0190-8286 . Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  13. Davis, Stephen (2005). Jim Morrison: Life, Death, Legend. New York: Gotham Books. p. 197. ISBN   978-1-59240-099-7.
  14. Interview with Bob Moog, Plug, Fall 1974,p.2.
  15. Vail, Mark (2014). The Synthesizer. Oxford University Press. ISBN   978-0195394894.
  16. "analogue/digital hybrid synthesiser" (PDF). Modal Electronics. Modal Electronics. 2020.
  17. Antti Huovilainen (8 October 2004). "Analzing the Moog Filter" (PDF). Helsinki University of Technology. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 April 2019.
  18. Jürgen Schuhmacher (17 September 2005). "Moog Filter Module in VHDL 2005". Sound of L.A. Music.
  19. Will Pirkle (2013). "Virtual Analog Filter Implementation and Comparisons" (PDF).