First things first: Vogue. Rogue. Moog. All pronounced the same. I know you thought some guy was just being snooty when he corrected you, and the urge for bovine homonyms is strong, but you must resist. And yet, despite the widespread misspeaking, there is ironically no name more synonymous with synthesizers than Moog, and there most likely never will be.
The Debut of The Moog Synthesizer
It was October 1964. Meet The Beatles was kickstarting the British Invasion, the first episode of Bewitched had premiered just a few weeks prior, and Dr. Robert Moog was in New York demonstrating the prototype for his “Voltage-Controlled Electronic Music Module”.
A year later, the Moog synthesizer was on the market, and voltage control, modularity, envelope generation and pitch wheel were about to become part of the musical lexicon. These were also concepts that Bob Moog intentionally did not patent and left in public domain; allowing the synthesizer industry to flourish into present time.
Universally renowned for its uniqueness as an instrument unto itself more than its ability to accurately synthesize a replicated sound, the Moog synth evolved into many variations over the years, including multiple models and reissues. But there’s really 8 models that define the brand, both in capability and recognition – the cornerstone Moogs.
The Cornerstone Moogs
Moog Modular Synthesizer – 1965-1981, 2014-Present
The original module has grown through a dozen different iterations over the years, but still can always be more easily mistaken for the inside of a nuclear submarine than for a keyboard. The earliest versions came with no manual, no presets, and no way to save or share settings, and thus haphazard experimentation was really the only way to learn the instrument.
Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer was the only musician who ever really had the nerve to haul one regularly on stage, and that made his name synonymous with the Moog from early on. However, it was Wendy Carlos who first brought the Moog into the public’s eye when she released Switched-On Bach in 1968, an album of Johann Sebastian Bach concertos performed entirely on the Moog synthesizer that would reach #10 on the Billboard charts and win four Grammys. You’ll also recognize Carlos’s signature voice on the instrument in the soundtracks to A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and Tron.
Minimoog – 1970-1981, 2016-2017
The one that changed it all. You didn’t need half-a-dozen teamsters to take it anywhere, and the dizzying array of patch cables was replaced with knob controllers. The level of intimidation immediately went from threatening to snuggly, and it became a staple element of 70’s era music. Stevie Wonder, Parliament, Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder – many of their definitive works would be unrecognizable without the Minimoog. This is the module that most folks envision when they hear the Moog name.
From 2002 to 2015, Moog produced the Minimoog Voyager, an updated module that came with 896 patches pre-programmed in its memory banks. Some felt that it stripped away the magic of necessary exploration, but the accessibility of the unit has driven its popularity in modern times.
Micromoog – 1975-1979
Designed to be less intimidating in both scope and price, the Micromoog was scaled down to a 2.5 octave keyboard with a smaller range of frequency control. It’s still rather sought after for its sub-octave capabilities and those who appreciate the tactile nature of its ribbon controller rather than a pitch-bend wheel. This was the first synthesizer Moog made in mind to intentionally compete with some of the new innovations that competitors like Yamaha and ARP were producing at the time.
Multimoog – 1978-1981
The successor to the Micromoog, the Multimoog added another octave onto the keyboard and was the first Moog to feature full aftertouch capability – meaning that the keyboard was both pressure and velocity sensitive. Despite it being the big brother to the Micromoog, it’s price point proved to be too high and capabilities too low in comparison to the Micro and the Mini on either side of it. Its limited run has also made it now one of the more difficult vintage Moogs to find on the marketplace.
Polymoog – 1975-1980
With a keyboard of nearly 6 octaves, the Polymoog had polyphonic capacity across its 71 keys. However, the tradeoff was that there were no unique tone generators for each voice. It came with 8 presets which could be edited at the user’s discretion, and also allowed for two sounds to be split between regions of the keyboards or stacked on top of each other simultaneously. The higher price point at the time proved to be detrimental in its commercial success, but it was popular with bigger musicians, most notably Gary Numan, who made it a centerpiece in both the recording and music video for “Cars”.
The Prodigy – 1979-1984
While monophonic, it was the first Moog to feature dual voltage-controlled oscillators at an affordable price for the general market. It was essentially a Minimoog for the common man, and as such has remained a live staple for a variety of musicians. It’s probably the most commonly seen Moog on stages today, and its name has become popular enough to make some laymen discredit other Moog modules. This is the only Moog you’ll see bands using that are just playing gigs for free drinks.
The Liberation – 1980
While not the very first commercially available neck-hanging synthesizer, it is the definitive keytar we all envision when we think of the word. Equal in form and function to music as the keyboard necktie is to fashion, you’d be hard-pressed to find a keyboardist who wouldn’t love to have one. Devo may have been the first musicians to utilize it for dance-moves. Edgar Winter first hung a synth around his neck in 1973, but the Liberation was the first synth that wouldn’t leave you crawling to the chiropractor the next morning.
Memorymoog – 1982-1985
The last synthesizer produced by the original Moog company before declaring bankruptcy in 1987. While it didn’t have unlimited polyphonic capabilities, it did allow for specific filters and oscillators for each of six voices. This was all due to its computer chip memory, which had just reached a powerful enough ability by the late 70’s to change the game on synth storage. Not as renowned at the time as its near-twin, the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, it did have greater preset storage capacity, and as such has left it in incredibly high demand through today.