The Minimoog was probably the most ground-breaking synthesiser that was every manufactured because it bought the synthesiser to the masses. In his far reaching wisdom Dr Robert moog looked at his large modular synthesisers and realised that although it was fantastic to have at your disposal a huge amount of modules to interconnect in an endless way lead to several problems.
Firstly they were huge so they took up a lot of space and were a pain to transport. They also cost a massive amount of money and they took a lot of time to actually use with all the necessary interconnections between the modules before you could actually produce a sound!
Dr Robert realised that you could in fact produce a synthesiser by using a few modules and just provide the main controls and prewire them together in the most used way, then you could shrink the size down dramatically. The cost would also be reduced dramatically.
So it was it any surprise that a cheaper, smaller and easy to use synthesiser became so popular?
The Minimoog was a monophonic synthesiser; monophonic meaning it could only play one note at once and was available to buy in 1970 at a price of $1495. That was about £603 in 1970. Still a lot of money in those days but significantly cheaper and smaller than the modular 3 series.
By having the modules hardwired together also meant that most people could manage to coax a sound out of it, something that can’t be claimed with a moog modular 3! It was also easy to recreate sounds by marking the settings on a blank reproduced copy of the front panel controls.
Gary Numan first encountered a Minimoog at a recording studio where someone had left it set to produce that signature powerful earthshattering moog bass sound. I guess that through a studio sound system it was impossible not to fall in love with it.
The Minimoog came in a package that was easy to carry around and with a four octave keyboard already attached, it had three voltage controlled oscillators but one was switchable to be used as a modulation source. This added to the instruments flexibility in that you could create sounds with a lot of power by running the three oscillators together slightly detuned or you could switch the third oscillator into its modulation mode and then take advantage of the extra capabilities that gave you.
Each of the oscillators operated over the audio range by means of octave switches and they also produced six different waveforms.
Triangle, sawtooth triangle, square, wide rectangle and narrow rectangle, the third oscillator has reverse sawtooth instead of the sawtooth triangle and could also be disconnected from the controlling keyboard as well as having a bigger frequency range that the first two oscillators, which was useful because of its aforementioned modulation capabilities.
The outputs of the oscillators were routed through a mix control where the output of the white noise generator could also be added before being fed into the now legendary Minimoog filter. This was a 24dB/octave, 4 pole low-pass filter.
If you look at the circuit diagram of this beast you can see that it has a large number of transistors connected together. These were utilised in their basic diode function and were connected together as a ladder. It was a quite different way to design a filter and has been much copied since due to its very musical sound, there are lots of synthesisers with filters and most can do that filter sound but not many can do it quite like a Moog filter, it’s a bit like that television car advert, “it’s like Golf”. Like it but not quite it.
After being filtered the output sound then passed through the VCA which has a slightly differing arrangement of ADSD instead of the now more usual ADSR that we covered earlier. The last stage of the Minimoog envelope is called decay and not the more usual release and there are three knobs for this section. Attack decay and sustain level, with the one knob controlling the second and fourth stages of decay.
Only having three controls instead of four didn’t really make for much difference sonically however and there certainly weren’t many who complained about this omission. The filter also had its separate ADSD.
On the left of the keyboard were two controls that have become a feature of synthesisers since, but they were new in 1970. The pitch bend wheel and the modulation control wheel. The pitch bend wheel was a disc that you could control with the thumb or middle finger of your left hand while you played the keyboard with your right (remember it was monophonic, you could only play one note at once so you didn’t need both hands for the keys) you could use this to move the pitch up or down by the amount you moved the wheel by. The modulation wheel worked in a similar fashion but altered the amount of modulation applied to what you set it to modulate.
A glide control was also incorporated which controlled how fast the notes changed between key presses. Set to its quickest setting the notes would change almost instantly from one to another but as you increased the glide control the notes would slide into each other in the way a trombone can slide between notes.
There were a lot of things that the original Minimoog had that a lot of synthesisers made since have kept in there design and as the saying goes imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so I guess it goes to show that the Minimoog had a lot right with it from the off.
An original Minimoog will change hands for well over £1000 now if you can find one. Studio Electronics manufactured a rack version of the Minimoog which are also rare and sought after and the latest incarnation for Minimoog wannabe owners is the currently manufactured moog Minimoog voyager which takes the original design and gives it a twenty first century update.