Minimoog, photo (CC-BY) Ricardo Hurtubia.

The Moog Minimoog has turned 40 years old. I got to write the cover story for this month’s Keyboard Magazine, following the history of the keyboard. I chronicled the details of the original Minimoog’s evolution largely through the accounts of Bill Hemsath, the man who built the first prototype of a synth imagined and developed by Hemsath, Bob Moog, Jim Scott, and Chad Hunt.

Whatever you make – music, hardware, software – the tale of the Minimoog’s birth through accident is especially compelling. Through Hemsath’s eyes, I revisited that genesis for Keyboard.

The future of the synth may have been determined by just which junked and cannibalized parts lay in storage. “There was a five-octave keyboard that [Bob] would steal key caps off of to replace chipped and broken ones,” Hemsath remembers. “Then there was an upper console case—it was four feet long but the end was broken out. So I got to work on the keyboard. The number of remaining keycaps determined its size, which turned out to be three octaves. So I hacksawed that down. There was a smashed keyboard case, and I cut it down to match. Originally, [Bob] had the portamento control on the left cheek. That was missing, so there was a little notch in the left cheek. And I needed something there. Well, how about a slider? That’d fit. So the forerunner of the wheel was that slide pot, just to fill that space.”

The result was the shell of what would become the Model A, the first Minimoog prototype. Hemsath bolted together modules from spare and rejected parts. “I’d sit down at my desk and take an apple out of one drawer and a module out of the other,” he says. By his count, just one model 901A oscillator was fresh stock; everything else was salvaged from Moog’s junk bin.

Actually, to me, it’s partly Hemsath story that badly needed telling – Bob Moog is a household name, but only the biggest synth history gurus know Hemsath. I’m deeply indebted to the Moog Foundation for allowing me to transcribe an interview with him they did just this summer; this is exactly the kind of work the foundation is doing to preserve the history of synthesis in general – Moog and beyond – and another reason why you should support their work.

Michelle Moog-Koussa, without whom I couldn’t have written this story, also has a must-read article from the same issue:
Bob Moog Lives

She details her father’s legacy, and the work the foundation does to reach out to students, their plans for a dream laboratory and museum, and more.

Of course, Moog isn’t just history, so for the we follow the parallel lines: Minimoog, Bob Moog, and the 70s, and then the ability of Dr. Moog to return to his vision with a reborn Moog Music company and the Voyager.

You can read the full story online:
The Minimoog at 40: From the Dawn of the Synth Age to New Voyages [Keyboard Magazine]

— but if you can get the newsstand copy, it’s well worth it for the nearly-pornographic foldout cover of the new Minimoog XL. Yes, we know your rational problems with the price or functionality of this instrument. No, it doesn’t change the visceral emotional reaction it inspires.

Thanks to Steve at Keyboard for the dream assignment, and to Emmy, Chris, and the crew at Moog Music, and Michelle at the Moog Foundation, for helping us put this together.

  • Fact Checkin' C

    Not well known indeed – Yet the question remains… "Hesmath" or "Hemsath"?

  • Hemsath. Sorry.

  • And here he is —
    Making that pocket protector look good!

  • electronic_face

    Woooah, great work on the Keyboard Magazine story. I love the bit about them showing Mickey Mouse 'toons between tunes due to "tedious" patching. I would have thoroughly enjoyed that.

  • Peter does an amazing job day in and day out for us. He has the best music tech blog in the business. I remember articles on CDM about many of these topics of which you speak @Greg. I for one am grateful for all of Peters DIVERSE articles.

    Thank you Bob and Peter!! Your work is appreciated by many!!

    I feel there are two types of people in the world, those who CREATE and those who CRITICIZE. Those who create don't really care to troll in forum posts and blog comments.

    Last time I checked this was the CREATE Digital Music Blog. We wouldn't have many of our digital musical tools now if it weren't for our analog forefathers.

  • More interviews with digital pioneers? Absolutely. In fact, I have some that didn't make the cut for my book that I hope to find.

    Comments deleted for reasons too obvious to go into.

  • eric

    Dreamt one night that Moog company had made a toy-version of the MiniMoog, the same size as Korg did with the MS-20 some years back.
    The synth/toy was(in the dream) a major success.

  • Jeez, your new anti-spam interface deleted my thoughtful comment, Peter! I failed to scroll down far enough to see the "CAPTCHA Code" input line, and the Javascript didn't keep the text I had entered. Care to try a bit of code refinement? Also … is that an R or an A? We'll find out.

  • …as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted:

    When I started at Keyboard in 1975, Dominic and I were roommates. Dominic had a Minimoog (and headphones — no amp). So it was the very first synth I ever heard or played. Even so, I just don't understand people's emotional relationship to the silly thing. If I owned one, it would just gather dust. Or more likely, I'd sell it (like a tulip bulb) to someone who thought it was valuable. Give me a modern softsynth with a multimode filter, multi-segment envelopes, waveshaping, effects, and multiple LFOs — I can get excited about that!

  • Sorry. I've deactivated the captcha. We're testing it for the future site, but since it's not styled here, it's too easy to miss. But thanks for, uh, testing it for us — now I'll make sure to fix those issues.

    Otherwise, Jim, I hear you. To me, the Minimoog helped launch all those other things; it's the beginning of that story but not necessarily the end.