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What is a Moog Synthesizer?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 23, 2024
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Moog synthesizers are electronic musical instruments that have the capability of producing the sounds of a wide variety of traditional musical instruments, such as guitars, keyboards, horns, and drums. The broad term of Moog synthesizer is generally used to identify both an analog synthesizer and a digital synthesizer. Invented in the early 1960’s and still produced today by several companies, the Moog synthesizer went from a powerful studio tool to a performance instrument in a very short period of time.

Envisioned and perfected by Robert Moog in 1964, the original Moog synthesizer made use of a keyboard that allowed the user to simulate a number of different sounds. In the earliest models, it was a painstaking process to adapt the device for each type of sound desired by the user. However, as technology advanced, the process of programming the Moog synthesizer for a wide range of sounds became easier.

By 1967, several musical groups that wanted to experiment with their sound were utilizing the Moog synthesizer. Perhaps one of the most notable applications of the Moog synthesizer was by the Monkees. The group made use of the Moog synthesizer on two songs on their Number 1 album Pisces Aquarius Capricorn and Jones, Ltd, released in November of 1967. The two cuts “Daily Nightly” and “Star Collector” received a fair amount of FM airplay, which was unusual for a musical act that normally appealed only to pre-teens.

During the remainder of the decade, several other popular music acts began to employ the Moog synthesizer in their studio recordings. Such groups as the Byrds and the Zodiac made use of the synthesizer on releases that caught a fair amount of critical attention. The first major releases of Moog music took place in 1969 with the release of the albums Switched-On Bach and The Well Tempered Synthesizer. The Beatles also joined in, using the Moog synthesizer on several cuts of their Abbey Road album.

Throughout the early to mid 1970’s, the Moog synthesizer enjoyed considerable popularity among recording artists. Such notables as Stevie Wonder and the group Emerson Lake and Palmer scored huge hits with songs featuring the Moog synthesizer. The trend continued into the disco craze of the late Seventies, with producer Giorgio Moroder using the Moog synthesizer for a number of popular songs by disco superstar Donna Summer.

Several models of the Moog synthesizer were developed during the 1970’s that were capable of use in concert halls. A number of entertainers began to include use of synthesizers in their personal appearances, which helped to enhance the overall reputation of the instrument with the general public.

On the business front, Robert Moog’s original company declared bankruptcy in 1986. Variations of the synthesizer continued to be produced by other companies. By 2001, Moog was able to re-acquire the rights to the Moog name and restarted Moog Music and has produced the Minimoog Voyager as both a studio and performance instrument ever since.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including Musical Expert, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By johnpinto — On May 23, 2012

Moog was a full-time consultant and vice president of new product research for Kurzweil Music Systems.

By hidingplace — On May 17, 2011

@softener - The Minimoog Voyager, the remake of the original Minimoog, is for all intents and purposes better than the original. It keeps all of the features of the original that made it so great (including the fact that it's still an analog synthesizer as opposed to digital, keeping that warm Moog sound) as well as some modern updates like 128 presets and the ability to save patches. Very pricey though.

By softener — On May 16, 2011

Robert Moog is a very smart man and has some intriguing ideas about electronics and creativity. The Moog synthesizer really changed the way people viewed instruments; before Moog, anything that didn't come out of a wood or brass instrument or didn't have strings was considered something to be suspicious of. Later, the Minimoog was responsible for the basslines on one of the most famous songs of all time, “Thriller” by Michael Jackson.

I wonder if the new Moog synthesizers are as good as they were before the company declared bankruptcy?

By anon107032 — On Aug 28, 2010

You forgot to mention that the first electronic instrumental worldwide hit was made on a Moog ("Popcorn"). Today electronic music is everywhere and is used in all genres thanks to this song and the Moog.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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