The Birth of the Minimoog

The Minimoog is widely recognized as the most iconic analog synthesizer of all time. Here we explore its nascent beginnings through the evolution of the prototypes and participants that helped lead it to its final legendary, archetypal form.

MinA PrototypeBob Moog Foundation / Moogseum

The Model A Prototype

Engineer Bill Hemsath, with assistance from fellow engineer Chad Hunt, built the “Min A” in late 1969 at the R. A. Moog, Inc. company. “Min A” was Hemsath’s name for his initial creation, which was constructed from discarded 900 Series modules found in the company’s “graveyard. The Min A resembles a compact Moog modular, and follows a modular signal path previously established by Bob Moog. Five modules, (two oscillators, an oscillator controller, a filter, an envelope generator) were internally hard-wired together (as opposed to being patched together) and connected to a three octave keyboard, all enclosed in a wooden case. The slider to the left of the keyboard controlled pitch bend, replacing the ribbon controller found on the modular systems. The labels were typed out on paper and taped on to the front panel above the knobs.

Mother Mallard with Model ABob Moog Foundation / Moogseum

Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece with the Min A

David Borden, composer-pianist for Dance at Cornell University (located about 15 minutes south of Trumansburg), became a regular visitor at R.A. Moog Co.’s studio, where he taught himself how to use a modular system. David was the first musician to play the Min A. He then borrowed it for concerts with his new all-synthesizer band (likely the first of its kind), Mother Mallard’s Portable Masterpiece Company, formed in 1969. The photo above shows Mother Mallard’s stage setup with the Min A visible on the left on top of the RMI Electric Piano. Keyboardist Linda Fisher is doing a sound check, while David can be seen bending over the back of a larger modular, with bandmate Steve Drews across from him with his left hand on the band’s second Minimoog.

Min BBob Moog Foundation / Moogseum

The Model B Prototype

Engineers Jim Scott and Chad Hunt joined Bill Hemsath in constructing the second iteration of the prototype in 1970, which was referred to internally as the “Mini Moog”  Model B (R.A. Moog, Co.’s business manager John Huzar insisted that the instrument be called the "Mini Moog"  and not "Min Moog") used circuit boards from the modular, housed under an integrated front panel designed by Hemsath. It included three identical oscillator sections; noise, filter, and master tuning sections; amplitude and filter contour controls, as well as a front-mounted  power switch. The slider located on the left hand side of the Min A is now mounted at the bottom center of the front panel.

Bob advocated for a synthesizer that could be carried like a briefcase so the Model B had a fitted lid with a handle that clipped on the top of the synthesizer, created by Art Phelps in the company woodshop, making it portable.

Legendary free jazz artist Sun Ra found out about the Moog modular in 1969 from Gershon Kingsley. Ra visited the Moog factory in Trumansburg, NY in the fall of 1969 and was later given the Min B to use in his performances, making him effectively a field-tester for its use by a gigging musician. Bob was so encouraged by Ra’s enthusiasm about the Model B, that Bob approved of and participated in the development of the Model C.

For more info on Sun Ra, please visit our Blacktronika exhibit.

Dick Hyman and MinBBob Moog Foundation / Moogseum

Dick Hyman with the Model B Prototype

Early modular user and studio keyboardist, arranger, and composer Dick Hyman also used the Model B prototype in a live setting at a concert at the Eastman School of Music Arranger's Holiday on August 5, 1970, with Chuck Mangione.

Min CBob Moog Foundation / Moogseum

The Model C Prototype

Built in mid-1970, the Model C was the first prototype to replace existing circuits from the modulars with new circuit designs which, while derived from the modular designs, were simplified and adapted for the portable system. Bill Hemsath worked on the power supply, Bob Moog 
and Bill Hemsath worked on the oscillators, Chad Hunt on the modulation circuitry, and Jim Scott on the filter/amplifier/envelope generators. 

All circuits were laid out on vector (prototyping) boards. The “Mini Moog” Model C panel design shows significant evidence of Bob’s involvement as he added the all-important rocker switches, among many other features, as well as specifying the cabinet with its signature fold-down panel, which provided the portability that he began looking for in the Model B. A half octave was added to the keyboard, two left-hand sliders were added to control pitch and modulation, and two momentary push buttons for glide and decay.

Model D PrototypeBob Moog Foundation / Moogseum

The Model D Prototype

The Model D prototype, built in late 1970, had a few cosmetic tweaks to the front panel design to ready it for production, and internal design progressed to printed circuit boards with copper traces that could be mass produced. The A440 tuning reference replaced the momentary pushbutton with a rocker switch. Wood trim was added to the top of the control panel, and most importantly, the left hand controller sliders were replaced with wheels per Bob’s instruction, which allowed for more human nuance.

The Model D prototype shown (as there was more than one) is extremely rare and the only one that included sliders. The unit started as a Model C with a custom ribbon controller installed for Chris Swansen, whose playing style wasn’t conducive to sliders. Bob Moog then retrofitted it by replacing the Model C electronics with the Model D hinged assembly.

R.A. Moog Model D MinimoogBob Moog Foundation / Moogseum

The R.A. Moog Model D Minimoog

The first production model Minimoog, serial #1001, was shipped to Walter Sear on November 19, 1970. The production models included a few more design tweaks, including the addition of red rocker switches and the now ubiquitous pitch-bend and modulation wheels, specified by Bob Moog, designed by Bill Hemsath, and fabricated by machinist Don Pakkala.

Pictured is serial #1018, sold to Minimoog super salesman David Van Koevering on February 11, 1971, who then sold it to real estate mogul and owner of Central Music, Les Trubey.

Dave Van Koevering Island Of ElectronicusBob Moog Foundation / Moogseum

The Island of Electronicus

David Van Koevering was a maverick salesman and visionary who brought his unparalleled skills and passion in marketing the Minimoog to an audience who initially lacked all understanding of the instrument. It is largely agreed that David created the market for the Minimoog through innovative sales methods, boundless determination, and stalwart conviction about the Minimoog’s importance.

One of the many ways that he popularized the Minimoog was by creating the Island of Electronicus showroom experience in Tierra Verde, Florida, where he invited people to sit on pillows on the floor while he demonstrated the Minimoog by creating a sonically spiritual experience. The Island of Electronicus opened on February 26, 1971 featuring  three shows a night Wednesday through Sunday. 

Photo: David Van Koevering is pictured on the stage of Island of Electronicus, demonstrating the Minimoog. Several Minimoogs line the front of the stage for attendees to play after the performance.

1972 The Instrument of the Pros Catalog PageBob Moog Foundation / Moogseum

"The INstrument of the Pros" Catalog, 1972

The Moog Music 1972 “The INstrument of the Pros” catalog was the first company catalog to solely feature the Minimoog, which was evidence of its growing popularity. This centerfold featured the Minimoog in all of its new found glory and several of its well-known players, including Keith Emerson and Chris Swansen.

Bob Moog Examining A MinimoogBob Moog Foundation / Moogseum

Bob Inspecting a Minimoog

The eponymous inventor with the iconic synthesizer. Here Bob Moog examining a Minimoog and one of the new "accessory" items produced by the company - the Sample and Hold controller, which connected with the Minimoog to generate random and stepped voltages. Likely 1973/74.

1974 Moog For The Road Catalog PageBob Moog Foundation / Moogseum

"The Moog For The Road" catalog, 1974

Taken from “The Moog for the Road” Minimoog catalog from 1974, the Minimoog is seen here as the iconic instrument that it had become. The Minimoog went on to sell over 12,000 units, and has been named the most iconic analog synthesizer of all time.

Credits: Story

Min A, Min B, Min C, and Model D Prototype photos courtesy of EMEAPP (Electronic Music Education and Preservation Project). Dick Hyman photo courtesy of Dick Hyman. R.A. Moog Model D photo by Douglas Trubey. Photo of Bob inspecting a Minimoog courtesy of Mark Hockman for the Bob Moog Foundation. Special thanks to Tom Rhea.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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