The Epic Odyssey of the Moog IIIp

Trumansburg, Abbey Road, Museumsinsel—what a legendary synthesizer by Bob Moog has to do with the Beatles and the Deutsches Museum

By John DominisLIFE Photo Collection

The Beatles, a Synthesizer, and the Deutsches Museum

It's been over 50 years since the Beatles released one of their last productions, their legendary Abbey Road album. For the sequences of some of their songs they even used a synthesizer—the Moog IIIp. If all this had just remained a side note, the instrument would never have had such a thrilling journey afterward. Discover here how it ended up in the Deutsches Museum collection in Munich…

Der Moog IIIp - Case 3 (1968)Deutsches Museum

The Moog IIIp
The late seventies helped give the synthesizer its eventual break. One of the greatest pioneers and most influential figures in its development was without question American Robert Moog, who presented the first playable and configurable synthesizer at the 1964 Audio Engineering Society Convention. It was the beginning of the golden age of the Moog brand as it appeared on concert stages and recording studios across the world. However, one model had a very different history: the Moog IIIp, serial number 1095.

The Moog headquarters
160 Broadway Street, Asheville, North Carolina was the headquarters of Moog Music Inc., one of the most famous manufacturers of synthesizers worldwide, named after…

Mural Robert Moog (2015)Original Source: Denise Carbonell

…Robert Moog (1934–2005), whose portrait here has been hung on a wall in a house in Asheville. Moog is still considered one of the great pioneers in the development of the synthesizer today. While the synthesizers designed in the 1950s and early 1960s were difficult to use and much too large, Moog focused on building more compact, manageably sized, and transportable devices. He achieved a breakthrough in 1968 when Wendy Carlos (then Walter Carlos) released her record Switched-On Bach.

Walter Carlos Switched On Bach (1968)Deutsches Museum

The album which sold more than a million copies and won Carlos three Grammys was nothing less than a musical revolution. Previously the synthesizer was stuck being more of a niche, cumbersome instrument for experimental music. This album helped it define an era as one of the most significant instruments in rock and pop history.

The Beatles (1964-02) by John LeongardLIFE Photo Collection

Even the Beatles on the other side of the Atlantic became aware of Bob Moog's new electronic instrument.

In 1969, the Beatles produced Abbey Road, their 11th and last studio album together, named after the street in the London district of St. John's Wood where the EMI studios were located. The record cover where the four men with bowl cuts walked over this zebra crossing is legendary.

For example, the Moog IIIp can be heard in Here Comes The Sun…

Abbey Road SchildOriginal Source: Grenavitar

…and in Maxwell's Silver Hammer.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono (1980) by David McgoughLIFE Photo Collection

Yet the Beatles would soon be history, even if they stayed together. It was doubtful the Moog IIIp would ever be used again. John Lennon for example (pictured here with his wife Yoko Ono) found the device too complicated and after finishing the recordings in 1969 sent it back to Bob Moog in Trumansburg…

…where Bob Moog had founded his company on 49 Main Street, now the location where an Italian local serves up pizza and pasta…

Bob Moog Tafel TrumansburgDeutsches Museum

…and where a blue plaque on the curbside has commemorated the workplace of the pioneer of the synthesizer since 2016. Around that time in 1969, Main Street in Trumansburg was also the destination of German composer Eberhard Schoener. The 31-year-old who had just set up a lab for electronic music in the Bavarian Film Studio in Munich was so inspired by Wendy Carlos's album Switched-On Bach that he absolutely had to have a Moog synthesizer too.

Der Moog IIIp (1968)Deutsches Museum

Eberhard Schoener: Erinnerungen an Bob Moog

Schoener had borrowed 60,000 marks, but the chances of getting a Moog synthesizer were still low. Bob Moog explained to him at the headquarters that he was actually busy just with manufacturing pre-orders over the next two years. However, he still had one specimen left. A Moog IIIp—the same one that had just been sent back from London by a certain four-man band.

Schoener Moog 1969Deutsches Museum

A private video clip of Eberhard Schoener talking about his meeting with Bob Moog in Trumansburg. Shown here is the Fireman's Parade, a traditional festival in the city in the US state of New York.

Der Moog IIIp - Case 4 (1968)Deutsches Museum

The special feature of the Moog IIIp, besides the fact that it had just been played by the Beatles, was that it consisted of multiple individual electronic functional units, or modules. These could be connected to each other with cables as desired. For this reason, the analog-modular synthesizer offered the greatest possible flexibility but was also difficult to use. The Moog IIIp that Schoener acquired was made up of four cases, each one 25 inches tall, 18 inches wide, and 9.5 inches deep. This case, for example, most importantly housed the sequencer which was responsible for sequencing pulses.

Der Moog IIIp - Case 3 (1968)Deutsches Museum

In this case, there were also…

…a row of oscillators for sound generation…

…a filter unit—the fixed filter bank—for adjusting lows and highs within a frequency range of between 105 and 6.72 Hz…

…and the reverberation unit with its built-in hall spiral which begun vibrating via an audio signal and created a hall reverberation effect.

Der Moog IIIp - Case 1 (1968)Deutsches Museum

In the case far to the right were modules like…

…the 911 envelope generator which could be used to adjust the time of an envelope from 5 milliseconds to 10 seconds. The 911-A switch was used for a delay effect.

An additional detail was module 984, a four-channel mixing panel.

…and, indispensable for other electronic devices as well, an on/off switch and three fuses.

Der Moog IIIp - Keyboard-Detail (1968)Deutsches Museum

A detailed look at the control next to the keyboard: the No Glide/Glide switch determines whether the change from one tone to the next should happen abruptly (No Glide) or with both tones crossing over (Glide). The portamento control determines the crossover time.

Der Moog IIIp - Eberhard Schoener und Wolfgang M. Heckl (2019)Deutsches Museum

Presentation to the Deutsches Museum
Exactly 50 years after his journey to Trumansburg, Eberhard Schöner (left) presented the Moog IIIp to the Deutsches Museum in May 2019 as part of a formal ceremony…

Eberhard Schoener: Vorführung des Moog IIIp (1969)Deutsches Museum

…and showed that the instrument still works perfectly today.

Der Moog IIIp - Seriennummer (1968)Deutsches Museum

And that it was actually the Moog IIIp the Beatles used, as evidenced by a sticker on the back side of the keyboard with serial number…

…1095. As demonstrated in a document from the Moog archives with the exact listings of the delivered synthesizers, it is the exact same model sent to the Beatles on January 15, 1969.

And so ends the journey of this instrument steeped in legend. From Trumansburg to London and back to the Museumsinsel, where the renovated Moog IIIp can now be seen in the music section of the Deutsches Museum.

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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