Minimoog Models A, B and C

The ultimate prototypes

Estimated value: £20,000 each

The Minimoog Model A prototype (photo: Audities Foundation)

The Minimoog Model A prototype (photo: Audities Foundation)

It’s hardly contentious to argue that the legendary Minimoog is the most important synthesiser ever made. Many would go so far as to argue that it’s also the best. To give it its full title, the Minimoog Model D justifiably commands ever-higher prices on the second-hand market. But the name itself gives a clue as to the focus of our attention in this case. Only one variant of the Minimoog ever went on sale (albeit with occasional deviations from the standard formula), so why is it known as the ‘Model D’? The answer’s simple: the first three prototype Minimoogs were named models A, B and C.

These prototypes tell the story of the invention of the modern synthesiser as we know it. Before the Minimoog, ‘synthesiser’ was synonymous with modular synthesiser. Among Moog’s many contributions to music technology, the simplification of those gargantuan modular synths into a more portable, more affordable, more user-friendly form helped define what we now understand the synthesiser to be. Even now, 43 years on, the Minimoog is, whether consciously or subconsciously, the basic template upon which all synths are modelled, and the standard against which they’re judged.

Peter Kirn’s excellent feature on the Minimoog’s development, published by Keyboard magazine as part of the Minimoog’s 40th birthday celebrations in 2010, is essential reading for anyone with an interest in synth history. Moog engineer Bill Hemsath tells Kirn the story of the first Minimoog prototypes:

“‘One of my jobs was to demonstrate products to potential customers,’ says Hemsath. ‘We had a Model III – a large studio synthesizer with dozens of modules. Every time, I’d plug the oscillator into the filter and the filter into the VCA – probably six patch cords, total. It occurred to me after a month or two of this, what if I built a box that way?’

“With the need to replace the Moog modular racks with something portable, Robert Moog hired outside consultants to do drawings of what the case might look like. The resulting concepts were fitting for the Space Age. ‘They look like spaceships with curved backs – silly, but lovely,’ Hemsath recalls. ‘I think they did a dozen of those futuristic things. Down in the corner was this little, square wooden box with a flip-up lid.’

“As Bob Moog once recounted in Keyboard, a quick poll of musician friends revealed that they preferred the ‘natural wood and simple lines.’ Hemsath remembers a more practical reason: ‘Everybody said, “I can make that. I can build that.” So we threw out all the curved stuff, and Bob and I came in the next Saturday morning to the woodshop and just started sawing until we had that.'”

Over the course of the prototypes, Hemseth, Moog and their colleagues refined the design from a clumsy DIY effort based on Moog’s modules through to the iconic design which went on to redefine the meaning of ‘synthesiser’.

Minimoog Model B prototype

Minimoog Model B prototype

Minimoog Model C prototype

Minimoog Model C prototype

In terms of their position in history, the Minimoog prototypes are priceless. The importance of these testbeds cannot be overstated. In the event they come up for sale again, we’d expect the bidding to start at around £20,000.

Author Greg Scarth
30th September, 2013

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