A Brief History of the Minimoog | Features | MN2S

This week the Minimoog Model D synthesiser went back on the market. We take a look at one of the earliest electronic instruments, and how it changed music.

Though the Roland TR-808, the Roland TB-303 and the Yamaha DX7 come close, no instrument can be credited for bringing electronic music its first mainstream attention than the Minimoog.

Actually pronounced to rhyme with ‘vogue’, the Minimoog is significant for two specific reasons. 1) It was the first compact synthesiser, making it much easier for musicians to use them in their work. 2) It did not even try to emulate other instruments.

But before we explore these points further, let’s take a look under the lid.

How the Minimoog works

Invented by Moog Music founder Robert Moog and manufactured between 1970 and 1981, the Minimoog contains all the essential parts of a modular synthesiser in one relatively small package. Though large by today’s standards, most synthesisers before the Minimoog were enormous. Some, like the RCA Mark II, filled entire rooms.

Moog’s Minimoog managed to pack four signal generators, a filter and an amplifier into one small box. The oscillators could generate several waveforms, and the instrument’s interface allowed players to combine them in several ways, creating entirely unique sounds. Understandably, this appealed to adventurous musicians everywhere.

The drawbacks were the lack of a memory for saving presets, meaning players had to rely on their own memory or detailed notes to bring back a sound they had once created. But since no synthesisers had this function throughout most of the Minimoog’s run, most players did not mind.

The musicians that used the Minimoog

Due to the Minimoog’s size, keyboard players found it easier than ever before to bring synthesisers on stage. Concert-goers everywhere were hearing entirely electronic sounds live and in person.

Experimental avant-garde jazz bandleader Sun Ra was one of the first to use the Minimoog. This was a huge moment as jazz was slow to embrace synthesisers. The Minimoog’s portability allowed Sun Ra to play live with his bandmates, improvising both melodies and tones.

New Wave pioneer Gary Numan used the Minimoog throughout his career, most notably on his hit single ‘Are Friends Electric’. Other enthusiasts include R&B producer Kashif, who made use of the Minimoog on his solo albums and in his work with Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King and Whitney Houston.

Electronic trailblazers Kraftwerk were also big Minimoog enthusiasts. Their highly influential album Autobahn is full of Minimoog sounds. Even more potently for electronic music fans, the Minimoog makes up the majority of the sounds on Donna Summer’s iconic ‘I Feel Love’, one of the most important electronic singles of all time.


How the Minimoog changed music

That the Minimoog was so popular among electronic innovators is telling. Though synthesisers that could emulate acoustic instruments slowly gained prominence, the Minimoog remained popular during and after its production as it gave players the opportunity to create entirely unique sounds, with the only limitations being their own imagination and memory.

The compact nature of the Minimoog allowed more musicians than ever before to share brand new sounds with the world, and its popularity with musicians and listeners, evidenced by its use on many hit songs, drove technicians to focus on developing electronic instruments that did not try to hide their electronic nature.

The new Model D and the Minimoog’s comeback

During its initial production run, the Minimoog went through four iterations. The Model D was the most successful, and so it is being brought back this year for a limited run. Robert Moog sadly passed away in 2005, but the new Model D is an exact replica of his original design.

Though this reissue is certainly interesting, and much more affordable than a first run Minimoog, some have argued that bringing the old model back is contrary to Robert Moog’s ethos. Rather than revisit the Minimoog, he remixed it with the Minimoog Voyager in 2002. Luckily, alongside this rerelease, Moog Music continues to create new instruments.

Title image by Andrew Russeth from New York, New York (Minimoog model D c. 1970Uploaded by clusternote) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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