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Moog Comes Home
After seeing a few demonstrations of the guitar at NAMM, I realized that I had to get my hands on one. When it arrived, I cracked open the shipping box and found the Moog housed in a tweed, Fender-style case with special compartments for the footpedal, power cables and dedicated XLR cable. The guitar’s body evidenced a bookmatched flame maple top, with the standard maple grain running perpendicularly across for a stunning effect. The overall finish work is excellent. The neck leans towards chunky but is manageable for the smallerhanded. The strings are specially made for the instrument and feel like stainless steel. As of this writing, the guitar is still in beta testing, with more work being done on the electronics. At this point, whether it is the strings themselves or the magnetic field of the pickups exerting a pull on them, in standard mode the guitar didn’t exhibit much ring – there is plenty of sustain, even without using the sustain effect, but the sound decays very quickly after the initial attack. Also, the dark voicing of the pickups precludes sparkle, though adding some piezo to the sound helps. Still, the bridge pickup offers a satisfying honk when run through a distortion and the neck pickup’s darkness is on the warm rather than muddy side. When both pickups were engaged, the high E string seemed to sound out of phase while the others were not. The Moog offers an actual out of phase position – a sound that proved quite useful. I am sure many of these issues will be addressed before the full production run, but the bottom line is that if vintage guitar tone is your thing, this is not your axe. Where this instrument shines is in the land of atypical playing, especially when you kick in its exceptional electronic features.
Having used an EBow for years, I became a fan of its unlimited string sustain – and aware of its limitations. In its sustain modes the Moog is like having an individual EBow for each string. Not having to hold the sustain device in my right hand opened a whole new world of sonic madness; it left the picking hand free to manipulate the whammy bar, or control keyboards, whether belonging to synthesizers or laptops. I could suddenly wring more effects out of devices like the Source Audio Hot Hand series – the notes continuing indefinitely while I waved around the remote ring. I could easily control either Source Audio’s dedicated effects or (through their control voltage output) the Moog’s filters. Eliminating the need to retrigger notes or chords by strumming or picking the Moog freed me to make use of a Korg Kaoss effect’s X/Y pad, without having to use its looping function.
This is an instrument that cries out for processing. The standard pickup sound responds well to everything from chorus to compression. In the sustain modes just a bit of delay may be all you need, but it is hard to resist plugging into a DAW and slathering the Moog’s lingering chords with plug-ins providing everything from moving filters to spectral and granular mangling.
My favorite effect, however, proved to be right in the instrument itself. When using an EBow I always found the harmonic octave jumps hard to predict; with the Moog those jumps are completely under pedal or knob control. I found that changing the harmonic balance of either sustaining chords or single notes injected an incredible level of emotional expression into my playing.
What I was completely unprepared for was the joy of the muting effect. Employing this effect with the pickups set out of phase, I achieved a terrific electric sitar sound. Setting the pickups in phase created a banjo sound in open position and mandolin-type tones when playing further up the neck.
With its mid-four-figures price point, the Moog will be out of reach of many (an offshore version is already being discussed). But if you are serious about guitar experimentation you may need to find the financing. The Moog Guitar is one of those technological advances that will require new leaps of imagination from its adopters. Sure, it can do some things you have heard before, from EBows and modeling guitars (albeit better and more easily), but its true importance will be revealed in the years to come when groundbreaking guitarists discover applications for it that help create music that sounds like nothing we have ever heard.
|An Interview With Paul Vo: The Man Behind the Moog
How did you come to Moog?
The people at Moog had mused for some time about a Moog guitar and I happened to walk in the door with a substantial enabling technology. Here was an opportunity to work with people known for fundamental innovation, and a way to enter the market in just the off-the-wall way that excited my imagination.
What inspired the idea for the Moog Guitar?
It’s been a series of inspirations over several years. As a guitarist I was greatly impressed by what Hendrix was doing with amplifier feedback. I’ve loved all the different sounds of the guitar – steel guitar, Clapton’s blues tones, all of it. But from a physics point of view I knew there was more to the guitar string; I knew that I wanted get at all that great stuff in there. Most electronic innovation for the guitar has gone towards processing the guitar signal after it leaves the string, but Moog was very receptive to my idea of going in the other direction, right back to the string itself.
How did you arrive at the physical design?
We felt that, with the electronics being so different and resulting in a guitar with such unusual behavior, it would be too much to push the envelope further by experimenting with unconventional instrument designs. The basic shape of the instrument has great, field-proven ergonomics – a very accessible and comfy neck, good balance, contours that help make it easy to play, etc. We added a unique headstock design and a control “shelf” that echoes the headstock. These elements make it recognizably a Moog Guitar. We wanted an instrument that could conceivably be a main axe for a guitarist, and that meant dialing back the risk on the physical instrument.
How do the pickups work?
Each pickup is a patented bi-directional transducer that can be locked into a coherent twoway exchange of energy with the vibrating strings. The interaction is electromagnetic, but also different than the interaction of pickups or sustainers. When Vo Power is applied positively, the string sustain is very powerful and very responsive. When the Vo Power is reversed, power to the string stops very quickly giving a staccato effect to our guitar (similar to a banjo or koto).
Why does it need special strings?
The Moog Guitar strings have a different metallic content than most strings, more responsive to the way our pickups use electromagnetism. In an emergency situation, most metallic guitar strings will still work but they will not be as responsive and you may need to dial back Vo Power a bit for them to work correctly. Bottom line: an ordinary string will get you through the night in an emergency, but you’ll want to use our Moog Strings.
Is the dark voicing of the standard guitar mode a choice or a function of making the pickups work as sustainers?
It’s more a matter of choice. Initially some people thought the pickups were too brash so we dialed them back somewhat. Having said that, just as single-coil pickups have a certain sound and humbuckers a different sound, these pickups have their own characteristic Moog tone. And this is a guitar that we’d expect to be used with various floor effects; the darker tuning is better for driving those effects.
Could the pickups work with a battery? And could a version like that without the pedal and filters be made for those who just want the sustaining capabilities and don’t want to be tied to a special cable?
Batteries are a possibility, however there are trade-offs. If we use batteries, they would have to be high energy – the type typically found in laptops – so that would add weight. Given my dislike of wires I am motivated, so the possibility is something I will be considering as battery technology continues to improve.