Hands On With The Moog Guitar
In the minds of many, the name Moog has long been synonymous with synthesizers. Since 1964 when Robert Moog switched from building theremins (that spooky sci-fi instrument people play by waving their hands) to producing the first popular version of the keyboard- controlled synthesizer, the Moog sound has become familiar to lovers of funk, ELP and Switched-On Bach. From ABBA to Zero 7, Moog textures have been part of the musical fabric for five decades.

Guitarists have become more familiar with the Moog name since Moog left his eponymous company and started manufacturing Moogerfooger pedals in 1999 under the name Big Briar. Pictures of Chili Pepper John Frusciante’s pedalboard festooned with Moogerfoogers have become commonplace in guitar mags of late, but Moog’s guitar connection goes back further. In the seventies Moog was purchased by Norlin, a company that also owned Gibson. At that time Bob Moog worked with the engineers at Gibson to create the RD Artist series of guitars, with active electronics that featured expansion and compression circuitry.

Hands On With The Moog GuitarCut to Summer NAMM 2008...
When acquaintances meet up on the floor of a NAMM show, the common question is, “What have you seen that is cool?” It usually evokes as many different answers as there are attendees, but this year in Nashville the answer was often identical: “The new Moog guitar.”

What made this revolutionary axe a no-brainer for best in show? The debut model – the Paul Vo Collector Edition [named after the guitar’s inventor; see sidebar page 120] – is built for Moog by Zion guitars. It features a double-cutaway body of premium swamp ash or mahogany, with an AAAAA flame or quilted maple top, available in a variety of eye-catching finishes. The maple set-neck sports an ebony fingerboard, 22 frets, 12” radius and 25 1/2” scale. The headstock is angled at 7 degrees, alleviating any need for string trees, and is finished to match the body. The Wilkinson tremolo is kept in tune with Sperzel locking tuners. Of course if that were the end of it you could be forgiven for thinking, “So what – we’ve seen beautiful custom guitars before.”

But that is only the beginning; it is in its pickups and electronics that the Moog reveals its innovative glory. A set of piezo saddles offers acoustic sound either through the main five-pin XLR-type output or a separate 1/4” out. Though a piezo option is far from groundbreaking, wait – what is this about a five-pin output? This output functions as an input as well, supplying power to the Moog’s special pickups and controlling its onboard filters.

Now this is where it gets good: what makes the pickups so special is their ability to either excite the strings into unlimited sustain or dampen them into almost none. The appeal of the former is obvious. Ever since the invention of the electric guitar, players have been thrilled by the musical possibilities of enhanced sustain. Compression, distortion, EBows and sustainer pickups have been employed to offer guitarists the kind of long notes enjoyed by organists and synth-wielders.

The Moog’s unique, parallelogram-shaped pickups offer two types of sustain. Full Sustain mode provides infinite sustain on every string, while Controlled Sustain mode allows you to play sustained single or polyphonic lines without hand damping the other strings by holding the notes you play while actively muting the other strings. Flicking the gold-tipped, Strat-style 3-way switch into the third position engages Mute Mode. In this mode the pickups remove energy from the strings; the resulting staccato articulations sound redolent of sitars and banjos.

The multitude of controls placed on a blackpainted recess carved into the body recalls the dashboard of a fancy sports car. A black knurled knob handles the master volume, while the adjacent gold knob adjusts the amount of “Vo Power.” Vo Power is the name given to the effect that the pickups have on the strings, whether they are adding or subtracting sustain.

A gold 3-way mini-toggle selects among standard guitar tone, Articulated Moog Filter and Normal Moog Filter. In Normal Filter mode a supplied footpedal controls the cutoff frequency of the onboard filter, much like a wah wah pedal. The Articulated Filter mode acts more like a hex envelope follower; the pedal now sets the start frequency of the articulation. In these modes, the gold Tone/Filter knob controls the filter resonance. With the switch set to standard mode this same knob acts as a typical passive tone control.

Hands On With The Moog GuitarWhen the footpedal is being used to control the onboard filters, the next gold knob adjusts “Harmonic Balance.” When the filters are not in use, the footpedal controls this balance. This effect is called Harmonic Balance because it shifts positive and negative Vo Power from pickup to pickup, accenting different harmonic overtones to create an organ drawbar effect. Moving the knob or the footpedal in one direction causes the neck pickup to add more sustain and the bridge pickup to suck out the string energy; in the other direction the process is reversed. This has nothing to do with the pickup selection; it just means that the energy at that point of the string is being enhanced or reduced, affecting the resulting harmonics sent by the current pickup combo to the amp. The pickup selector allows you to choose just the piezo, the bridge pickup, both pickups in phase, both pickups out of phase, or the neck pickup. Another black knob blends in the piezo.

The Moog pedal is the hub of the guitar’s electronics. In addition to controlling the aforementioned filters and harmonic balance, it is here that the power cable is attached, as well as the other end of the five-pin XLR. A standard 1/4” guitar cable runs from the pedal to your amp. The pedal also accepts external control voltage (0-5V). This signal can come from optional Moog devices like the programmable Multi Pedal and CP-251 Control Voltage Processor, or any other equipment capable of generating suitable control voltages, like a laptop DAW or drum machine. This permits you to modify the Moog’s filters with external LFOs synched to a tune’s tempo.