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Total Recall (Part 21)

Vintage technology strikes back

Article from The Mix, June 1995

The retro-lover's playground

The A-Z of analogue

Our definitive directory of every analogue synth in the history of the whole world ever. Included are keyboards, expanders and sound modules, readers are invited to expand upon or correct any part of the A-Z. Parts 1-20 may be ordered from the Music Maker hotline: (Contact Details)

Part 21 — compiled by Peter Forrest

Moog (continued)


37-note (C-C) 2-VCO monophonic preset synthesiser with aftertouch, c.1975 - c.1976 Original price: ?
Target price: £100 - £1000

  • One of the rarest of all Moogs — hence the possibly excessive prices you might have to pay to get one.
  • Really an upgraded Satellite. Very similar in appearance — same seven sliders to left of keyboard, same three banks of six tab switches on the front, underneath the keys (though in a slightly different position); same on/off switch and pilot light, keyboard, etc... But three extra tabs and two extra knobs on front.
  • Sync for harmonic changes; attack, decay and brightness controls for VCF; rate and depth for LFO, which can be switched to modulate VCO or VCF (not VCA?); glide on/off and variable time; sustain on/off.
  • Aftertouch can control sync sweep, pitch bend, filter cutoff, or modulation.
  • Presets: Mute, Trumpet, Oboe, Clarinet, Sax,Taurus, Violin, Piano, Guitar I, Guitar II, Aries, Lunar, and Flute. Hang on — 13 presets but only 12 tabs?? With all the tabs off, that selects 'Flute'.
  • Multiple-trigger keyboard. Can transpose down 1, 2, or 3 octaves.
  • Filter control input socket. Headphone socket. Hi and lo-level outputs.
  • Height-adjustable back legs!

Collectability: ★★★★★
Sounds: ★★
Memories: ★★
Character: ★★
Ease of use: ★★★★


44-note (F-C) 2-VCO monophonic synth with aftertouch. 1978 - c. 1981
Original price: £715 (Oct 78), £799 discounted to £645 (1979)
Target price: £180 - £320
Users include: A Certain Ratio, Peter Banks / After the Fire, Doubting Thomas, Front Line Assembly, Herbie Hancock, Mark Jenkins, Saga, Steve Winwood.

  • A more elaborate version of the Micromoog — same style of casing, all the same features, but many more as well. For main features, see Micromoog. In addition, Multimoog has the following:
  • Aftertouch, whose sensitivity is variable, and which can be routed to affect the pitch of either both VCOs or just VCO1, the VCF (with or without both VCOs), the degree of sync between the oscillators, and the balance between square and sawtooth wave shape for VCO 1. The mod wheel, incidentally, has identical parallel routing permutations, except that it affects the wave shape of the second oscillator rather than the first.
  • The VCOs have some limitations, particularly in the way there's a joint octave switch for both oscillators; but VCO1 can be tuned up to a fifth either side of VCO2, and they each have full (and non-stepped) control over their respective waveforms. VCO2 (or Osc B as Moog call it), still has the Micromoog's doubling capacity, with a square wave coming in one or two octaves down.
  • Good interfacing: high and low audio out, S-trig and keyboard and ribbon CVs out, as well as the keyboard pressure-sensitivity voltage; footswitch sockets for glide and modulation, and inputs for VCF and VCO control voltages, S-trig, audio in, and an alternative controller for whatever the keyboard pressure is set to control. Pretty good.
  • Even with the two oscillators, the Multimoog isn't able to re-create Minimoog timbres very successfully; but what it can do instead is provide excellent sounds that are that little bit harsher and brighter — more ARP-like than Minimoog-like, really. It doubles well as a performance lead instrument — thanks to the simple envelope switching, pressure-sensitivity, ribbon, and so on — and as a studio experimental tool, with its subtle changes of timbre, its elaborate sync and modulation possibilities, its sample-and-hold bubblings, and the excellent (for the time) interfacing.
  • MT retrospective: Mar 92

Interface: ★★
Controls: ★★★
VFM: ★★
Collectability: ★★★
Sounds: ★★★
Character: ★★★
Ease of use: ★★★

Opus 3

49-note (C-C) strings/brass/organ polyphonic keyboard, c. 1980 - c. 1983
Original price: £699
Target price: £80 - £200
Users include: 808 State, Ian Boddy, Carrie Booth

  • It may be a Moog, but a string synth?? It wasn't even the forerunner of the wave of multi-instrument keyboards — Crumar's Performer had been around for two years, Yamaha's SK series was well-established, even Korg's Delta had been released in 1979, and yet...
  • Horrible keyboard — definitely one of Moog's worst. Horrible colour-coding — orange, green and yellow. Poor control panel organisation — it's nowhere near as clear as most of Moog's other synths. A monstrously stiff pitch-bend wheel; pretty poor basic organ sound; only one VCF for the brass; no interfacing to speak of, at times the strings sound more like an organ, the chorus is noisy as hell, and yet....
  • It's actually a likeable and sometimes surprisingly powerful instrument. Although there are some annoying omissions, like not being able to put the brass section through the chorus, and not being able to switch between single and multiple triggering (you're stuck with single), the bottom line with the Opus 3 is that it can produce some great sounds. It may only have one filter for the brass, but it's got that Moog quality to it, and there's also a separate dedicated VCF for the string section, with switchable high, low or band-pass filtering and resonance — which Moog for the first time that I know actually call 'resonance', instead of their usual 'emphasis' — a word they use on the brass filter... Ho hum.
  • Each of the sections can be panned anywhere between two stereo outputs — but that does of course mean the chorus is mono only. The chorus also only has a switch between two speeds, rather than a fully variable speed control — but at least the speeds are well chosen, and there's a fully variable depth control, and a very effective preset delay.
  • There's also a variable delay for the onset of the modulation, which will affect VCOs or VCF, but somehow is much more difficult to set exactly right than when you're simply using a mod wheel, and can hear when to stop pushing the wheel to avoid going over the top.
  • Same wooden casing as Prodigy — 'real maple' — a light wood varnished dark, which looks tatty once the varnish is chipped or worn off.

Controls: ★★
Sounds: ★★
Ease of use:


71-note (E-D) touch-sensitive 8-preset polyphonic synth. 1975 - 1980
Original price: £3195 discounted to £2580 (1979)
Target price: £200 - £500
Users include: Abba (Arrival), Tony Banks, Karl Bartos/Elektric Music, Michael Boddicker, Andy Clarke/Bebop Deluxe, Betsy Cooke/Gerry Rafferty band, Chick Corea, Tim Cross/Mike Oldfield band, Jimmy Destri/Blondie, Geoff Downes, Tyrone Downie/Wailers, Keith Emerson, Vic Emerson (10cc first album), Larry Fast, Brian Gascoin, Jools Holland (Farfisa impersonations with Squeeze), Peter Howell/BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Garth Hudson, Jon Lord, Masterworks, Patrick Moraz, Klaus Netzle (with Polypedal), Chris Newman/Johhny Hates Jazz, Steve Nieve (two — 'like for Nutbush City Limits sounds'), Gary Numan, Chris Payne/Gary Numan band, Graham Preskett, Billy Preston, Saga, David Sancious (2, one stacked on another) Tomita, Rick Wakeman, Steve Winwood.

  • The first easily playable polyphonic synthesiser — Oberheim may have had their Four-Voice in production first, but the Polymoog was certainly easier to play as a normal polyphonic keyboard.
  • Very early (pre-production?) models had 72 notes, F-E, and more spindly knobs, (sic) There was also a minor re-design c.1978, with models above serial number 3000 having some improvements to roadworthiness, and some changes in presets — e.g. faster string attack time, not such a thin harpsichord tone, etc. Also, earlier models were called Polymoog Keyboard, but with introduction of new slimmed-down Polymoog Keyboard in 1978, they became known as Polymoog Synthesizers.
  • When it first came out, it was every keyboard player's dream to own one. Within five years, it had largely fallen out of favour, and its popularity continued to dive, until second-hand prices were far lower than for any comparable synth. While still much less in demand than any of the other early polyphonies, its rehabilitation has definitely begun, and with good reason.
  • Divide-down oscillator circuitry was one of the things that made it unpopular. True, it doesn't sound quite as rich in some modes as a 'proper' analogue synth, but there's enough movement and life from its two detuneable oscillators to make it sound good.
  • The biggest other minus was that it didn't sound anything like a Minimoog. True. As a marketing exercise, Moog should have made sure that at least one of the pre-sets had a classic Minimoog sound — and that wouldn't have been impossible. Also, no ring mod or noise generator.
  • Each of the pre-sets (strings, piano, organ, harpsichord, funk, clav, vibes and brass) has its own board to provide voltages to the voice circuitry for each key, so that, e.g. when piano is selected, each note will respond with a piano-like envelope and timbre; so in that respect it is genuinely 71-note polyphonic; but there is no access to the envelope or filter on these boards. Instead, there is only one fully variable filter, which is usually on a multiple trigger — when using the VCF, any new note will trigger the VCF envelope again. The Polypedal board, an (expensive) optional extra, would switch between multiple and single triggering, as well as control pitch, filter, and a load of other things — or individual footswitches and pedals will do the same job not so neatly.
  • Separate volume sliders for the three sections of the keyboard: according to Peter Gabriel, Moog had to modify them with a metal bar to stop them going to zero, because they were continually getting perfectly good Polymoogs returned as non-working because people didn't realize that you had to have at least one of these faders up as well as the master fader.
  • A long instrument: Chassis liable to flex and cause PCBs to crack/come loose if you try carrying it about single-handedly.
  • Keyboard splittable, into two or sometimes three sections, so that you can have different sections affected by, eg VCF, or parametric, or with different amounts of sawtooth and square wave.
  • Three-band parametric EQ section, very similar to the Moog stand-alone unit — i.e. good.
  • The filter is powerful, and can be modulated by its own LFO, sample-and-hold, and envelope sliders, with variable keyboard tracking.
  • The keyboard is very pleasant to play, and despite being a pioneer in touch sensitivity is as good as many later keyboards.
  • All the controls are very easy to get to, with none more than about 10 cm from the keyboard.
  • The interfacing is very good for its time: pedal inputs for volume, filter, pitch and modulation amount, monophonic CV (scaleable) and S-trig out, S-trig in (for when you're putting another Moog synth through the Polymoog), 3/8" footswitch sockets (annoying) for single/multiple trigger, sustain, glide, and switching an external monophonic synth in and out; a balanced (XLR) out, a mix out, and parallel outs from the VCF, the parametric, direct (the preset sound but unfiltered) or preset (the preset sound with its inbuilt filtering). These parallel outs (each with its own slider on the front panel mixer) can produce an amazing variety of sounds simultaneously. You even get a slider on the front panel to control portamento on the external monosynth you can hook up. Plus there are inputs to put an external instrument through the parametric, the VCF, or just through the mixer. That makes the Polymoog worth having as a monophonic synth effects unit, even if you were never to play the keyboard at all.
  • With overload very possible if you crank up the parametric or VCF, Polymoog can have an immense, aggressive transistor sound, like an overdriven Vox Continental.
  • MT retrospective: Dec 91

Interface: ★★
Controls: ★★
VFM: ★★
Collectability: ★★
Character: ★★
Ease of use: ★★

Polymoog keyboard

71-note (E-D) 14-pre^et polyphonic synth. 1978 - c.1980
Original price: £2296 discounted to £1855 (1979)
Target price: £80 - £200
Users include: Gary Numan & Chris Payne.

  • A lot less controls than its big brother: just the same concentric knobs for fine pitch adjustment of the two VCOs, volume, lower, middle and upper keyboard section volumes, a high-pass filter variable in amount and centre frequency (60 - 300Hz); modulation rate and amount, and attack. As on the Polymoog, there are illuminated push-buttons to let you switch between the preset settings on these, and your own panel settings.
  • On the back panel, there are sockets for S-trig and scaleable CV out, 3/8 inch footswitch sockets for single/multiple triggering, sustain, and switching portamento on/off on the external synth (with an amount pot), and pedal sockets for volume, filter, modulation amount and pitch, plus outputs for direct signal, main and bass signals.
  • Presets on nearly all models are: Vox Humana, String 1, String 2, Electric piano, Piano, Honky tonky, Clav, Harpsi, Brass, Chorus brass, Pipe organ, Rock organ, Vibes, and Funk. (On very early models, the first three were String Solo, String Chorus, and String Ensemble — so watch out.) The brass uses a single VCF, which is switchable (single/multiple trigger) via the back panel, but is such a good filter sound that you can forgive it. Some of the presets aren't touch-sensitive at all (e.g. harpsichord), and some others only have their loudness affected, not timbre — e.g. piano. Clav, on the other hand, is ultra-sensitive. The stand-out sound is Vox Humana, which, despite (or because of) its associations with Gary Numan, is a good reason for getting a Polymoog Keyboard. A classic sound, never quite replicated by anything else. The vibes sounds like the very early electric piano Sun Ra used to play — i.e. nothing like vibes — just as the electric piano sound is nothing like a Rhodes or Wurlitzer. Honky tonky is good — a lot better than its name.

Memories: ★★
Ease of use:

Series - "The A-Z of Analogue"

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Publisher: The Mix - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

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The Mix - Jun 1995

Donated by: Colin Potter

Coverdisc: Mike Gorman


Vintage Instruments


The A-Z of Analogue

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19 | Part 20 | Part 21 (Viewing)

Feature by Peter Forrest

Previous article in this issue:

> Rough Mix

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> Total Recall - Coachbuilt cl...

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