For years, I had relatively little interest in the Minimoog. I guess early synths just weren’t on my radar. (I’m more of an organ and electric piano kind of guy.) But in the spring of 2019, I had a unique opportunity to see – and briefly play — the late Keith Emerson’s huge modular Moog. What a monster! For me, it created the same overwhelming “master of the universe”-like feeling that people must experience when they sit down at a massive pipe organ. That experience definitely raised my interest in its little brother.
But price was a big barrier to becoming a Minimoog owner: I wasn’t nearly interested enough in it to pay the typical $4,000+ going rate. Then Behringer came to my rescue: For $300, its incredible Model D re-creation put the basic sounds and functions of the Minimoog into a compact package that emulated the look and interface of the Minimoog. So, I bought one and a small controller — and had fun learning to explore its capabilities. Despite the small package, when it was plugged into my Peavey keyboard amp (with a 15” speaker) it was capable of big, beautiful sounds. I figured it was the closest I’d ever come to owning a Minimoog – and that was good enough for me.
But after several months of enjoying the “Boog,” good fortune came my way: I saw a Minimoog on Craigslist for a very low price. It was at an estate sale located just a few miles from my house. I raced over there – beating a few others who told the seller they were on their way. A few months earlier, before I bought the Behringer, I would have had no idea how to play or test a Minimoog. But my experience with “Little Brother” paid off. I quickly evaluated it, decided it was mostly functional, and made an offer that was accepted. Wow!
It was a 1980 model, one of the last ones made. Cosmetically, it was in outstanding condition. A few minor bumps and bruises in the wood case. Everything else looked like new. It generally seemed to work, but the keyboard was erratic. You’d hit a note and the pitch would waver in a crazy way before it eventually settled down to the proper note. If I hit the keys quickly, they seemed to work correctly. But if I pressed them slowly, I’d hear those wild fluctuations in pitch until the key was fully down. I guessed the issue was with the key contacts.
I read the service manual, and it suggested the issue was either dirty contacts or that some keys’ trigger contacts were making contact before their pitch contacts. The latter would mean a fiddly job of realigning contacts. But my rule is always try the simple, easy fixes first. On combo organs, I’ve learned that you can often clean the contacts simply by playing an instrument that has gone unused for years. I tried this on the Minimoog for two days. It made the keys mostly function correctly. But there were a number that weren’t working right. And many of the keys I thought I had “fixed” were later reverting to their old, unhappy ways.
So, I decided to take my first trip inside the instrument, and clean the contacts. I removed the bottom cover and took a look. Everything looked really shiny and golden. It was great to see the contacts assembly was not heavily corroded, and it didn’t look like anyone had done anything dumb, like using something abrasive on the gold-plated busbars or contact springs in an effort to clean them. I pulled out a small, soft-bristle brush and some 99% Isopropyl alcohol and began carefully brushing the busbars and contact springs. About 20 minutes later, the keyboard was playing perfectly. There was no need to adjust any contacts, which I am told is difficult to do without damaging the fragile contacts.
Everything else seemed to be working perfectly. The knobs all did what they were supposed to do. All the pots were quiet. The keyboard was a little noisy and clacky, however. The solution to that required a little surgery: Inside the keyboard assembly, there is a little Pratt Read rubber bushing on each key. After four decades or more, they can get hard and break apart, so there’s effectively no “cushioning” for the key as it travels down and up So, I pulled out the key assembly, totally disassembled it and cleaned everything. (After nearly 40 years, some of the keys needed a little gentle coaxing with pliers to pull them out.) Then, you pull off or cut off the old bushings, and replace them with nice supple, new ones – coated with a bit of Dow Corning DC 7 release compound, which lubricates them. (Be sparing with the lube. Too much seems to encourage keys to stick.) And while I was at it, I cleaned and polished the keys, and adjusted the height of a few of the key stops that the bushings are mounted to, which is how you level the keys. Doing all this restored the feel of the keyboard to a like-new condition. (Hint: Vintage Vibe’s price on these bushings is far below the competion’s prices – and I’ve also used their bushings quite happily with my Gibson G-101 and a Hohner Clavinet D6.)
Other minor tasks: The A440 sound generator was flat. That was easily fixed by adjusting a pot. A little bit of scratch-cover solution helped camouflage a few flaws in the wooden cabinet. And I found a place that sold me one of the little aluminum inlays that was missing from an Oscillator 2 pointer knob.
I pulled out the Tom Rhea Sound Charts book of suggested keyboard settings that came with the instrument, and began exploring the sounds this legendary keyboard can make. It is just incredible. I went from playing Emerson, Lake and Palmer, to playing deep mega-bass lines, to playing a little Switched-on-Bach. Steel drum sounds. Jet plane emulations. Playing Reveille with a trumpet-like sound. Emulating the clarinet solo (with the famous glissando) that starts Rhapsody in Blue. It’s an amazing instrument. It’s like an electronic orchestra in a box!
Because my keyboard space is limited, I bought a K&M table stand, a very beautifully built and sturdy way to hang the Minimoog over my Pianet. A quick test of the tuning yielded good news. None of these instruments are perfect in the extreme registers, but mine was pretty close. So there’s no immediate need for me to go through the tedious calibration ritual described in the manual. Eventually, however, I’ll get around to that.
My new arrival was born within a year of when production ended. The online chatter is that the earlier ones have a fatter sound. But the service manual suggests this is simply because the later models have more stable boards that better hold their tuning, and you can have that fat sound by slightly de-tuning oscillators 2 and 3, if desired. So I’m quite glad to have a late unit.
As much as I enjoyed my Behringer Model D, the idea that it sounds identical to a Minimoog seems mostly driven by both wishful thinking and people who watch Youtube comparison videos on their phones or laptops with tinny speakers. The Model D is a pretty amazing-sounding piece, fun-to-play, and an incredible value. But the Model D sound lacks some of the warmth and harmonics of the real deal. It’s sound is very clean, noticeably cleaner than the real Moog. To me, it sounds a bit like like many digital emulations of vintage instruments that are excellent, but just too clean and perfect to sound authentic. So, the Behringer is maybe 95% of the sound of a real Minimoog. For $300, that’s a great trade-off for most people. But there’s something very special about owning the original.