July/August 2010

The Moog Guitar Model E1: Sustain, Ability

The Moog Guitar Model E1 impresses on all fronts and finds its Hendrix in Fareed Haque

God bless Fareed Haque. Sonic explorer that he is, the guitarist has adopted this new instrument—the Moog Guitar—made a couple of records with it, and proven that it’s no mere novelty. It’s a pro-level foray into the guitar market on Moog’s part, and it’s much more than just another electric guitar. Like the keyboard synths that made Moog famous, this guitar is something really different.

I’ll get back to Haque later. He’s really figured out how to use the Moog Guitar, but to understand why that’s so commendable, you need to understand just how wonderfully bizarre this thing is.

When the Moog Guitar was first announced in 2008, musicians the world over likely expected a guitar synth similar to the one Roland unveiled in the 1970s. If you know about the late Bob Moog, however, you know that he didn’t make his name copying the work of others. This is not a guitar synth.

Two years later, Moog offers the E1 production model at $3,195 (average street price), roughly half the price of the original Paul Vo model. It’s still expensive, but let me ask you this: Can your guitar sustain a note for, oh, forever and ever? Because this one can—in theory, anyway.

In a nutshell, that’s what the Moog Guitar does. It sustains. And sustains. And then does it some more. (Or, conversely, the strings can be electronically muted.) Moog’s own descriptions about how the sustain works can be pretty cryptic, but it’s probably safe to say that the two pickups are equipped with strong, powered magnets that can vibrate a string in a way similar to the EBow but with much added versatility. The unique metallurgy of the strings also has something to do with it, as the ax is most responsive when outfitted with special strings manufactured by Moog (or a couple of other Moog-approved brands).

This guitar will change the way you play, period. As Moog literature on the instrument suggests: “experiment with new picking and strumming patterns.” Indeed. How do you deal with strings that will vibrate indefinitely? The instrument demands that you develop new techniques.

The Moog Guitar has a battery of onboard knobs and switches to control its various features. One knob tweaks the amount of power the pickups have to vibrate strings; another controls “harmonic balance”; yet another acts as a “tone filter.” And two more conventional controls offer master volume and a way to blend the guitar’s bridge piezo pickup into the sound. There’s a five-way pickup selector; a three-way switch to choose between full sustain, controlled sustain and mute modes; and a curious, three-way “filter toggle” that offers further control over the “weird” sounds the guitar can make. Add to that the required, rocker-type foot control pedal (included) that further controls the harmonics, and what you have begins to rival the controls on a vintage Moog synth!

Well, not really, but it’s still a lot of tweakability for a guitar. And Moog has equipped the control pedal with a “control voltage” input that, when connected to another device (not included), offers more options. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a smooth-as-glass tremolo system that, coupled with infinite sustain, presents worlds of options. (A fixed bridge is also available.)

But what can you do with all this control? For one, you can begin to warp your notes into otherworldly harmonics. Imagine every note you play as the head of comet shooting through the night sky. The Moog guitar’s sustain puts a long tail on that comet, and the various controls and filters let you light it up in wicked Technicolor. And the flame won’t die until you snuff it yourself.

Even without much experience on the instrument you can add ultra-expressive touches to long legato phrases and milk notes for harmonic riches limited only by how much you care to tweak controls as you play. Notes can sustain as you pick a melody line on top. Chords can melt into one another. Things you’ve played for years on other guitars can sound completely new.

The sustain is fully controllable; dial in as much or as little of it as you like. So the Moog Guitar can be used as a “regular” six-string—and I dig the tone. The pickups are a single-coil design with a creamy sound that’s more P-90 than Strat-type single coil. The piezo under the bridge can be blended with the single coils to add texture and attack. Explore it enough and you’ll discover settings that offer nice acoustic guitar simulation and—in the innovative “mute” mode—even a banjo-esque sound. It’s actually a pretty versatile guitar, tone-wise.

The money paid for a Moog Guitar buys a very high quality six-string. The E1 boasts an alder body and a maple neck, and is available in three bold finish options: black, candy red and butterscotch, reviewed and pictured here. The craftsmanship impresses, from the elegant seating of the set neck to the pristine fretwork to the sleekness of the slightly inset control section (echoed in the headstock). It’s tasteful: so minimally adorned as to not even have any inlay along the ebony fingerboard save for a Moog logo at the 12th fret. The neck plays nice; it’s not too thick but doesn’t feel fragile. And the Jackson/Ibanez-esque shape of the body feels natural whether the player is seated or standing. It’s obvious that Moog spent considerable time designing something guitarists would take seriously.
Which brings us back to Fareed Haque. He’s a serious guitarist, and after listening to his two latest records with the band Garaj Mahal, you can tell he’s spent a lot of time with his Moog Guitar. On More Mr. Nice Guy (Owl Studios)—a fusion-y stew of prog-jazz, Eastern exotica and occasional patchouli-dipped jamming—Haque wields the Moog Guitar throughout and ranges from the instrument’s singing signature sound to damn-convincing acoustic textures to overdriven fusion tones. Haque uses the breadth of the guitar’s features but never makes it stick out like a sore thumb. Discovery, an overt showcase for the Moog Guitar—it was financed by the company—has Haque making filter-swept melodies and shooting-star statements in and around electronica-ish rhythms. It’s a great advertisement for the instrument’s potential.

Haque is the guitarist that the Moog Guitar will appeal to: visionary, open-minded types who aren’t afraid to learn something new. For those guitarists, a trip to your local shop for a visit with a Moog Guitar just might change your musical life forever.

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