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Three Questions With Moog Engineer and Product Developer Steve Dunnington

Got the chance to ask Steve Dunnington, engineer and VP of product development at Moog a few questions about his career at the legendary company. Without further ado...

Synth History: What inspired you to get into engineering and product design, and what was it like being a student of Bob Moog?


Steve: I studied Music and Recording Engineering in college, as well as electronic music during the brief period when Bob Moog was teaching at UNC Asheville. He was an interesting professor – his exams could be quite brutal. Once I started working for himwhen we were still Big Briar in 1994, I was transfixed by the process of turning raw components and materials into a musical instrument. The moment when an instrument is first powered up and the design and execution of the design come together to produce a musical voice is a magical moment for me and remains so to this day. Bob taught that attention to detail is paramount, and that once an instrument left your hands it needed to be constructed well so that it could be a reliable partner for the musician who purchased it.


I started by machining and fabricating parts used for the Series 91 theremins, and then learned to solder and read schematics. I soon took over leading the production of the instruments we made and learned to order parts, which lead to me reading datasheets and learning more about the components we were using and how they were specified. I didn’t get a lot of direct technical training from Bob, but I did get to be present for and absorb the ways he went about taking a product from an idea to something that was in the hands of musicians.

A young Steve with Bob Moog.

Synth History: What are your three favorite Moog synthesizers of all time (and why)?


Steve: Minimoog Model D – It’s a design that has held up musically over 50 years. It has everything you need to make all kinds of music. It has enough complexity for anyone to explore for a long time, but enough simplicity to get where you want to go fast. It has a power and clarity of sound that speaks for itself. Once you start playing, it is really hard to stop.


Minimoog Voyager – It is a Minimoog in nature, but has so many other tricks up its sleeve – from the touch surface controller that could be programmed to use as a percussion controller to the FM it can do (audio rate panning, anyone?) to its luscious stereo filters. It is also a synth that music flows out of. It’s the first 21st century Moog synth.


Moog Matriarch – #3 was hard, because I have a lot of love for all Moog synths, but I think what the Matriarch represents is essentially a modern Moog modular system with a keyboard, an arpeggiator, a sequencer, and a stereo analog delay. It is an instrument that rewards imagination and exploration. The value of the instrument is incredible when you really think about what it is and what it does. (Try building an equivalent instrument out of discrete modules – it will be much more expensive.) It is incredibly deep and very beautiful sounding.

Synth History: What are some of the main differences between the new Model D and the original?


Steve: There are some basic and very useful differences between an original Model D and our current reissue.


One big difference is the keyboard: the original Model D used a Pratt Reed Keyboard mechanism where the pitch of the instrument relied on the switch connection of each key – when the contacts get dirty, the keyboard becomes unreliable. These keyboards are no longer manufactured. Our reissue uses a modern keyboard which eliminates the possibility for unreliability and allows us to scan it for generating MIDI control.


The original Accessories connector using Cinch-Jones connectors are no longer made, so we changed over to ¼” connectors for the Control outputs from the keyboard. We offer Gate (V-trig), CV, Velocity, and Aftertouch Control outputs.


We also added an additional simple LFO that can be used instead of Oscillator 3. The rate is set on the Left Hand Control Panel, and the wave can be selected by a switch built into the rate control.


Another difference is around the pitch wheel. The original Model D pitch wheel and our 2016 version have a “detented” center position, and you have to manually return it to center after bending. We transitioned the pitch wheel design of the new Model D reissue to include a spring-loaded pitch wheel that automatically returns to center. Since most keyboardists are using pitch-bending techniques that use spring-loaded pitch wheels, it made sense to us to make this change so that modern keyboard players don’t have to learn or maintain a separate pitch wheel technique for this instrument. Another small but useful change is that on our current reissue the mod wheel sends MIDI CC1, which makes the instrument a touch more useful as a controller.


The instrument remains as responsive to a player’s technique as ever, and the sound is as legendary as the original. No compromises were taken on any part of the instrument’s signal or control path.


Synth History: Can you let us know what we can expect next from Moog?


Steve: Well, I can’t tell you details, but we have a number of really exciting product in the works. I am so lucky to get to collaborate with a talented team of designers and engineers that are working on instruments that will be game-changing! Stay tuned…

Synth History Exclusive.


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