Polymoog Keyboard: A Plea For More Respect

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HideawayStudio
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Polymoog Keyboard: A Plea For More Respect

Post by HideawayStudio » Mon Jun 24, 2013 8:28 pm

Being an electronic design engineer and sound designer I repair and restore many a vintage synth these days to satisfy my eternal hunger for new sound sources (now 40 synths here in the studio!)....

I have spent the last two weeks returning a very dead Polymoog Keyboard (1976 number #3211) to working order for a world famous pop duo in the UK and its been really quite an enlightening experience. Having been with this instrument morning night and day slowly returning life to this 37 year old beast I now very strongly feel I need to make a heartfelt plea... these things deserve a new lease of life and a darn site more respect than they have received to date!! I can say this hand on heart because I know I'm going to be a little upset when I eventually let this one go back to its owners....

Like so many things in life we are all guilty of reading and reiterating popular second hand opinions and not giving things around us enough attention or even put them into historical context...

In short - there is so much biased garbage talked about these instruments! I can think of many a synth with a so say "stronger" reputation than this with nothing like the character the Polymoog has!

The extremely sad fact of the matter is that the Polymoog was a little too complex a beast for many a keyboard tech to handle and since it seems to have developed a poor reputation, and is subsequently undervalued, rather too many examples have come to grief having suffered many decades of neglect. Furthermore, it never sounded like a Polyphonic Minimoog which clearly upset many - but it was never supposed to - it was designed from day one to complement the model D, not displace it.

Every time I read another of these beasts being turned into a coffee table or parted out it truly makes my heart sink! I've seen some really sorry examples of late which is very sad.

I have spent hours retrofitting a much cooler running switched mode PSU in place of the original Faratron PSU and fixing a plethora of issues but here's the thing...

As a design engineer I can fully understand many of Dave Luce's design decisions and quite frankly, although there are some weak spots, the design is surprisingly logical and well thought out for something of this complexity. Many slate the fact that there are so many pcbs and too many connectors but quite frankly the instrument would have been enormous and totally unserviceable on tour pretty much any other way. Dave very sensibly used non-polarised film caps throughout (except the PSU which wasn't a Moog design anyway), made access to the lower pcbs through hinged upper boards, placed protection components on the pcbs to prevent serious damage from PSU failures (I wish ARP had done the same with the Omni!), arranged the harness so that any connector could be disconnected without damage for aiding fault diagnosis etc etc.

What is easy to forget is that when such a complex instrument is being developed there simply isn't the time or budget to reiterate a design before release hence the "huge" list of field updates (ECNs) which many try to use in evidence of a poor design is merely indication of the complexity of the instrument and the fact that they tried to continuously improve it with time. Many also slate its unusual PLL synchronised two rank divide down oscillator architecture, but quite frankly its clever and a nice refreshing change to be using a polyphonic synth with such a unique signal path. Some slate the Polymoog as an overgrown organ - this is a truly ignorant opinion. The only two "organs" I know of with full polyphonic dynamics control like the Polymoog's are arguably the worlds first string synths - namely the 1938 Novachord and the 1972 Eminent 310 (both of which I own and both of which are far far more complex than conventional organs and way ahead of their time!). To have implemented such polyphony using voltage control would have resulted in a calibration and stability nightmare - with this in light it is truly amazing that the insanely complex CS-80 is so stable but definitely the exception and a testament to some of the finest analog design coming out of Japan at the time. Using free running oscillators would not have permitted the clever sync option which is really very effective - at the slide of control you can polyphonically morph from piano to guitar to harp - something which is simply impossible with the older 12 top oscillator and single rank divide downs.

I've been playing testing #3211 for several days now and I have to say it's rapidly growing on me. It is a very very different beast to my model D but that is not to say it isn't a worthy instrument in the studio - it's just different. A few things hit home... like so many analog synths, it somewhat underwhelms on first play until you get inside it and gain a real empathy for what makes it sing. It is terribly subtle too and beckons to be played with its delightful weighted velocity sensitive P&R key action - the slightest tweak on any of the controls and it can make or break a sound. It's unusual too - I mean how many synths have you used that permit the use of a multimode formant resonator, a transistor ladder and direct sound to be mixed on the fly? Then there is the sound - it can be full of life with bags of character - there is a ton of movement in the dual rank architecture and LFOs and a load of internal distortion which can be used to good artistic effect but you have to work at it and I think this is where the preset versions of this instrument really make less sense. Some say it sounds thin - this is very bizarre, I'd say it sounds extremely warm - maybe too warm. Not capable of focussed model D like bass but still quite capable of making the windows move - especially with the resonator in action!

In short - this is not an instrument for those looking for instant gratification - you have to slowly eek sounds out and yes, it would make for a powerful source of new sample material in my sound design, and yes, I'd love one for myself - so maybe one day now I've satisfied my curiosity first hand.
Last edited by HideawayStudio on Tue Jun 25, 2013 4:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Portamental
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Re: Polymoog Keyboard: A Plea For More Respect

Post by Portamental » Tue Jun 25, 2013 9:02 am

Thank you for this heartfelt testimonial.

And no, coffee table is not an option for my one-day-soon-I-hope-to-be-refurbished Polymoog synth ;)

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Re: Polymoog Keyboard: A Plea For More Respect

Post by space_nerd » Tue Jun 25, 2013 11:33 am

Thank you very much!! Great review!!!

I can understand that in it's original age, the Polymoog was a disappointment, but I think too that it's an interesting synth and has a lots of character - a character of it's own, unlike the 'voice card' analog polys, like 'prophet 5' - they are fantastic and classic too, but Polymoog's a coffee table? No-no.

I saw the Polymoog promo film on YT and it gives a lot of justice to the instrument - a full presence sound, lots of control, etc.

The Polymoog is like some other 'file under misunderstood' keyboard, the Arp Quadra:
I think people will start to appreciate them (and not only for the 'Vox Humana' sound) but for their overall different and special character - especially if there are more capable techs around, to mending them :lol:

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Re: Polymoog Keyboard: A Plea For More Respect

Post by thealien666 » Tue Jun 25, 2013 12:43 pm

Very interesting point of view.

Bob Moog said of Dave Luce that he was "a highly intelligent, technically trained person who gravitated toward complicated, sophisticated, tricky, convoluted things.", and also that "he liked complicated solutions to seemingly simple problems".

Maybe that's one of the shortcomings of his designs, too complex electronically for what it does. Even if what it does is still very interesting sonically. Hence the poor reliability problems in both the Polymoog and Memorymoog that followed.

Bob was critical of the design of the Polymoog that needed over 300 engineering design changes from the time of the prototype to a sellable model. And even soon after Moog Music started selling them, a lot of them came back under warranty for repairs and more modifications still !

But Dave Smith had similar problems with the early days of his Prophet synths. Those were pioneering days indeed, with their great success stories and great failures also. The Polymoog is about half way in between IMHO.

But as for a Polymoog as a coffee table ? Absolutely not !
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Re: Polymoog Keyboard: A Plea For More Respect

Post by MC » Tue Jun 25, 2013 2:41 pm

Portamental wrote:And no, coffee table is not an option for my one-day-soon-I-hope-to-be-refurbished Polymoog synth ;)
space_nerd wrote:but Polymoog's a coffee table? No-no.
thealien666 wrote:But as for a Polymoog as a coffee table ? Absolutely not !
Image

Image
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Re: Polymoog Keyboard: A Plea For More Respect

Post by MC » Tue Jun 25, 2013 2:44 pm

http://www.retrosynth.com/~analoguedieh ... index.html

My primary beef with the Polymoog is its limited modulation options due to the TOS system. That is more of a detriment than the lack of a phat minimoog sound.
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Re: Polymoog Keyboard: A Plea For More Respect

Post by megavoice » Thu Sep 19, 2013 6:54 am

Very impressive post !
I'm for a hundred % with, and even more.
I'm feeling now even more urged to do the one or the other thing for to keep him alive and working better.
Doe's anyone know where I can get one or two voicecards ?

Polymoog a coffee-table ??????? ...but with pain everywhere: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: ..............or better, some who have one, and talking like this, do not deserve.......and of course. all others who don't know about.........
"Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and fu** the prom queen." —Sean Connery to Nicholas Cage in "The Rock" (1996)
I've never seen any real prom queen here in my country, but if we had some they'd
**** with everyone.

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Re: Polymoog Keyboard: A Plea For More Respect

Post by Mr Arkadin » Thu Sep 19, 2013 10:10 am

Also a fan here (although I don't have one). Really, the Polymoog is the soundtrack to my youth: Gary Numan's The Pleasure Principle is Polymoog and Minimoog heaven. Clever man using preset No.1 and not going past that! :lol: Using the direct out was also a key factor that many miss when trying to get that Vox Humana sound.

btw I love your Kontakt instruments, Constellation will be my next purchase.
http://soundcloud.com/luke-antony

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Re: Polymoog Keyboard: A Plea For More Respect

Post by megavoice » Thu Sep 19, 2013 11:06 am

Mr Arkadin wrote:Also a fan here (although I don't have one). Really, the Polymoog is the soundtrack to my youth: Gary Numan's The Pleasure Principle is Polymoog and Minimoog heaven. Clever man using preset No.1 and not going past that! :lol: Using the direct out was also a key factor that many miss when trying to get that Vox Humana sound.

btw I love your Kontakt instruments, Constellation will be my next purchase.
Well, he's far away from the later-ones", but exspecially with the Resonators there're some very nice things to do, and he's sound is a very special one, not to compare with any other...................
"Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and fu** the prom queen." —Sean Connery to Nicholas Cage in "The Rock" (1996)
I've never seen any real prom queen here in my country, but if we had some they'd
**** with everyone.

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Re: Polymoog Keyboard: A Plea For More Respect

Post by BrianK » Thu Sep 19, 2013 5:14 pm

I love the polymoog - those versions that are programmable. I had three different ones, each better shape than the one before.

I found the presets and preset-only version of the Keyboard to be rather dull-sounding. However, with the controls, one can do some wonderful sounds. It IS very different than most Moogs, in that it rarely ventures out in the spacey effects realm. It is indeed a keyboard for players, those with piano-istic skills will appreciate the keyboard length and weight (one of the best) and touch-sensitivity - most synth players don't care about such things. For a player, it's a very useful too. On our Moog Cookbook albums, the Polymoog was a keyboard of choice for comping chords. It "sits" nicely in a track, yet has details of modulation and tone that have qualities equal to many acoustic instruments.

I think the biggest design flaw was the split keyboard. It is never really useful, and confusing terminology make the panel almost impossible to understand for most humans.

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Re: Polymoog Keyboard: A Plea For More Respect

Post by megavoice » Fri Sep 20, 2013 9:15 am

BrianK wrote:I love the polymoog - those versions that are programmable. I had three different ones, each better shape than the one before.

I found the presets and preset-only version of the Keyboard to be rather dull-sounding. However, with the controls, one can do some wonderful sounds. It IS very different than most Moogs, in that it rarely ventures out in the spacey effects realm. It is indeed a keyboard for players, those with piano-istic skills will appreciate the keyboard length and weight (one of the best) and touch-sensitivity - most synth players don't care about such things. For a player, it's a very useful too. On our Moog Cookbook albums, the Polymoog was a keyboard of choice for comping chords. It "sits" nicely in a track, yet has details of modulation and tone that have qualities equal to many acoustic instruments.

I think the biggest design flaw was the split keyboard. It is never really useful, and confusing terminology make the panel almost impossible to understand for most humans.
Yes, the presets are almost ridiculous and unusable as they are. They have to be considered as a starting-point.

What makes me so astonished that you're the one of the rare persons who is talking about the velocity expression.
I'm always carrying the opinion a synth without velocity-control and pressure is only half a synth, and some with, is even double, triple or far more worth than any other............and even it's only a Polymoog......... :D

It's very odd to me when I see how many people gasping and giving so much money for a JP8 or P5 that havn't ........
Obviously the majority of synth-players haven't learned ever and don't realize what velocity is really capable of. (???????????????????)
Think of the many functions that can be controlled even on the later and more complex synths.

As for the panel I don't see it to be confusing. But well, it needs some little work to get into, but not much..............
"Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and fu** the prom queen." —Sean Connery to Nicholas Cage in "The Rock" (1996)
I've never seen any real prom queen here in my country, but if we had some they'd
**** with everyone.

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Re: Polymoog Keyboard: A Plea For More Respect

Post by MC » Fri Sep 20, 2013 10:38 am

The velocity control was OK as long as you didn't use the sustain pedal. And velocity only controlled key volume. Keep in mind that velocity control in a synth was a new thing back then.

I love the panel controls on the Polymoog - the buttons and slidepots. The buttons are right above the keyboard and quick to reach while you are playing. The slidepots maximize panel real estate and pack a lot of controls into the smallest space possible, and the angle of the panel is just right.

I don't think you could arrange that layout any better. I saw a drawing of another proposed layout and it was even more confusing.

Keep in mind that polyphony had not yet been cracked in an analog synth back then. The Polymoog was one of the first mass-produced polyphonic synths and was a bold venture. No one knew what a control panel for a polyphonic was supposed to contain. They certainly didn't want it to resemble an organ.

Agree the presets are cheesy but they do make a starting point to another patch which wasn't hard. At least the diversity of the presets were enough for anything - strings, percussive, brass, organ. Today I use it for pads, formant stuff, and strings which exploits the multiple LFOs. As for piano/brass/percussive it is just outclassed.

I still have my Polymoog with legs and Polypedal, although I haven't used the Polypedal with it for years. Recently I built a MIDI system for gigging in clubs using a Kurzweil MIDIBoard as the main MIDI controller with the goal of quick setup and teardown. I replaced multiple switch and control pedals (with multiple cables) with the Polypedal and one multicore cable. All the switches and control pedals that I'll need are right in the Polypedal. I had to modify both the MIDIBoard and Polypedal to make it work, but when I used it out the first time the Polypedal was *SO* much easier to use. It was much easier to punch the footswitches without taking my eyes off the keyboard. Moog got the ergonomics just right - the angle and position of the switches and pedals. I also no longer had to deal with pedals moving away from me and it loads in/out quick.
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Re: Polymoog Keyboard: A Plea For More Respect

Post by Kevin Lightner » Fri Sep 20, 2013 12:57 pm

My 3 cents....

I was fortunate enough to once own a new Polymoog. Full model w/ Polypedal.
It had a lot of character, but I found myself trying adapting to it (vs it to me) in order to get the sounds I wanted.
That is, nothing was one push button programmable.
You had to choose output channels and hit additional buttons to get just what you wanted.
Much like the Arp Quadra. Not fully programmable synths.
They'd remember button pushes, but not slider positions.

The Polymoog had some inherent errors too.
If you hit the same note twice on a dynamic patch (piano, clav), it would play the next note twice as loud.
So again, I had to adapt my pedal technique to it. It couldn't be avoided.
One just can't hold down the sustain pedal and play it like a piano unless you never hit the same key twice.

The Polypedal also couldn't shut the volume off completely when the pedal was down.
This could be annoying.
I ended up using a Morley pedal instead for volume.

With the Polypedal, one could also perform a preset pitch tranposition.
Set the pedal to the desired interval and bend the entire chord up or down perfectly with your foot.
But bend too far and the instrument could lock up. Another design problem.

On the plus side, the piano was very good for straight, non-pedal comping.
If you're familiar with the Hohner Pianet, you know what I mean.
The clav was very good, especially if the player knew clav technique.
The harpsichord was quite realistic for a synth too.
But the strings were historic. There's nothing like Polymoog strings.
Consider two VC'd polyphonic osc banks, each with it's own waveforms, vibrato rates and depths and also full pulse-width modulation.
Then detuning abilities between those ranks.
That's a *big* sound and fully polyphonic for 10 fingers.
It's a completely different string sound than say an Arp String Ensemble or Omni.
It has an edge and complexity most strings synths can't duplicate.

The keyboard featured heavier than normal springs and added weights.
It's the only Pratt-Read keyboard I've ever encountered with a top (also known as "prime") D key. Most end on C.
So bust a top D key and you're in trouble finding a replacement.

The resonator and direct output sections are 180 degrees out of phase with the VCF.
The could allow a wide range of cancellation type filter sounds such as BP and notch.
It could sound very "Oberheimy" when played this way.
Run it in stereo and those cancellations would occur in the room from the speakers too.
An interesting effect.
It also had an additional CV and Gate buss and one could play other synths from its keyboard and featured it's own glide control.

Design-wise, it was crazy.
Thousands of friction-only connectors.
Thousands of parts.
Mine was a later one (also known as the post-Wakeman suggestion models ;-) but it still slowly decayed into a useless instrument.
I probably made the first coffee table from mine (mid 80's), but it was crude.
MC's and Ken E's tables are nicer than mine was.

It is a serviceman's nightmare.
Very complex adjustments sometimes requiring a scope, meter and even jumper wires placed all at the same time.
Many very sensitive trims.
Trims that if off just a slight amount can completely change the character of the instrument.
One chip, a 4046 PLL generally *has* to be a Motorola. Others makes even with the same number just don't work correctly.
Cleaning contacts is a huge chore with 71 notes and the additional CV/Gate busses.

Fwiw, mine was modified with additional switches to control a Mutron Bi-Phase and Roland RE-301 echo and wider LFO ranges.
The full instrument has 4 LFOs!

As for the Polymoog Keyboard, it's basically an even more cut down version of the full Polymoog.
I personally could do without a resonator section, but the missing VCF section is a really big loss in my opinion.
True, it has Vox Humana, but that preset can be very closely mimic'd using a full Polymoog.
On the plus side, PM Keyboards are slightly less problematic or involved service-wise.

Nowadays I think they're nice synths to look at and if it plays, great. Enjoy.
But it's not a synth to seek out unless you enjoy challenges or must have "that" sound.
Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime. - R. Pupkin

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Re: Polymoog Keyboard: A Plea For More Respect

Post by megavoice » Mon Sep 23, 2013 7:16 am

Very fine posts, Kevin and MC. This makes me now even more thinking of and being aware and get more into in the future. :D
Yes, the strings give me the creeps and at every time when I'm lstening to the old and early SAGA-recordings.........

Just to bring it to the point, I've a very harmonic tenor to synths in general what means I NEVER bother about, or maybe very, very seldom if there's s.th. not to be liked. I just see the instruments as they are. If I don't like s.th I switch off and sit at another-one.
If the Polymoog is a cut-down instrument, then he is, and.... done. If, i.ex., the Chroma has too slow LFOs and Env-generators, this doesn't look good but there's so much to enjoy at, that this could be neglected easily........
For this compensation I bought the Memorymoog now, and I think I'm going to be pretty happy then...........

I 'm taking pride and so much happiness when I'm thinking back in the early nineties when I accidently walked into a very little backyard-store for the first time here in my home-town and recovered the Poly in a dark corner, dusty, and some other stuff stacked upon. I also never forget how shocked I had been and couldn't believe my eyes. I stuttered to the salesman: How much...this one ? And after I ran back home like a fool to take the 750,- bucks I had to pay for, sweating and with a red face I shove that "bugger" into the car-boot.......
Shortly after I found out that this one wasn't new for me. I knew the first owner and it brings still pain in my heart when I remember THAT FOOL !!! who banged sometimes the keys down heavily to trigger the non-working voicecards. Now some little cracks lengthwise can be seen on some keys.... but nothing dramatic.
"Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and fu** the prom queen." —Sean Connery to Nicholas Cage in "The Rock" (1996)
I've never seen any real prom queen here in my country, but if we had some they'd
**** with everyone.

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Re: Polymoog Keyboard: A Plea For More Respect

Post by MC » Mon Sep 23, 2013 10:56 am

The other foible is those d#mn trimpots. They are open frame CTS trimpots and prone to aging from oxidation. The same ones used in OBX and a common cause of failure. Both instruments were pioneer units with a lot of R&D, but in order to recoup costs they cut corners on the trimpots.

A restoration isn't complete without 100% replacement of trimpots. That day is creeping closer for my Polymoog...
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