Old school sensibilities with modern day capabilities, what’s not to like?
With the 15th Anniversary of their annual Moogfest approaching at the end of April, we decided to take another look at the wonder that is the Moog Grandmother Semi-Modular Analogue Synthesizer. With decades of synth design experience under their belts, Moog are no strangers when it comes to developing innovative tech. However, even long-standing admirers of the brand can appreciate the exceptional brilliance of the Grandmother.
Housed within the colourful chassis are a pair of analogue oscillators, classic Moog low-pass ladder filter and patchable high-pass filter, analogue ADSR envelope generator and LFO, patch points aplenty (41 to be exact), high-quality 32-note, velocity-sensitive Fatar keyboard, arpeggiator and sequencer, a plethora of connections including DIN and USB MIDI, and built-in spring reverb.
Colourful appearance aside it appears that the emphasis here is on delivering old school analogue synth sounds, essentially retro-fitting the sounds of the ’60s into a modern-day package. Rather than having to piece together separate modules and find a keyboard too, it’s all in one delightful unit. Perfect.
Getting to grips with things
The beauty of having everything in a one-stop package is that getting started on your journey of sonic exploration is delightfully simple. Once the oscillators warm up to optimal temperature you can begin. Everything from ethereal dreamscapes to gritty buzzsaw-like harshness is yours for the taking.
Towards the left-hand side of the keys there’s a pair of jogwheels for controlling pitchbend (spring-loaded for rapid return to first position) and modulation. Just above these are three backlit buttons that are host to a range of duties such as shifting the octave range and performing sequencer control functions (Play, Hold, Tap tempo), as well as for recording sequences. To the left of these is a Glide pot for sweeping the pitch, and if you press the hold button it’ll switch to legato mode too.
Let’s get non-quizzical
Above the aforementioned keyboard section, you’ll find a selection of buttons, dials, switches and the like, that would put some off. Don’t let them though, get stuck in. Thankfully, Moog divide each section up using colourful backdrops for an easier frame of reference: Sequencer (yellow); Modulation (black); Oscillators (blue); Mixer and Utilities (black); Filter (green); VCA (black); Spring Reverb (Red). You’ll notice 3.5mm jacks across each section for simple signal routing. Leave them be and the internal circuitry will do its thing. Otherwise, get connecting and get creative.
Spin the Grandmother around to check out the rear panel, and you’ll find 1/4-inch jacks for output and instrument input, a 1/8-inch reverb output jack and another for outputting audio signals to external modules. There are four sequencer/arpeggiator interface connections too, as well as a DIN-style MIDI In, Out and Thru, and even USB MIDI. Moog really manage to pack things in don’t they!
On the left-hand side of the rear panel you’ll find the Fine Tune dial, which allows you to adjust the master tune of Oscillator 1 should you need to. On the right-hand side there’s the power supply input connection and power switch. Job done.
Need to knows
Whether you have previous experience with synthesizers or are totally new to the synth game, it’s always nice to know straight off the bat what your kit is capable of. Along with a power supply and patch cables, the Grandmother comes with a user manual that tells you everything that you need to know. We recommend that you get acquainted with your gear before you dive on in.
As noted above, they need a little time to warm up but once they get going, the rich warmth of those classic ’60s Moogs are present and correct. Oscillator 2 supports Sync to Oscillator 1 (which means that it forces Osc 2 to be in line with the frequency of Osc 1) plus linear FM, and both provide a veritable feast of waveforms to play with including triangle, saw, square and pulse. Through the patch bay you can setup the LFO as a third oscillator, which you can then tune to create three-note chords. There’s the classic Moog -24dB/octave low-pass Ladder Filter that produces a beefy low-end response, whilst a patchable 1-pole high pass filter is great for tempering low-end and retaining high-end clarity.
Stepping things up
For those who like to generate deft one-touch patterns on the fly, the built-in arpeggiator and sequencer will be right up your street. With 256 note steps across a trio of sequence locations, you can assign each one as either a note or a rest. One of the best bits is that the Grandmother saves sequences (up to three), even if you switch it off. Therefore, you can practise and rehearse for live performances, recalling those patterns and sequences when you need them. You can reverse sequences, trigger random sequences, create sweeping arpeggios or something totally unique.
Spring reverb tank
Within the Grandmother is a spring reverb tank (that’s right, an actual spring reverb tank), which resurrects coveted ’80s analogue synth character. There’s a dedicated Mix control for adding expansive depth to both internally and externally generated sounds.
Plays well with others
In line with the extensive connectivity options, the Grandmother is an ideal analogue processor for external sound sources. Not only that but it is well placed to act as a powerful keyboard controller for digging into your Mother-32, DFAM or Eurorack modular system. The plug and play capability with analogue and digital connectivity allows it to slip into any setup – modern or otherwise – with minimal fussing or fighting.
Is it for you?
If you’re craving a preset laden polyphonic temptress, then the Moog Grandmother isn’t for you.
However, if you’re looking for a semi-modular analogue beauty that can go it alone or act as the hub of an already extensive setup, then it is most certainly for you. Whether you’re new to synthesizers or have a wealth of experience, want something to play with at home or in the studio, or need a solidly built, easy to use, and ever faithful gigging partner, then your prayers have been answered.
Along with the main points that we’ve have covered above, there’s a goldmine of features to explore thanks to the patching capabilities. There are even more hidden gems to unearth with Demo Library videos popping up on the Moog website, as well as many independent YouTube vlogs and instructional videos.
Arguably, one of the finest examples of what the Grandmother can do features in the mesmerising video below starring composer, arranger, music producer (and even Entertainment Law Professor!) Adrian Younge.
If you liked that, you might like this
If you are new to the world of Synths, then check out our “What is analogue synthesis?” article to beef up your knowledge.
If you fancy finding out how to dabble in a bit of DIY, then you’ll appreciate our guide on building “DIY Synth Kits“.
For those seeking a quick guide on modular synths, then go for the aptly titled “A Quick Guide to Using Synth Modules“.
Get in touch
If you’d like any further information on the Moog Grandmother Semi-Modular Analogue Synthesizer, then don’t hesitate to get in touch with our Customer Service team via telephone on 01925 582420. Our in-store specialists will guide you through the wonderful world of Synthesizers, just pop into your nearest Dawsons store.
Jon is a multi-instrumentalist with a passion for inspiring others to get involved in making music. After spending many years playing venues here, there and – pretty much – everywhere, he joined the Dawsons’ Music Web Team before progressing into his current role managing the Dawsons Blog.