Since 1978, Moog Music's factory has been producing hand-built synthesizers and other gadgets in this old warehouse complex on the edge of downtown Asheville, North Carolina.
You can test and play any of the synthesizers in the Moog store. A giant image of founder Robert Moog graces the back wall. Moog (pronounced "moag") began working on his modular analog synthesizers in 1964 in New York, and his innovations would go on to help spawn the electronic music revolution of the '80s and '90s.
Robert Moog was responsible for developing original synthesizer concepts we now take for granted: pitch wheels, voltage control, modularity and envelope generation. This is the Matriarch, one of five semi-modular analog synthesizers made by Moog.
This is the Moog One 3-Part Polyphonic Analog Synthesizer. Introduced in 2018, it was the first analog polysynth released by Moog in 35 years. Called "the most ambitious instrument the company has ever built" by reviewers, it retails for $8,500.
You can check out a video demo and interview with engineer Amos Gaynes.
The MiniMoog was perhaps the most influential synthesizer ever designed. Released in 1970 as the first "truly portable unit of its kind," it was championed by musicians from Sun Ra to Pink Floyd to Kraftwerk and Michael Jackson. While they're not in production anymore, you can often find used models for around $7,000.
By far the most eye-catching piece in the showroom, this one-of-a-kind megalithic modular system was custom-built for Keith Emerson of Emerson Lake and Palmer (I know, "OK Boomer!"), who took it on tour in the 1970s. Since then, it's been known as the Emerson Moog Modular.
A door at the back of the store leads right to the main production floor of the manufacturing facility. It's much bigger than even my widest lens could capture from the stairwell.
Everything sold by Moog Music is constructed by hand here in this factory -- from start to finish.
Moog employs 170 people across the company. Most of the folks seen here are production engineers.
Many of the workers I spoke to had been with the company less than two years. Moog has certainly been growing; there were only 62 employees in in 2015.
A supervisor smiles from his shared office, the "Sup Bowl." This blue unit is a vending machine-type contraption that dispenses commonly needed parts to employees, presumably tracking their usage.
Over the pandemic, sales have gone way up, probably in part due to people finding themselves stuck at home with time to try an instrument they've always wanted.
I thought maybe you'd need some sort of electrical training to work in one of these positions. But most of the folks I chatted with came to Moog with a love for music and a willingness to learn one of these detail-oriented jobs.
After it's put together, the connections and functions of each unit are thoroughly tested. Any anomalies get noted on a tag, and the instrument is then routed to the appropriate station for attention.
Every single instrument moving through the facility is given a quirky name written on blue tape. My favorites seen here were "Bob Moog's Dank Meem Stash" and "Interstellar Cruise Control." Unfortunately, since the the tape is removed before shipping, customers won't ever know their new baby's factory nickname. Surely, though, they may come up with a new pet name for their synth.
Boxes of common parts used to construct these modular systems (like various size knobs and colorful rolls of wire) are pretty much everywhere.
Once a unit has been thoroughly tested and checked and any flagged issues have been investigated and resolved, it's ready to ship out to its new owner.
A packing area includes materials and boxes for all the various models for sale.
Walk through another door in the back of the factory and you'll find yourself in the shipping side of the warehouse, where trucks can pull up to receive packages and pallets' worth of product. There's even a forklift or two.
Upstairs are the management offices. The stairway features posters with company mottos like "We honor the spirit of Bob Moog," "We love and respect all humans," "We humbly work together" and "We are true to our word."
What's a factory without employee lockers and a kitchenette?
The customer service department is also upstairs. This room is where the phone rings if you call up for technical assistance, and where ancient models are repaired by the expert staff.
The offices at Moog are as hip as you'd expect, and personal touches abound at every workstation. The visual style is enhanced with consistently slick plywood construction. This area is host to the marketing, sales and accounting departments.
I got to walk down the hall to see the engineering department, where the magic is made. I couldn't resist taking a picture of this enormous rack of electronic parts from engineers pull what they need as they work on the next Moog masterpiece. I was not allowed to photograph the engineering area for obvious reasons.
Memorabilia abounds at Moog, and multiple showcases hold many of the awards won by Moog over the course of his life. Is that a Grammy up there? Yes: Robert Moog won a Technical Grammy Award in 2002 for his contributions to the field.
Around the corner another display case holds intriguing prototypes. For more information about the history of Moog Music, read the accompanying feature by my colleague Dan Ackerman and watch Vintage King's Inside Look at Moog Music, a beautifully done mini-documentary available on YouTube.