Moog factory still making music: Asheville, N.C., company sees strong sales of instruments, gear to top musicians

The music company founded by Robert Moog (seated) has some new digs in Asheville, N.C.

RALEIGH -- In an era when so much music is digital, Moog Music is doing fine with analog, thank you very much.

Sales of synthesizers, guitars, effects pedals and Theremins are up 35 percent through April 2011 over the same period last year, Moog President Mike Adams said. The North Carolina-based company recently moved to renovated buildings in downtown Asheville, where passers-by will be able to watch the instruments being made and musicians working in the studio space.

"If you buy any other keyboard and open the back, you see a chip in there that's sampling sounds or re-creating sounds using a digitized format," Adams said.

"In the back of our device, there's a sound board with 897 components," he said. "It's a completely different sound you get. You're really able to hear the subtleties of the sound."

The company and its 45 employees are settling in to the new downtown spot, a renovated automobile dealership that includes an elevator that was used to take cars to the second floor. The warehouse will be in a former horse stable.

The first day in the new factory was May 23, which would have been founder Robert Moog's 79th birthday. It's a happy coincidence, Adams said, because the company originally was supposed to move in March.

In the 1960s, the Moog synthesizer did for electronic music what the desktop did for huge computer systems that once filled a wall by turning the sound machine into something portable.

Lady Gaga's band is buying lots of Moog equipment, Adams said. Others who have used Moog gear, he said, include bands such as Rush, the White Stripes, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Coldplay, Sugarland and Weezer and musicians Paul Simon, Lou Reed, Beyonce, Alicia Keyes and Billy Joel. Rascal Flatts recently bought a Moog guitar, Adams said.

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Reed is touring with Metallica, and turned that band on to Moog, Adams said. "We just got a huge order from Metallica," he said. "They're an older band, so you'd think they'd know better."

The Monkees were one of the first bands to fall in love with Moog products, he said, adding that drummer Micky Dolenz then introduced Paul McCartney and John Lennon to Moog.

R.A. Moog began in 1954 and became Moog Music Inc. in 1972. It became a division of Norlin Music, a large musical instrument aggregator, in 1975. Norlin eventually went bankrupt and Moog moved to Asheville to raise his family. In 1994, he decided to get back into the musical instrument business under the Moog Music name, but the name was legally tied up. He regained the rights in May 2002, which is when Adams became company president. Moog died in 2005.

Prices range from $700 to $5,000 for synthesizers, while guitars start at about $2,000. Theremins, the eerie-sounding musical instruments you play without touching them, cost $375, while effects pedals range from $275 to $700.

"Kids have grown up with the iPod," Adams said, and even Moog Music has an iPhone app, the Filtatron. "But when musicians get introduced to the analog sound, it makes a big difference to them. It may not make a difference when it comes out of the iPod, but it makes a difference to them in the studio from an inspiration standpoint."