From 1986 to 1988, I worked with electronic-music pioneer Robert Moog (rhymes with vogue), custom-building experimental keyboard instruments. In 1993, I wrote this account of our work together, and an abbreviated version was published around that time in Piano & Keyboard magazine, no longer in business. This is the first publication of the unabridged version. A Postscript with updated information about Moog and his family follows the article. — L.F.
Moog and Fine, with completed Yamaha MTS keyboard. Photo Credit: Bob Moog Foundation
When Bob Moog called me in January 1986 to ask if I would work with him on a small project, the last thing I needed was another job. I was running a piano-service business, finishing up work on The Piano Book, writing a regular monthly magazine column, and doing about ten hours a week of charitable volunteer work. I couldn’t see fitting another activity into my schedule, so I said no. Then, after hanging up the phone, I thought, “Larry, you fool — how often do you get the opportunity to work with someone of this caliber?” So a few days later, I called back and said maybe.
Several weeks later found Moog and me standing in his freezing garage, inspecting a Yamaha CP-80 electric grand. I had serviced these hybrid electric/acoustic pianos before, but only occasionally. Their distinguishing feature is that though they have no soundboard and are electrically amplified, they do have tuning pins and strings, and a real grand-piano keyboard and action.
We had removed some of the outer case parts and were peering at the action. “Do you think you can remove that?” Moog asked, gesturing at the action, in what sounded like a cross between a genuine query and a test question. After all, Moog had found me because, like him, I was a columnist for Keyboard magazine. “He can write,” I could imagine him thinking about me, “but does he know anything about pianos?” Of course, removing a grand action stack is something any self-respecting piano technician can do blindfolded; I unscrewed eight or ten screws and out it came. Moog appeared impressed; though I was surprised by his response at the time, I don’t know why I’d assumed that this famous electronics engineer would necessarily know much about piano actions. Anyway, having clearly passed the test, and since Moog said the project would take only about three months’ worth of Saturdays to complete, I agreed to work with him.
Had I known then how complicated the job would be, and that it would last not three months but two-and-a-half years’ worth of Saturdays (and sometimes Sundays, plus three months of full-time work), I never would have signed on. It’s a good thing I didn’t know, because it turned out to be one of the most fascinating and enjoyable jobs I’ve ever had.
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