Hands-On Review:The Moog Guitar Model E1
A gift from the guitar gods that is truly infinite
Darius Van Rhuehl,
Musician's Friend Staff Writer
The idea of infinite sustain for guitar has been with us ever since Jimi Hendrix stood in front of a wall of Marshall amps cranked to "10." And having that sustain morph into harmonics was a magical event when you were lucky enough to make it happen. Since then, guitarists have been dreaming of a way to re-create that tonal magic without hearing loss or cease and desist orders from neighbors. And while "infinite sustain" pickups (requiring significant guitar modifications) have been with us since 1986, Moog has taken an entirely new approach. The result is the E1—a breakthrough guitar capable of infinite sustain with consistent harmonics on every note of the instrument. And with industry-leading synth-maker Moog in the mix, the E1 is capable of more sounds "out of the case" than any other guitar, plus some that no other instrument can achieve.
Initially inspired by the sounds of players including Les Paul, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix, inventor Paul Vo began his search for infinite sustain with controlled feedback that functions independently of room acoustics. As he discovered, sustain was easy, but in order for his concept to work, Paul needed a way to stop string vibration electronically. Eventually, he hit on the right idea: a bidirectional transducer that senses and drives a string at a single point with coherent, focused energy. Not only did his breakthrough create powerful sustain on every note, it also manipulated harmonics as well. And this is the most important concept behind the E1. It’s not a guitar synth. Other than the filter, everything comes from controlling the strings. In fact, if you turn off your amp while doing harmonic blends, you can actually hear the sound of the strings changing.
My first reaction upon opening the case was a loss of breath. It’s a beautifully made instrument with topnotch hardware and appointments. The bridge can be a fixed custom Moog with Graph Tech piezo saddles or a modified Wilkinson tremolo with the same piezo setup and locking tuners. The E1 I tested had a lovely candy red finish, tremolo bridge, and a 22-fret neck. Immediately comfortable, the neck carve was much the same as my PRS, just a tad thicker, but does the PRS one better with an ebony fretboard.
The Moog E1 has three modes: Full Sustain; Controlled Sustain, which lets you play sustained single or polyphonic lines without muting strings; and Mute Mode, for staccato articulations. In addition there’s Harmonic Blend and the Moog Filter, which can be applied to each mode. The E1 has two custom-made pickups, each housing six individual vibration controllers for a total of 12 channels. There’s also a piezo bridge pickup that can be blended with the Moog pickups, or sent direct via 1/4" output. Controls include Master Volume; Vo Power, which controls the intensity of sustain and mute; Piezo Blend, to let you mix the piezo and Moog pickups; Harmonic Balance, which controls the balance of Vo Power between neck and bridge pickups; and a Tone/Filter knob that either adjusts the tone of the guitar or the resonance of the Moog ladder and articulation filters.
The switches include Mode Selector, Filter Toggle, and a five-position Pickup Selector. Powering the E1 is a floor pedal with ground lift, audio out, and a control voltage (CV) input. The pedal can control harmonic balance or the cutoff frequency of the filters. The Control Voltage input opens up the E1 to infinite options +1. For example, with the CV in, you can use a Moog Etherwave Plus Theremin to manipulate the sound of the E1. Just by waving your right hand, you can shape chords and notes without a pick or control the resonance of the filters. Or, you can keep both hands on the guitar and use the guitar’s headstock (or your own head).
In order to provide optimal performance, the E1 requires special strings made by Moog (they have higher steel content and are properly insulated at the bridge), which are available in three gauges: light (9-46); medium (10-52); and heavy (11-52). In a pinch, you can use GHS Infinity Steel, GHS Super Steels, or D’Addario ProSteels, but if you’re looking for full-on Vo Power, go with the Moogs.
Exercising the right to Vo
Naturally, my first impulse was to crank up the Vo Power knob to 11, but in so doing, this lets Vo Power run wild. Backing off a bit gives you more control. And with the right amount of piezo blend and Vo Power through the distortion channel of my Egnater Renegade, I had what I always wanted—a great solo distortion sound with infinite sustain. Interestingly enough, the infinite sustain pendulum also swings in the opposite direction. Mute mode literally turns the E1 into a new instrument—one that would be great for playing ska or other rhythmic styles. In Controlled Sustain mode, I could play long-sustaining violin-like lines along with contrapuntal phrases—something no other guitar is capable of. Using the filters and the foot pedal, I was able to add synth-like attacks and modulation.
One of my favorite effects was the harmonic blend. What a hoot to be able to morph into harmonics on any note—one of the hardest sounds to control onstage made easy by the E1. And one thing no other guitar can do is let you dynamically change timbral textures of chords as you play them. I also used its sustain and filter-resonance capabilities to create some unusual, evolving chord pads.
Wanting to hear the acoustic sound of the guitar alone, I plugged the direct piezo output into a vintage Fender Dual Showman with an Avatar cab housing two Eminence Patriot speakers. It was stunning—and the normal output sounded absolutely stellar through my Egnater Renegade/Tourmaster 412. When combined, all I could think was "Break out the mics, studio monkeys, recording time is here!"
Guitars and effects processors have seen a lot of evolutionary improvements over the years, but Moog has given us something truly revolutionary. However, any old-school player can pick up an E1 and feel right at home. I think the E1 will become the centerpiece of guitar; the culmination of everything that’s gone before, and the starting point of the instrument’s future. Obviously, you sonic explorers and finger-tapping virtuosos are already imagining what you can do with an E1. But even if you’re just looking for your first high-end guitar, a category the E1 easily competes in, why not start with something that already gives you that plus so much more? More importantly, this guitar inspires and encourages creativity. I’m curious to see who will be the E1 player who will invent the new techniques and sounds for future generations to copy. So cadets, your ongoing mission: To boldly go where no other guitar and guitar player have gone before. These are the voyages only possible with the Moog Guitar Model E1.