The Moog Realistic Concertmate MG-1

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The Realistic Concertmate MG-1 is vintage analog synthesizer that was distributed by Radio Shack under their “Realistic” brand name.

It was one of the worst synths that ever bore the Moog name. But, as the video demonstrates, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t make some great analog sounds.

Features:

  • Two oscillators with sync & detune, one producing either a Square or Sawtooth waveform, with the other producing either a Pulse or Sawtooth waveform.
  • One low pass filter/VCF, that can use the envelope generator, has limited keyboard tracking, and is capable of self oscillation.
  • Limited envelope generator with variable attack and release, and a switchable sustain (no decay).
  • Oscillator 2 can be tuned independently or synced to oscillator 1.
  • Noise generator.
  • Ring modulator (called “Bell Tone”).
  • Polyphonic oscillator. This oscillator is routed through the filter, but not through the envelope generator or LFO.
  • LFO that can modulate the oscillators and the filter using a triangle, square or random waveform
  • Portamento (called “Glide”)
  • External Control inputs for pre-MIDI CV/Gate.

The Concertmate MG-1 is notorious for it’s inclusion of a cheesy polyphonic organ sound and for using black foam on the interior which decays into a sticky black sludge over time.

If you’ve used the Moog Realistic Concertmate MG-1, leave a comment with your thoughts!

The History Of The Moog Realistic Concertmate MG-1

Synthesis Technology’s Paul Shreiber, who’s known for designing the Cadillac of modular synths, the MOTM, has explained the origin of the Concertmate MG-1:

Radio Shack has no engineering. Rather, that falls (er…’fell’) under TSD (Tandy Systems Design). Also, twice a year Radio Shack holds a private version  of COMDEX/CES, just for them! Vendors line up 50 deep and present their wares.

Back then (early ’80s) about 40% of gear in a Radio Shack was bought ‘outside’. Most electronics was made in a Korean factory that Tandy owned a majority  share called EnCal (EnCal made all of Pioneer’s and Alpine’s car stereos there).

So, during one of these mini-trade shows who is on the presentation list (which TSD got in advance) but a one ‘Dr. D. Luce’. Well, when I saw Mr.  PolyMoog on the list I had to see this. So sure enough here he wanders in with a hand-made small synth. He demos it. Bernie Appel, the #1 decision maker (er…the *ONLY* decision maker of what went in the store or not) had this type of conversation:

BA:  What the f*** is that piece of s***? (BA enjoyed treating all new vendors this way. This was his equivalent of “Hello.”)

DDL: It’s a music synthesizer prototype. [Proceeds on a 3 minute demo. You had 5 minutes to present. Period!!]

BA:  (interested, but certainly not going to show it to the Yankee geek) How the hell do you plug it in?

DDL  points out the 1/4″ jack.

BA:  Where in the holy hell, in my store (they were always referred to as “my stores”) does that thing go? Up my ass?

See, RS had not a single piece of gear that had 1/4″ jacks! All RCA. BA knew this.

DDL at this point looks like he’s gonna puke. He’s quivering & sweating like a whore in church (sorry, that’s another BA expression!)

BA:  Play me a tune. [DDL one-fingers a classical thingy.]

BA:  That damn thing busted? What’s with this 1 finger shit? [DDL explains about monophonic blah blah blah.]

BA turns to me.

BA:  You know what the hell he’s talking about?

Me:  (thinking this is a trick question) Err…yeah.

BA to DDL: We’ll look at it. NEXT!!!!

So began the Luce/Schreiber effort. What he had was the boards out of a Minimoog, no A440 osc, no noise, in a box. So, I got handed that, designed  the MG-1 version (added the organ stuff BECAUSE BA was convinced that typical  RS customers wanted more than 1 note). Added RCA jacks, ring mod do-dad. Then, had to specify parts that Moog never had to use: cheapo pots. I’ll admit it: CHEAPO. They were ALPS and I think we paid (back then) about 23 cents apiece.

That is because the RS gross profit margin was an unheard of 63% (the average of ALL the Forture 500 is like 8%) and lastly, I spent about 3 weeks on just the panel layout and color scheme & wrote the Owner’s Manual along  with, oddly enough, Steve Leininger who designed the TRS-80. He played a Vox  in a jazz band and BA wanted his opinion as well.

Luce and I went back & forth about 5 months until they delivered the “pre-production” units. Moog made them, Tandy supplied most of the parts (we had a company in Japan that bought parts and resold them to Tandy. One day I’ll tell my funny modem capacitor story.)

So, the story was:

  • Moog presented the original idea to RS
  • They dumped it on me. I had to make it “Radio Shack compliant”. Which meant a re-design. Used the 3046 + Tel Labs tempco for the VCO. More Electronotes than Moog! Moog ladder filter, 3080 VCA. Prototype had mod wheel; *PUNT!*. Cost like $3. Get real.
  • Moog built it.
  • Tandy had 18 months exclusive. Moog then made the Rogue which is my design without the organ/ring mod, wheels back on.
  • No, I didn’t get a free MG-1 or a Rogue.
  • No, I didn’t get a lot of money. At that time I was making about $21,500/yr.

Final note: NO!!! I DID NOT pick that stupid black felt that lays over the sliders, then turns to tar. That was Luce’s deal. But, I DID get Luce to send me *every* piece of Moog literature at the time: still have it!

Paul Schreiber
Synthesis Technology

Resources:

  • The Moog Realistic Concertmate MG-1 at cykong
  • Synhouse plans for adding MIDI to a Concertmate MG-1 synthesizer
  • Video via Thalassa77: During the last few days I’ve been restoring this Moog Realisitic Concertmate MG-1 and now the synth is like new. The Moog MG-1 is basically a Moog Rogue with a polyphonic section, it has 2 VCO , 1 LFO with S&H , 1 AR envelope , noise,ring modulator and a genuine Moog filter. The sound is amazing and you can get a lot of different kind of sounds from deep basses to soft leads and brass sounds. On this video i’m just showing a few of sounds that can be created on moment with this little synth
  • Wikipedia entry

15 thoughts on “The Moog Realistic Concertmate MG-1

  1. yeah, very entertaining. so it is Mr. Paul Schreiber that we should thank. Genious. Now, it all makes sense.

    So, this begs to answer the question "is the MG-1 a moog product?" Hmmm. it seems from this story it is an independant consultant's modified version of a moog. It seems the only thing Moog is the ladder filter and build quality control. The VCO's seem like they are a gorgeous "knock-off" of the MiniMoog (which is good to know).

    This story doesn't exactly burst my bubble though. At least I know to which parts they skimped on. I can always replace pots. and add my own wheel as a sidecar.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. yeah, very entertaining. so it is Mr. Paul Schreiber that we should thank. Genious. Now, it all makes sense.

    So, this begs to answer the question "is the MG-1 a moog product?" Hmmm. it seems from this story it is an independant consultant's modified version of a moog. It seems the only thing Moog is the ladder filter and build quality control. The VCO's seem like they are a gorgeous "knock-off" of the MiniMoog (which is good to know).

    This story doesn't exactly burst my bubble though. At least I know to which parts they skimped on. I can always replace pots. and add my own wheel as a sidecar.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. I just picked one of these up from craigslist, it is in pretty rough condition though. Lots of noise, a few dead/dying pots, one of the keys has been broken and glued back together etc. In spite of all of this (not least the old caps whistling and causing some of the circuits to completely misbehave) I am getting some great sound out of it. Great machine that I can't wait to start restoring…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. I just picked one of these up from craigslist, it is in pretty rough condition though. Lots of noise, a few dead/dying pots, one of the keys has been broken and glued back together etc. In spite of all of this (not least the old caps whistling and causing some of the circuits to completely misbehave) I am getting some great sound out of it. Great machine that I can't wait to start restoring…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. I just picked one of these up from craigslist, it is in pretty rough condition though. Lots of noise, a few dead/dying pots, one of the keys has been broken and glued back together etc. In spite of all of this (not least the old caps whistling and causing some of the circuits to completely misbehave) I am getting some great sound out of it. Great machine that I can't wait to start restoring…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. I just picked one of these up from craigslist, it is in pretty rough condition though. Lots of noise, a few dead/dying pots, one of the keys has been broken and glued back together etc. In spite of all of this (not least the old caps whistling and causing some of the circuits to completely misbehave) I am getting some great sound out of it. Great machine that I can't wait to start restoring…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. I just picked one of these up from craigslist, it is in pretty rough condition though. Lots of noise, a few dead/dying pots, one of the keys has been broken and glued back together etc. In spite of all of this (not least the old caps whistling and causing some of the circuits to completely misbehave) I am getting some great sound out of it. Great machine that I can't wait to start restoring…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. I just picked one of these up from craigslist, it is in pretty rough condition though. Lots of noise, a few dead/dying pots, one of the keys has been broken and glued back together etc. In spite of all of this (not least the old caps whistling and causing some of the circuits to completely misbehave) I am getting some great sound out of it. Great machine that I can't wait to start restoring…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. Was wondering if you could tell me what to look for in troubleshooting my MG-1. Some of the keys do not work. I tried cleaning and messing with the contacts. No luck. The lowest key will work for 2 seconds then stop. In total there’s about 4 keys out. Thanks for your time and concern!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. This was the first synth I ever owned (actually started with a Casiotone VL-1, but the MG-1 was the first full-sized), had it for three years–made some great sounds with it, managed to create some video game-type sounds…I have a recording of it which I can post as an audio file (it’s on a cassette, transferring the original recording will take some time). Plan to get another one, hopefully as like-new or even unused…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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