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June 25, 2015
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December 4, 2014
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TECHnalysis Research Guest Column


September 2, 2015
Electronics Made In the USA

Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in northwest North Carolina is one of the few remaining vestiges of what was once commonplace: a company that designs, builds, and sells electronics products that are manufactured in the U.S.

At first glance, Asheville, NC may not seem like the kind of place to find this, but it turns out the arts-friendly town is the perfect spot for a musical instrument company. Given the toe-tapping bluegrass I enjoyed one Friday night in the town square, it might seem that something like The Woodrow—a guitar-shaped version of a mountain dulcimer that Dan Williams hand builds in Asheville—would be the more obvious choice.

However, Asheville also happens to be home to Moog Music, makers of the world-famous Moog synthesizers (Minimoog, Moog Modular, Sub-Phatty, and much more) as well as effects pedals, theremins, and other cool musical gadgets. Originally started by the late synthesizer pioneer Bob Moog in upstate New York in the late 1960s, the Moog company went through a roller-coaster ride of ownership and focus for many years. But back in 2002, Bob Moog himself restarted Moog Music in Asheville, where he lived.

Today, the roughly 60-person company operates out of a single building, which houses a retail store, manufacturing site, and warehouse. During my recent trip to Asheville—BTW, the self-proclaimed microbrewery capital of the country (with more than 20 and counting)—I visited Moog Music and took the free tour they offer to anyone who calls in advance (minimum party of 4 required).

On the tour, I discovered that the company places an enormous emphasis on its products being made in America—a point that you clearly hear from other industries, but something very, very few electronics and high tech companies talk about. All 40,000+ of the products that Moog shipped last year were made in Asheville, and according to my knowledgeable tour guide, roughly 75% of all the components they use are sourced from American companies. (Turns out some critical elements—like the musical keyboards they use on their synthesizers—just aren’t made in the US anymore.)

In the case of the key circuit boards on some of their new synthesizers, like the impressive Sub 37 I saw being built, even those are manufactured by another North Carolina company “down the road” that has the specialized robotics machines necessary to create a modern circuit board.

For Moog’s classic (and expensive) modular synthesizers, the company has actually sourced the original ‘70s era components (we’re talking capacitors the size of your thumb!) from a wide variety of places, including old military supplies, and hand solders and hand builds each of the modules. It’s kind of crazy and awe-inspiring at the same time.

I have a long history with the electronic musical instrument business—I was editor of both the now defunct Music Technology magazine and the still vibrant Electronic Musician many moons ago, and had the privilege of meeting Bob Moog several times at NAMM trade shows a while back. But this was the first time I had the opportunity to visit an American synthesizer factory, and I have to say I walked away impressed—on several levels. Not only did I rediscover how great Moog synths sound, I was impressed with the passion of the employees and their dedication to their founder’s vision.

I know it sounds old-fashioned, and probably a bit hokey, but I was also impressed that the company manages to build their products in the U.S. In an era when it seems nearly every electronics-related device is manufactured in, it’s actually quite refreshing to see an American company making a strong go of it, even if it is in the specialized realm of electronic musical instruments.

In fact, I intend to purchase a Sub 37, not only because it’s an amazing musical instrument, but also because I want to show my support for just such an effort. Having a strong U.S. tech business that’s devoid of manufacturing just doesn’t feel right, and I’m happy to see tech-related companies in a number of industries making efforts to build more of their products in the U.S.

Of course, once I get my new synth, the real challenge is going to be figuring out how to get my other Asheville musical purchase (the aforementioned Woodrow) to work together with a Sub 37 in a musically appealing way.

I guess it’ll just take a few of those Asheville microbrews to get my creative juices flowing…. Bottom’s up!

Here's a link to the original column: http://www.engadget.com/2015/09/02/electronics-made-in-the-usa/

Bob O'Donnell is founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services.

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