Mellotron

A Mellotron

The Mellotron is an electro-mechanical, polyphonic tape replay keyboard originally developed and built in Birmingham, England in the early 1960s. It superseded the Chamberlin Music Master, which was the world's first sample-playback keyboard intended for music. The concept of the Chamberlin was itself modeled after the Laff Box invented by engineer Charlie Douglass in order to insert prerecorded laughs into TV and radio programs more easily in the then-developing field of post-production.

The heart of the instrument is a bank of parallel linear magnetic audio tape strips. Playback heads underneath each key enable the playing of pre-recorded sounds. Each of the tape strips has a playing time of approximately eight seconds, after which the tape comes to a dead stop and rewinds to the start position. A major advantage of using tape strips, as opposed to tape loops or cassettes (cf. the Birotron) is that the Mellotron can reproduce the "attack" transient of the instruments recorded on the tape. A drawback is the short "decay" time of the note.

A consequence of the eight second limit on the duration of each note is that if one wants to play chords that last longer than eight seconds, one must release different notes in sequence in a process that has been compared to a spider crawling across the keyboard.

The MKI, MKII, and MKV models contained two side-by-side keyboards: The right keyboard accessed 18 "lead/instrument" sounds such as strings, flutes, and brass; The left keyboard played pre-recorded musical rhythm tracks in various styles.

The tape banks for the lighter-weight M400 models contain only three selectable sounds including (typically) strings, cello, and an eight-voice choir. The sound on each individual tape piece was recorded at the pitch of the key to which it was assigned. To make up for the fewer sounds available, the M400 tapes came in a removable frame that allowed for relatively quick changes to new racks of sounds.

Contents

History

Although tape samplers had been explored in research studios,[1] the first commercially available keyboard-driven tape instruments were built and sold by California-based Harry Chamberlin from 1948 through the 1970s.

Things really took off, however, when Chamberlin's sales agent, Bill Fransen, brought two of Chamberlin's instruments to England in 1962 to search for someone who could manufacture 70 matching tape heads for future Chamberlins. Harry Chamberlin was unhappy with the fact that someone overseas was copying his idea, and that one of his own people (Bill Fransen) was the reason for this. Fransen approached a UK company that was skilled enough to develop the idea further and a deal was struck with brothers Frank, Norm, and Lesley Bradley of engineering company Bradmatic Ltd. This resulted in the formation of a subsidiary company named Mellotronics, which produced the first Mellotrons in Aston, Birmingham, England. The music sessions for Mellotrons were recorded by the Eric Robinson Organisation at IBC Studios, 35 Portland Place in London England. Mellotronics had offices there and the recordings were made using a customized 9 into 3 recording desk built by IBC's Denis King. Magician David Nixon partly funded it. Manufacturing company Bradmatic later took on the name Streetly Electronics. By the early 1970s 100 of the instruments were assembled and sold by EMI under exclusive license. Many years later, following financial and trademark troubles through a U.S. distribution agreement, the Mellotron name became unavailable and resided with the American based Sound Sales, and later manufactured by Bomar Fabricating Ltd. while Streetly manufactured instruments after 1976 were sold under the name Novatron.

Throughout the 1970s, the Mellotron had a major impact on rock music, particularly the 35 note (G-F) model M400. The M400 version was released in 1970 and sold over 1800 units, becoming a trademark sound of the era's progressive bands. The earlier 1960s MK II units were made for the home and the characteristics of the instrument attracted a number of celebrities. Among the early Mellotron owners were Princess Margaret, Peter Sellers, King Hussein of Jordan and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.[citation needed]

Mellotrons were normally pre-loaded with string instrument and orchestral sounds, although the model 400's tape bank could be removed with relative ease by the owner and loaded with banks containing different sounds including percussion loops, sound effects, or synthesizer-generated sounds, to generate polyphonic electronically generated sounds in the days before polyphonic synthesizers.

In the late 1990s, a Calgary-based company began producing new Mellotrons. These new MKVI Mellotrons were similar to the M400, with some modifications. The company also released sample discs featuring WAV files of each individual note sampled from an original Mellotron. These files, when played using a sampler, enable keyboardists to recreate a part of the sound of the original Mellotrons using cheaper and more reliable modern keyboards.

In 2009, Streetly Electronics released the M4000.[2] The most recent machine to offer a cycling mechanism, an updated design of the system used in the 1960s MK 1, MK 2 and M300 machines.

Operation

Beneath every key is a disengaged tape head and roller.
Depressed key engages tape head and roller.

The unique sound of the Mellotron is produced by a combination of characteristics. Among these are tape replay artifacts such as wow and flutter, the result being that each time a note is played, it is slightly different from the previous time it was played, somewhat like a conventional instrument. The notes also interact with each other so that chords or even just pairs of notes have an extremely powerful sound. The attack of the tape head engaging is often considered a characteristic part of the Mellotron sound.

The adjustments of mechanical parts, such as pinch rollers, pressure pads and tape head azimuth, combined with equalization of recordings sourced from different tape libraries make some notes sound brighter or smoother than others. This quality makes each and every Mellotron instrument unique, and is a large factor in why all Mellotrons will sound different in music recordings, despite the same sound (like the 3 violins) being used. The use of tube pre-amplifiers (MK II Mellotron used by King Crimson), transistorized pre-amplifiers (MK II Mellotron used by Moody Blues) or modified instruments (Mellotron MK V prototype used by Yes / Rick Wakeman) also enhances the sonic colours of each instrument.

Another factor in the strangely haunting quality of the Mellotron's most frequently heard sounds is that the individual notes were recorded in isolation. For a musician accustomed to playing in an orchestral setting, this was unusual, and meant that he had nothing against which to intonate. Thus, the temperament of the Mellotron is always somewhat questionable when it is used in the context of other instruments. Perhaps for this reason, and perhaps also to allow easy transposition of the instrument's limited range, the pitch control is placed closest to the keyboard on the M400 model.

This temperament issue has led to the Mellotron being regarded, rather unfairly, as a difficult instrument to tune. There certainly could be mechanical problems that would also contribute to this. The original varispeed servo design was poor, for instance, but later improved dramatically. The tapes would stick inside their frames and refuse to rewind if the frame became distorted due to careless handling of the machine. Smoke, temperature, and humidity also played a huge factor as well. Such problems gave rise to Robert Fripp's widely circulated quote, "Tuning a Mellotron doesn't." Properly maintained though, the machines behave a lot better than their reputation suggests.

Although they enabled many bands to perform string, brass and choir arrangements, which had been previously impossible to recreate live, Mellotrons were not without their disadvantages. Above all, they were very expensive: they sold for £1,000 (approximately £14 thousand today)[3] in the mid-1960s, and the official Mellotron site gives the 1973 list price as US$5,200 (approximately $26 thousand today).[4] Like the Hammond organ, they were a roadie's nightmare – heavy, bulky and fragile. The tape banks were also notoriously prone to breakages and jams and those groups who could afford to, like Yes, typically took two or more Mellotrons on tour to cope with the inevitable breakdowns.

The original Mellotrons (MkI/MkII) were not intended to be portable – they often become misaligned when jostled even lightly – but later models such as the M300, M400 and MKV were designed for portability.

The American Mellotron distributor, Sound Sales, produced their own Mellotron model, the 4-Track, in the mid 1970s. At the same time Streetly produced a road cased version of the 400 – the T550 Novatron. By the mid 1980s, both Sound Sales and Streetly Electronics suffered severe financial setbacks, losing their market to synthesizers and solid-state electronic samplers, which rendered the Mellotron essentially extinct.

All models, when installed permanently in a studio, provided a very realistic effect. Many examples abound, such as Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album. Despite their shortcomings, Mellotrons were (and still are) prized for their unique sound, and they helped pave the way for the later sampler.

Many bands such as Counting Crows and The Musical Box have toured using samplers to avoid transporting and maintaining original Mellotrons on the road. The Musical Box, being a tribute band dedicated to visually reproducing early Genesis shows, have taken great pains to hide the fact that they do not use a real Mellotron by hiding a Kurzweil synthesiser in a wooden box made to look like a Mellotron.

Use in popular music

1960s and the psychedelic era

British multi-instrumentalist Graham Bond may have been the first rock musician to record with a Mellotron, beginning in 1965. The first hit song to feature a Mellotron MKII was "Baby Can It Be True", and Bond performed live with the machine in televised performances.

Mike Pinder of The Moody Blues had done an 18-month stint as an employee of Streetly Electronics as a quality control and test driver. He later made the mellotron a "signature sound" for the Moody Blues (at a later time, the instrument was even called the "Pindertron"). Pinder used it extensively and systematically on almost each of their songs from 1966 to 1972 ("Love And Beauty", "Nights In White Satin", "Question", "I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)", etc. Pinder claims to have introduced John Lennon and Paul McCartney to the Mellotron,[5] though they had heard of it before Pinder's mention. Pinder tried to convince the Beatles to begin to use the instrument on their songs.

After visiting the Mellotron studios on August 12, 1965, John Lennon bought one for use in his Weybridge home, and it was received on August 16, 1965. The Beatles first use of Mellotron sounds was on the song "Tomorrow Never Knows" where they used reel to reel recorders to record Mellotron brass and string sounds which, along with other sounds, were then brought into the studio. The heavy weight of the Mellotron prevented the machine from easily being transported. The Beatles hired in a machine and subsequently (and more prominently) used it on their psychedelic rock single "Strawberry Fields Forever" (recorded November–December 1966).[6] The Beatles continued to compose and record with various Mellotrons for the albums "Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band", "Magical Mystery Tour", and "The Beatles" (White Album).

Their manager Brian Epstein also purchased one, but later gave or sold it to George Harrison in 1967. Paul McCartney purchased two EMI models, Ringo Starr never purchased his own. Collectively, these Mellotrons were featured on Beatles solo efforts such as Harrison's "Wonderwall Music", Lennon's "Two Virgins", "Mind Games", etc. and McCartney's "McCartney (album)" "Wings at the Speed of Sound" etc. (which features both instrumentation and sound effects). Ian McDonald of King Crimson, Rick Wakeman of Yes, and Tony Banks of Genesis also became major Mellotron users at this time, infusing the violin, cello, brass, flute and choir sounds as a major texture in the music of their respective bands.

Other artists utilizing the Mellotron on hit records in this period included Greenslade (all studio and live albums between 1972 and 1976), The Zombies ("Changes," "Care Of Cell 44," "Hung Up On A Dream"), Donovan ("Celeste," "Breezes of Patchule"), Manfred Mann (several Mike D'abo-era recordings, including "So Long Dad," "There Is A Man," "Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James"), The Rolling Stones ("2000 Light Years from Home," "We Love You," "Stray Cat Blues,") Deep Purple ("Anthem"), The Bee Gees ("World," "Every Christian Lion-Hearted Man Will Show You," "To Love Somebody"), Traffic ("House for Everyone," "Hole In My Shoe"), Small Faces ("Happiness Stan"), Pink Floyd ("A Saucerful of Secrets," "See-Saw, "Julia Dream," "Atom Heart Mother" and "Sysyphus"), Procol Harum ("Magdalene (My Regal Zonophone)"), The Pretty Things (on their album S.F. Sorrow), Cream ("Badge," "Anyone for Tennis," "Doing That Scrapyard Thing"), The Left Banke ("Myrah"), Simon Dupree and the Big Sound ("Kites"), Nilsson ("The Moonbeam Song"), The Kinks ("Phenomenal Cat," "Autumn Almanac," "Sitting By The Riverside," "All Of My Friends Were There," "Animal Farm," "Starstruck," "Days"), David Bowie ("Space Oddity"), and The Flower Pot Men ("Let's Go To San Francisco").

1970s and progressive rock

The Mellotron was widely used to provide backing keyboard accompaniment by many of the progressive rock and hard rock groups of the 1970s and, alongside the Hammond organ, it was crucial to shaping the sound of the genre. Notable examples include: Never Argue with a German If You're Tired or European Song by Jefferson Airplane, "Tuesday's Gone" and "Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Turn the Page" by Bob Seger, 10000 Anos Depois Entre Venus e Marte by Jose Cid, Once Again by Barclay James Harvest, Music in a Doll's House by Family, Grave New World and Bursting at the Seams by The Strawbs, seven albums from In the Court of the Crimson King through Red by King Crimson, "Stairway to Heaven" (live performances), "The Rain Song" and "Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin, Catch the Rainbow by Rainbow, 2112 by Rush, I Robot by The Alan Parsons Project, Fragile, Close to the Edge, Tales From Topographic Oceans, Relayer (along with Orchestron), Going For The One, Tormato (Birotron), and Drama by Yes, Trespass through …And Then There Were Three… by Genesis, all of Greenslade's albums, Hawkwind's Space Ritual, and Hall of the Mountain Grill, "Rainbow Song" by America, In Search of Space by Hawkwind and The Pillory by Jasun Martz as well as various works by Barnstorm (band).

The Mellotron was also used extensively by pioneering German electronic band Tangerine Dream through their prime, including solo work by Edgar Froese. Their albums Phaedra, Rubycon, Ricochet, and Encore as well as Froese's Epsilon in Malaysian Pale provide archetypal examples of Mellotron playing.

Continuing from the late 1950s, the American Chamberlin instruments continued to be used as well. And often, like the Mellotron, these were used as an orchestral backdrop too. In the view of many musicians of the time, the two instruments were considered as interchangeable, since both instruments did orchestral sounds, and both were limited to eight seconds, and it did not matter necessarily which was available at a studio. This also led to confusion occasionally as to which instrument was being used.

Further to this confusion was the 1976 sale of the name "Mellotron" to the Mellotron distribution company via a legal blunder in writing the international distribution contracts. As a result the name "Mellotron" could not be used and the name "Novatron" was adopted for instruments produced after 1976. Novatrons are identical to Mellotrons but with the name "Novatron" badged on the control panel. Other than this, Novatrons continued in the same design specs as Mellotrons.

Also around this time, it became occasionally difficult to obtain service for Mellotrons as parts and service were intermittently available. Presumably this occurred out of legal wrangling over details between the British and American based companies and distributors.

Other alternate versions of the Mellotron, Novatron and Chamberlin were touted by competitors in the early to mid-1970s. One of these was the Vako Orchestron which used light scanning technology of disks with pre-recorded orchestral looped sounds on them. This was basically a professional and updated version of the Mattel Optigan toy keyboard with slight improvements in sound quality and easier portability. The disk based system and its looped sounds were advertised as an advantage over the 8 second limits of the Mellotron and Chamberlin. Another was the Birotron which featured improvements in the Mellotron and Chamberlin designs such as a robust cabinet, endless looping tapes (to surmount tape return jams), and a special Moog technician-designed electronic attack and decay for each note. A Mellotronics / Birotronics partnership was proposed and investigated between the two companies but the Birotron, was eventually never released to the buying public despite its use by Yes, Earthstar and Rick Wakeman who, preceding Pepperidge Farm, was one of the main investors.

1980s and post-punk

The advent of cheaper and more reliable polyphonic synthesizers and preset "string machines" saw the Mellotron's popularity wane by the end of the 1970s. Following the impact of punk rock, the Mellotron tended to be viewed as a relic of a pompous era, or in the cases of the Chamberlin, Orchestron, and Birotron - as general obsolete technology. This was also due to the unavailability of new machines as both U.S. and U.K. manufacturers and distributors had declared bankruptcy, and older broken machines could not be serviced.

The belief that newer machines rendered older machines obsolete and uncool also encouraged many Mellotron, Chamberlin, Optigan, Orchestron, and Birotron owners to sell off or pitch their machines to the scrapheap. Rick Wakeman burned his two single Mellotron M400's in a bonfire in 1982. Three destroyed Birotrons were also found in a garbage bin around the late 1980s or early 1990s. Optigans were often thought to be non-working because they would make no sound when turned on (unless a disk was on the turntable inside) and so these too were pitched into the garbage or sent to Goodwill stores. Orchestrons and Chamberlins that needed servicing were also consigned to the trashheap, their owners not willing to spend any more time or money repairing them.

Because of this, there are few Mellotron and Mellotron-related instruments used in recordings of the 1980s. The few instruments that are used are generally only partially operational and the lush chords and atmospheres that highlighted the music of the 1960s and 1970s are gone largely because of broken tapes, missing notes etc.

One of the few UK post-punk bands to utilise the Mellotron was Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, who featured it heavily on their platinum-selling 1981 album Architecture & Morality. Joy Division used its haunting quality to great effect on Decades from their seminal 1980 album Closer. It was also used by British bands XTC, Cardiacs, Nightwing, and IQ, but these were in a minority. It was also used by Talk Talk (Life Is What You Make It), Wang Chung (Novatron string swells in Dance Hall Days), and in New Order's song Run 2 from Technique. In the U.S., Los Angeles avant-garde/art rock band The Fibonaccis made frequent use of a Mellotron, as did Los Angeles film/TV score and session musician Berington Van Campen. Marillion also used the Mellotron during their tours in the early 1980s.

1990s resurgence / trademark infringement, rebirth and beyond

The Mellotron experienced a revival of sorts in the 1990s. A groundswell of music lovers, students, and musicians took an interest in Mellotrons and related paraphernalia, buying up old instruments, parts, advertisements, record LPs by "Mellotron bands", and seeking out otherwise obscure or unknown Mellotron recordings.

While a few bands and musicians (like Paul Weller, Richard Barone, Oasis, Julian Cope[7] and Radiohead) managed to resurrect the actual Mellotrons, a plethora of newer bands began using the "static character" samples of the instrument made possible due to the release of Mellotron sounds in software form. Although the powerful sound dynamics due to wow and flutter and random tape slither movement were lost, samples greatly appealed to many musicians who could not find, afford to buy, properly play, or correctly repair the surviving original Mellotrons.

The use of digital samples has also resulted in cases of trademark infringement, trademark dilution, tarnishment, and likelihood of confusion. This occurs when the word "Mellotron" is used in song titles, band names, and CD liner notes to capitalize on, and exploit the name when no actual Mellotron instrument is played on or associated with the recording. Instead digital samples are used but no rightful mention of the software source or sample manufacturers is referred to or credited, thus increasing potential to deceive the listener.

The name "Mellotron" is a recognized trademarked name referring only to the actual physical tape based machine, and historically to any sounds produced first hand from the instrument, and to and from the companies that manufacture or are legally and historically associated with manufacturing them. Mellotron sample users are therefore not entitled to use the name "Mellotron" because it refers to both the physical instrument and to the name of the company. Further to this, additional legal restrictions and complications exist due to the 1976 sale of the Mellotron trademark name to the Mellotron distributorship. Fewer than 1000 working Mellotrons are estimated to exist, suggesting that most Mellotron sounds heard in music produced from this era are not from actual Mellotrons, but from digital samples. The question of mis-representation or not is legally addressed on an individual basis.

Bands using either the actual instrument (usually rented) or samples include Michael Penn, Guns N' Roses (on Chinese Democracy), The Mars Volta, Tears for Fears (on Everybody Loves a Happy Ending), Black Moth Super Rainbow, Zechs Marquise, Sigur Rós, Dinosaur Jr, Sleepy Hollow, Katatonia, Pulp, Marillion, U2, Radio Massacre International, Primus, The Smashing Pumpkins, Marilyn Manson, Counting Crows, Copeland, Oasis, Barenaked Ladies, Sheryl Crow, Tori Amos, Spock's Beard, Lenny Kravitz, Kevin Gilbert, The Flower Kings, Nine Inch Nails, Stone Temple Pilots (in the song "Army Ants" from their 1994 album Purple.), Modest Mouse, Ayreon, Muse, Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Prick, Grandaddy, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Charlatans, Paul Weller, Radiohead; their song Exit Music (For a Film) is a good example, using the 8 voice choir tape set, Porcupine Tree, Anekdoten, Air, Opeth, Wobbler, In Lingua Mortua, Waterclime and Oceana Company. Anekdoten utilizes the Mellotron heavily in their recordings. French electronic musician Jean Michel Jarre was particularly vocal in his love of the instrument, using it extensively in his 1997 Oxygène tour, and often describing it as the "Stradivarius of electronic music". Avant-garde singer-song writer Tom Waits has also used the Mellotron on several albums such as Frank Wild Years, Bone Machine, Black Rider, Mule Variations, Alice, Blood Money, Real Gone and Orphans. Rockbeat poet Joe Linus used an original model M400 on his 2004 album Gunpowder Tea on track #7 (Ladybug Lady).

The related instruments such as the Chamberlin, Optigan, Orchestron, and Birotron also received revived interest during this time, but aside from the Optigan, they proved difficult to find for most musicians. This generally resulted in the same few Orchestron and Chamberlin owners doing most of the session work with these instruments on records. The Birotron was considered hopelessly impossible to find by this time. The acknowledged rarity of these instruments, and even then, after locating at least one of them, and then the struggle in getting them to completely function properly paved the way for the acceptance of (legal and illegal) digital samples of these instruments. Although the samples were of dubious quality (especially to those players who could cite the tonal differences), they filled a need at the time. As a result there is a wide range of varying quality examples of excellent to poor performing instruments, and also a wide range of good to bad sampled sounds in music of the 1990s to the present. This is due to tape or disk condition, instrument condition, and whether the sampled sounds were corrupted by digitally pitching up or down or altering them to compensate for missing notes that had broken or erased tapes. A lack of knowledge for adjustment of the machines and poor analogue to digital conversion is also a factor.

The Flaming Lips, in 2002, used Mellotron samples in the recording of their album Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. Eels used the Mellotron extensively throughout many of the Eels albums, most notable in the song "Souljacker, pt 2" with E (Eels leader) and a Mellotron and is also featured in the song "Dust of Ages". Film composer John Murphy has used the Mellotron in his scores for 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later. American metal band System Of A Down has used the sound in their music, most notably on the song "Roulette". On Porcupine Tree's 2005 album Deadwing, track 6 is titled "Mellotron Scratch" and includes lyrics about the sound of a Mellotron causing a woman to cry. Modest Mouse used a Mellotron sound for the song "Little Motel". Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson prominently used the Mellotron's haunting choral sounds on No-Man's 2003 album Together We're Stranger. British indie rock band The Kooks also use a real Mellotron on their albums Konk (recorded at Konk studios in Hornsey) and Rak. The Strokes also used a Mellotron on the song "Ask Me Anything" on their 2006 album First Impressions of Earth. The Ataris utilized the Mellotron on their 2007 album Welcome the Night, most prominently on the songs "Cardiff-by-the-Sea" and "A Soundtrack for This Rainy Morning". Les Fradkin uses the GForce M-Tron software instrument on most of his current recordings. He triggers it from a Starr Labs Ztar which gives completely different musical results from the traditional keyboard approach. Opeth has a version of their song "Porcelain Heart" which consists entirely of Mellotron samples entitled "Mellotron Heart". This version was featured only on special editions of their 2008 album Watershed. A progressive rock group from Finland, Nurkostam, is also known for using a lot of Mellotron sounds on their recordings. Founded in 2008, MelloFest is a UK-based festival celebrating music inspired by both the Mellotron and the Chamberlin. The Belgian band Hooverphonic also made great use of the Mellotron on their 2008 album The President of the LSD Golf Club. Dutch indie rock band Oceana Company uses a Mellotron M400 on their live shows and album For The Boatman. Canadian indie band Water Closet Phobia relies heavily on Mellotron sounds for texture, background sonic filler, and a plethora of odd sound effects. Psychedelic pop group Magic Hero vs. Rock People employed the instruments' sound extensively on their 2008 debut album. British rock band The Electric Soft Parade has made extensive use of Mellotron samples throughout their career, both live and in the studio, though perhaps most prominently on their 2007 album No Need To Be Downhearted. Also in 2007, the Canadian band Rush used Mellotron samples for their song "Good News First" on their Snakes and Arrows CD.

By the year 1999, availability of original Mellotrons had vastly declined. Discoveries of some commercial software sample sets using digitally pitched notes and magnetized tapes (revealed in A and B comparisons) caused a greater purist demand for authentic Mellotrons. As a result of this demand, (and because old models could not be located for re-sale), new Mellotron models were put into production: the American / Swedish Mellotron MK 6 model and the British Streetly Mellotron M-4000 model. Both resemble the M400 design, but with modern improvements to make them more reliable and roadworthy. An example of this is the recent purchase of a Mellotron M4000 for use by the band Arcade Fire who use it in the soundtrack for the 2009 movie The Box. Another example is Oasis' band member Noel Gallagher's purchase of a Mellotron MK 6 model in 1999 followed by his purchase of an original MK 2 model. Other bands such as A-ha (MK6 model), The Kooks (M4000) and Radiohead (original M400) are also part of this wave of musicians. Older musicians also continue to use real Mellotrons, one being Paul McCartney who still uses his on solo albums and in collaboration with Youth in his Fireman releases. Newer bands such as Sanctuary Rig use the M400 in their studio releases.[8]

Of all the disk and tape instruments, the Mellotron has made the strongest comeback. The other related instruments such as the Chamberlin, Birotron, Orchestron, and Optigan live on (if at all) only as restored original instruments. No modern reproductions of these exist. The Mellotron is arguably the most ubiquitous and the Birotron almost a myth. The others fall neatly in between these two extremes, but all provide unique qualities and variations of sound colour like the Mellotron. Although the sounds from each instrument are similar, none of them truly duplicate each other. The resurgence in the Mellotron and the related tape and disk keyboards has caused a greater appreciation for their place in music history as well as being remarkable examples of mechanical engineering. Because of this, the demand for Mellotrons and the other related instruments continues to remain high well into the 21st century.

List of models [9]

  • Mark I (1963) - double manual (35 notes on each). Very similar to the Chamberlin Music Master 600. About 55 were made.
  • Mk II (1964) - double manual. 18 sounds on each manual. About 300 were made.
  • FX console (1965) - double manual with sound effects. About 60 were made.
  • M300 (1968) - 52 note single manual, some with pitch wheel-control, and some without. About 60 were made.
  • M400 (1970) - 35 note single manual. The most common and portable model. About 1800 units were made. It has three different sounds per frame.
  • EMI M400 (1970) - 100 of this model were manufactured by EMI music company in Britain under license from Mellotronics. See M400.
  • Mark V (1975) - double manual. It's basically two M400's in one. Around 28 were made of this one, not including a special one-off machine made for Rick Wakeman.
  • Novatron Mark V (1977) - this is the same as the Mellotron Mark V just under a different name. About two were ever made - one owned by Paul McCartney and the other by Patrick Moraz.
  • Novatron 400 (1978) - the same with this one; it's a Mellotron M400 with a different name-plate.
  • T550 (1981) - this extremely rare model is a flight-cased version of Novatron 400. Four were made. Used by Tangerine Dream.
  • 4 Track (1981) - very rare model. About five were ever made of this model.
  • Mark VI (1998) - an improved version of the M400. The first Mellotron to be produced since Streetly Electronics went out of business in 1986.
  • Mark VII - this is basically an upgraded Mark V. Like the MkVI, this one is produced on the new factory in Stockholm.[10]
  • Skellotron (2005) - an improved m400 with a new look. Made by Streetly Electronics.
  • M4000 (2007) - one manual, 24 sounds. An improved version of the MkII with cycling mechanism. Made by Streetly Electronics.

Other related products

  • Band Master Powerhouse (1975) An 8 track drum machine manufactured by Bandmaster in Scotland and sold by Streetly Electronics.
  • Studio Symphony (1985) A one-off model with digital memory (no tapes). Only one experimental company model was made by Mellotron USA.
  • M4000D (2010) - a single manual digital product that does not feature tapes. Made at the mellotron-factory in Stockholm.[10]

Sources

See also

References

  1. ^ e.g., Hugh LeCaine's 1955 keyboard-controlled "Special Purpose Tape Recorder", which he used when recording his classic "Dripsody"
  2. ^ New M4000 Mellotron
  3. ^ UK CPI inflation numbers based on data available from Lawrence H. Officer (2010) "What Were the UK Earnings and Prices Then?" MeasuringWorth.
  4. ^ Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2008. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved December 7, 2010.
  5. ^ Mikepinder.com
  6. ^ Mike Pinder's Official Web Site
  7. ^ planetmellotron.com
  8. ^ Planet Mellotron Album Reviews: S2
  9. ^ Streetly Electronics: the original Mellotron makers
  10. ^ a b Mellotron Mark VI, Mark VII, M4000D

Further reading

External links


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  • Mellotron® — /melˈə tron/ noun An electronic musical instrument in which prerecorded sounds are played by pressing individual keys ORIGIN: Coined from mellow and electronic …   Useful english dictionary

  • Mellotron — Ein Mellotron Das Mellotron (aus rechtlichen Gründen später Novatron genannt) ist ein elektromechanisches Tasteninstrument, das (als sogenanntes Chamberlin) Anfang der 1950er Jahre vom Amerikaner Harry Chamberlin erfunden wurde. Das Chamberlin… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Mellotron — Un mellotron Le mellotron est un instrument de musique polyphonique à clavier lisant les sons sur des bandes magnétiques. Il a été largement utilisé dans les années 1970, notamment par les formations de rock progressif. Sommaire …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Mellotron — Para el grupo de synthpop alemán, consulta Melotron El mellotron es un instrumento musical electro mecánico polifónico que apareció a mediados de los años 1960. Contenido 1 Historia 2 Funcionamiento y características 3 Desven …   Wikipedia Español

  • mellotron — noun Etymology: from Mellotron, a trademark Date: 1963 an electronic keyboard instrument programmed to produce the tape recorded sounds usually of orchestral instruments …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • mellotron — ˈmelə.ˌträn noun ( s) Etymology: from Mellotron, a trademark : an electronic keyboard instrument programmed to produce the tape recorded sounds usually of orchestral instruments …   Useful english dictionary


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