One Cool Thing…The Mellotron!
What do The Beatles; Led Zeppelin; The Moody Blues; Oasis; Genesis; Earth, Wind & Fire; David Bowie; King Crimson; Radiohead; Princess Margaret; Peter Sellers; King Hussein of Jordan; Tangerine Dream; Orchestral Manoeuvres in The Dark; XTC; The Rolling Stones; and Porcupine Tree, amongst others have in common? Great list, huh? The answer: They all have owned or played a Mellotron! What’s a Mellotron, some of you may ask? Read on, musicologists…
A Mellotron (and there were several different makes/models) was the precursor of the past-modern sampler. Unlike samplers, where you could record and playback any sound of your choosing and turn it into a musical instrument, the Mellotron came with racks/frames of tape loops, with certain sounds or musical instruments sampled already, one sound or sample per tape loop. Frames could be swapped out to play different sounds. Some models allowed multiple frames to be loaded, so that you could switch between strings and brass by turning a knob. Woo – two sounds coming out of the same instrument! Pretty high tech for the 60’s!
Some famous sounds that were used were the flutes, put to good use on “Stairway To Heaven”, “Strawberry Fields” and “Nights in White Satin”; and the strings used on “The Rain Song”, and the massive string sound on “Watcher Of The Skies” amongst others.
They were meant to be studio instruments, but once the bands above found them, they started touring with them, sometimes to disastrous effects. Tapes stretching or breaking, sticking to the play heads, smoke, static electricity, etc. caused many bands to be at the mercy of the tape gods on many gigs.
As the years went on and digital samplers became the norm, the company the created them vanished, but the children of the founder got back in the business to repair and refurbish existing Mellotrons that survived, later going on to design and build new digital units.
Number 9 has a digital version of this wonderful instrument, called the Memotron. No tapes, no stretching, no changing frames, you can gig with it, and it has amazing sound and is part of the instruments for you to use when you book studio time. Why not introduce some vintage goodness into your tracks? The Memotron definitely imparts some vintage magic and vibe into anything it touches.
Here’s some fun stuff to keep you occupied this weekend!
Jump to the 2:20 mark to hear Paul’s clever intro of a classic Beatles track using the Mellotron.
The stunning opening of “Watcher Of The Skies” by Genesis:
Here’s a list of some notable tracks featuring the Mellotron:
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