Recording Keyboards – Mellotron… What is it?


The Mellotron… ‘an electro-mechanical, polyphonic tape replay keyboard originally developed and built in Birmingham, England, in 1963. It evolved from a similar instrument, the Chamberlin, but could be mass-produced more effectively’. Wikipedia

To me, the Mellotron is the sound of all the records I grew up with… even before I was born, this keyboard was making its way onto classic albums & recordings.

So what exactly is a Mellotron?
Long before the advent of computers, it was neigh on impossible to manipulate & trigger samples and musical ‘recordings’ – samplers came along in the early days of technology but way before them, in the late 1940s, the Chamberlin was introduced.

The Chamberlin is an electro-mechanical keyboard instrument that was a precursor to the Mellotron. It was developed and patented by Iowa, Wisconsin inventor Harry Chamberlin from 1949 to 1956, when the first model was introduced. Various models and versions of these Chamberlin music instruments exist. While most are keyboard-based instruments, there were also early drum machines produced and sold. Some of these drums patterns feature Harry Chamberlin’s son Richard on them’. Wikipedia

So, why am I recording one when technology has moved on so far & fast and this technology is nearly 70 years old?
The key to the success of the Mellotron was that it enabled you to play back actual recordings of choirs, string sections, flutes, etc. Each key of the keyboard has a separate, short piece of tape containing an actual recording of a given instrument, orchestra section or choir.

Richard Lacy explains…


The Mellotron has interchangeable tape banks. Instead of pressing the modern ‘select preset’ button as we do now on so many keyboards, you had to physically remove & replace the entire internal tape bank of the Mellotron. You can also play low or high octaves of the samples by switching the speed to ‘half’ or ‘normal’ respectively. Halving the tape speed then gives you double the length of sample per note played… Meaning, you don’t run out of notes if you hold a chord for more than 8 seconds.

Richard Lacy played keyboards & piano on a very exciting project we’ve been working on for the past 14 months. We wanted to keep the technology on this project to ‘reto-analogue’ and what better way that to only use Piano, Rhodes Piano & Mellotron (Choir & String Banks) – ‘no digital instruments were used in the making of this album’.

To come in future blogs… recording of the ‘fat drums’…

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