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Total Recall (Part 17)

Vintage technology strikes back

Article from The Mix, February 1995

...including The A-Z of Analogue


The A-Z of analogue



Our definitive directory of every analogue synth in the history of the whole world ever. Included are keyboards, expanders and sound modules, readers are invited to expand upon or correct any part of the A-Z. Parts 1-16 may be ordered from the Music Maker hotline: (Contact Details)

Part 17 – compiled by Peter Forrest

Mellotron (continued)



Users include (actual models unknown): Don Airey, Gregg Allman (briefly), Rod Argent, Ken Ascher (John Lennon: Mind Games), Brian Auger/Julie Driscoll 'This Wheel's on Fire', Tony Banks, Beach Boys, Beatles ('Strawberry Fields' and throughout The White Album) – sold at Abbey Road sale in 1980, Cocteau Twins, Julian Colbeck, Lol Coxhill (Ear of Beholder: 'A series of superbly played Mellotron Codas'), Crowded House, Simon Dupree, Earthstar, Electric Light Orchestra, Brian Eno (From the Same Hill), Bob Ezrin (Lou Reed: Berlin), Larry Fast, Robert Fripp, Mitchell Froom, Genesis, Steve Hackett, Jimi Hendrix ('The Burning of the Midnight Lamp' – choir effects), Simon House / Hawkwind, King Hussein, J-M Jarre, King Crimson (Epitaph), Lenny Kravitz ('Fields of Joy'), Led Zeppelin ('Stairway to Heaven' – flute sounds at beginning; strings on 'The Rain Song') (s/n 216), Howard Leese / Heart, John Lennon – in private studio – probably Mark I, Patrick Leonard, Nick Magnus, Manfred Mann ('Ha-ha Said the Clown' and 'Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James'), Princess Margaret, Marillion, Dave Mason ('Hole in my Shoe'), Maximum Sound Studios (1970), Meat Beat Manifesto, Moody Blues, Patrick Moraz, Graham Nash / Hollies (1967), Felix Pappalardi (Cream: 'Doing the Scrapyard Thing'), Oscar Peterson, Pink Floyd, Andy Richards, Eberhard Schooner, Peter Sellers, Rolling Stones, Spooky Tooth, Keith Spring, Tomita, John Tout / Renaissance, Vangelis, Rick Wakeman (on 'Space Oddity'), Blue Weaver / Strawbs, Wings, Stevie Winwood / Traffic 1967, Robert Wyatt ('Ruth is Stranger than Richard' and 'Rock Bottom'), Yes.

(The Bradley family, makers of the Mellotron, did have a complete card-index system, with details of all owners, service notes, and so on, but very sadly this vanished during the factory sell-off when they went into liquidation.)

MT retrospective Apr 89, KR retrospective June/July 94

Prices will probably amaze you! You might still just pick up a defunct or neglected Mellotron for next to nothing, or a decent machine privately, if you're lucky, for considerably less than the lowest quoted price, but the top range of the prices quoted is for a well-renovated machine in very good condition from Mellotron Archives UK – and there is an argument that when you're dealing with an old and complicated instrument which is going to take up a lot of valuable space – and be very difficult to transport for servicing – you're better off with an expensive machine that is going to work than a cheap one that isn't.

Mk1

Earliest Mellotron, with two 35-note (G-F) keyboards side-by-side. 1963
Original price: £1000
Target price: £2000 - £4000

  • A piece of history, based on the Chamberlin Musicmaster, with some of the faults of its predecessor.
  • Basically a Chamberlin copy with the very important addition of an internal frame, which made a huge difference to mechanical reliability, and with some improvements to the tape shuttling mechanism.
  • Most Mark I's were upgraded to Mark II standards over the years.
  • Very solid. Definitely not designed for gigging – styled really as a smart piece of mahogany furniture, weighing something like 140kg. It even had a rather posh mahogany bench seat to match.
  • It may have been monstrously heavy, but that didn't stop Bill Fransen, a massively strong man, from occasionally doing a party piece of lifting one bodily off the ground single-handed.
  • Probably about 55 were produced altogether.

Interface:
Sounds: ★★
Controls:
Memories: ★★★
VFN:
Character: ★★★★★
Collectability: ★★★★★★
Ease of use:




Mk II

A revised Mk I Mellotron with minor transport and electronics improvements. 1964 – c. 1968
Original price: £1000
Target price: £2000 - £4000
Users include: Tony Banks / Genesis ('Watcher of the Skies'), Graham Bond, King Crimson, Patrick Moraz, Mike Pinder, Robert Webb / England (modified with two keyboards in different arrangement?).

  • The first totally successful Mellotron design, used on huge numbers of classic late 60s / early 70s tracks – either as one of the 300 to 350 made as Mark IIs, or as upgraded Mark Is.
  • 3/8" tape, so a special tape-cutting machine had to be used. (Why didn't they use half-inch or quarter-inch? OK, the Chamberlins they had originally copied used 3/8" tape, but they could have changed this aspect of the design. David Kean says it's obvious – so that people couldn't make their own tapes – and would have to buy them at premium prices from Mellotronics. Les Bradley says that it was simply that there wasn't room for half-inch tape mechanisms behind a standard keyboard.)
  • A complicated instrument to master: the left-hand keyboard played seventeen different rhythms (ranging from 'a raving rock sound to a slow waltz') and eighteen accompaniments, while the right-hand keyboard played lead-lines or chords, using taped samples of instruments / ensembles, one for each note. Then of course you could swap between each of three tracks, and wind to any of the six banks.
  • Lights went on to tell you that the Mellotron was ready to be played. They went off while you were changing banks, and if you tried to play then, on the earliest models, you'd almost certainly wreck the tapes. At some stage before the Mark II was introduced, this problem was overcome by fitting an interlocking system so that you couldn't play the keys even if you tried
  • Built-in speakers with valve pre-amplification but solid-state power amps; a spring reverb made in-house; a voltmeter for the mains supply, and left and right outputs.
  • The rhythm track came out of the left side, the lead out of the right; but to increase spaciousness, the reverb on the lead came out of the left-hand side as well.
  • It was available to hire from Mellotronics, as well as to buys.
  • Controls (mounted, as you'd expect, at an angle behind the keyboards) included volume for each keyboard, and varispeed for both keyboards combined, reverb for the right-hand one, and selectors for choosing the three different tracks and six banks. Liable to same problem as early Model 400s – play too many notes at once (say seven or eight), and the whole thing slowed down.
  • As well as selecting one of the three channels to play on each keyboard, you could also press little black buttons in between the white channel selector buttons, to move the tape head assembly across a half-track width, so that you'd get both of tracks A and B or both of tracks B and C playing together – albeit at slightly reduced volume and signal-to-noise ratio.
  • Spawned a one-off machine (projected name: Mini-Mellotron) that just had the left-hand rhythm / percussion tapes from the Mark II.
  • Probably rather more than 300 Mark IIs were made. The finish of most Mark II's was mahogany, but some were 'blond', and some were even black with gold escutcheons.
  • How to tell a Mark I from a Mark II: Mark Is had a strengthened Meccano chain, to drive the tape assembly. Honest. Mark IIs had a Reynolds chain (as on Reynolds bikes).

Interface:
Sounds: ★★★
Controls:
Memories: ★★★
VFN:
Character: ★★★★★
Collectability: ★★★★★★
Ease of use:




FX Console

Sound effects Mellotron Mark II with further improvements. 1965 - c. 1970
Original price: £1500, including the 1260 sound effects.
Target price: £2000 - £4000
Users include: BBC.

  • The BBC rightly saw the Mellotron as the best way at the time to automate the sound-effects (or more exactly, spot effects) for their productions, with the potential for 1260 separate FX, each up to seven seconds long.
  • The BBC's rigorous audio standards enforced a lot of changes on the FX model compared with the ordinary Mark II. Improvements in the capstan drive system, better signal-to-noise ratio due to separate headblocks and pre-amps, and electromagnetic track selection (rather than mechanical) all contributed to a high quality machine.
  • There was no need for a big amplification system; instead, the FX had a small monitor amp and 8" speaker.
  • The BBC bought several of them, painted black early on, then BBC regulation grey, and used them for any number of famous series, such as Doctor Who. These machines came up for auction a few years ago, and were knocked down very cheaply. If only you or I had known.... (and had the transport and the space).
  • Other broadcasting companies also took up the Mk II FX. Mellotronics must have reached some deal with the BBC over the copyright of the effects themselves (the masters of which had of course originally come from the BBC).
  • Sixty were eventually made.



300

52-note (A-C) single manual Mellotron with six sound banks on two-track quarter-inch tape. c. 1968 - c. 1970
Original price: £871
Target price: £1500 - £3500
Users include: Mike Pinder / Moody Blues (Seventh Sojourn), Woolly Wolstenholme / Barclay James Harvest.

  • New recordings were made for this model – different from Mark II. From left to right on the keyboard, 3 notes of diminished chord riffs, an octave of backing tracks, three notes of percussion tracks, and then the rest were the lead sounds – flute, trombone, piano, vibes, clarinet, organ (in various drawbar settings), Spanish guitar, celeste, violin and harpsichord.
  • Recordings were generally higher quality than on earlier models, mainly just from learning what worked and what didn't.
  • Some reliability problems, particularly relating to the tape guides which had been re-designed: Their lubricant didn't last, causing static build-up and consequent difficulty with changing banks. (Woolly Wolstenholme got round this by never changing banks!) Martin Smith, 'though, says that it's quite possible (if time-consuming) to replace the offending tape guides with rollers, and then the 300 should work well.
  • Still very heavy – about 100 kg.
  • Maybe there was a point in using 3/8" tape after all; this model, the only British Mellotron to use a different width of tape, was, to begin with, probably the least reliable of the lot!
  • Used a Hammond reverb – which Les Bradley admits was a good deal better than Bradmatic's own version.
  • About 60 were made.

Interface:
Sounds:
Controls:
Memories: ★★★
VFN:
Character: ★★★★★
Collectability: ★★
Ease of use:




400 / 400SM

35-note (G-F) single manual Mellotron with one sound bank on three-track tape. 1970 - c.1977
Original price: £795 (1976), including a tape frame of your choice.
Target price: £1200 - £2500 (frame £80-£180, tapes £50-£150, case £15-£30)
Users include: Tony Banks / Genesis (Selling England by the Pound), Rick Battersby, Chris Franke / Tangerine Dream, Patrick Moraz, OMD ('Maid of Orleans'), Rick Wakeman (who apparently bolted two together at some stage, and made a sort of prototype Mark V).

  • Far simpler and thus more reliable machine than earlier Mellotrons. Only one bank on each tape, so no problems fast-forwarding or rewinding to another bank – the source of most of the 300's problems. Extra tape frames weren't cheap, though: £195. Made up for comparative paucity of sounds by making it infinitely easier to swap tape frames.
  • Good range of tapes available – much more so than Mark II: Violins, from solo to full orchestra section; viola, cello, flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, brass, trombone, French horn, tenor sax, trombone/trumpet section, tenor/alto sax section, church organ, honkytonk piano, Clavinet, Rhodes, Vibes, Marimba, Minimoog, VCS3, electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, small and large choirs, loads of percussion and sound FX... - 48 in all.
  • Tape racks came in thin square suitcases a bit like cymbal cases.
  • Standard three sounds: most usually flute, violins and cello, but a lot of other permutations were also recommended – church organ and choirs, violin, viola and cello, and so on. You could also supply sounds on quarter-inch tape for Mellotronics to turn into Mellotron tapes.
  • There was also the option to buy a set of 1/4" tape guides, which would enable you to use your own standard 1/4" tapes in the Mellotron – but not, of course, use the original tapes any more, unless you swapped the tape guides back.
  • Very simple controls: level, range, pitch (or volume, tone and varispeed) and a three-position switch for selecting which of the three sounds you wanted.
  • Almost portable, compared with other Mellotrons. No inbuilt amp and speaker, and transistors rather than valves, so much, much lighter (though still not a one-person job to shift, by any means).
  • Early models had potentially underpowered CMC 10 motor drive system, which would exhibit the old problem of slowing down if more than a few notes were played at once, with disastrous results for pitch. Later models (1973/4 on: 4008M) had SMS2 motor systems, which were far superior.
  • One perspex model built, presumably for promotional purposes – now at Mellotron Archives. One left-handed version made for Paul McCartney, with the controls on the right-hand side of the keyboard.
  • Round about 2000 made, not including a batch of about 100 to 150 machines that were made under licence by EMI (which all have an E4 prefix to their serial number).
  • Tape frames were and are expensive, but they had to be made to very fine tolerances – and then well looked-after, to stop them going out of true. 'Mellotron Mixer' optional extra, with extra 3-band EQ and volume control.
  • Three inputs, lin/mic, so that you could put vocals in with your Mellotron through your combo amp (big live mixing desks weren't very common in those days). They were made by another manufacturer, to Bradmatic's specifications. Probably only about 12 were made.

Interface:
Sounds: ★★★
Controls: ★★★★
Memories:
VFN: ★★
Character: ★★
Collectability: ★★
Ease of use:




400 FX

A Mellotron 400 specifically designed for sound-effects work. 1970 - c. 1984
Original price: £2100 with all twelve tape frames.
Target price: £1200 - £2500
105 instant spot effects on each frame. Library of 1260 FX available.
The manufacturers claimed a frame change time of two minutes for this or the ordinary 400. Pretty good going.


4-track

See Mellotron Sound Sales Inc.

Interface:
Sounds:
Controls:
Memories:
VFN:
Character: ★★
Collectability: ★★★
Ease of use: ★★


Series - "The A-Z of Analogue"

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All parts in this series:

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 (Viewing) | Part 18 | Part 19 | Part 20 | Part 21


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Publisher: The Mix - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
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The Mix - Feb 1995

Donated by: Colin Potter

Coverdisc: Mike Gorman

Topic:

Vintage Instruments


Series:

The A-Z of Analogue

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 (Viewing) | Part 18 | Part 19 | Part 20 | Part 21


Feature by Peter Forrest

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> Rough Mix

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