Fans of prog rock of a certain vintage will know what a Mellotron is. It figures in music by The Moody Blues, King Crimson, PFM, Pavlov’s Dog, The Beatles, Barclay James Harvest, Electric Light Orchestra, Yes, Pink Floyd…
Look, there’s a huge list. Have a look at this fantastic site, Planet Mellotron, to see more.
Many people say the Mellotron is an early form of sampler. It works by having a rack of pre-recorded tapes of a real instrument (or group of instruments or voices), each tape with a specific note, activated by pressing a key on a keyboard.
In fact, each piece of tape can hold three different instruments and you can select between them, or combine them. Each tape lasts roughly 8 seconds. It’s a purely mechanical, analogue device.
As you can imagine, the Mellotron is a pretty large and rather heavy instrument. Later ones had one keyboard, early ones had two, for rhythm/accompaniment and one for the tune.
There are lots of clips of the Mellotron in action, but we like this original clip with magician David Nixon.
It has a sound all of its own, something even modern emulators don’t quite capture.