The Mellotron

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.

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