Friday, July 8, 2016

Music Mechanics Series - Mellotron


The Mellotron was originally developed and built in Birmingham, England, in 1963. The original models were designed to be used in the home, and contained a variety of sounds, including automatic accompaniments! Adopted by the Moody Blues, Genesis and King Crimson, it became a notable instrument in progressive rock. Production of the Mellotron ceased in 1986.
A diagram illustrating the internal operations of a Mellotron

How it Worked

Pressing a key (1), caused two screws (2) to connect a pressure pad (3) with the tape head (5), and the pinch wheel (4) with the continuously rotating capstan (6). Tape was pulled by the capstan at a gradual speed controlled by a tension spring (8–10) and stored temporarily in a storage bin (7) until the key was released.

Interesting Facts:

  • Noted cellist Reginald Kirby refused to downtune his cello to cover the lower range of the Mellotron, and so the bottom notes are actually performed on a double bass.
  • Pressing a key harder allows the head to come into contact under greater pressure, so to an extent,  the Mellotron responds to aftertouch.
  • Among the early Mellotron owners were Princess Margaret, Peter Sellers, King Hussein of Jordan and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard!
  • The Skellotron (2005) was a Mellotron in a transparent glass case. Only one was made!

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