Mellotron Page

Wikipedia: The Mellotron was an early electromechanical keyboard musical instrument which had a magnetic tape player connected to each key, enabling it to play the pre-recorded sound assigned to that key when that key was pressed. Mellotrons were normally pre-loaded with string instrument and orchestral sounds, although they could be loaded with banks of sound effects, or synthesizer-generated sounds, to generate polyphonic electronically generated sounds in the days before polyphonic synthesizers.
The Mellotron is perhaps most famous for its use on The Beatles Strawberry Fields Forever, and was also used by The Zombies, the Moody Blues, The Rolling Stones and others during the psychedelic era. It was also widely used to provide backing keyboard harmonies for many of the progressive rock albums of the 1970s, notably Foxtrot by Genesis and In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson, before being rendered obsolete by digital sampler keyboards, and polyphonic synthesizers. However, in the 1990s some bands began using refurbished mellotrons in order to re-create a 1970s progressive rock atmosphere.

From: Mark Fonda
I found this interesting quote in the CD liner notes from the Moody Blues' 'Seventh Sojourn' digitally remastered (1972/1997) recording: (Justin Hayward) "We found a new instrument, the Chamberlain. It was made by the guy who originally invented the Mellotron. It works on the same principal only with much better quality sounds - great brass and strings and cello. It gave us an edge on record that we'd never had before, a punch. With the Mellotron, you had to overdub and overlay it to get it to sound nice, with lots of echo. The Chamberlain you could stick right up front, in your face."
I had never heard of the 'Chamberlain' before and it sounds like a distinct improvement over the Mellotron. I'm wondering if many other groups used it too but still called it by the more generic name of Mellotron? I found reference to it in the book "Vintage Synthesizers" (p.57): "The Mellotron was ironically based on an instrument from California, the Chamberlin Rhythmate. In 1962, a representative for Harry Chamberlin brought a couple of Chamberlins to England, where he met and contracted three brothers - Leslie, Frank, and Norman Bradley, founders of a company that manufactured semi-professional tape recorders and magnetic heads - to improve on Chamberlin's design and carry through with the instrument's manufacture. The radical design actually used a tape recorder head and magnetic tape for each key to play back recorded sounds. As such, it must be considered a first-generation sample player. Developed in the late 60's, it helped shape the sound of a whole generation of progressive rockers, including the Moody Blues, King Crimson, the Strawbs, Yes, and Genesis. The flutes at the beginning of Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven' were played by John Paul Jones on a Mellotron. Without the instrument, would 'In the Court of the Crimson King' have made such a dramatic impact? Not since the invention of the electric guitar had one instrument been so responsible for developing a new strain of popular music." So did Justin Hayward have it backwards as to which instrument was new for 'Seventh Sojourn'? He also misspelled 'Chamberlin' and the two were not made by the same company.
Further research at revealed: "A number of rock groups, the Beatles, Stones, Kinks etc.. helped make the instrument more visible and a young Brumey lad named Mike Pinder went to work for Streetly. Michael's job there was to play the finished Mellotron at the end of the assembly line and make any final adjustments before it was sent to the customer. He fell in love with the sound and decided that it would be an ideal addition to his new group the Moody Blues. Leslie Bradley helped Michael purchase a used Mk II and the group promptly used it to record their first hit single ?Love and Beauty?. Soon thereafter the Beatles cut Strawberry Fields Forever. The Mellotron sound was on it way to becoming a sonic archetype in our Pop music consciousness.
The development paths taken by Harry Chamberlin and the Bradley Brothers went in two different directions. They both knew they needed to improve reliability, portability and make a larger choice of instrument sounds available. Harry abandoned the multiple ?station? idea of shuttling the three track tape for new sound selections and instead changed to 1/2 inch eight track tape with stereo playback capability. This was the M series... Richard Chamberlin remembers only 2 of these units being built 4 M-4's and 5 of the M-2?s seeing the light of day. The production numbers for the M-1?s suggest between 100 and 300 units being produced between 1970 and 1981 and is arguably the best sounding instrument of this type.
The Mellotron evolved in a much different way. After many calls to make the Mk II more portable, the Bradleys designed and built the Model 300 Mellotron. This unit (the oddest of the bunch) hints at the direction that would lead to the M400... At 122 lbs. the littlest Mellotron sold over 1800 units and was the only design that came close to being a marketing success.
Why was the Mellotron more popular than the Chamberlin? A couple of reasons. Firstly, the Bradley Brothers were geniuses in their time at constructing many pieces and assembling the finished product, therefore, in the time it took Harry to build one Chamberlin, the Bradleys built a dozen Mellotrons with standardized parts and adjustment procedures. Secondly, the English groups had our attention at that time and they were using English instruments." The website also gives a listing of all the albums that used the Mellotron and it includes all the Moody Blues recordings from Days Of Future Passed (1967) to Seventh Sojourn (1972)... so I still can't determine which instrument was used on Seventh Sojourn!!?? Anyone have any insight into this???

cross-posted from the Goldtri mailing list:
From what I know, both instruments were used on that album. Dave Kean of Mellotron Archives recently acquired the rights to the Chamberlin designs as well as the name (he also owns the Mellotron name), and Mr. Kean may start producing the Chamberlin M1 again at some point. The M1 is used on Fiona Apple's latest album, by the way. The sound you hear is not a Mellotron, although they're similar. They actually did use the same 3-violins sounds. For more 'tron information---especially if you own a Mellotron---check out the Mellotronists list:  with the word subscribe in the subject and body. We try to keep it on-topic and low traffic (thank you very much...:-) ), all things Mellotronic!. ...kl...Mellotron M400 #805 []

From: "Craig Shipley" <> Subject: RE: Re: Yes stuff
According to the "It Came From The Music Industry" section of Mark Vails VINTAGE SYNTHESIZERS, the Birotron was built by Dave Biro to improve upon the Mellotron concept and was funded by one Rick Wakeman. According to RW's count, in 1979 there were about 30 t0 35 working Birotrons out there, with the grand total not being much higher than that. Since RW gushes over the Birotrons' 8-track cartridge-base playback system (no 8-second limitation), programmable attack and sustain and the light keyboard action, he probably WAS the first to play it, since he was funding it. Maybe Biro played it the very first time, but I'd have to say RW was the fist recognizable name to tickle its ivories (synthetics?).

From: "Andy Thompson" <>
Sent: 19 June 2001 08:36 Subject: [e-Prog] Re: Yes stuff
Wakeman had an instrument called the Birotron, that he used on Tormato, this may actually be the only studio recording where it was used. It was the same idea as the Mellotron, but it used 8 track tapes (so that you didn't have to wait for the tape to was in a loop). I've never heard of anyone else using this instrument, and I'm pretty sure it was also used on the Tormato tour.
There were reputedly only 13 Birotrons ever built, one of which came up on E-Bay recently, although it was apparently withdrawn due to poor condition! Wakeman is the best-known user (both Yes and solo), but the US/German electronic outfit Earthstar used one on three albums in the early '80s, and more recently Jon Brion played one on an Eleni Mandell album. For any other obscure Mellotron/similar-related information, please see my site at: