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
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
"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
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
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 rewind...it 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: