till.com Electronic Music Articles

Don's Mellotron Page

J. Donald Tillman
11 March 2001, updated September 2006

"My Favorite Sounds Are Eight Seconds Long"

The Mellotron is an electronic musical instrument invented around 1960 to provide the sounds of violins, cellos, flutes, choirs, horns, pretty much anything, from a keyboard.  Given the technology of the day, the reasonable way to do this was with strips of magnetic tape.  So the Mellotron uses a strip of magnetic tape, a pinch roller, tape head, pressure pad, and a rewind mechanism for each note on the keyboard.

To our modern day technological sensibilities this cumbersome mechanical contraption seems kludgy as can be, especially you're watching the tape rewind operation, but the fact is that no modern technology keyboard can come close to the quality of presence so characteristic of the Mellotron sound.  Why is this?  Because the tape playback mechanism is the musical instrument.  It matters less what is recorded on the tape.

You can hear the Mellotron on almost every song on the main seven Moody Blues albums, on The Beatles' Strawberry Fields, and on many albums by Genesis, King Crimson, the Strawbs and Yes.  The instrument was, and still is, a centerpiece of the progressive rock movement.

For the answers to almost all Mellotron maintenance questions check out Dave Kean's Mellotron Archives site for instructional video tapes and service manuals.  Very highly recommended.

Also see my article Resurrecting a Mellotron.

This just in; a new article: Mellotron/Chamberlin Patent Reviews.

Mellotron Resources

Here are some Mellotron web resources:

[Mellotron logo] Mellotron Archives
Dave Kean's Mellotron paradise.  Dave purchased the old Mellotron factory, parts, stock, tapes, trademark, the works.  He offers service, replacement parts, tapes, a CDROM, expert advice.  Also the new Mark VI Mellotron.

[Streetly Electronics] Streetly Electronics
The son of the original manufacturer of the Mellotron provides repair and restoration services in the UK.  And some new models.

[Mellotrons, Chamberlins, and their Sounds] Bob Snyder's Mellotron page
How it works, sounds, photos, brochures, ads, links, lots of good stuff.

[Norm Leete's Mellotron page] Norm Leete's Mellotron page
History, model descriptions, maintenance information.

[120 Years logo] 120 Years of Electronic Music
The Mellotron page at this impressive electronic music history site.

[The Mellotron Book] The Mellotron Book by Frank Samagaio, published by ArtistPro Publishing.
This includes a number of contribution from folks on the Mellotronists Yahoo group.

[Vintage Synthesizers] Vintage Synthesizers by Mark Vail, published by Backbeat Books
A must-have for synth fans, this book includes a chapter about the Mellotron.  It's a reprint of Mark Vail's "Vintage Synths" column in the May 1991 issue of Keyboard Magazine (with, surprise, Patrick Moraz on the cover) but with a couple pages of additional material.

Mike Pinder Mike Pinder
Mike Pinder has a Mellotron history section on his web page.

[TronSounds] TronSounds dot com
Ken Merbler's web site of Mellotron photos and sounds.

[Planet Mellotron] Planet Mellotron
Andy Thompson's compilation of Mellotron recordings.

[Egrefin] Candor Chasma
Terrific Mellotron section, including details on the models.

And for completeness, here are some Optigan pages.  The Optigan is a similar instrument in concept, but it uses optical disks instead of tape.

[Optigan logo]

Optigan dot com
A very impressive Optigan site.

[The Optigan logo]

Oh, Beautiful Optigan
Another Optigan page.

Mellotronists Email List

Mellotronists is an email distribution list I maintain for Mellotron owners, fans, players and fetishists.  Find out about 'Trons for sale, new developments, historical trivia, maintenance tips, and all sorts of random things.  It's over here, on Yahoo Groups:


(Any questions or problems, send me an email message. don@till.com)

Current Projects

There are several Mellotron improvement projects I've been working on.  (Actually, I've been working on them for far too long.  My life is kind'a nuts.)

I'll be writing up articles with photos and schematics when I have something working that I like.

Don's Mellotron Playing

I play Mellotron with my band Tesseract, on the song Heisenberg's Daughter on the Tesseract album.  Here's a photo from our show at Club Kaos in Fremont, California, 12 July 1997.

Don with Tesseract

I also play Mellotron on the song Where They Go Back to School But Get Depressed on the Loud Family album Interbabe Concern.

Copyright 1999-2004, J. Donald Tillman
Email: don@till.com
Web page: http://www.till.com