Streetly Electronics: the original Mellotron makers.
Check out the Streetly site at http://www.mellotronics.com !!
Streetly Electronics is run
by John Bradley (son of Les, the managing director of the original Streetly
Electronics, Mellotron manufacturers in the early days) and Martin Smith, Mellotron
nut and all round good egg. They are the
only people outside the
Using the original components, Streetly will fully restore your 'Tron both electronically and mechanically to original factory specifications.
The following services are available:
CABINET RESTORATION FOR M400 AND M300
SPARES INCLUDING HEADS, ROLLERS, PADS, LINE AND PRE-AMPS
ROCK STEADY MOTOR CONTROL UPGRADE (no more dodgy pitch control)
MODIFICATION TO KEYBOARD MAKING IT AS LIGHT AS A HAMMOND AND ERADICATING FOREVER THE NOTORIOUS KEY CLICK
Mellotrons are comparatively rare, with only 2500 ever being built including all models from 1963 to 1986.
Mellotrons must be the least serviced machines in the history of the planet, earning themselves the reputation of being unreliable.
Mellotrons have put an indelible stamp on rock music for 30 years. Not bad for these over-weight and unreliable heaps of junk!
Mellotrons are once again enjoying the limelight and can be found lurking about in the mix from King Crimson's THRAK to Julian Cope's 20 MOTHERS to Oasis' WHAT'S THE STORY.
Recent customers having had their machines preserved in aspic include Robert Fripp, Paul McCartney and Julian Cope.
KEEP THOSE MACHINES ALIVE AND KICKING. PHONE MARTIN ON +44 (0) 1889 504211 AND WAIT FOR MIRACLES.
In 1932, Leslie C. Bradley set up an engineering firm, which his three
sons joined as they left school. They made a variety of products that
included, during the Second World War, machine tools for the manufacture of
They were contacted by Bill Fransen, an American who had come over to
Disaster struck, however, in 1977. Dallas, the firm that handled Mellotron
distribution in the
All Mellotrons are based on the principal invented by Harry Chamberlin, where each key simply sets a length of tape in motion, playing back whatever was recordedon the tape. They were thus the predecessors of sample playback machines. User sampling wasn't impossible, either - but generally involved recording what you wanted and sending it to the Mellotron factory to be converted into a rack of tapes for your machine. (At least one machine was built which actually recorded as well as playing back some of the tapes, but it never went into commercial production; There was also an option available for the 400 which enabled you to record and use your own quarter-inch tapes.) In a foretaste of how samplers evolved, early Mellotrons would have a bank of backing tracks and percussion tracks, like loops today, as well as multi-sampled lead/chordal instruments. You'd even get little bursts of applause or other ambience on some of the tapes - including Bill Fransen's 'Yeah!!' at the end of the Dixieland rhythm track.
The Mellotrons' big advantage over the synthesisers of the time was in their polyphony, and in the comparative fidelity of their sounds. Later on, they also managed to put up a good fight against early samplers, first by providing better fidelity, and then in the size of their 'memory' - you would have needed a huge amount of onboard memory to have sampled the equivalent amount of sounds on, say, a Mellotron Mark II, at a similar bandwidth. Okay, you couldn't re-trigger a sound until the tape had rewound, but the seven or eight seconds the sound lasted for was a cut above the Emulator and Mirage - not to mention Akai's S700 and Roland's S10. Some people claim the possibility of making the sound of any one note a little brighter and louder by pressing down hard on the key,- a sort of primitive polyphonic aftertouch - but no less an authority than Les Bradley says that this would only have happened on an instrument that was so badly out of alignment that the overall signal-to-noise ratio would have been poor. All Mellotrons had at least two and usually three tracks side by side on the tape for each note, and all the earlier models also had six sets of tracks one after the other on each tape. You could make the Mellotron fast-forward or rewind to get to the bank you wanted. While the technology to do this was a vast improvement on the Chamberlin, it still had its problems, particularly with the 300. Other problems concerned the difficulty of building a motor that wasn't prohibitively heavy or expensive, but still had enough torque to cope with maintaining speed when suddenly, say, eight tapes were engaged for a big chord.
The factors which eventually sunk them were their weight and bulk, the comparative unreliability of an electro-mechanical system once it was subjected to the rigours of gigging, (particularly in having to withstand changes of temperature and humidity in being loaded and unloaded at venues) and their inability to manipulate sound like a sampler can. In 1986, Streetly went down, and an era ended. Appeals to music business celebrities to rescue the firm had gone unheeded, and three or four years went by before a groundswell of interest and enthusiasm from Mellotron fans like Martin Smith and DavidKean and musician / producers like Mitchell Froom built up, and meant that these wonderful dinosaurs of the electric music world were not going to be allowed to become extinct.
In 1993, The Rime of the Ancient Sampler CD (VP141CD) was released, with tracks by a selection of Mellotron heroes and fans - Matt Clifford, Bill Nelson, Mike Pinder, Patrick Moraz, Gordon Reid, Sheila Maloney, Blue Weaver, Derek Holt, Nick Magnus, Woolly Wolstenholme, Ken Freeman, Martin Smith, David Cross, Chris Taylor, David Kean, Julian Colbeck, and David Etheridge. The CD also includes an extremely amusing taste of the 1964 Mellotron demonstration disc.
Users include (actual model unknown): Don Airey, Gregg Allman (briefly), Rod Argent, Ken Ascher (John Lennon: 'Mind Games'), Brian Auger / Julie Driscoll 'ThisWheel's on Fire', Tony Banks, Beach Boys, Beatles (Strawberry Fields Forever and throughout The White Album) - sold at Abbey Road sale in 1980, Cocteau Twins, Julian Colbeck, David Cross / King Crimson ('Epitaph', etc.), Crowded House, Simon Dupree, Earthstar, Electric Light Orchestra, Brian Eno ('From the Same Hill'), Bob Ezrin (Lou Reed: 'Berlin'),Larry Fast, Robert Fripp, Mitchell Froom, Genesis, Steve Hackett, Jimi Hendrix ('TheBurning of the Midnight Lamp' - choir effects), Simon House / Hawkwind, King Hussein, J-M Jarre, Billy Joel, Elton John ('Daniel' and 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds'), King Crimson ('Epitaph'), Lenny Kravitz ('Fields of Joy'), Led Zeppelin ('Stairway to Heaven' – flute sounds at beginning; strings on 'The Rain Song') (s/n 216), Howard Leese / Heart, John Lennon - in private studio - probably Mark II (intro to Bungalow Bill and other things on White Album), Julian Lennon, Patrick Leonard, Nick Magnus, Manfred Mann ('Ha-ha Said the Clown' and 'Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James'), Princess Margaret, Marillion, Dave Mason ('Hole in my Shoe'), Maximum Sound Studios (1970), Meat Beat Manifesto, Moody Blues, Patrick Moraz, Graham Nash / Hollies (1967), Mike Oldfield (the Strawberry Fields machine, recently sold back to Paul McCartney, reportedly for £10000), Felix Pappalardi (Cream: 'Doing the Scrapyard Thing'), Oscar Peterson, Pink Floyd, Andy Richards, Eberhard Schoener, Peter Sellers, Rolling Stones ('2000 Light Years From Home'),Spooky Tooth, Keith Spring, Tomita, John Tout / Renaissance, ?Vangelis, Rick Wakeman (on 'Space Oddity'), Blue Weaver / Strawbs, Wings, Stevie Winwood / Traffic 1967,Robert Wyatt ('Ruth is Stranger than Richard' and 'Rock Bottom'), Yes.
(The Bradleys did have a complete card-index system for the Mellotrons, with details of owners, service notes, and so on, but very sadly this vanished during the factory sell-off when they went into liquidation.)
.Prices will probably amaze you! You might still just pick up a defunct or neglected Mellotron for next to nothing, or a decent machine privately, if you're lucky, fo rconsiderably less than the lowest quoted price, but the top range of the prices quoted is for a well-renovated machine in very good condition from Mellotron Archives UK - and there is an argument that when you're dealing with an old and complicated instrument which is going to take up a lot of valuable space - and be very difficult to transport for servicing -you're better off with an expensive machine that is going to work than a cheap one that isn't.
Earliest Mellotron, with two 35-note (G-F) keyboards side-by-side. Original price: £1000 Target price: £2000 - £4000 1963
* A piece of history, based on the Chamberlin Musicmaster, with some of the faults of its predecessor.
* Basically a Chamberlin copy with the very important addition of an internal frame, which made a huge difference to mechanical reliability, and with some improvements to the tape shuttling mechanism.
* Lights went on to tell you that the Mellotron was ready to be played. They went off while you were changing banks, and if you tried to play then, on the earliest models, you'd almost certainly wreck the tapes. At some stage before the Mark II was introduced, this problem was overcome by fitting an interlocking system so that you couldn't play the keys even if you tried.
* Valve pre-amp. The Bradleys wanted to go completely solid-state, but currently available designs were too noisy.
* Practically all Mark I's were upgraded to Mark II standards over the years, and probably most of them had already been done by 1965, as soon as they came back for service. The Meccano drive-chain was usually the culprit, but John Bradley has an unmodified Mark I on which the chain works fine.
* Very solid. Definitely not designed for gigging - styled really as a smart piece of mahogany furniture, weighing something like 140kg. It even had a rather posh matching bench seat with a back.
* It may have been monstrously heavy, but that didn't stop Bill Fransen, a massively strong man, from occasionally doing a party piece of lifting one bodily off the ground without assistance.
* Probably about 55 were produced altogether.
* The first totally successful Mellotron design, used on huge numbers of classic late sixties / early seventies tracks - either as one of the 300 to 350 made as Mark II's, or as upgraded Mark I's.
* Three-eighth-inch tape, so a special tape-cutting machine had to be used. (Why didn't they use half-inch or quarter-inch? OK, the Chamberlins they had originally copied used 3/8" tape, but they could have changed this aspect of the design. David Kean says it's obvious: so that people couldn't make their own tapes - and would have to buy them at premium prices from Mellotronics. Les Bradley says that it was simply that there wasn't room for half-inch tape mechanisms behind a standard keyboard. Why not quarter-inch, then? John Bradley says that you needed the wider tape to allow for the tolerances required by having heads which were mechanically shifted between the tracks.)
* A complicated instrument to master: the left-hand keyboard playeds eventeen different rhythms (ranging from 'a raving rock sound to a slow waltz') and eighteen accompaniments, while the right-hand keyboard played lead-lines or chords, using taped samples of instruments / ensembles, one for each note. Then of course you could swap between each of three tracks, and wind to any of the six banks.
* Built-in speakers with valve pre-amplification but solid-state power amps; a spring reverb made in-house; a voltmeter for the mains supply, and left and right outputs. The rhythm track came out of the left side, the lead out of the right; but to increase spaciousness, the reverb on the lead came out of the left-hand side.
* It was available to hire from Mellotronics, as well as to buy.
* Controls (mounted, as you'd expect, at an angle behind the keyboards) included volume for each keyboard, and varispeed for both keyboards combined, reverb for the right-hand one, and selectors for choosing the three different tracks and six banks.
* Liable to same problem as early Model 400's - play too many notes at once(more than six or seven, on average) and the whole thing slowed down.
* As well as selecting one of the three channels to play on each keyboard, you could also press little black buttons in between the white channel selector buttons, to move the tape head assembly across a half-track width, so that you'd get both of tracks A and B or both of tracks B and C playing together - albeit at slightly reduced volume and signal-to-noise ratio.
* Spawned a one-off machine (projected name: Mini-Mellotron) that just had the left-hand rhythm / percussion tapes from the Mark II.
* Probably rather more than 300 Mark II's were made.
* The finish of most Mark II's was mahogany, but some were 'blond', and some were black with gold escutcheons.
* How to tell a Mark I from a Mark II: Mark I's had a strengthened Meccano chain to drive the tape assembly. Honest. Mark II's had a Reynolds chain (as on Reynolds bikes).
* The BBC rightly saw the Mellotron as the best way at the time to automate the sound-effects (or more exactly, spot effects) for their productions, with the potential for 1260 separate FX, each up to seven seconds long.
* The BBC's rigorous audio standards enforced a lot of changes on the FX model compared with the ordinary Mark II. Improvements in the capstan drive system, better signal-to-noise ratio due to separate head-blocks and pre-amps, and electromagnetic track selection (rather than mechanical) all contributed to a high quality machine.
* There was no need for a big amplification system; instead, the FX had a small monitor amp and 8" speaker.
* The BBC bought several of them, painted black early on, then BBC regulation grey, and used them for any number of famous series, such as Doctor Who. These machines came up for auction a few years ago, and were knocked down very cheaply. If only you or I had known.... (and had the transport and the space).
* Other broadcasting companies also took up the Mark II FX. Mellotronics must have reached some deal with the BBC over the copyright of the effects themselves(the masters of which had of course originally come from the BBC).
* About sixty were eventually made.
* Maybe there was a point in using three-eighth inch tape after all; this model, the only British Mellotron to use a different width of tape, was, to begin with, probably the least reliable of the lot!
* New recordings were made for this model - different from Mark II. From left to right on the keyboard, 3 notes of diminished chord riffs, an octave of backing tracks, three notes of percussion tracks, and then the rest were the lead sounds - flute, trombone, piano, vibes, clarinet, organ (in various drawbar settings), Spanish guitar, celeste, violin and harpsichord. Recordings were generally higher quality than on earlier models, mainly just from learning what worked and what didn't.
* Some reliability problems, particularly relating to the tape guides which had been re-designed: their lubricant didn't last, causing static and problems with changing banks. (Wooly Wolstenholme got round this by never changing banks!) Martin Smith, though, says that it's quite possible (if time-consuming) to replace the offending tape guides with rollers, and then the 300 should work well.
* Still very heavy - about 100 kg.
* Used a Hammond reverb - which Les Bradley admits was a good deal better than Bradmatic's own version.
* About sixty were produced.
400 / 400SM
* Far simpler and thus more reliable machine than even the 300. Only one bank on each tape, so no problems fast-forwarding or rewinding to another bank – the source of most of the 300's problems.
* Extra tape frames weren't cheap: £195 each.
* Made up for comparative paucity of sounds by making it infinitely easier to swap tape frames. Good range of tapes available - much more so than Mark II: violins, from solo to full orchestra section; viola, cello, flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, brass, trombone, French horn, tenor sax, trombone/trumpet section, tenor/alto sax section, church organ, honkytonk piano, Clavinet, Rhodes, Vibes, Marimba, Minimoog, VCS3, electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, small and large choirs, loads of percussion and sound FX... - 48 in all. Tape racks came in thin square suitcases a bit like cymbal cases.
* Standard three sounds: most usually flute, violins and cello, but a lot of other permutations were also recommended - church organ and choirs, violin, viola and cello, and so on. You could also supply sounds on quarter-inch tape for Mellotronics to turn into Mellotron tapes.
* There was also the option to buy a set of quarter-inch tape guides, which would enable you to use your own standard 1/4" tapes in the Mellotron - but not, of course, use the original 3/8" tapes any more unless you swapped the tape guides back. While in the 1/4" format, you would obviously be stuck with two tracks rather than three.
* Very simple controls: level, range, pitch (or volume, tone and varispeed) and a three-position switch for selecting which of the three sounds you wanted.
* Almost portable compared with other Mellotrons. No inbuilt amp and speaker, and transistors rather than valves, so much, much lighter (though still not a one-person job to shift, by any means).
* Early models had potentially problematic CMC10 motor drive system, which would exhibit the old problem of slowing down if more than six or seven notes were played at once, with disastrous results for pitch, and which could also put out a high-pitched whine (which could even break through into the audio output). Later models (1973/4 on: 400SM) had SMS2 motor systems, which were far superior.
* One perspex model built, presumably for promotional purposes - now at Streetly. One left-handed version made for Paul McCartney, with the controls on the right-hand side of the keyboard.
* Round about 2000 made, not including a batch of about 100 machines that were made under licence by EMI (which all have an E4 prefix to their serial number).
* Tape frames were and are expensive, but they had to be made to very fine tolerances - and then well looked-after, to stop them going out of true.
* 'Mellotron Mixer' optional extra, with extra 3-band EQ and volume control. Three inputs, lin/mic, so that you could put vocals in with your Mellotron through your combo amp (big live mixing desks weren't very common in those days). They were made by another manufacturer, to Bradmatic's specifications. Probably only about 12 were made.
* No Mellotron 400 is complete without its Protecta-Muff - an amazing padded carrying case with great big bondage straps, and a padded pouch for the volume pedal and mains lead.
* 105 instant spot effects on each frame. Library of 1260 FX available.
* The manufacturers claimed a frame change time of two minutes for this o rthe ordinary 400. Pretty good going.
* Similar keyboard layout to Mark II, but controls were re-positioned in front of the keyboards, a stereo headphone socket was provided, and there were two volume pedals sticking out from underneath. Left and right outputs were provided, and you could pan each keyboard's output between them.
* The controls were really just like two sets of Mellotron 400 controls. The whole machine is like a double 400, with the addition of reverb.
* The new casing gave the machine a bold, thrusting look for the mid-seventies, with the bottom panel sloping back away from you to give an impression that the keyboard is stretching out towards the player.
* Not a great commercial success. Very few (probably about 28) were made before the demise of Mellotronics.
* All were finished in black Tolex. The only white one in the world was painted white by Edgar Froese.
* Quite possibly the most desirable of all Mellotrons, for its rarity, and for the way it combines the huge power of the Mark II with the flexibility and good sounds of the 400 - including, e.g., choir sounds in a double-manual machine for the first time.
* Practically identical to the Mellotron 400SM - 35 notes, volume, tone and pitch controls, and track selector. Tone control is passive, simply taking some of the treble off (about -10dB at 10kHz.) More often white, but a black-finished version was also available, and towards the end of the run became the norm.
* Noise-gate became available as an optional extra, c.1980, in response to the fact that the Novatron's competitors, the samplers, were starting to sound much, much better than the original Fairlights and Emulators.
* You could choose your tape-set. One typical set was brass, strings and flute.
* As with most Mellotrons, output signal was pretty hot, and could cause distortion if you didn't attenuate it. (Maybe Streetly should have put a switchable attenuator in the output circuit.. What they did instead was sell a Mellotron Attenuator box as an optional extra.)
* For other information, see Mellotron 400 entry.
Novatron Mark V
Double-manual (35-note) like Mark V Mellotron. 1977- c.1984 Original price: £2200 with two frames of your choice. Target price: £2000- £4000
* Black finish.
* When they were forced to adopt the Novatron name, the Bradleys took out advertisements telling clients that they would continue making exactly the same model range - the 400SM and the Mark V. So Novatron Mark V's were basically identical to Mellotron Mark V's. Probably only two Novatron Mark V's were made.
* For other information, see Mellotron Mark V entry.
* Practically identical to 400SM; simply a heavy but roadworthy Novatron, designed to appeal to that dwindling number of bands for whom only the original real thing would do.
* Hinged keyboard lid, removable front panel with space for two tape framesand the swell pedal in transit. Hinged rear door ('for service accessibility').
* Probably only three made - a sad indication of Mellotron's decline in themarket.
Mellotron Sound Sales Inc.
- The American firm who had handled Mellotron's servicing and spares business in the States, and who, thanks to a bureaucrat's blunder, ended up buying the inventory and the right to use the Mellotron name when Mellotronics went into receivership.
* Mixed opinions on the relative success of this as a Mellotron.
* Rationalising to this size of tape and number of tracks does seem a good idea - if the thinner width of tape didn't make too many demands on the accuracy of the transport system and gentleness of tape-handling. Using fixed tape-heads, of course, rather than moving ones as on the Chamberlin and British Mellotrons, made the tolerances much less critical.
* Original factory tapes were poorly produced, though. (David Kean has produced new tapes that show the instrument in a much better light.)
* Externally similar to a Mellotron 400, and used basically the same taperack design.
* Available in black, blue or white. The casing was sheet aluminium, and had a bit of a washing machine look.
* Six outputs: left, right, and each of the four pre-amps. This, coupled with the ability to punch in any of the four tracks, made it a flexible live and recording instrument - if the quality of the original tapes had been high enough.
* Tone and volume controls.
* Not at all common - likely
that only 5 were ever made! Possibly never seen in the