Gatherings Graphic

The Gatherings Concert Series

presents a

Mellotron Workshop

with Jeff Coulter and friends

Saturday 11 December 2004 8:00pm

St. Mary's Hamilton Village
Philadelphia, PA

Jeff Coulter to Lead Mellotron Workshop at The Gatherings

Jeff Coulter On Saturday 11 December 2004 at 8:00pm The Gatherings Concert Series will present a Mellotron Workshop at St. Mary's Hamilton Village. This workshop is open to anyone interested in learning more about the concepts upon which this instrument is based. If you have ever listened to music which included the sounds of the classic mighty Mellotron keyboard and become curious about how it functions and is used to create music, then this workshop is for you!

The Mellotron workshop at The Gatherings will be headed by veteran Mellotronist Jeff Coulter, a leading figure in the field of tape-based analog replay keyboards as well as in music performance with the now legendary Philadelphia-based Spacemusic duo Tangent. Also to his credit, Coulter was instrumental in orgainzing the loan of two Mellotron M400's for the 8 May 2004 Gatherings Concert Series performance by Radio Massacre Int'l.


Vintage Mellotron Photos Provided by Michael Gruetrich

1 Mellotron M400 by Michael Gruetrich 2 Mellotron M400 by Michael Gruetrich 3 Mellotron M400 by Michael Gruetrich
4 Mellotron M400 by Michael Gruetrich 5 Mellotron M400 by Michael Gruetrich


Demonstrating on a vintage Mellotron M400, Coulter and his team of experts will discuss the history, technology and basic concepts involved in playing sounds and producing music with a Mellotron. Attendees will have an opportunity to observe close-up the workings of a Mellotron, hear how this instrument produces tones and how musicians use these tones in musical composition. Whether you are a beginner, a music fan or have advanced knowledge, you will come away from this workshop with a better understanding of the Mellotron, the people who use them and deeper insight into the contributions this unique instrument has made to contemporary music.

Mellotron image from Michael Gruetrich Mellotron Overview

A Mellotron is a tape replay keyboard. This means that under every key is a length of magnetic tape that is moved past a playback head whenever that key is pressed. Each piece of tape has a sound (for example, a sustained flute note) whose pitch corresponds with the keyboard note that it is under. After a key has been pressed and then released, the tape is pulled quickly back to its starting position by a spring. Since each sound is produced by a linear piece of tape rather than an endless loop, the sound can faithfully reproduce the attack phase and then the decay phase of a percussive instrument such as a piano.

While the designer's goal was probably to make it sound exactly like the original instrument that was recorded, the quality of a Mellotron's sound is, perhaps accidentally, distinctly its own. It has been called a 'mutant organ' and its sound is often described as moody and warm. It gives a song a haunting, lonely quality.

Notes From Bob Synder's Mellotron Page

Mellotron M400 Mellotron M400 Mellotron M400

Joining Jeff Coulter at the Mellotron Workshop will be a number of noted fellow enthusiasts including:

    Pierre Villeux
  • "Professor" Jerry Korb is considered a genuine repair master who, along with building a dual-keyboard Mellotron from two seperate machines, possesses significant insight into this instrument's inner workings and history
  • Ken Leonard will be creating the "skell-o-tron", a Mellotron with no case allowing complete access and view to the inner workings. Ken will also thread a Mellotron tape frame with new tapes - a process requiring patience, intimate knowledge and meticulous handywork
  • Jimmy Moore is an independant Mellotron scholar, co-host of the May 2001 Mellotron Symposium in Glen Mills, PA and owner of the "Formicatron" (loaned to Radio Massacre Int'l on their May 2004 visit to The Gatherings)
  • Pierre Veilleux, the one-time keyboard player for [the Canadian Genesis tribute band] "The Musical Box" and official experienced Mellotron demonstrator will be showing attendees his instrument's full performance potential
  • Gino Wong is a fellow Mellotron owner and former STAR'S END/DIASPAR host
Along with an actual performance by revered Mellotronist Pierre Veilleux, each expert in turn will review some of the history, technology, apparent "cult" following of the Mellotron, as well as cover the mechanics, workings, maintenance and current status of tape replay keyboards.

Recommended Workshop Resources:

(the following resource links, while not essential, could help provide background knowledge which would enable attendees to get more out of the Mellotron workshop)
  • Don's Mellotron Page:

    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.

    Don's Mellotron Page by J Donald Tillman


  • Mellotron History:

    Popular music and its culture has given us many famous instrument innovations. The electric guitar, the Rhodes Piano and the synthesizer quickly come to mind. Our capacity for invention seems at times to be limitless when a problem stands between us and our artistic vision. One problem facing all musicians at one time or another is the matter of artistic control and the ability to realize a sound without having the facility to play the instrument responsible for that sound. Multi-track recording gave a single musician the ability to manipulate time by overdubbing a performance to create a multi instrument piece of music but, he still was faced with learning and playing those instruments himself. A major driving force for today's music industry, to be sure.


  • Jim Smith's Mellotron Page:

    The Mellotron was perhaps the first polyphonic "synthesizer" to be made available to the masses of musical performers who did not intend to haul around a real piano or orchestra. The unit is rather large - smaller than a string section though.

    It works like this. For every key on the console there is, essentially, a tape player. When a key is pressed a mechanism is engaged which pulls a pre-recorded tape across the head. When the key is released a spring "instantly" yanks the tape back - hopefully before the key is pressed again. Wal-La - a sample player. But that's not all...

    These tape loops came in racks that could be interchanged so one minute your Mellotron would be a string ensamble and the next - an organ or piano. I don't know how long it actually took to swap a rack but I know allignment was sometimes a problem. I doubt anyone tried this live.

    The Mellotron, as mechanical and absurd as it was, was the only choice many musicians had if they wanted more than two finger chords on a synthesizer - until, of course, the ARP String Ensamble hit the market - so-long mellotron.

    Jim Smith's Mellotron Page


  • The First Sampler:

    Launched in 1963, the Mellotron was the first music sampler - an instrument that can capture and play back other sounds. The music press described it as a 'Rolls Royce' instrument - a Mellotron cost as much as the average grand piano. Designed and built before the days of digital technology, the instrument was based on a stunningly complex array of seventy tape machines. A separate tape player was connected to every key of the instrument. Each tape contained a sample (in fact, a direct tape recording) of several different instruments. At the flick of a switch, a player could reposition each tape to play a flute, trumpet, accordion or other sampled (tape recorded) instrument polyphonically.

    The Mellotron - The First Music Sampler by Sarah Angliss


  • The Mellotron - A Potted History:

    Although originally designed as a 'home entertainment' keyboard by the mid-sixties the Mellotron was starting to appear on contemporary rock/pop records. A few of the many users of note have included The Beatles, Yes (Rick Wakeman burnt his!), Genesis, Tangerine Dream, King Crimson, Moody Blues, Manfred Mann, Strawbs, Traffic, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, Larry Fast (says he still has it), Jean Michel Jarre, Barclay James Harvest...


  • The Mellotron - How It Works:

    The Mellotron is a sample replay machine but as it was developed in the early 1960's, before the invention of solid-state memory, floppy discs or microprocessors, it used lengths of recording tape to store each 'sample'...

    The Mellotron - How It Works by Norm Leete


  • Webster's Dictionary Definition:

    The Mellotron (and its direct ancestor the Chamberlin) were in effect the world's first sample-playback keyboards. The heart of the instrument is a bank of parallel linear (not looped) strips of magnetic tape (aprox 8 seconds of playing time); playback heads underneath (but not directly underneath) each key enable performers to play the pre-recorded sound assigned to that key when pressed. The earlier MKI, and MKII models contained two side by side keyboards with 18 selectable sets of specially-recorded sounds on the right keyboard such as strings, flutes, and brass instruments wich where called "lead", or "instrument" sounds, and pre-recorded accompaniment music (in various styles) on the left keyboard. The tape banks for the later, and lighter M400 models contain three selectable sounds (per changable taperack) such as strings, cello, and the famous eight voice choir. The sound on each individual tape piece is recorded at the specific pitch of the key that it was assigned to.


  • The Mellotron:

    Each strip of tape had three sounds on it (one of the most popular combinations being strings, choir and flute) selectable from a rotary switch on the panel to the left of the small three octave keyboard but other frames could be purchased and swapped over if you wanted. This was a 'simple' matter of lifting the lid off the unit, removing the keyboard assembly, undoing a few screws, lifting out the tape frame and replacing it with the other frame, tightening the screws and replacing the keyboard assembly and top lid!!! The instrument was also very temperamental and required regular servicing.

    The Mellotron by Steve Howell


  • The Chamberlin:

    The Chamberlin was invented in the US in 1946 by Harry Chamberlin who had the idea (allegedly) when setting up his portable tape recorder to record himself playing his home organ. It is rumoured that it occured to him that if he could record the sound of a real instrument, he could make a keyboard instrument that could replay the sound of real instruments and thus the Chamberlin was born.

    The Chamberlin by Steve Howell


  • Mellotron Background:

    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, "In the Court of the Crimson King" by King Crimson and "Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin.

    Mellotron Background at Serebella


  • The Mellotron Story:

    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 andsending 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; and 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.

    The Mellotron Story by Peter Forrest


  • Rebirth of The Cool SOUND ON SOUND - August 2002:

    The Mellotron has had a chequered history, from '60s "must-have" to '80s "has-been" but it's survived bankruptcy and technological progress, and now it's back, in a brand-new, reworked form. We relate the story of this classic instrument, and see how the new version compares to the old.

    Mellotron Mk IV Review SOUND ON SOUND by Gordon Reid

  • Streetly Electronics:

    Streetly Electronics is run by John Bradley and Martin Smith. This duo claims to be the only people on the planet who can offer a full renovation package for all models of Mellotrons and Novatrons. Through their efforts they are helping people re-discover the instrument's unique sound and aiding in its revival.

    Streetly Electronics

  • Mellotron Mk IV:

    In 1991, David Kean purchased the rights to the Mellotron name and the tape-making equipment from the man who had bought the assets of the short-lived and by then defunct Mellotron Digital. Kean then established a new company that he called Mellotron Archives. Initially supplying tapes and spare parts, Kean and fellow enthusiast Markus Resch later provided servicing, and produced digitally remastered, and in some cases, 'cleaned up' sets of Mellotron and Chamberlin sounds. They also released a CD-ROM of sampled Mellotrons and Chamberlins. Their website is a source for instrument information, new and used instruments as well as replacement parts for Mellotrons and Chamberlins - and includes info on the Mellotron Mk VI, the first new production of Mellotrons in over 15 years, providing the classic look and sound of the Mellotron 400 with dozens of technical improvements.

The Gatherings Concert Series hosts the Mellotron Workshop with Jeff Coulter on Saturday 11 December 2004 at 8:00pm (doors open at 7:30pm) in the parish hall of St. Mary's Hamilton Village 3916 Locust Walk (just east of 40th & Locust) on the Penn campus in West Philadelphia. Requested Donation: $5 - $10 at the door. All ages welcome. No previous knowledge of music or technology needed.

For more about Jeff Coulter, please access the:

The Gatherings Concert Series is presented by the all-volunteer staff of The Corporation for Innovative Music and Arts of Pennsylvania