King Crimson’s Trons

In an interview given to someone, which appeared on the web, Robert Fripp admitted to possessing 6 Mellotrons of one sort or another AT THE TIME OF WRITING. He said that 5 were actually owned by him, so I assume that he is responsible for the 6th, but it is probably legally owned by the “King Crimson” company, whatever form that now takes.

Although not strictly speaking Crimson, their predecessor, Giles, Giles & Fripp, USED a Mk2 Mellotron on their “Cheerful Insanity…” album. I am moderately sure that this was a studio machine, owned by Decca, rather than one they purchased. There is a possibility that it was Mike Pinder’s machine, as Giles, Giles & Fripp and The Moody Blues were both on the Deram label, owned by the Decca empire.

Crimson had purchased a Mk2 (serial number 13) of their own by Christmas 1968, as they moved it into their rehearsal studio in the basement of the café in the Fulham Palace Road on 13th January 1969. This was the day described by Fripp as the birth of King Crimson. It was used on “In the Court…” and I believed that it was used on live gigs in the UK throughout 1969. This same tron found further use in 1994 – see later.

Mk2 Mellotron, ser. no. 13 - used on "In the Court..." and "THRAK"

Whilst touring the USA in late 1969, a total of 3 Mk2’s were  used. The band were experiencing problems of one sort or another with their Trons. US mains supply is 115V AC at 60Hz (compared to the UK’s 240V AC at 50Hz) and it was unstable, with poor regulation (i.e. the mains supply voltage went down when you drew current from it). It was so bad that when Ian McDonald played a chord of more than 3 notes, the pitch of it dropped by about a quarter of a tone. Another Mk2 was damaged in a fire at a gig in Chicago by the local fire brigade’s water. I believe that they took one tron across to the US and hired another one when they got there. They also shipped across a third Tron after the Chicago fire. Of the 2 trons shipped from the UK. It has to be assumed that one of them was the “In the Court…” machine and the other one MAY have been the “…Poseidon” machine. If not, it was hired in the UK. One of the Mk2 Trons was acquired by the late Robert Moog (as in Moog Synthesiser) and was on display. It is intended to continue displaying this Tron at a museum dedicated to Robert Moog in Ashville, North Carolina, USA.

Crimson also purchased a second Mk2, ser. no. 113, which was used on “In the Wake…” I thought this was a studio-bound machine, unless it was shipped over to the US as detailed above. The photo below shows it to be in derelict condition, unfortunately. I have heard that Streetly Electronics would like to get their hands on this machine and repair & restore it to its original working condition, if they haven’t already.

Mk2 Mellotron, ser. no. 113. Note the non-Streetly carrying handle!

In 1970 or 1971, Crimson bought 2 M400’s. In common with other bands, they found that the Mk2 was too big (for touring purposes) and too unreliable – the M400 had the advantage of being smaller, so it was easier to move it around from gig to gig. These 2 ‘trons (serial numbers 211 & 354) were white, and they were a familiar sight at gigs in 1971 and 1972, being used by Fripp and Mel Collins on their UK tours and on both tours of North America.

For the Mk3 line-ups (i.e. with Bruford & Wetton), Crimson continued to use the same 2 white M400’s – the one’s bought in 1970/1. Again, they were seen at most (if not all) Crimson gigs in 1972 and 1973. In late 1973 or (more likely) early 1974, Fripp acquired another black M400, serial number 1199. At most of the subsequent gigs, in 1974, David Cross was attired in light coloured clothing, with one of the white trons, whereas Fripp dressed all in black, playing the black tron. This situation lasted until July 1974.

M400, ser. no. 1199, used on-stage from 1974, and on the “Red” album

In 1993, Fripp purchased another M400, serial number 1627, from Ken Hensley (who was also from the Bournemouth area) of Uriah Heep. The author only learned of this early in 2009, and has come as a revelation to him. Fripp last used a Mellotron in September and October 1974 when he recorded the ”Red” album. Since then, he eschewed the Mellotron completely and, in the context of the music he made since then, the purchase of another ‘tron is a complete surprise.

M400, ser. no. 1627, bought from Ken Hensley of Uriah Heep

In 1994, Fripp resurrected the same machine used on the “…Court…” album for “THRAK”. Originally, Fripp opted to use a pair of M400’s and had them installed in the studio where they were working. However, they were never used in anger as Adrian Belew and Trey Gunn used them as resting places for their lap-top computers. When Fripp saw this, he shipped the M400’s back to his home in Wiltshire and replaced them with Mk2, ser. no. 13, which later appeared on the “THRAK” album.

Circa 1999, Fripp wanted to get rid of all his Trons. He had no further use for them as new technology had, in his eyes, replaced the tron. Therefore, he put them up for auction. By 2004 or 2005, he received no bids that he regarded as “suitable” (my phraseology), so the auction was closed.

In March/April 2007, I inquired, via the ‘dgmlive’ website, as to Robert Fripp’s attitude re his Mellotrons. I received a reply from no less a personage than Sid Smith, who informed me that Robert had NO PLANS TO DISPOSE of them. Apparently, he sends them to Streetly periodically for routine maintenance. At the time of writing, 1 x Mk2 and the 4 x M400’s are stored with Streetly, the remaining Mk2 is at DGM Central. I do know that Fripp tried to sell Mk2 serial number 13 privately for £20,000!

It is believed that Crimson owned another Mk2 tron, which was subsequently sold to Genesis, falsely telling them that it was the same machine used on “In the Court…” Another story says that this was sold on to England, who cut it in half(!), but this has been discounted. England DID saw a Mk2 in half, using the right hand side, but they did NOT buy it from Genesis

Editor’s note

I wish to thank Prof. Robert Cervero of Berkeley University, California, for his kind permission to reproduce the 4 above photographs from his site at:-

He was fortunate to be invited to the 30th anniversary of the formation of King Crimson, which was held at Robert Fripp’s house in Wiltshire on/about 12th & 13th of January 1999. It was here when he took the above photos. However, the information on his site (re. Mellotron serial numbers) is at odds with information from Robert Fripp’s diaries. I have assumed that Fripp’s information is correct..

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