This section looks at the range of Mellotrons produced. The majority were made by Streetly, but, as noted below, some were made by EMI and current ones are made by Markus Resch in Stockholm. These will be noted as appropriate.
As detailed in the ‘Mellotron Story’ section, the Mellotron derives directly from the Chamberlin. At the time of writing, I have no intention of detailing anything to do with this instrument, as it is essentially an American device and very few examples made it over to this side of the Atlantic, not counting the 2 Chamberlins Bill Fransen brought with him! If someone in the U.S.wants to contribute an article about the Chamberlin, I would be happy to include it in this site.
The first Mellotron produced was the Mk1, which first came out in 1963.
It had 2 piano-like keyboards, each of 35 notes from G to F. The left-hand keyboard produced rhythms and sound effects, whereas the right-hand keyboard played pre-recorded musical sounds. It was very similar to the Chamberlin Music Master 600, from which it was, admittedly, derived. The left-hand manual had 18 Rhythm and 17 Accompaniment sounds on 3/8” wide tapes and the right-hand manual had 18 melodic sounds made up of 6 banks of 3 sounds, again, each on 3/8” wide tape. Reverb was provided (for the melody manual only) along with a transistor pre-amp and 2 speakers. It weighed about 140kg (310lb). About 55 were made from 1963 to 1964.
The Mk1 was superseded by (not surprisingly) the Mk2.
Externally, it was similar to the Mk1, but, internally, it was a considerable improvement, and many Mk1’s were upgraded to Mk2 standard as they came back to Streetly for repair, maintenance or servicing. The functions of the Mk2 were identical to the Mk1, but were considerably more reliable. It was this machine that was noticed up by the Rock Community, initially via Graham Bond and Manfred Mann, but it was also appreciated by other non-musical personalities, such as King Hussein of Jordan, L. Ron Hubbard (the scientologist), the actor Peter Sellers and his friend Princess Margaret (late sister of the Queen). The latter’s Mk2 was retrieved by Streetly, as she refused to pay for it, using her royal status as an excuse to avoid parting with about £3,000. About 300 Mk2’s were made from 1964 to 1968, but this does not include the Mk1’s that were upgraded.
Constructed in parallel with the Mk2 (at the request of the BBC) was the Mk2 FX Console.
This was technically similar to the Mk2, but BOTH manuals were dedicated to sound effects. There were a few improvements made over the standard Mk2, at the insistence of the BBC, that helped considerably. Made between 1965 and 1970, about 60 were made, for the BBC and its equivalent in South Africa, amongst others.
The Rock Community picked up on the Mellotron for studio work – bands like The Moody Blues and King Crimson, amongst others. The Mk1’s and Mk2’s were intended for home domestic use, e.g. in the front parlour. Restricting the size and weight was never a serious consideration – it was never envisaged that they would be used by touring bands and that they would be moved from concert hall to concert hall. However, they WERE being hauled around the country, and overseas. As they were large, heavy and fragile, they were a roadie’s nightmare, so there was a call for a Mellotron that would be portable. Initially, Streetly came up with the M300.
This was the first Mellotron with a single-manual, and it had 52 keys, from A to C. About 60 were made from 1968 to 1970. The best knwn user of the M300 was probably the late Woolly Wolstenholme of Barclay James Harvest.
The M300 was still considered too bulky and too heavy, so Streetly produced the M400.
This was a Mellotron virtually stripped to the bone. It reverted to a SINGLE 35-key manual, equivalent to the right-hand side of a Mk2. The speakers were removed, the number of sounds was reduced from 18 to 3, the reverb was also removed and the controls were reduced to the absolute minimum. The tapes used were shortened to about 5 feet long, giving a note playing time of 7 to 8 seconds, and changed to 5/8” wide. This was supposed to prevent the replay tape heads from coming into contact with 2 adjacent sounds on the tapes, but musicians were still able to do this. The tape storage and replay system was redesigned, using a pulley tackle and a long spring. As this version could only have 3 sounds, provision was made to have the tapes on a removable frame, so that frames with different sounds could easily be interchanged. This was the most successful Mellotron made, and about 1,800 were made from 1970 to 1978.
EMI recognised that the M400 would be a success, so they asked for (and were granted) a licence to build some. These were designated M400S, and EMI built about 100.
Apparently, EMI simply ordered the M400 innards from Streetly and installed them in a case of their own design. These cases had a beautiful mahogany finish, but most were over-painted white. The motors were allegedly inferior and the case measurements weren’t up to scratch, resulting in a slightly sub-standard M400. The EMI built M400’s had serial numbers commencing E4xxx.
In 1975, the MkV (NOT Mk5) was introduced.
Because the M400 could only store 3 sounds, an attempt was made to double the number of sounds available to the musician. This was achieved by simply having 2 M400’s in one unit, which is what the MkV is, in effect. Rick Wakeman, during his time in Yes, actually took 2 of his M400’s and bolted them together.
In 1978, Streetly lost the right to use the word “Mellotron” for the Mellotrons they were building, so they came up with the name “Novatron”. MkV,with its new name, continued to be produced until 1980…
…though only 4 were made, Patrick Moraz and Paul McCartney each buying one. They were identical to the MkV Mellotron, except for the enforced name change. Similarly, Streetly continued making the Novatron M400, which was identical to an M400 Mellotron, save the change of name.
In 1981, Streetly then experimented with installing an M400 into a flight case, to further ease the labours of a band’s road crew. They came up with the T550.
There were some minor modifications required, mostly to centre up the keyboard. Available from 1981-1983, there were only 3 or 4 made, of which Tangerine Dream bought at least 2.
Sound Sales (the company that took over the assets of the U.S.arm of Mellotronics) then came up with the 4 Track.
Sound Sales attempted to improve on the M400 by putting 4 sounds onto one single ¼” wide tape. Rather than switching the replay heads to different parts of the tape, the heads were capable of playing all 4 sounds, either singly or in any combination. The job of construction was subcontracted to Bomar Fabricators, of Southbury,Connecticut, but the tapes were of poor quality. Only 4 were made in 1981.
The rights to the trade-name “Mellotron” appear to have passed to a gentleman in the U.S.A. called David Kean. It appears that he has allowed a Swede called Markus Resch to continue manufacturing Mellotrons in Stockholm, moreso when Streetly finally called it a day in 1986. In 1998, Resch improved the M400, producing the MkVI.
In terms of appearance, the MkVI was almost identical to an M400, but was a little taller, a bit lighter and the tapes were lengthened to give an extra 1 or 2 seconds playing time. In 1999, Resch also upgraded the MkV and has come up with the MkVII.
The upgrades applied to the MkVI were also used on the MkVII. Production of the MkVI and MkVII continue to this day.
Streetly were reactivated in about 1990, their initial tasks being the repair, restoration, maintaining and servicing of already existing Mellotrons and Novatrons. However, in 1998, they built the Skellotron.
This was a standard M400, but in a see-through acrylic case. Only one was made.
The story doesn’t stop here. Alongside their regular servicing activities, Streetly, working in conjunction with Norman Leete, have designed the M4000…
…and it went into production in 2007. Externally, it’s almost identical to an M400, though it is taller, which improves the posture of the musician. However, if you look inside, it’s a different story. Instead of there being 3 sounds, there are now 24! After about a 40 year gap, the same mechanism that gave 6 banks of 3 sounds in a Mk2 and M300 has been re-designed to give 8 banks of 3 sounds for the M4000.
With this number of sounds, there is no longer any need to have a removable tape frame. There are further refinements that prevent the keyboard being active when changing from one bank (or ‘station’) to another, and the tape, which was 5/8” wide is now 3/8” wide. Note that a name has not been allocated to the M4000. As far as I’m concerned, IT’S A MELLOTRON!