Mellotrons have a checkered history. They’re known for their unique sound and place in electronic music, but they’re also known for their limitations and temperamentality.
But, while the sound of the Mellotron has been captured in samples and software, there’s still something about a real tape-based Mellotron that appeals to a lot of musicians.
And, for some keyboardists, it’s hard for them to imagine playing their music without a Mellotron.
Chicago-based psychedelic rocker Jim Licka, right, recently added a new Mellotron M4000, from Streetly Electronics, to his arsenal. Licka leads a psychedelic/ambient/rock band Umbra and the Volcan Siege.
Why a new Mellotron?
“I think the Mellotron is the most dynamic and influential instrument invented,” says Licka.”I love it every time I play it and hear it.”
The Mellotron M4000 is the newest in a the Mellotron family of electro-mechanical, polyphonic sample-playback keyboards. Psychedelic and progressive rock bands used the Mellotron extensively in the ’60s and ’70s and the instrument features on album like George Harrison’s Wonderwall Music, King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King and Architecture & Morality by Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark.
More recently, the Mellotron has seen a resurgence of interest, especially with prog and metal groups.
“It sends me to a place that’s special and sacred,” adds Licka. “It makes me feel alive and I feel lucky to own one. I think that keeps me coming back for more and more and it’s the most amazing sound ever.”
Licka, who also plays guitar and Moog synthesizer with Umbra and the Volcan Siege, ordered his Mellotron M4000 in 2007, after visiting Streetly’s Staffordshire, England, headquarters and testing a prototype. An older model Mellotron is featured on the most recent Umbra and the Volcan Siege EP, 2009’s The Beginning of the End.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Mellotron, a great place to start is Dianna Dilworth’s excellent Mellotron documentary Mellodrama.