CatSynth Pic: Luna and Mellotron Micro for Halloween

Not our Luna, but another sweet black cat who shared the name 😻and all dressed up as a sushi roll for Halloween!  From Yoselin Alcala‎ via our Facebook page.

A Cats on Synthesizers Halloween submission! Our little Luna in her sushi costume with a Mellotron ✨🎃 

“Sushi Luna” is posing with a Mellotron Micro synthesizer.  We at CatSynth are quite interested in this smallest edition in the venerable Mellotron series.  It is also the subject of our most popular CatSynth TV episode.



Mellow Tron and Mellotron

We bring you another from the latest series of cartoons by J.B., this featuring a classic Mellotron.  In particular, it appears to be the iconic M400 model, or perhaps an Mk4.

You can read our recent review from the Mellotron booth at NAMM here.  We also featured the instrument in a popular CatSynth TV episode.


NAMM 2018: Mellotron!

Mellotron Mk4
[Mellotron Mk4]

We at CatSynth have a soft spot for the Mellotron, the electro-mechanical precursor to digital samplers made famous in recordings by the Beatles – remember the opening flute riff from “Strawberry Fields” – as well as King Crimson, and many others.  We have used sounds from the Mellotron in our own music and in collaborations with Vacuum Tree Head.  So was a treat to visit the Mellotron booth at NAMM and see versions both old and new.  We featured them in a recent CatSynth TV. It is particularly interesting to see the inside of the vintage Mk2 in action.

The Mellotrons (and their predecessor, the Chamberlain) generate sound by passing a tape head over a strip of magnetic tape for a particular pressed key.  The sound is determined by the tape, the speed of the head, and other idiosyncratic factors of the instrument.  Although originally intended as home/parlor instruments, they found a place in the rock albums of the 1960s and 1970s before falling out of favor for digital samplers.  They were heavy, temperamental, and difficult to maintain.  But Mellotrons have had a bit of a revival in the early 21st century with a reissue of the electromechanical version as the Mellotron M4000 and its all-digital counterpart, the M4000D.  Most recently, the new Mellotron line has been extended with the M4000D Micro.

Mellotron Micro
[Mellotron M4000D Micro]

The Micro has most of the features of the larger digital Mellotrons, including a large library of samples from original Mellotron and Chamberlain tapes.  Two different “tapes” can be loaded at once and blended with a mixer control. It has speed and tone controls, and a post-sample audio engine that adds some of the non-linear characteristics of the originals. The Micro is an attractive size (and at $990 is the least expensive) for those who want a playable portable version of the celebrated instrument.  There are less expensive ways to get some of the sounds – we have the Mellotron XL app for iOS that has been sanctioned by the company, but it doesn’t have MIDI support they way the standalone instruments do.   Good patches can be found in the Nord Sample Library (see our recent Nord article) as well as older instruments such as the trusty E-MU Vintage Pro that we use at CatSynth HQ.  But the M4000D series is the closest one can find digitally to the original – if that is important to one’s music, these instruments are worth checking out.

CatSynth Video: Duke and Mellotron Micro

From Mellotron’s Facebook page.

🐈🐈🐈 Introducing Micro🐈🐈🐈

I was actually quite keen to check out the Mellotron Micro at NAMM, but unfortunately ran out of time. I did see an earlier prototype the previous year, however. Glad that Duke has a chance to show us around the latest version.

Big City Music at NAMM

No visit to NAMM is complete without a stop at the booth of Big City Music. There were familiar faces and instruments, but a few new things as well.

The Mellotron micro is the latest in the Mellotron series. It’s small and compact, and with an expected price $800-$1000 USD it’s more affordable than the others in the series (although still quite pricey).

Mellotron micro

Metasonix is at it again. The big yellow box that Big City Music always brings to the show sported some new modules in silver.

Metasonix modules

Among them was the RK2 XSVCA. It’s not just a VCA, but has distortion, feedback and out-of-phase outputs among other features. The marketing material is everything we have come to know and love from Metasonix.

Horsecock

There are always some odd and unusual pedals. These pedals from Indu Trielectric were quite visually intriguing.

Indu Trielectric

The maker’s descriptive text – much less colorful than Metasonix’s – suggested that this was a bit of a Swiss Army Knife with lots of features, including “chaotic reverb” but it also came with the admonition to the user to expect weirdness and imprecision, traits that can be quite useful for music. I wasn’t able to hear it at the time, but might get a chance to later.

NAMM: Big City Music

A trip to NAMM always includes a visit to the booth of Big City Music. As always there was a mixture of old favorites (e.g.,an entire collection of Metasonix modules in a matching yellow case, the Mellotron, etc.), as well as new and unusual things. Upon arrival I was greeted by this rack containing Intellijel synth modules and a Mellotron rack-mount unit.

Mellotron 4000D rack and Intellijel modules

This the digital Mellotron M4000D in rack-mount unit. It sounds like the classic Mellotron in a unit that is more practical for live gigging or integration into a studio setup. Of course, there are no tapes in this one.

The polyphonic analog synthesizer from Schmidt was on display and I had a chance to play it.

20150124-IMG_3781

This thing is a beast! Beyond the polyphony, it has four oscillators and seven filters per voice. Quite feature rich and very playable. But it’s price is this instrument’s most infamous feature. It comes in at about $20K USD, similar to the price one might pay for the car to schlep it around in.

This odd but intriguing electromagnetic contraption was from boutique manufacturer Analog Outfitters. We still have no idea what it does.

Analog Outfitters

And of course there were lots of large modular installations, including this “Wall of Cwejman.”

Wall of Cwejman

It’s a dangerous booth to visit, as I start to get purchase ideas…

NAMM 2014: Big City Music (Metasonix, Mellotron, Leon Dewan)

One of our perennial stops at NAMM is to the Big City Music booth to see what’s new and play with old favorites. There is always an impressive display of analog modules, including the “wall of synth” from Analog Solutions.

analog solutions wall of synth

Of course, Big City Music also prominently displayed a full complement Metasonix modules. This included the new spring reverb (at the bottom) that does not conform to the usual yellow color.

20140124-IMG_9928

I spent a little time with the Mellotron, including a demonstration of the original instrument and its extensions. You can see a bit in this video:

Towards the end, you can see the mechanical elements for the tapes at work.

We also visited again with Leon Dewan, who presented his Swarmatron instrument. Here he demonstrates, and I tentatively try to play as well (one handed as I am also holding the camera):

Although most of these instruments were familiar ones, it is great to see them in action again.

Big City Music

One of the “destinations” at NAMM is the booth of Big City Music, who always feature an array of analog synthesizers and esoteric musical instruments.

This rack featured modules from Metasonix and Wiard:

I have been interested in getting something from Metasonix for a while. But there also plenty of things to consider on this “toy shelf”:

In the lower left is a circuit bent toy from the Speak and Spell series. Above it are various effects pedals from 4ms Pedals:

The pedals all have very appealing visual designs (especially the Bend Matrix in the foreground), as well as interesting sound. You can hear some clips on their website.

I had a chance to play the Persephone Mark 2 from Eowave:

It featuring a “duophonic ribbon”, which allows one to use two fingers on the ribbon simultaneously to play chords with continuous pitch changes and produce unusual elastic harmonies.

Here we see a Dewanatron, I believe this one is a Hynmotron, with two ribbons for controlling sound:

We have encountered the Dewanatron in a previous post.

We received a professional demo of of the Surfin Step Sequencer from Surfin Kangaroo Studio, including its remote control capabilities:

Finally, we had a chance to try out the new digital simulation of the classic Mellotron synthesizer:

It was set up such that one could play both the original (below) and the new digital simulation prototype (above). The simulation faired quite well in an A/B comparison, including trying to play both simultaneously.