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The Mellotron is an electro-mechanical musical instrument developed in Birmingham, England, in 1963. It is played by pressing its keys, each of which causes a length of magnetic tape to contact a capstan, which pulls it across a playback head. As the key is released, the tape is retracted by a spring to its initial position. Different portions of the tape can be played to access different sounds.

Quick facts: Mellotron, Manufacturer, Dates, Technical spe...
A Mellotron Mk VI
ManufacturerBradmatic/Mellotronics (1963–70)
Streetly Electronics (1970–86, 2007–present)
Dates1963 (Mk I)
1964 (Mk II)
1968 (M300)
1970 (M400)
2007 (M4000)
Technical specifications
OscillatorAudio tape
Synthesis typeSample-based synthesis
Keyboard1 or 2 × 35 note manuals (G2–F5)

The Mellotron evolved from the similar Chamberlin, but could be mass-produced more efficiently. The first models were designed for the home and contained a variety of sounds, including automatic accompaniments. Bandleader Eric Robinson and television personality David Nixon helped promote the first instruments, and celebrities such as Princess Margaret were early adopters. It was adopted by rock and pop groups in the mid to late 1960s. One of the first pop songs featuring the Mellotron was Manfred Mann's "Semi-Detached, Suburban Mr. James" (1966). The Beatles used it on tracks including the hit single "Strawberry Fields Forever" (1967).

The Moody Blues keyboardist Mike Pinder used it extensively on the band's 1967 album Days of Future Passed as well as the group's following six albums. The Mellotron became common in progressive rock, used by groups such as King Crimson, Yes and Genesis. Later models, such as the bestselling M400, dispensed with the accompaniments and some sound selection controls so it could be used by touring musicians. The instrument's popularity declined in the 1980s after the introduction of polyphonic synthesizers and samplers, despite high-profile performers such as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and XTC continuing to use the instrument.

Production of the Mellotron ceased in 1986, but it regained popularity in the 1990s and was used by bands such as Oasis and Radiohead. This led to the resurrection of the original manufacturer, Streetly Electronics. In 2007, Streetly produced the M4000, which combined the layout of the M400 with the bank selection of earlier models.

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