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The Riddle Of The Chamberlin and the King Of The Hill:
The Mellotron M4000
I don't know if it is my prog-rock roots, my orchestrating and arranging education, or just an appreciation of this beautiful and arcane, but I LOVE Chamberlin M-1's. I love the sounds they make, their hobbit-meets-the future casing and the way they smell when they're cranking away (machine oil and wood.) As a multiple Chamberlin M-1 owner I've learned over the years to become an adequate repair man (both have since been rehabbed by Richard Chamberlin but still need the occasional pep talk,) and an advocate of their small size, rich sonics and reliability. 'No samples for me!', I used to say in a kind of brag (M-1 production numbers ran about 60-80 total according to Richard.) Unfair in hindsight as who could find one even if they wanted to?

I always admired the Chamberlin's British counterpart, the Mellotron for it's unique virtues as well: I found the later model 400's beautiful in their white cabinets and attractively remote and icy on record. I lusted after the hulking Beatles-era Mark II with it's huge catalog of available sounds and rhythms. It's just that I found the 400's three-sound-per-unit limiting (versus an M-1's eight choices at half the size) and had heard the horror stories of the piano-sized Mark II's tape shuttling system with fouled and snapped tapes.

So when I learned that Streetly Electronics, the original UK company run by Martin Smith and John Bradley (son of Les, the Mellotron original,) were manufacturing a new version of the tron, the M4000, that combined the best of of the Beatles-era Mark II (eight times the number of sounds) with the relative size and portability of the M400- including modern computer-based optical tape shuttling and security, I was VERY intrigued. A phone call to wonderful Martin sealed the deal; I was back in the tape-replay keyboard game, number 17 on a large waiting list that included Arcade Fire, John Medeski and Conor Oberst. It was a long queue but I remained undaunted; I think it was about a year and a half before the giant road case trucked over to my studio in Santa Monica.

The M4000 is a thing of beauty, perfectly designed and executed by Martin and John. It sounds amazing, runs like a Swiss watch and is musically inspiring to a fault. On Aimee Mann's Charmer album when we needed a sound, it was the first and last instrument we turned to and it never let us down. I think the M4000 made it on nearly every track in some way.

There are a few re-designs of Mellotrons out there now but I am certain that none of them come close to Martin and John's apex instrument. It is a real work of art and like any top shelf instrument you just want to reach for it any chance you get. It gives back a tremendous amount. Kudos guys!
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