Last updated on March 25, 2021 by

The mellotron may be an old instrument, but it’s all over modern music. Just listen to the score for The Mandalorian

If you want to give your track a vintage sound that reminds you of The Beatles and other rock bands from the ‘60s and ‘70s…

Add a Mellotron.

So let’s talk about this trailblazer of an instrument. I’ll also cover some of the best Mellotron plugins for home studios.

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But if you want to learn about the Mellotron specifically, keep reading.

 

What Is a Mellotron?

mellotron tone knobs

Image provided by Tobias Akerboom on Flickr

A Mellotron started out as an organ emulator.

Around 1950, Henry Chamberlin realized he could sample organ sounds using magnetic tape.

Each key in his invention triggers a recording of an organ playing that note. (It was appropriately called a Chamberlin.)

With this technology, the Mellotron was officially developed in 1963. But the Mellotron was different.

Folks realized you could emulate other instruments too. Like cellos, flutes, or literally anything that could be recorded.

This is what a Mellotron does. So it was basically the first sampling keyboard.

Nowadays, Mellotrons still use tape. Which can make the mechanisms somewhat stiff and definitely fragile.

But the tape makes the whole thing sound and feel vintage. And it all adds to its classic sound.

 

What Does a Mellotron Sound Like?

person playing a mellotron

Image provided by Buzz Andersen on Flickr

The best way to describe what a Mellotron sounds like is to show you.

So here are some songs that feature Mellotron:

The Zombies – “Changes”

The mellotron may be an old instrument, but it's all over modern music. Just listen to the score for The Mandalorian If you want to give your track a vintage sound that reminds you of The Beatles and other rock bands from the ‘60s and ‘70s… Add a Mellotron. So let’s talk about this trailblazer of an

The opening sound features Mellotron flutes, one of the most common Mellotron sounds.

 

The Beatles – “Strawberry Fields Forever”

The mellotron may be an old instrument, but it's all over modern music. Just listen to the score for The Mandalorian If you want to give your track a vintage sound that reminds you of The Beatles and other rock bands from the ‘60s and ‘70s… Add a Mellotron. So let’s talk about this trailblazer of an

As one of the most recognizable intros in modern music, SFF also opens with Mellotron flutes.

 

Led Zeppelin – “Stairway to Heaven”

The mellotron may be an old instrument, but it's all over modern music. Just listen to the score for The Mandalorian If you want to give your track a vintage sound that reminds you of The Beatles and other rock bands from the ‘60s and ‘70s… Add a Mellotron. So let’s talk about this trailblazer of an

After the iconic acoustic guitar opening, Mellotron flutes enter the song.

 

Oasis – “Wonderwall”

The mellotron may be an old instrument, but it's all over modern music. Just listen to the score for The Mandalorian If you want to give your track a vintage sound that reminds you of The Beatles and other rock bands from the ‘60s and ‘70s… Add a Mellotron. So let’s talk about this trailblazer of an

Most people think the cello sound is an actual cello. (I did until researching for this post!)

But it’s actually a Mellotron.

With these examples, I think you get the idea.

Mellotron has a very cool vintage sound. And it was basically a MIDI controller for virtual instruments before MIDI even existed.

 

Mellotron Plugins You Can Use

Okay, so most of us can’t get our hands on an actual Mellotron, as cool as that would be.

But there are plugins that emulate a Mellotron. Here are the best ones to check out…

 

Mellotron V by Arturia

arturia mellotron

This plugin has a wide range of instruments, and you get plenty of settings. You control the ADSR, flutter, noise floor, tone, pitch, and a bunch of other settings.

This plugin is cool because you can load multiple samples on the Mellotron at once. So you could have flutes on the top half of the keyboard and cellos on the bottom half.

You can access a bunch of factory samples, plus you can load your own samples.

 

Newmello II by Wavesfactory

newmello mellotron

The Newmello II interface is very simple.

It’s a window that shows the noise and tape levels, attack, release, tone knobs, and a few other settings. You can choose one of 75 instrument samples.

But Waves didn’t just sample instruments in a professional studio.

They sampled the instruments through cassette tapes with lo-fi cassette decks. Giving them a truly retro sound.

 

Redtron_SE by Artifake_Labs

redtron_se mellotorn

Redtron_SE samples sounds from a 1973 Mellotron M400S with just a bit of audio cleaning. Like removing clicks and pops.

You get nine sounds, each lasting eight seconds long:

  • MKII Flute
  • MKII 3 Violins
  • M400 Cello
  • MKII Brass
  • M400 Combined Choir
  • M400 String Section
  • M400 Woodwinds
  • M300A Violins
  • M300B Violin

Like most Mellotrons, you control the ADSR, and you can layer two sounds together.

 

Mello by UVI

uvi mello mellotron plugin

UVI didn’t clean up the vintage sound of the Mellotron (which you might prefer).

They give you 28 sounds and 12 presets. Plus, you have a bunch of basic and advanced settings.

You can choose between playing the sounds on a full 88 keys or on 35 keys, like the original Mellotron.

The interface seems pretty easy to use. It clearly shows you the knobs and dials on a virtual Mellotron.

 

Conclusion

If you want this unique retro sound, play around with a Mellotron plugin. And you don’t have to use it in a vintage context—this instrument still works great in modern music.

Next Steps

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Enjoy!

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7 comments on this article

  • Avatar
    Tyler Pedersen says:
    August 8, 2022 at 06:18:41 pm

    Unfotuately, for as much as much as those dijital devices
    sound “ similar” to the real thing, they really don’t, but
    even I would be taking a chance trying to use a 1970’s
    Tape Mellotron on any kind of extended tour.
    The dijital devices sound sort of close.
    My tour would depend on your response to
    my “ Enhanced Selected Tracks” CD.
    Maybe you will like it, maybe you won’t.
    I think those of you who want to hear spacey
    swinging blues with Mellotron and voices ambience will
    like it.
    I just can’t put this CD out in the dijital format.
    Somebody has to make a stand and it might as well be me

    Plus, with the unpredictable state of airline travel, who
    knows how a real Mellotron would hold up in transport.
    Plus, real Melotrons have there pitch issues which is
    part of there magic.
    We will see

  • Avatar
    Tyler Pedersen says:
    August 7, 2022 at 02:59:47 pm

    The 2 great periods of the last half of the 20th century
    1. Legitimate Swinging American music of 1939
    2. English Progressive bands using real tape Melotrons
    inspiring many people around the world to hear
    music with an expanded sense of consciousness..
    I believe we can combine these 2 great eras by
    getting swing music to sound a little more 3 dimensional
    and getting tape Mellotron music from the 70’s to
    pick up the tempo and stop sounding so slow

  • Avatar
    Tyler Pedersen says:
    August 7, 2022 at 12:44:54 am

    Use this sight to contact me for now

  • Avatar
    Tyler Pedersen says:
    August 2, 2022 at 02:24:56 am

    If you think a real 1974 M-400
    Mellotron would sound cool
    layered into a
    Modern Swing Blues setting,
    I will send you a copy if you
    are interested.
    My solo CD’s are already
    out there the internet, YouTube
    etc. and I am proud of them as is.
    I am proud of my new
    “ Enhanced Selectet Tracks”
    CD.
    I am only giving it to a few
    selected people that would
    appreciate something never
    attempted before.
    I will send you one if you want.
    You will like it
    I’m easy to find
    Tyler Pedersen musician

    • Avatar
      Tyler Pedersen says:
      August 6, 2022 at 09:32:33 pm

      I’m only selling my new
      “ Enhanced Selected Tracks”
      CD as a physical CD.
      If you want to hear it, you
      gotta buy it.
      I will give you the information
      on that in time.
      Like I said. I will give one to
      real Mellotron fanatics.
      I can’t give um all away
      because I gotta make a little
      money
      Still, I’m using a real 1974
      M-400 Mellotron to Enhanse
      a buch of the existing tracks..
      It’s the real thing over my
      kind of psychodelisized
      swing blues. Other tunes
      are enhanced with midi
      female voices
      You will like it
      I will keep you posted

  • Avatar
    Nick Richards says:
    March 3, 2022 at 01:29:46 am

    Those are not Mellotron flutes on the studio recording of Stairway To Heaven (Led Zeppelin). John Paul Jones multitracked 4 recorders on the studio version. Watch Rick Beato’s YouTube video on the song. However, he played Mellotron on the live versions as on The Song Remains The Same…

  • Avatar

    Does the mellatron include foot pedals sound effects for a electric guitar?