A brief history of time: The development of the Digital Mellotron
Ever since I joined David Kean in resurrecting the Mellotron in 1990 we had spoken about the possibility of a digital Mellotron. For a long time, this seemed impossible to achieve with a sonic quality comparable to the analog Mellotrons.
But in 2008, a new series of 32 bit microcontrollers and special new high-speed Compact Flash cards went on the market. That gave me the basic foundation to create a digital Mellotron that would have the same character and playing feel as the analog Mellotrons.
Ever since the discussions David and I had in the 1990s, it was clear that we needed a keyboard that would have polyphonic depth-sensitivity. Most of the playing feel of the analog Mellotron and Chamberlin instruments is due to the tape gradually being pressed against the tone head when a key is played slowly.
I developed a keyboard where the position of each individual key is detected with high accuracy, and this information is sent to the microcontroller which regulates the volume individually of each note played in real time. This also gave me the possibility to realize polyphonic aftertouch via MIDI. The keyboard has the same size wooden keys as the analog Mellotrons.
I also realized that the user interface of the instrument would have to be intuitive and easy to navigate, as well as aesthetically appealing to the musician. But there should also be more advanced options and settings. The solution was to implement an advanced user interface with a limited number of controls, but utilizing two hi-resolution screens, which made the instrument easy to use. I also realized that I would not have the time to do this all myself, so I enlisted an extremely talented programmer. Together with my programmer we developed the user interface and within just 6 months my programmer managed to create an operating system that fulfilled all our basic requirements.
I decided that the instrument needed an expansion slot so we could present more sounds from the huge Mellotron and Chamberlin archive that we have collected since the late 1980s. We have three expansion cards out so far, but more are in the works.
The M4000D Mellotron was presented at NAMM 2010 and we immediately got very many orders, so I had to employ a few assistants to help with the assembly. We did our best to fulfill all the orders during 2010 and 2011. We were truly taken by surprise, so it took some time to set up a full manufacturing.
During 2012 we developed the M4000D Mini. We started selling it at the end of 2012 but it was officially presented at NAMM 2013. It has the same sounds and sound engine as the regular M4000D, the slot for expansion cards, but instead of the poly aftertouch wooden keyboard it has a very high quality Fatar keybed. In 2018 we gave it mono aftertouch which we have developed ourselves.
At NAMM 2014 we presented the M4000D Rack, but production and sales started at the end of September 2014. It has the same audio engine and the same outputs as the regular M4000D, and of course the slot for expansion cards.
The Mellotron Micro was presented at NAMM 2017, and we started delivering it in May 2017. This instrument is based on a different audio engine that utilizes high-speed SD cards. Due to the structure of the SD card bus, two SD cards cannot share the same bus. So the Mellotron Micro does not have any external expansion cards.
- Markus Resch
Legendary sounds, state-of-the-art technology.
The M4000D series features 100 Mellotron and Chamberlin sounds from the original tape archives used on thousands of songs since the early 1960s.
The Mellotron M4000D is built with state-of-the-art digital technology and sophisticated software to provide the user total control over the instrument. For example; the software features options for motor modulation, ramp time pitch and the signature tonal simulation of the vintage machines, giving you four legendary instruments in one.
Our in-house made Direct Access technology allows the instrument to load all of the sounds without delay or loading times. This means the whole library is available immediately to maximize your creative possibilities. Which means that there is no load time, not even on the expansion cards.
Awesome keys for awesome musicians.
To emulate an original style wooden keyboard is not an easy task. The Mellotron M4000D mini features a set of semi-weighted keys to come as close to the original instrument as possible. The result is an instrument that feels like it's analog predecessor.
The full size keys used are from one of the legendary European brands, providing both sustainability and quality. To get the original Mellotron functionality, we customize them ourselves to work with the 37 key F to F range Mellotron and Chamberlin libraries.
The keys don't just feel great, they are also very durable. The high quality of the workmanship and attention to manufacturing details gives you a remarkable lifetime of 3 million hits.
Aluminum, wood and precious electronics.
We design our products for beauty, we engineer them for perfection and we hand build them ourselves in Stockholm. Our outstanding quality is also our contribution to a sustainable world. All electronic contacts in our instruments are gold-plated for lifelong durability and tested to guarantee a trustworthy investment in quality.
The body of the M4000D mini is made of airplane grade aluminum making it both light, sturdy and perfect for touring. Added to that is a high-quality powder coating giving a durable, luxurious finish. We offer 1 year warranty on manufacturing faults, but we always support our instruments.
An interface defined by simplicity.
We believe that the underlying complex technology needs a simple interface.
The timeless Mellotron front panel has an ease of use and focus never seen on a keyboard instrument. The ability to pitch samples with the twist of a knob was introduced on the Mark I but is still a unique feature for the Mellotron.
The ability to mix between two parallel sounds, without compromise in tonal response, enables limitless sound possibilities for the Mellotron.
Great sounds deserve great looks.
The visual presence of the Mellotron is iconic. Our goal has always been to fulfill the visual, sonic and performance promise of the Mellotron and Chamberlin instruments in a stylish package. Equally important is the tasteful use of modern technology to deliver this promise in a reliable, flexible, no compromise instrument that still gives you the desired quirky characteristics of the old instruments.