iPad Mellotron

In Heaven, if I should get there, I will play the Mellotron. Meanwhile, I play the Mellotronics M3000 HD, a $12 Mellotron for iPad (and soon for iPhone and iPod touch as well) by Synthtopia.

From the manufacturers:

The M3000 is an uncannily accurate, beautiful-sounding and immensely playable instrument, packed with 13 huge, authentic voices from the Mellotronics tape vault. These are the same production tapes that featured on Strawberry Fields Forever, Nights in White Satin, Watcher of the Skies, Odessey and Oracle, and hundreds more timeless classics.

Or in my case, “In The Court of the Crimson King,” the album that blew my mind in ninth grade and still holds up in 2010, despite lyrical conceits that would make Chuck D giggle and border on Spın̈al Tap parody. But I digress.

Mellotron

The real Mellotron was powered by looped audio tape recordings of full orchestra, solo flute, and so on—one recording, one tape loop, for each note of the 35-note keyboard. The M3000 is powered by individual samples of all 35 notes of each original tape set. The resulting sound is incredible, even over the iPad’s tiny built-in speaker.

All 35 keys are on-screen and available at once, so anything that can be played on a Mellotron can be played on the M3000. … The M3000 also supports 4 in-memory voices at one time, with independent keyboard and chordpad voices. The inclusion of a rich, spacious onboard reverb unit allows the M3000 to be used as a recording or performance instrument with no outboard effects chain.

Here’s what you can’t do. You can’t plug a MIDI keyboard into your iPad to drive the M3000’s performance. You have to play the virtual onscreen keyboard. You also can’t record your M3000 performance to a sequencer.

But there’s nothing stopping you from taking this $12 iPad Mellotron onstage or into a home or professional recording studio. Or just whipping it out on a long bus trip or tough day in the cubicle and regaling your companions with impromptu renditions of “Space Oddity.”

I love this app.

14 thoughts on “iPad Mellotron”

  1. Oh. My. God. You just took me right back to my childhood. My Dad had this album and listened to it (unintentionally influencing my own listening habits). I didn’t think anyone else had even heard of this stuff.

    Thanks for the memories.

  2. Wow! I didn’t know you liked King Crimson!

    But seriously… this is pretty cool. Not quite as useful as M-Tron, the software instrument you can buy for use with Pro Tools, Logic, GarageBand, whathaveyou (I use it with GarageBand; you can hear the results by clicking my link), but then again, it’s a $12 iPad app instead of a $90 plugin for multi-hundred-dollar recording software.

    If I can be an insufferable know-it-all for a moment, the Mellotron didn’t actually use tape loops; it used 8-second, spring-loaded tape strips. That way you always get the proper attack on each note, but it also limits how long you can hold a note (of course), and the spring mechanisms were largely responsible for the instrument’s notorious maintenance issues.

  3. Talking about loops, I clicked the “Like” button and now there is a pop-up window opening and closing, opening and closing, opening and closing… (really!).

  4. Awesome. I have been using Mellotron and Orchestron sample sets forever and they add awesomeness to everything. You can’t open up the Orchestron choir without playing “Radioactivity”; it’s physically possible.

    One detail — the original machines didn’t have the tapes in a loop — they were actually just pieces of tape a couple of feet long on a rack that you put inside the machine to load the sounds (convenient!); because they weren’t looped, you could only play them for 8 seconds before they had to rewind. I believe on Space Oddity you can hear Rick Wakeman re-start one of the notes that ran out.

    A truly accurate sample set with never loop! You must be restricted to 8 seconds!

    In the grand scheme of things, it’s deeply nerdy crap like this that is actually important.

  5. the Mellotron didn’t actually use tape loops; it used 8-second, spring-loaded tape strips. That way you always get the proper attack on each note, but it also limits how long you can hold a note (of course), and the spring mechanisms were largely responsible for the instrument’s notorious maintenance issues.

    See? I never knew that. I dream about playing that machine. The white one.

    I believe on Space Oddity you can hear Rick Wakeman re-start one of the notes that ran out.

    I’m going to listen for that. Wait! That’s Rick Wakeman playing Mellotron on “Space Oddity?” Whoa. Worlds collide.

  6. Worlds Collide, indeed. Just yesterday I spent some time on the web reacquainting myself with Adrian Belew, a member of King Crimson starting in the 80’s. Court of the Crimson King is great stuff, and Fripp and Belew and all the rest of the Crims made some amazing music.

  7. I haven’t spent a dime on an app for my iPhone, but that might have to change. I’d forgotten that Wakeman played on Space Oddity…. King Crimson, probably my all-time favorite band.

    Don’t recall the original studio recording, but I do believe there’s a bit of Mellotron on “Easy Money” on Crimson’s live USA album.

    Best regards

  8. Ah the mellotron. I’ve read they were very fussy, but that sound is unmistakable. Did anyone see Squeeze on the Jimmy Fallon show? The keyboard player did his solo on an Ipad. King Crimson, that sure brings up a most memorable story. A few years ago a friend of mine called and said he was headed to Champaign IL to meet up with a friend of his, he said I should come along because one of his friends friends was an excellent guitar player and was in town for a few days. Bob wasn’t sure of his name, just that it was Robert something and his last name was odd. So I went along. We get to his friends house, and had only been there for 5 minutes, a knock on the front door and there was Robert Fripp. As you could imagine being a King Crimson fan and admiring Fripps work with Bowie and Peter Gabriel I went a little slack jawed. He was really nice guy and some of the most fascinating conversations I’ve had to this day. Turned out his friend played sax on the Bears albums (Adrian Belews band). There was a JC12o sitting in the living room, I’m pretty sure it was Adrians. Anyway King Crimson was rehearsing in Champaign. Moral of the story, if a friend calls you up for a road trip it’s best to go, you never know what awaits at the destination.

  9. Jeffrey – I love that you’re still a musician at heart and that you love the unique sound of instruments like the mellotron (clavinet, arp odyssey, oberheim and fender rhodes – it certainly brings back musical memories and probably gives away my age;0).
    The iPad still needs to make its way to sunny South Africa.

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