Mellotron MKII Model Keyboard

Mellotron MKII model keyboard, serial number 108.

The Mellotron is essentially 70 tape recorders in a box, set up as a traditional keyboard instrument. Pressing a key activated one of the pre-recorded tapes inside, stocked with sounds as diverse as pitched strings and brass to rhythm effects and entire musical passages, although any held note would stop after 10 seconds.

The Mellotron was the younger brother of an American invention, the Chamberlin M1 keyboard, devised in the late 1940s by Harry Chamberlin. A Chamberlin representative named Bill Fransen visited England in the early 1960s, ostensibly in search of tape-head manufacturers but more likely on the lookout for a marketing opportunity.

Fransen stumbled on Bradmatic, an electro-mechanical engineering firm in Birmingham, run by the Bradley brothers Les, Frank and Norman. Soon, Fransen and the Bradleys, minus Harry Chamberlin, formed the British sales and distribution company Mellotronics, with plans for the Bradleys to manufacture a copy of the Chamberlin, the Mellotron Mark I, in 1963.

Changes delayed the prototype, and the Mark II appeared in 1964. Its retail price then was a daunting £1,000 (about $2,800 then; around £11,500, or $16,200, in today’s market). Serial number 108 makes this a very early manufactured Mellotron keyboard.

Wyman’s diary entry notes “My Mellotron was delivered to my house on 1st Dec, 1966. I seem to remember mine cost £830 if I’m not mistaken (the office paid for it).” The Rolling Stones used Mellotrons on many of their recordings.

38 1/2 by 50 by 26 1/2 inches