Q: As a fan of bands like The Moody Blues, The Beatles, Yes, King Crimson, and other groups that made use of the Mellotron, I wondered what the differences are between the Mellotron and the Chamberlin. Also, which came first?
A: Wow, that’s a complex question, but we’ll try for a simple answer. Californian Harry Chamberlin was building about one self-named, tape-based instrument every three to six months in the very early 1960s. An investor named Bill Fransen thought there must be a better, faster way to produce the Chamberlin, so he took two to England in 1962 in search of a company that could produce them on a commercial scale. He eventually made contact with Leslie Bradley, who along with his brothers had a company in Birmingham, England called Bradmatic, Ltd. (later Streetly Electronics). They manufactured semi-professional analog tape recorders and magnetic heads. Initially, Fransen asked for a bid for 70 matched reproduction heads, but once he realized the company’s potential, he got financing, helped locate a factory and eventually the first Mark I Mellotron was produced – a clone of the original Chamberlin. Eventually, the instrument evolved into the Mellotron Model 400, which most of us are familiar with, which carried a list price of almost $4,000. Ultimately, only about 1,850 Mellotron Model 400s were ever built.
Bonus factoid: The Moody Blues original keyboardist, Mike Pinder, actually worked in the factory producing the Mark II for about 18 months before leaving to join the group sometime in 1964. A photo of the Mark II is on the back of the album, In Search of the Lost Chord.