Besides effects, entirely new ground-breaking musical instruments were developed during this time period including the analog synthesizer and
the more obscure mellotron. The history of synthesizers is
well documented in literature, but the mellotron — a
unique beast indeed — seems to have been mostly
forgotten over time.
You may now be asking yourself if you have ever
heard the sound of a mellotron before, so I have prepared
a short playlist (shown in Table 1) comprised of some of
the most famous songs in which a mellotron was used.
If you are younger than 50, you may never have heard
these songs before, but that’s an even better reason to
check them out.
Being a consummate tinkerer, I have built just about
every instrument/effect that has caught my attention over
the years; some in hardware, some in software, and some
using both. A couple of these projects have been
published in Nuts & Volts, including:
• “Building an Electric Guitar” in the June 2013 issue
• “MIDI Buddy” in the February 2015 issue
I also wrote a four-part series of articles for the now
defunct Dr. Dobb’s Journal about creating electronic
music components in software. If you’re interested in
reading them, they are still available online at:
• Part 1: http://drdobbs.com/java/229700113
• Part 2: http://drdobbs.com/java/230500178
• Part 3: http://drdobbs.com/java/231000557
• Part 4: http://drdobbs.com/java/231002076
Finally, I published a book about electronic musical
effects in software called, “Digital Audio with Java,”
published by Prentice-Hall (it’s now out of print).
One instrument I haven’t attempted to buy or build
(until now) was a mellotron; although I have very much
appreciated its use in progressive rock music. It’s possible
to buy one these days, but the cost is prohibitive for an
amateur musician like me.
This project began when I was reading a news group
one evening and it mentioned that a mellotron digital
sample set was available for free. I hadn’t thought about a
mellotron in years, but this piqued my interest once again.
A week or two later, I was reading HackADay.com
and it mentioned a Raspberry Pi sample player called
SamplerBox, available as open source code from a person
named Joseph Ernest. The code (written in Python) had
incredible specs — including 120 note polyphony — so, I
immediately put the samples together with the sample
player. The result is this project.
In this article, I will present a digital version of a
mellotron based on the Raspberry Pi 3 and Joseph Ernest’s
SamplerBox software that can be built relatively
inexpensively. Check out Figure 1 for a cost comparison.
So, What Exactly is a
According to Wikipedia,
“The Mellotron is an electro-mechanical polyphonic
tape replay keyboard ... that
works by pulling a section
of magnetic tape across a
Figure 2 shows a
mellotron being played.
These instruments typically
have 35 keys, with each
key coupled to a tape loop
as shown in Figure 3.
Thirty-five keys meant 35
Post comments on this article and find any associated files and/or downloads at
Group Song Link
King Crimson The Court of the Crimson King https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvCmtHDDuu0
Moody Blues Tuesday Afternoon https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEMuAnFH_lM
Beatles Strawberry Fields Forever https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UQK-UcRezE
Genesis Watcher of the Skies https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57Hic Yc Y4Ow
David Bowie Space Oddity https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i YYRH4apXDo
Yes And You and I https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-rdL2Kkvz Y
Rolling Stones 2000 Light Years from Home https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcy8o0gj-A0
■ FIGURE 1.
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