mellotron > models > cousins

The Mellotron directly comes from the Chamberlin (see "A Mellotron history").

In1946, in California, Harry Chamberlin created a musical instrument that was able to play pre-recorded magnetic tapes. Somehow, it was the first sampler in history.

Harry Chamberlin interview - Crawdaddy April 1976 (pdf) (thanks to Brian Kehew)

Model 100 Rhythmate

The first model, the Model 100 Rhythmate, could play 14 drum loops recorded on 1/4" tapes, with one track on each tape. This instrument was designed for household purposes ; it was produced from 1948 to 1949, and around ten units were made. Taking advantage of the Model 100's success, Harry Chamberlin started up a shop in Upland, California.

Model 200

The next model, the Model 200, could play 1/4" tapes, which didn't use loops anymore. The recordings were sounds of musical instruments (flute, violins, oboe,...). There still was a single track per tape, but it was the first Chamberlin with a system of multiple sound banks. This model was produced from 1951 to 1959 (100 units approximately).

Up until 1969, the next Chamberlin models used 3/8" tapes with 3 tracks per tape :

Model 300/350

1960 to1969 - approx. 200 units

Model 300
chamberlin 300chamberlin 300

Model 400

1961 - one single unit

Model 500

1961 - 2 or 3 units

Model 600/660 Music Master

1962 to 1969 - approx. 200 units

Model 600 chamberlin 600    Model 660 chamberlin 660chamberlin 660chamberlin 660

The Model 600/660 had two 35 note keyboards : the right hand keyboard was used for lead instruments, while the left hand one was used for rhythmic accompaniments. This particular Chamberlin model was the blueprint for the first Mellotron Mark I, which had the same features, with an improved overall conception.

25/35/45 Rhythmate

1960 to 1969 - approx. 100 units

Rhythmate 45
chamberlin rhythmate 45chamberlin rhythmate 45chamberlin rhythmate 45chamberlin rhythmate 45chamberlin rhythmate 45
. photos : ebay

As soon as 1970, Harry Chamberlin gave up the concept of instruments with several sound banks, and created a new series of instruments (800 Riviera, M1, M2, M4), using 1/2" tapes with 8 tracks per tape, and a stereo playing system. This series was produced from 1970 to 1981.

800 Riviera

1970 - 2 units

  chamberlin 800 Riviera


The M1 had a 35 note keyboard. It was the most widespread and the most complete model. About 300 units were made.

chamberlin M1chamberlin M1chamberlin M1chamberlin M1chamberlin M1chamberlin M1
. photos : ebay

M1 brochure (thanks to Brian Kehew)


The M2 (or M1D) had a right hand, 35 note keyboard, and a left hand, 25 note keyboard (5 units).


The M4 was basically two M2s in a single cabinet : thus, it had 4 keyboards. 4 units were produced. Mike Pinder used a M4 on The Moody Blues' "Seventh Sojourn" album. Reportedly, Vincent Gallo is now the owner of this Mellotron M4.

photo from a Japanese advertisement (thanks to Taka - Tokyo Mellotron Studio)

20/30/40 Rhythmate

1975 to 1980

The sounds of the Chamberlin (especially those of the M1, M2, M4 series) were more realistic and "truer" than those of the Mellotron. This was due to different preamps, and tape heads of better quality. However, the sound alterations caused by the Mellotron's low fidelity paradoxically gave it more charm, and were the source of typical and immediately recognizable sounds.

The recordings were produced and supervised by Lawrence Welk in Harry Chamberlin's house. The only sound that the Chamberlin and the Mellotron had in common was the famous "3 violins", that was created in 1952 for the Chamberlin, and that you could find in 1964's Mellotron Mark II.


For more information : Mellotron Archives




Vibes (w/vibrato)
Bells (glockenspiel)
Tibia Organ
Kinura Organ
Electric Harpsichord
Flute/String Organ

Alto Sax
Tenor Sax
French Horn
Do Wah Trombone
Slur Trombone
Muted Trumpet

Bass Clarinet




Male Voice (solo)
Female Voice (solo)

3 Violins
Pizzicato violins

Slur Guitar
Steel Guitar
Harp solo
Harp Roll
Harp 7th Arpeggio


Dixieland Band Phrases
Sound Effects


The Moody Blues

Seventh Sojourn (1972)

 For My Lady  (flute, accordion)

David Bowie

Low (1977)

 Warszawa  (flute, cello)


Attahk (1977)

 Dondaï  (violins)


It's a Wonderful Life (2001)

 Gold Day  (flute)

Fiona Apple

Tidal (1996)

 The Child Is Gone  (mandolin, female voice, violins, pizzicato violins)

Rufus Wainwright

Rufus Wainwright (1998)

 Barcelona - excerpt 1  (cello, violins)       Barcelona - excerpt 2  (flute, cello)