The Chamberlin

Trailer for the documentary 'Mellodrama' by Dianna Dilworth that explores how the haunting sound of an ingenious device changed the sound of pop music, featuring plenty well known artists.

The Chamberlin is a tape based keyboard. Underneath each key is an individual tape playing mechanism. Each tape is pre-recorded with various musical instruments or special effects. When the player presses down a key, the tape is played. When the player releases the key, the sound stops, and the tape rewinds. Each tape is only about 8 seconds long.

The Chamberlin Model 3 (1960-1969)

 It was developed by inventor Harry Chamberlin from 1949 to 1956, when the first model was introduced. It was the world's first sample-playback keyboard.

Harry Chamberlin

In 1962 his salesman went to England taking two models with him. There he started manufacturing them under the name Mellotron without Harry’s knowledge.  In 1965 Harry became aware of this and a deal was made: Mellotrons would only be sold in England and Chamberlins would be sold in the USA.

3 violins

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. This sound became the Mellotron's main sound, it was used on much of the output of British Mellotron pop in the 1960s. 

The M1 model emerged in 1970. It features higher quality playback tape heads
 and greater bandwidth than the Mellotron. Also, this unit was a table-top version, 
and much smaller than the earlier models.

By the end of the 1970s, digital synthesizers took over the market and Chamberlin ended M1 production in 1981. Harry Chamberlin died in 1986. Only a total of under 700 Chamberlins were made from 1951 to 1981, and less than 50 working models are accounted for today.

next time: ?


  1. I am doing a little blog ramble today, after checking in with OPOD, and Nate. Those two keep it interesting. Your blog kind of reminds me of the big back room in my parents house. Lots of old stuff, it even latter got dubbed "the Museum". I enjoyed my travels in blog land today, glad I finally "stopped" by. If by chance you are a Walt Disney blog, you might want to check our, Our Minnie Memories, good times.

  2. Thank you Momma Nic. Blog ramblings can be fun indeed! I'll visit your Minnie Blog soon.