The Mellotron first saw the light of day in the UK, in Birmingham, in 1963. It was played using keys that dragged tape across a contact point. It was cumbersome, clumsy, and could be very unreliable. King Crimson were early users in 1969 on “In the Court of the…” as were Tangerine Dream in the 70s.
Production ended in 1986, but its sounds were popularized in the 90s, and it came back into fashion. It made an appearance on some Radiohead and Oasis albums. Contrary to what some think, Pink Floyd never used one on the road. They did own an early version and did record with it, but that was only for a brief period.
A brave attempt…
What has this to do with Electro-Harmonix? Nothing much other than they have tried to recreate some of its sounds and put them in a stompbox. And that is a very brave thing to do. A mellotron guitar pedal is not something other pedal makers would even consider.
But then that is what Electro-Harmonix (EHX) is all about. Risk-taking and creativity resulted in some of the best guitars pedals ever. So, before we dive into our Electro-Harmonix MEL9 Review, let’s remember who EHX are and how they got here.
Mike Matthews set up the company in 1968. And they have designed and manufactured some great pedals. When Dave Gilmour, along with others, chose to use the Big Muff, Mike had arrived. The original Big Muff is still one of the best EHX pedals ever.
It all went about a bit quiet in the 80s as they concentrated on valves. But the 90s saw them back by popular demand. These days they create some more than interesting pedals. Brave and innovative certainly. They seem to throw themselves into designs other manufacturers balk at.
Electro-Harmonix MEL9 – Overview
If we are talking about ambitious designs, then this must sit close to the top. Guitarists who had MIDI guitars could use the sounds of the Mellotron before. But as far as we know, there hasn’t been a plug-in-and-play option before. A stompbox with Mellotron sounds.
It also hasn’t been Electro-Harmonix’s first try at doing something a little different. We have had the B9 and C9 organ guitar effects and the Key 9 piano guitar effect pedals. The MEL9 goes way beyond those.
The best of the Mellotron…
The Mellotron was known for some of its sounds. Some have been placed in the history of music. It wasn’t that they replicated exactly the instrument sound. It was more that they hinted at it. You were in no doubt what it was trying to be, but it just made it sound ‘different’. That is why it was so good.
The Mel 9 guitar pedal shows deference to some of those great sounds. Of course, the top of the list is the orchestra or individual strings or cellos. But also the clarinet and the flute, some brass with a separate saxophone, and a high and low choir. All of this is now available on your guitar fingerboard.
All of these sounds are instantly recognizable as the Mellotron. They are not identical sounds, it must be said. That wouldn’t be possible, yet. But you can clearly hear what they are likened to.
It will even work with a bass guitar. Just plug in and select your instrument. To add even more, it has sustain and attack controls that let you create your own sound from the basic reproduction.
So, let’s take a closer look at the Electro-Harmonix MEL9…
A bit larger than your standard pedal, it measures 7.25 by 6.2 by 3.25 inches and weighs in at 1.6 pounds. Therefore, it is going to take up a bit of room on your pedalboard. It’s what might be called a ‘luxury’ pedal that could be a problem for some.
It has a very strong all-metal build. The four black control knobs are located at the top, and they are a little cramped together. Below them the effect selector knob in white.
Space versus practicality…
Of course, manufacturers have to play off space against practicality. You can’t make the pedal too big. And this one is already larger than most. By keeping it as compact as possible, it means control knobs are close together. That doesn’t make it easy to use sometimes.
It runs off a 9-volt power adapter which is included. There are three ¼ inch sockets, which we shall mention in the next section, a strongly built footswitch and status light. Whilst it is designed with the guitar in mind, it will work with keyboards, of course, and even a bass guitar to a certain extent. As a result, this is one of the most versatile effects pedals around.
The three ¼ inch jack sockets are for input on the right side and effect and dry on the left. Having an effect and a dry output lets, you create two amp setups and have the perfect mix of effect and basic signal.
The effect and dry volume controls are situated on the left of the control bank. Next to them, the attack and sustain. These give you options for controlling the release time and swell speed, allowing you to fine-tune the sound.
This is located below the other control dials and features the instrument options. There are nine for you to choose from listed by numbers. The options are printed below with their selector numbers for ease of use.
This is where we see differing opinions, and we will discuss this further a bit later. What this pedal does is try to reproduce those mellotron sounds. We have read that it emulates them. That is not technically correct. Emulate means it matches or improves on. It doesn’t do that, and no pedal ever could.
What it does is give you is a very ethereal, ‘Mellotrony’ sound. As we said, you can recognize what each of the nine instruments is supposed to be. The sound is actually quite good and certainly different. It isn’t going to suit everyone or every genre of music. But the sound created certainly has its place.
The decision will be whether what it does is worth the price. This is no cheap option by any stretch of the imagination. But then again, the best effects pedals rarely are. And while this may not be one of the best pedals, it is certainly a unique one.
Electro-Harmonix MEL9 Review – Pros and Cons
- Good strong all-metal build quality.
- 9-volt power adapter included.
- Mimics the nine most loved Mellotron sounds.
- Gives you a range of unique sounds.
- The size of the pedal might be a problem for some.
- It mimics but does not reproduce the exact Mellotron sound.
- Rather expensive.
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Electro-Harmonix MEL9 Review – Final Thoughts
To begin with, to fully appreciate the Electro-Harmonix MEL9, you probably need two things. Firstly, to be familiar with the Mellotron and the sound it makes. Secondly, to have heard it on albums in action. Then you can understand why this pedal has been created.
This is probably Electro-Harmonix’s most ambitious pedal yet. Following on from their organ sound-a-likes, the B9 and C9 and the piano equivalent the Key 9, this goes a stage further. It produces a range of recognizable sounds.
Who would get the most from this pedal?
If you think this is a Mellotron in a small box, you will be disappointed; if you are expecting the exact same sound, you will be disappointed again. This mimics the sounds and creates a whole new set of options for the guitar.
It has its negatives, size and cost being the most obvious, but the plus points exceed those. It will only appeal to a limited audience, we are sure. But for those that like sound experimentation, this a great option.
So, until next time, may the music make you mellow.