Tronto MKII Mellotron Workshop

Recording and Processing the Mellotron

Prepared by Fritz Doddy

  1. The Basics
    1. Cleanliness is next to godliness. Clean tron and recording heads before any important session. Isopropyl alcohol and cotton swabs will do just fine.
    2. Are we comfy yet? An air-conditioned environment, or one with low humidity will keep your tron sparkling and happy.
    3. The Cable Guy. Make sure your cables are post WWII and adequately shielded.
    4. Chiropractic Care. Is your tron well adjusted?


  2. Inputs and Recording mediums
    1. Going direct? Use an active direct box or a preamp that has a line level input.
    2. Hot, hot, hot! The M400 output is hot, so beware.
    3. A tube preamp is recommended. A tube preamp will accentuate even harmonics.
    4. Recording through an amp? A Fender Twin Reverb, Concert or even a Roland JC-120 will do just fine. Experiment! Shure SM57ís, Sennheiser 421ís are good dynamic mic choices. Neumann TLM 103ís are my recommendation for a condenser mic. Try a ribbon mic if you want less high end presence.
    5. For either digital or analog recording, get the most signal onto tape/disk as possible before distortion sets in. Analog formats vary widely, so experiment with compression and e.q. depending on your environment.


  3. Processing
    1. Sweet E.Q. Ė3 to-5db at 850hz to 1200hz w/ 1 to 2 octave Q, and +1 to +3db at 3500hz to 4500hz w/ 1 to 2 octave Q will yield a sweeter e.q. (these are based on personal taste and applied to the 3 violins).
    2. Dark E.Q. +2 to +4db at 400hz to 500hz w/ 3 octave Q, and +1 to +3db at 2200hz to 2700hz will yield a darker e.q.
    3. High pass filters (rumble filters) are recommended for sounds whose fundamental tone is above 85hz to 120hz. The tron does rumble.
    4. Compression. Soft-knee or opto compression will be less noticeable. Experiment!
    5. Time based effects. These are the most personal in terms of preference but a few guidelines will help you focus your ideas. When using delays remember that delay times synced to tempo are great for beat based music but have a tendency to sound like they are actual sequenced notes. Using delay times that are not musical multiples will let the delay "play" in the holes. Avoid using chorus, flange and phaser effects that achieve their stereo image by placing one out-of-phase signal in the opposite channel from the in phase signal. Your sound will not only disappear in mono, but the "phasiness" of the effect never sits in the track quite right. Long reverb times will have a tendency to disappear on long musical lines. Try early reflections with delays for an ambient sound that is less muddy than gobs of reverb.
    6. Filter effects. Trons love low pass and high pass resonant filters. From boxes as simple as a Boss Touch-Wah or an ElectroHarmonix Bassballs to esoteric units like the Sherman Filter Bank or software plugins available for all digital audio sequencers, there are myriad ways to transform your tron into a psychedelic instrument. My personal favorite is Pluggoís Harmonic filter preset, available as a VST plugin, which accentuates different harmonics of the input signal.
    7. Reverse it! Trons love to be reversed. Youíve come up with a part. Now play the last note first and the first note last and record it that way. Reverse it and line it up musically so it imitates your original partís rhythmic placement. Voila! Instant freaky tron.
    8. Phasers. Phasers work well on trons as well, but like other sound sources, the effect is more noticeable on longer legato lines and is most pronounced on chordal material.
    9. Placement order of processing. As a general rule, I use the following signal flow,
      • Compression
      • EQ
      • Short, modulated time base effect or filter effect
      • Longer delay effects
      • Reverb

      This is only my standard method of working. Moving the placement around will yield widely varying results. As a general rule though I always compress before I EQ.


  4. The Intangibles

    1. Tracking your performance. Often times it can be beneficial to track your performance in separate passes, separating longer legato notes from shorter ones. Although it may be a pain to relearn your well conceived part as two separate performances, you will have greater control over how you can process them.
    2. Trons donít like wimps. After you arrange your part, play it with conviction and donít try to do more than you are technically capable of. Save the volume rides for mixdown if you can.
    3. Tuning. With 3 violins, I strongly urge tracking the bottom two octaves from the top two, for obvious reasons unless the other instruments in your arrangement are of a similar temperament. If you are unsure of your tuning, it is better to be flat than sharp.
    4. You are never as outrageous as you think you are. When going for an effect, whether it be compositionally, technically or from a recording standpoint, make yourself nervous.
    5. Good Luck!