About the Reworking of the Original Tape Masters
I purchased the original Mellotron tape masters from Les Bradley in 1990, this was 7 months after picking up the Mellotronics 1 in. masters from Mellotron Digital in Clearwater, FL. These two collections were separated in 1970 when Mellotronics became the London based sales arm of Streetly Electronics. Les Bradley produced the 3/8ths in. tapes and what I refer to as "work masters" from 1/4 in. full track original recordings and would copy these work masters to produce tapes for trons that he shipped from the Streetly factory. Les would also send a copy of these 3/8ths tapes to Mellotronics, there to be copied to 1 in. eight track format. This would allow Mellotronics to offer more sound combinations from fewer reels. There are 21 of these 1 in. work masters and 1 16 track 2 in. safety copy. I also have made DAT and ADAT copies, stored in another location.
Of the tapes that I received from Les, there are the original 42 3trk selections as advertised on the Mellotron 400 brochure, a large number of custom combinations , original Chamberlin leads master, the original Mk II leads, rhythms and fills master, the original MK I leads, rhythms and fills master, M300 rhythm and leads set A and set B masters, original masters of Mellotron performances by Bill Fransen and others for various promotional broadcasts and the original 1/4 in. full track unedited recordings of most of the instruments that we have come to know so well.
Obviously a large body of work at approximately 350 reels of tape. You should have seen the shipping bills that year.
This was the only source I had for Mellotron and Chamberlin sounds. When I received an order, I would look for the reel with that combination on it and copy it using the original tape machines from Mellotronics. This was a LONG lesson in Mellotron tape making science. There were many problems. First, these tapes are old. The 1/4 in. stuff recorded in the early 60's on AGFA tape is oddly the best of the lot. They barely shed a speck when played. The Scotch 202, EMI and Maxell tapes on the other hand were wearing thin. In particular, the Maxell 1 in. tapes were losing oxide at an alarming rate. This coupled with the fact that there are odd tuning problems, (orignal Pipe Organ, GADS!!) and little bias pops etc. littered along the Mellosound landscape.
The scenario: I get the order, I find the source tape and record a copy. During the recording I would sometimes find that things were fine OR there was a pop, squeals, bad tuning, dropouts, etc. Now what? Call the customer and explain the problem (remember: Les used these tapes as well), so does he want these tapes warts and all (original as can be) or change his order? There is usually 3 or 4 places to find the same combination and sometimes I would get lucky.
Suffice it to say that these problems became more and more irratating with time. Finally, in 1995, Markus Resch and I started talking about compiling new work masters from the original 1/4 in. tape collection. This is something that Les and I talked about often. He wanted to do this in 1977 but never was given the go ahead by George Clouston to do so.
This decision required a great deal of consideration. How do we fix the problems with tuning? Restore an old set of Ampex 300 series tube record modules and transport, varispeed it as needed. Lots of listening and note taking insued. How do we fix the pops and dropouts? Only one possible answer here. Computer editing (with Sound Forge 2.0) was used to remove the uglies and then re-recorded to the tube Ampex equipment. How much tuning? Not so much as to destroy the sound and feel of a Mellotron tape set but enough to make it usable. Some hard decisions here to be sure. I have worked all of my adult life as a professional musician and I believe it served me well in making tuning choices. These were only a few of the problems encountered.
This project took 9 months to complete including the edits on the Chamberlin masters. We can now make analog tape copies that are only two generations from the original 1/4 in. recordings. These tapes have been sold by myself for the last 3 years now to rave reviews. I will however, make tapes from the original work masters if asked but I won't guarantee that they will satisfy.
This needed to happen and has fixed numerous problems: the timing is better, the tuning is right, most of the bias pops and all of the dropouts have been removed and turn around time for tape orders is now 1 week. Many thanks to Les, Tony Clarke, Mike Pinder, Terry Kelley, the folks at Sonic Foundry, and most of all to Markus Resch for helping make this happen.They actually made most of the work fun.
I feel very lucky to have gotten to know these tapes to such an intimate degree. The personality of the cast of characters in the studio shines through often and there are some very funny moments. Someday, I will compile an outtake audio cassette of this stuff to share with you. The revival that Mellotron Archives undertook 8 years ago is a labor of love that started in 1963 with the Brothers Bradley, Eric Robinson, Harry Chamberlin and Bill Franson. I hope they approve.
David Kean, 6-29-97.