Paul White cruises down memory lane in style, with the bargain‑priced M‑Tron Mellotron soundalike VST Instrument plug‑in.
G‑Force's Mac‑ and PC‑compatible M‑Tron VST plug‑in is a software emulation of the perennially popular Mellotron 'tape‑based sample player', perhaps best known for providing the flute sound used on the intro to 'Strawberry Fields Forever'. In the '70s, the Mellotron was favoured by prog‑rockers King Crimson and Genesis, in the '80s by electronic popsters OMD for their ethereal choir sounds, and recently it has enjoyed another revival under the auspices of Beck, Eels, and Oasis. The MkII and M400 Mellotrons, on which this plug‑in is loosely based, had a 35‑note keyboard mechanically linked to a rack of analogue tapes containing short recordings of instruments or vocal phrases. The tapes, which were only eight seconds long, played whenever a key was pressed, then rewound when the key was released. The makers of this plug‑in took their samples from original Mellotron tapes (some with audible signs of wear and tear, even though samples were taken from different Mellotrons to get the best‑quality results) and did not loop them, for the sake of authenticity. I'm not surprised, actually, as the pitch and timbral variation they exhibit could have made this difficult.
Individual samples of classic string, choir, flute and other key sounds are used for each of the 35 notes. Fewer samples are used for the rhythm loops and chordal instruments, but there are never less than 16. The Tone (progressive high cut) and Pitch (+/‑ 15 percent) controls of the original M400 are emulated, and there's a pair of sliders to alter the attack and release time of the sample playback.
Controlling the plug‑in is done from a very simple window with a three‑way 'bakelite' pointer knob. There are only two screen displays, but the extra knob position is needed to close the lid on them and keep your desktop looking tidy! One screen provides the Attack and Release faders mentioned above, while the other allows you to select and load presets. Volume, Tone and Pitch knobs are always available, and there's a virtual keyboard that may be used to audition the samples.
The plug‑in installs from a CD which comes packaged in a fetching cardboard flightcase, while the manual doubles as the CD packet! I had to restart after installing, but after that everything worked fine, with no appreciable latency.
The 35 sounds available within this plug‑in (shown in the 'Presets' box) are quite characteristic of the Mellotron instrument and include some wonderfully dated rhythm/accompaniment loops that might just be old enough to become fashionable again! The 'Sad Strings' sound is also fun, as each key triggers a different pathos‑inducing string phrase.
No attempt has been made to disguise the wow and flutter of the original Mellotron sound. Purists will tell you that this is all part of the magic, but heard in isolation, some of the notes exhibit noticeable pitch and tuning wobbles and background mechanical noises. However, if you play chords, or use the sounds in a mix, the result is pure nostalgia, conjuring up images of orchestral soundtracks from well‑worn black‑and‑white movies. You'll soon come across that 'strawberry flute', and many other familiar sounds, too. Real‑time control can be exercised via MIDI controllers, in true plug‑in fashion, but there's no pitch‑bend or modulation, as that would be going against the spirit of the original.
The M‑Tron offers a relatively limited set of sounds, but it's an inexpensive plug‑in that's easy to use and delivers all the classic Mellotron signature sounds with character and authenticity. In short, if you're into retro sounds, the M‑Tron is a must.
- Accordion Chords.
- Bass Accordion.
- Brass 1&2.
- Choir 1‑3.
- English Accordion.
- Mixed Brass.
- Rhythm 1‑7.
- Sad Strings.
- Strings 1‑3.
- Trombones and Trumpets.
- Violins 1&2.
- Very authentic sounding.
- Limited range of useful sounds.
This plug‑in should keep a lot of old hippies very happy. Well, I like it!