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GForce M-Tron MkII

Software Instrument By Gordon Reid
Published May 2022

GForce M-Tron MkII

Veteran software Mellotron specialists GForce have recreated the sounds of the earliest models with startling accuracy.

No matter what else life throws at me, I fear that I will go to my grave thinking of myself as the man who gave away one of the three surviving MkI Mellotrons. For free. Nowt. Rien. Nichts. Nada. Dim. (The last of which is Welsh for ‘nothing’ rather than a comment upon my sadly lacking acumen.) In my defence, it was in the 1980s and, at the time, that was about the right price for the beast. But that’s no excuse. Fortunately, I was later able to acquire the fabled Half'A'Tron (Sound On Sound, March 2015) so I am still in a position to compare GForce’s latest offering, the M‑Tron MkII, to the real thing. Described by the company as “a celebration of the original mother of all Trons”, this emulates the original MkIs and MkIIs whose sounds remain as desirable as they were nearly six decades ago.

Downloading and installing it proved painless on my Mac, as did running it as a standalone instrument or as a plug‑in in Digital Performer or Plogue Bidule, and I must admit that I really like its design, which has just the right vintage vibe. I then set everything up to control it using an 88‑note Trinity Pro X, although a pair of small Arturia MIDI controllers worked just as well.

Is This A Melly I See Before Me?

Echoing the original, the soft synth has two 35‑note manuals, with that on the left used primarily to replay pre‑recorded Rhythms (actually, complete orchestrations) and their associated Accompaniments, while that on the right can do the same or play many of the conventional Mellotron sounds with which we’re all familiar. With the right‑hand manual in its Rhythm and Accompaniment mode, each offers a tone shaping HP/LP filter, as well as controls for pitch, pan, mute, Rhythm/Accompaniment balance, reverse playback and tape rewind, the last of which performs a virtual two‑second rewind so that, as on the original, you play the virtual tape from whatever position it has reached if you re‑press a key while its tape is still returning to its start position. The final control here is Host Sync On/Off (see 'Host Sync' box).

A slightly different set of parameters appears when the right‑hand manual is in Lead mode, whereupon it loses the Host Sync button and Balance knob, but gains a polyphonic AR envelope generator that shapes each note individually, plus velocity sensitivity that affects loudness, and distinctly over‑sensitive aftertouch that slows down playback and therefore lowers the pitch if you lean too hard on the ‘virtual’ tapes. There’s also a half‑speed button that emulates a modification that some owners made to their Mellotrons. This caused each tape to be replayed an octave lower than recorded to create some wonderfully dark sounds, and so it is here.

The balance between the two manuals is controlled using the largest knob in the GUI and, following this in the signal chain, there are two effects sections — a delay and a reverb — to which you can direct the output from either or both manuals. The delay has individual length and feedback controls for the left and right channels. These allow you to set up different effects for each sound when you’ve hard‑panned the manuals, while a cross‑feedback button also allows you to create ping‑pong effects. When free‑running, the delay time ranges from zero to two seconds, but you can also synchronise it to the host system. The reverb’s controls are even simpler, with just length and decay, plus buttons to choose Type I (modern) or Type II (MkII spring) algorithms. I was going to dismiss Type II because, had a digital reverb been available in 1963, I’m sure that the Mellotron’s manufacturers would have used it. But there are some sounds that cry out for something that goes ‘boingg’, so it was a good decision to include both. Unfortunately, the effects are only applied in parallel, so you can’t apply reverb to the repeats generated by the delay. I think that a switch to determine whether they are placed in parallel or in series would have been a valuable addition.

To the left of the manuals you’ll find a Chord button (of which more in a moment) plus pitch‑bend and modulation wheels that can control either or both manuals. You can direct the mod wheel (and therefore its physical counterpart on your controller keyboard) to multiple destinations simultaneously, and it can also act as a brake, slowing playback all the way down to stationary, which was a trick that some players employed to create special effects on original ’Trons. To the manuals’ right you’ll also find — in addition to the right manual mode selector and the envelope and velocity controls– MIDI CC, Key Edit and UI Size buttons. The first of these provides access to the MIDI CC editor, allowing you to allocate MIDI channels to the manuals and automate every control except for the right manual mode; the second gives you access to detailed key parameter editing (see box); the third is the GUI size selector.

As the owner of the ninth Mellotron ever built, I can attest that the M‑Tron MkII is the closest thing yet to a ‘soft’ recreation of the original.

The Sounds

Since the M‑Tron MkII is a sample playback machine, its output is determined by the choice of its included sounds. GForce partnered with Martin Smith and John Bradley at Streetly Electronics to create these, selecting and tweaking the original recordings where necessary to ensure that their quality and usability is greater than ever before. Sure, a large part of the charm of the Mellotron was to be found in its inconsistencies but, while the guys sought to remove the worst of these — which sometimes made it impossible to partner one sound with another — nothing has been done that damages the underlying character.

They also resisted the temptation to turn the Rhythms and Accompaniments (and maybe even some of the Lead tapes) into loops. I must admit that I could have been persuaded to do so and offer these as options but I suspect that, had I been identified as the person responsible, I might have been attacked by hordes of crazed...

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