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ICONIC KEYBOARDS - Hammond B3 and Mellotron M400


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I'm conducting some research into iconic instruments and was wondering what people's opinions are of the Hammond B3 and the Mellotron M400.


Are they iconic?

Why are they iconic?

Does their design effect how iconic they are?


Please post any of your opinions, it would be really helpful.



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Yep the B3 is iconic, as much an American icon as a Harley Davidson I'd say :)


Yes the design influences its status, since the C3 is not as much of an icon, and its only difference is its design.


Why has the B3 become an icon? My feeling is there is a component of luck and style cult involved: Jimmy Smith's dad had one in the woodshed. Before Jimmy Smith, the B3 wasn't an icon.


Just my 2 cents ;)

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The original model A Hammond (which I have one) was often advertised as fitting in the same space as a writing desk and it was manufactured with its furniture-type legs to look like one, and to fit into a home decor. The Mellotron, however, probably was more of a utilitarian design to fit all the components.


Part of the iconic status is the presence of the A/B series organs on so many stages, starting with early innovators such as the Tico-Tico lady organist, and many churches, since the model A style was the first ones in churches (Hammond organ #1 was installed in the Paseo Baptist Church in Kansas City, after being a demo model throughout the U.S.). For more comtemporary keyboards, like the Mellotron, was it's presence on the stage of megagroups like Led Zepplin, Moody Blues, Yes, etc.

Hammond T-582A, Casio WK6600, Behringer D
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It seems pretty obvious that these instruments, along with the Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer e-pianos, the Hohner Clavinet and Pianet, and Yamaha CP70 electric grand, are all iconic. They are all over classic 60s and 70s recordings and qualify as "vintage sounds" in all kinds of ROMplers, samplers, and computer-based sound libraries. People like those sounds, they hark back to a time when musical creativity in the rock/pop world was at its peak.


Unfortunately there is also a ton of hype associated with using these vintage instruments. Too many modern musicians live under the illusion that if only they get the real thing (and not use samples or synthesized emulations), somehow their music will magically become better and everybody will take notice.


Read the following article, it explains this phenomenon quite well: http://www.paul-lehrman.com/insider/1997/07insider.html

It's not about Mellotrons or B3's in particular, but it explains this iconicism associated with vintage gear quite well, in relation to modern trends.

Kurzweil PC3, Yamaha MOX8, Alesis Ion, Kawai K3M
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In my view, recent electric and electronic musical instruments became icons because they revealed a character of their own "contrary to all expectations".


Electromechanical Hammonds were initially supposed to emulate the grand organ. They could to a certain extent, but their sound was obviously different. And people discovered that sound was unique and appealing, despite the difference with a real church organ.


The Mellotron was also build to emulate traditional orchestral instruments. Here too, the idiosyncrasies linked to the particular mechanism of the Mellotron added a tone color that didn't exist in a real violin, choir, flute or brass. People were impressed hearing the haunting tone of the Mellotron and it rapidly became its trademark.

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I think the extremely musical usage of these instruments led them to become iconic. Think of some of these songs:


David Bowie - Space Oddity (Rick Wakeman Mellotron)

Court of the Crimson King - Yes (Robert Fripp Mellotron)

Strawberry Fields Forever - Beatles (Paul McCartney ? on Mellotron)

Almost anything by the Moody Blues with Mike Pinder on Mellotron


A Whiter Shade of Pale - Procol Harum (Matthew Fisher B3)

Let it Be - Beatles (Billy Preston ? on B3)

Magic Carpet Ride - Steppenwolf (B3)

Every Deep Purple album with Jon Lord on B3

Every ELP album prior to "Works" with Keith Emerson on B3, C3, etc.


You can see that my favorites are rock and prog rock oriented, but I'm sure someone else could make a pop, jazz and R&B list, too.


So to me, it's the SOUND that is iconic. Whether it's a Mellotron 400, MkII, Novatron or Chamberlin something-or-other, that's the sound. The Swedish company that is building the new 'trons was there again at Winter NAMM this year, and man, did they always have a crowd around that thing. I even brough some hardcore electronic music friends over and goaded them into playing it.


Same with the Hammonds. The B3, C3 and A100 are electronically identical, IIRC. The BC and Model D have the same tonewheels, just different ways for doing chorus / vibrato and no percussion (can be added -- I did).


The LOOK of those specific instruments you mentioned ... sure, I think those have become iconic, too, purely because we've all seen them so much. If not in person, then in photos and on albums and CD artwork. But the Mellotron 400 isn't aesthetically beautiful to me. I find it to be oddly proportioned and boxy [insert Volvo reference here]. But the sound remains beautiful and timeless, IMO.


Best regards,




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However, while lots of folks still cart around B3's, you see and hear very few mellotrons any more.


One of the things the mellotron did back in the day was imitate an orchestra, without paying for one or making space for one. And while yes it had lots of its own oddities and interesting characteristics, it was a far, far better imitation than anything else in that day. Today, we have much better imitations, and the only folks who use a mellotron or even an imitation of a mellotron are looking for that particular sound. (Or just trying to be "retro".)


Even imitations of mellotron are waning. IMHO, it's just not in the same class as B3 and Rhodes.


I'd put it more in the category of a Yamaha CP70 (my main piano for over 20 years). What a great instrument, and great tone. And particular characteristics that made it different from what it intended to imitate: a real acoustic grand piano. Well, nowadays, most folks use digital pianos and NOT a CP70 or an imitation of a CP70. Even those of us who loved ours dearly all those years.

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I don't know - a lot of people just play the style of music rhodes and B3's are featured in. If I was in a recorder ensemble I'd have a recorder. I have to say though I went to a wood XK System and I get all kinds of interest questions and comments from the occasional afficianado in the crowd at intermission about it because it looks just like a B3 even though it's just an elaborate clone that sounds exactly like one. I guess that hulking appearance counts for something.
"Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."
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Right, but a lot of people play music that takes strings and don't need a mellotron. What I mean is, Rhodes and B3 created a much bigger niche for their particular sounds than did Mellotron. I'd put them on entirely different levels.


On the other hand, it might just be that a Mellotron is so darn expensive to own and to keep running. I had a friend, high school keyboard wizard whose mother won $10K in the lottery. This was back in the early 70s. She gave him the bucks to get a C3, Mellotron, and Minimoog. He also played guitar and sang, and maybe some of the money went to support those (if there was any left over after the big three).


Well, for many years afterwards, that guy hauled that C3 to every gig, while the Mellotron usually stayed home. It's pretty obvious why. He was mostly a progressive rock player, though he could cover anything from Mozart to Moze Allison.

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