Plug-in Review—Tapeworm by Tweakbench

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   Dynamics 101




     What resulted was a partnership between the inventor and 3 brothers, Frank, Norm and Lesley Bradley. The original name was Mellotronics and the company that the Bradley brothers founded, Bradmatic, became Streetly Electronics.


The mechanism that produces the Mellotron’s sound involves length of recording tape (usually 8 seconds or so) that is pre-recorded with the sound desired  for each key on the keyboard. When a key is depressed, a roller moves the tape past the playback head and the sound is routed to an amplifier and speaker (or recorded directly). When the key is released a spring pulls the tape back to the beginning. Inconsistencies in the tape heads and the inherent tape compression, wow, and flutter contributed greatly to the unique appeal of the Mellotron.


    Originally they were intended for home use and had two separate keyboards, side by side. The left keyboard usually had accompaniment samples loaded while the right had lead instruments like flutes, guitars, etc. Click here for a video that demonstrates the home version of the machine. Later, a single keyboard was used and they were beefed up internally to take the stress of touring as well as slimmed down physically to make them more portable. This model was painted white and was known as the M400. Tara Busch demonstrates a newer Mellotron in this video.


     Many popular songs have been recorded using a Mellotron but one of the first was “Strawberry Fields Forever” by The Beatles after Mike Pinder of the Moody Blues introduced the instrument to them (He just happened to have worked for the company that produced the Mellotron for about 18 months). Although other artists in the mid to late 1960’s used them on recordings, it wasn’t until the 1970’s that they really became the mainstay of progressive rock bands such as Yes, King Crimson, David Bowie and Genesis. 


     I originally downloaded another Mellotron plug-in, Nanotron, but couldn’t get it to playback so I tried Tapeworn. I haven’t been disappointed. The controls for Tapeworm are very simple indeed as you can see from the graphic above. The tape bank button toggles between 5 different voices including flute, strings and choir while the octave knob does pretty much what you think it would do. The envelope shaping controls are not included in the hardware version of the instrument but they certainly allow one to craft new tones. The fine control allows fine tuning but not pitch bending as the original instrument did while the tape knob allows you to change the amount of tape inconsistency (wow and flutter) you desire. The sounds are really interesting and by adding some effects you can get great unique tones.


     Unfortunately, this inexpensive (free) emulation does not allow you to change sound banks as the original instrument did, so you’re pretty much stuck with the 5 presets. If you’ve got $99.00, however, you can get M-Tron from G-Force. It has every tape bank that was very created for the Mellotron  (2.5GB worth) and allows for pitch bend, volume, tone, etc via midi or from the onscreen controls.


      Here’s a snippet of the choir sound as I used it on a song I’m currently working on. I inserted a chorus effect to broaden the sound and some reverb. It think it sounds amazing.


     If you’ve got any ideas for other plug-ins for me to review, please let me know. I’m personally interested in authentic emulations of existing instruments but I’ll give anything a go.



     This month, I’m staying with the vintage keyboard emulations. Tapeworm is a Mellotron plug-in that uses samples much as the original instrument used tape recorded sounds to produce its signature sound.


     There’s nothing else that sounds like a Mellotron and it was basically the original sampling keyboard. The original (called the Chamberlin) was the brainchild of Harry Chamberlin, a California inventor. The sales of the Mellotron really took off when an employee of Chamberlin brought two of the units to see if he could find someone to manufacture matching tape heads so that the units could be mass produced.