The Mellotron is a very special part of the ANU Historical Keyboard Collection, and representative of new music performance during the 1970s. The instrument is an electro-mechanical keyboard, where sound is produced by a bank of magnetic audiotapes, each responding to a different note on the keyboard. Each tape is an 8-second loop that plays when the corresponding key is pressed. Each tape is pre-recorded before being put into the instrument’s body, and can be any kind of sound (orchestral, percussive, vocal, electronic). The Mellotron was a major influencer of rock and popular music during the 1960s and 70s, and was used by groups including The Beatles (featuring heavily on the single, Strawberry Fields Forever), as well Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones. The instrument became a trademark of the progressive rock era. In the 1990s, the Mellotron underwent a revival by groups such as Radiohead, Oasis and the Smashing Pumpkins. There were many problems with the Mellotron that limited its usability. It was a large and bulky keyboard that was difficult to move and travel with. It also was very time consuming to prepare it for recording and performances, as each tape had to be recorded onto, and then loaded into the instrument.
The Mellotron M400 is a very special model, of which only 1850 were produced before Streetly Electronics closed in 1986. It was donated to the School of Music in the 1980s, and became part of the ANU Keyboard Institute in 2007.