Following the lead of its B9, C9, and Key9 emulator pedals, Electro-Harmonix has released the Mel9, which tackles the recognizable, yet quirky, sounds of the most famous tape-replay keyboard, the Mellotron. As with the other pedals, the Mel9 offers nine presets—in this case Orchestra, Cello, Strings, Flute, Clarinet, Saxophone, Brass, Low Choir, and High Choir—and includes separate Dry and Effect outputs, the latter with individual Wet and Dry knobs to create a blend.
The pedal’s other knobs—Attack and Sustain—provide control over a preset’s envelope. Sustain, however, sounds more like a combination of an ADSR’s release parameter combined with reverb/delay, depending on the instrument. Nonetheless, the ability to alter a preset’s envelope lets you increase the realism of each instrument, with one exception: Turning up the Attack control for the Brass preset creates a filtered reverse envelope, as if it were played backwards—very cool! The Sustain control supposedly adds modeled “lip buzz,” but I couldn’t detect any change when moving the knob.
There also seems to be a compressor circuit on the Mel9’s input, which provides a very long sustain, particularly from a guitar’s lower strings, which have more energy than the higher ones. More than once, I thought my guitar was feeding back because the note just kept going. And it was a blast playing the Cello, Orchestra, or Sax presets on the low strings with this kind of sustain; a full, complex sound and no Ebow required!
With a bit of work, the Mel9 lets you coax convincing Mellotron-like sounds out of your guitar, and no special pickups are required. To nail the unique qualities of the original instruments, play idiomatic parts in the proper register of the guitar. For example, the Flute preset sounds wonderful when your melody or chords are in the middle of the neck on the B and E strings, especially with increased Attack and Sustain settings. To make Mellotron sounds even more convincing, put a volume pedal in front of the Mel9 and a delay or reverb pedal after it.
On the original Mellotron, there was often little consistency from one note to another, because each was an individual performance. The Mel9 doesn’t have this issue, but you will notice a different artifact: audible looping, as if there is LFO modulation or a short sample being repeated. On Cello and Flute, it resembles vibrato; on other presets, it has a more pulsating quality. The trick is to find the best register on your guitar and to play in a way where these rhythmic elements sound natural.
But whether you play melodically or arpeggiate chords, you’ll need to articulate the notes as cleanly as possible because the Mel9 is very sensitive: Any errant sound you make when finishing a note (or if one of the strings is unintentionally ringing) will trigger the synth engine.
Electro-Harmonix has done a remarkable job of capturing the Mellotron vibe, complete with the subtle pitch variations. Of the four Electro-Harmonix keyboard-emulation pedals, Mel9 is hands-down my favorite. The preset timbres are clearer and they give you plenty of tones to work with, depending on which register you use; especially if you’re not worried about mimicking a Mellotron. And, of course, you can rock Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” convincingly using the Orchestra preset in DADGAD when you need to.
The Orchestra, Cello, and reversed Brass sounds, alone, are well worth adding Mel9 to any rig. The Mel9’s got Mellotron when you want it, but don’t let that stop you from getting creative with it.
Tracks well. Attack and Sustain controls. Strong output. Sounds convincing if played idiomatically.
Gino Robair is EM’s technical editor, and the editor of Keyboard magazine.