You have to admire Electro-Harmonix for its outright determination to have a go at making just about anything. From bass synthesizers to polyphonic octave generators and, more recently, organ and keyboard simulators, the New York pedal manufacturer does it very well indeed.
The latest addition to the keyboard emulation family tree is the Mel9. Setting out to simulate the Mellotron – a machine famous for its size, weight and utterly unique range of sounds is no easy feat, let alone fitting it all into a pedalboard-friendly footprint – it’s huge task. EHX has amazingly managed to do just that, while keeping its quirky charm intact, with the enclosure wearing the unmistakably Mellotron-esque white outfit.
Original Mellotrons – apart from being incredibly rare – are like time machines, transporting us back to the 1960s. They work by pulling a section of tape across a head, with different parts of the tape resulting in different sounds and the grainy nature of the tape lending the instrument its ethereal wobbly quality.
The moment you hear the first key of a Mellotron being struck, you’re standing in the middle of Strawberry Fields… forever! Impressively, the same thing happens the moment you plug in the Mel9 – irresistible charm oozes out of this pedal. The sounds are incredibly usable, while the excellent tracking means you can bend without losing any of the sound quality.
Electro-Harmonix has pretty well cornered the market for keyboard- and piano-emulation stompboxes. The Key9 £170 does a fine job of reproducing electric pianos and organs, while the C9 £170 builds on the success of the B9 Organ Machine with nine authentic sounds. Elsewhere, EarthQuaker Devices’ Organizer is a polyphonic organ emulator with an analogue feel and an added touch of Leslie warble.
Electro-Harmonix Mel9 In Use
Like its keyboard-aping companions, the Mel9’s tactile controls are immediate – pull it out of the box, plug in and go. As soon as you set off on this time-hopping adventure, it becomes apparent that the sonic capabilities of EHX’s little white machine are mind blowing.
The range of sounds includes Orchestra, Flute, Saxophone and both High & Low Choirs – all are very usable and have liquid-smooth tracking. Unlike some other keyboard simulation pedals, the Mel9 processes guitar signals with ease, not getting too muddy on the lower notes or becomes confused by some faster playing.
The onboard knobs consist of dry and effect – giving you control over how much of the wet signal you dial into the mix, and in the same way as its predecessors the two controls can be blended together via the keys output or run independently through the pedal’s keys & dry outputs. The attack and sustain knobs allow you to manipulate the effects’ preset parameters with ease.
We found adding in a little reverb and delay after the pedal in our effects chain resulted in hours of inspiring fun, and we’re happy to report that Electro-Harmonix has preserved the nostalgic quirkiness that the Mellotron is famed for.
You may, of course, be wondering where the Mel9 would this sit in your pedal collection? Well, the answer is that it would represent a worthwhile addition to any guitarist’s collection. It’s easy to use, quick to master and will quickly replace the keyboard player who’s moved to Thailand, or simply become a highly creative tool for the home-recording guitarist who wishes sometimes that his guitar was a keyboard sometimes.
Ultimately, as soon as you start playing with the Mel9 it’s hard to stop. It’s amazingly usable in both live and recording environments.
Electro-Harmonix Mel9 Key Features
Description Polyphonic tape-based keyboard emulating pedal
Controls Dry & effect volume, attack, sustain and mode knobs
Connections Input, dry out, effect out, 9V DC adaptor (supplied)
Contact Electro-Harmonix www.ehx.com