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The Chamberlin is an electro-mechanical keyboard instrument related to the Mellotron. It was developed and patented by Californian inventor Harry Chamberlin from 1949 to 1956, when the first model was introduced.[1] Various models and versions of these Chamberlin music products exist. While most are keyboard-based instruments, there were also early drum machines produced and sold.

The basic Chamberlin has a piano-style keyboard. Underneath each key is a small tape deck. Each tape is pre-recorded with various musical instruments or special effects. When the player presses down a key, the tape deck begins to play through an amplified speaker. When the player releases the key, the sound stops, and the tape rewinds. Each tape is only a few seconds long (8 seconds on many units).

Some controversy exists regarding the origin of the Mellotron, but most of the accounts tell of Chamberlin's associate, Bill Fransen (sometimes described as his window cleaner, sometimes as an employee), taking Chamberlin's design to England and selling it without Chamberlin's knowledge in the early 1960s. After this somewhat dubious beginning, Chamberlin and the company that produced Mellotrons later came to a financial arrangement.

The royalty payments Chamberlin received from the Mellotrons helped him to continue producing instruments in his garage, and later in an Ontario, California factory. In 1981 (shortly before Chamberlin's death), the company ceased production, after making approximately 700 units.

The later Chamberlin model M1 is reputed to have superior sound and reliability to Mellotrons. In general, the Chamberlin tapes use much less compression on their recordings, thus featuring sounds which "breathe" more and possess more dynamics and vibrato than those of the Mellotron. It is rumoured that several famous recordings which purportedly use a Mellotron actually use a Chamberlin. One popular music group that has openly used a Chamberlin is Ambrosia. The Moody Blues used the Chamberlin on their album "Seventh Sojourn" (1972). David Bowie employed the instrument starting with his Diamond Dogs album in 1974. English band XTC use one on their 1986 "Skylarking" album[2]. Singer/songwriter and producer Jon Brion frequently plays the Chamberlin, and can be heard in many of his cues on the soundtrack to the film I Heart Huckabees. Tom Waits also championed the instrument on albums such as 'Frank's Wild Years' and 'Bone Machine.' Michael Iceberg also introduced the instrument to visitors to Disneyland and later Disney World in his shows featuring electronic instruments. Lars Fredrik Frøislie from the Norwegian progressive rock band Wobbler uses both a Chamberlin M1 and Chamberlin Rhythmate. New York indie rock band Vampire Weekend used digital 'static character' chamberlin samples in their eponymous debut album, specifically on the song A-Punk.


models [3]

Various models exists of the Chamberlin. There are both keyboard-based instruments as well as drum machines (which are called Rhythmate). Approximately 700 unites were ever made, but noone knows the exact number.

  • Chamberlin 100 - produced between 1948 og 1949. 4-10 were made.
  • Chamberlin 200 - produced between 1951 og 1959. 100 +/- were made.
  • Chamberlin 300/350 remotes - produced between 1960-1969. 200 +/- were made.
  • Chamberlin 400 - produced in 1961. 1 was made.
  • Chamberlin 500 - produced in 1961. 2 or 3 were made.
  • Chamberlin 600/660 - produced between 1962-1969. 200+ were made.
  • Chamberlin 25/35/45 Rhythmate - produced between 1960-1969. 100+ were made.
  • Chamberlin 20/30/40 Rhythmate - produced between 1975-1980. 10+ were made.
  • Chamberlin 800 Riviera - produced in 1970. 2 were made.
  • Chamberlin M1, M2, M4 - produced between 1970-1981. 100+ were made.

sounds [4]

  • Keyboards: Marimba, Piano, Vibes (w/vibrato), Bells (glockenspiel), Organ, Tibia Organ, Kinura Organ, Harpischord, Accordion, Electric Harpsichord and Flute/String Organ.
  • Brass: Alto Sax, Tenor Sax, Trombone, Trumpet, French Horn, Do Wah Trombone, Slur Trombone and Muted Trumpet.
  • Wind: flute, fagott, oboe and bass clarinet.
  • Voice: Male Voice (solo) and Female Voice (solo).
  • Strings: 3 violins, Cello and Pizzicato violins.
  • Plucked strings: Slur Guitar, Banjo, Steel Guitar, Harp solo, Harp Roll, Harp 7th Arpeggio, Guitar and Mandolin.
  • Effects: Dixieland Band Phrases and Sound Effects.


  1. ^ Phantom Orchestra at Your Fingertips interview of Harry Chamberlain by Len Epand, Crawdaddy! magazine, April 1976, accessed 12 July 2009
  2. ^ "2004 Uncut Magazine article "All Time Classics: Great Albums that have Fallen Off the Critical Radar"". Retrieved 24 January 2009.  
  3. ^
  4. ^

This article was originally based on material from the Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, which is licensed under the GFDL.

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Up to date as of January 23, 2010
(Redirected to Ralph Vary Chamberlin article)

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