Ever heard of the Mellotron? It was a British made audio sampler that used the most cutting edge technology available back in 1963… Magnetic tapes. You could record different sounds, music, beats or rhythm onto these magnetic tapes, and then play it back with the keyboard, much like a MIDI Sampler keyboard today. Well, someone has gone and made a newer version of one.
He calls it the Crudman, and it’s the same concept of a Mellotron, but uses slightly more modern components. Specifically, audio cassettes.
A MIDI keyboard sends output commands to a series of cassette players outfitted with Teensy microcontrollers. Depending on the settings, pressing a key can speed up or slow down a tape in order to generate a note. If it sounds simple, trust us, it’s not. The project has been a labor-of-love for the unnamed creator, who has spent nearly 10 years designing it. He now sells them (but demand is pretty high) — you’ve gotta take a listen — they produce some of the most unique sounds we’ve ever heard.
For more cool magnetic tape hacks, why not build yourself a micro cassette tape delay?
[Thanks Itay, via Gizmodo]
16 thoughts on “MIDI Sampling Off Magnetic Tapes”
Special tapes with a repeating loop? Or is he reversing the deck?
Nevermind, I see him using a commercial Velvet Underground release.
All the other tapes (the clear blue ones) are 6 minute long endless loop cassettes (which believe it or not, can still be purchased new online for reasonable prices). Usually I loop a sound in software and record it onto the tape on a separate cassette deck… putting a super clean digital synthesizer sound or looped sample onto a tape instantly imparts a gunked-up, pleasantly lofi analog quality to the sound, along with warbles and imperfections that increase the more you play it.
This is very nice (and I want one) but the great thing about the Mellotron is that it played the same piece of tape (including the pre-recorded attack for each note) each time the key was pressed; albeit for only a finite number of seconds.
This is Steve from Crudlabs. I’ve been reading Hackaday forever so thanks so much for this nice writeup! Just to clarify Crudlabs is NOT selling “only one a month”. Right now the goal is to produce and sell around 20 units per month… but due to high demand each individual customer is only allowed to purchase one unit per month.
I’ll update that! Just wrote what I saw in your Etsy store =)
$375 + tax (where applicable) and shipping..
At first I thought this came with the keyboard too but its only the project box and tape player.
From what I can tell from the videos and later confirmed from his site it uses the midi channels to speed or slow down the tape motor on a slightly more robust walkman, I’d like to see the insides of this before I say more.
with the teensy inside would it be possible to add other effects also, how much room does the current firmware take up?
Lots of documentation coming in the next few months. Firmware is very small, much of the magic happens in the analog stuff before and after the DACs and ADCs. No embedded hardware DSP, just a few VCAs and a simple Teensy controlled RC lowpass filter. The signal path is analog and is explained in some detail in the DOCS section of crudlabs.org.
The original Mellotron was a notoriously tricky instrument. The classic quote is from King Crimson’s Robert Fripp: “Tuning a Mellotron doesn’t.”
I remember the original mellotron used multiple tracks on the tape so you could switch timbre easily, and also had a tape loop for each key. Pressing the keys would actuate the tape head, basically.
Not quite, the tapes were 7 seconds long with a gravity return when the key-pinch roller was let up. The attack of strings and flute was there (pun) from the beginning. The heads were switched by the voice selection switch only. There is a horizontal capstan running the length of the keyboard.
Gravity goes weird when on the road so all those dangling tapes got in a twist and mucked up a bit.
The Moody Blues did such wonders on one by staying in the studio, where things could be perfect. Like in this video they were transposing and doing slides with the strings in the late 60’s!
i made a similar product for eurorack, its also available in kit form. http://gieskes.nl/eurorack/?file=317VCPreA
You have the craziest website I’ve seen since 1998.
Wow. What king of crazy font is that?
Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)