Welcome to the third and final part of Progulator’s interview with Mellotron’s Markus Resch, who has been running Mellotron since 2001, and whose many years with the company include more than 13 years of building MkVI Mellotrons and 22 years of servicing and making parts for Mellotrons. In this, the final installment of the interview, I present to you Markus’s final comments, including some fascinating bits about building and maintaining electromechanical Mellotrons. While I’m sure you are devastated that this is the last part of the interview, I am sure you will find it fulfilling, and will be eager and hungry for next week, in which I begin to present my video review of the Mellotron M4000D!
MD: Do you build all the electromechanical and digital mellotrons yourself? Or do you have a team of people working with you? We would love to hear a bit about the process of how you put a Mellotron together.
MR: Actually, concerning the digital machine, the PC boards are preassembled, obviously. They come preassembled to me and I test them. I have two assistants who come in and work for me from time to time. They put on the back panel to the board, for instance, but that’s very simple mechanical assembly. Then, the front panel we also assemble ourselves. The PC board and parts come, of course, premade, but then the assembly is done. And the cabinet is preassembled and comes as is to me. In a perfect world, at least, I just have to put in all the stuff. The key-frame is, of course, a bit of an issue. It has to be custom made because there’s no one else doing this depth sensitivity. So, I get the different parts and we assemble it at my workshop. With the analog machines it’s a bit more of me assembling the boards and soldering them. But, the most I’ve done is a maximum of 15 analog machines per year, so I mean, assembling 20 boards takes a couple of days and we have boards for almost 2 years. From a manufacturer’s point, everything comes pre-drilled and pre-manufactured, so it’s only a matter of assembly, even for the analog machines. It’s not that I’m standing there sawing and drilling in the cabinet and painting it. It’s enough work as it is.
MD: You’ve been doing Mellotron repairs and maintenance for some time and I assume you probably have had some cool or funny experiences. What’s the biggest nightmare that you’ve ever confronted when repairing or restoring a mellotron?
MR: Actually, the biggest nightmare is when I encounter…. You know, there are other companies and people working on machines; it’s when I run into those machines. I had the most nightmarish experiences hearing from people how much they had paid for those services and then seeing how it doesn’t work, so to say, where mostly just the cosmetics and the tapes had been changed out but there hadn’t been any really change out of vital parts, like rubber rollers and stuff. I recently ran into a MkII that had been horribly serviced. A lot of the original stuff had been taken out and it just didn’t work, even though the guy had paid tens and tens of thousands of dollars to have it fixed. That’s the sort of nightmare I’ve run into.
There are so many people jumping on the band wagon. When I started out, no one cared about this. As soon as it became more popular and well known, people started using it; that’s when a lot of other people started trying to make a buck on it. We’ve had a bit of problems with piracy, because we have exclusive rights to the name, but there’s always people trying to make names similar to our trademark. It’s just the way things go.
MD: Any final comments?
MR: I’m very grateful for the musicians who are supporting the Mellotron by going to the real source. We, who’ve been working for so many years when nobody else was caring about this. The stuff in England was in a shed where the roof was leaking. Part of my tape restoration was taking away mold and damage from the moisture. And the American stuff was literally on its way to the dumpster. Nobody was caring at that time. Thanks to all those people who have supported Dave and me by buying tapes. It’s a big cost and a pretty big expense to keep it going. The only way I can keep it going is by having people who don’t just go and buy samples and things, because they’re not paying us a dime because they dodge around the trademark thing by calling it something different, and we cannot get to them.
I have the best customers in the world. I cannot always keep the time-frames, but I always deliver. 95% of my customers have been awesome and fantastic, and I’m very grateful for that. That’s what makes it possible to make this instrument and not have to compromise on quality. All of the vital parts in my machines are gold plated, for example. It wouldn’t have been possible if I had to take a loan and do it with investors. It would have been someone coming in and saying, “Ah, that’s too expensive, no we can’t do that. Use something cheaper. We can’t use a wooden keyboard, that’s too expensive, use some plastic.”
It’s great to have customers like you. That’s the feedback that’s kept me going. My main job is technical translation; Mellotrons are just a sideline for me. If I were just to focus on making money, Mellotrons definitely aren’t the stuff that makes me the most money per hour. If I were to only go for the biggest yields per hour, Mellotron would have closed down many years ago. So, big thanks to all my customers; many of them are big prog fans, and I am still, but also I listen to some other stuff too.
Make sure to come back next week for Progulator’s video look at the Mellotron M4000D!!!