Product Review of the Electro-Harmonix Mel9 Effects Pedal
The Electro-Harmonix Mel9 effects pedal is a guitar effects pedal that emulates the sounds that were generated from the Melatron keyboard used in recording studios during the 1960’s and the 1970’s. The Melatron, in those days was pretty much at the forefront of studio technology. The Beatles used one to play the flute sounds in the beginning of the song “Strawberry Fields forever.”
The Melatron also featured sounds that emulated other instruments such as strings, brass, saxophone and more. The Electro-Harmonix Mel9 pedal features nine of the sounds, hence the 9 part of the Mel9 name.
The Sounds Featured in the Pedal
The nine sounds featured in the Mel9 pedal are as follows: orchestra, cello, strings, flute, clarinet, saxophone, brass, low choir and high choir. The orchestra sound emulates a full orchestra but is pretty heavy on the strings sound. It seems a bit brighter than the strings sound on the unit though. The cello sound is very warm and had a bit more bass tone to it. Between those three sounds, their use should really depend upon the song.
You can use these sounds on their own by turning the volume of the guitar down, using the Dry control knob and using the Effect knob turned up for the effected sound. You have the option of using two outputs that separate the dry signal from the effected one. That works great if you really want to fine tune your mix. But you have the option of using one output that combines the two sounds and you still have the ability to control the volume of each.
As I have already stated, the sound you use should depend upon the song. I noticed that certain sounds work better for certain songs. My favorite sounds in the unit are the orchestra, cello, strings, flute and high choir sounds. I have not used the clarinet, saxophone, low choir or brass sounds much yet but I can envision their use for recording purposes. I think the clarinet, brass and saxophone sounds would work great for single note melody lines.
Taking the Unit for a Spin
The tracking on this unit works best when you plug a clean guitar into it, without the use of distortion. If you desire to use a distorted guitar with it, then you should use both outputs and route the guitar output on the unit into a distortion pedal.
I plugged my Fender Deluxe Stratocaster into it. Then I went through each sound to test them all out. I liked what I heard. So then I started to think about what sounds I would use for the various songs in my repertoire. I found that one sound would work better for a certain song than the rest. I decided to go through a number of the songs on my set list to see what worked best for each song.
I play out as a solo performer and so the main reason I purchased this unit was to develop a fuller sound in order to make up for the fact that I am not playing with a full band. This really makes what I play sound like I am backed up by an orchestra and works so well for the songs on my set list.
I also have a Electro-Harmonix Synth9 pedal. I have that right after the Mel9 in my effects chain. The Synth9 pedal provides some basic synthesizer sounds. They work nice when mixed with the sounds of the mel9. So I can get the sounds from the Mel9 and Synth9 going at the same time as the guitar sound. It really provides such a full sound.
After the two Electro-Harmonix pedals, I have a Zoom multi-effects unit that I use for delay and reverb. I like to use delay and reverb simultaneously because it adds a lot of depth to the sound. Just a little slap-back delay and a little hall reverb after it. Between the three sounds of the guitar Synth9 and Mel9 being mixed together and the delay and reverb afterwards, it produces an amazing sound that is so full it’s hard to believe that it’s all being produced by one person.
Product Demo from the Manufacturer
This unit is really great for live use since I perform mostly as a solo act. I already have it hooked up in my pedal board set up, so I just plug my guitar into it and then the end of my effects chain directly into my mixer.
I have found, though, that I am much better off putting the pedal board on a small folding table to make it easier to switch between sounds. It is really a bit of a nuisance if you have these pedals sitting on the floor and you have to bend over to change a setting here and there between songs. Also, to make things easier, I try to play songs that use the same sound right after each other.
If you want to make it so that you can switch the unit on and off with the use of a foot switch, you could always get a foot-activated loop selector and put that on the floor, while still having the unit itself on a table to make it easier for switching between sounds and settings.
I can really see this pedal being great in both a full band situation as well as being useful for solo performers such as myself. So matter what your band situation is, it can really add a lot of depth to your sound.
I can really see this unit being used in a recording situation. Using it for individual tracks would produce amazing results. The cello, clarinet and flute sounds would be perfect for single note melody lines to solo over guitar or other backing tracks.
The strings, orchestra and choir sounds would be excellent for backing tracks in a studio or recording situation. I can literally envision someone just using a guitar and this unit to produce some excellent quality recordings.
Using The Controls
The controls on this pedal are pretty simple and straightforward. The dry knob controls the volume of the clean guitar sound and the Effect knob controls the volume of the effected sound. The Attack knob controls when the effected sound is heard.
With the Attack knob all the way down, the effected sound plays immediately. If you crank it up. The effected sound fades in. The more you crank it up, the longer it takes to fade in. The Sustain knob allows the sound to continue as you change the chords. This will help allow for a smoother transition between chord changes. With the knob all the way down, the sound stops immediately once you take your hand off of the fret board. How you set it should probably depend upon what works best for each song, just as the use of the jother knobs should be determined.
The Strengths and Limitations
There are a lot of possibilities with this unit. Much of that could be discovered with just experimenting with it. The tracking abilities of this unit doe have some limitations. As you get above the 12th fret of the High E string on a guitar, it really doesn’t track your playing but you still have from the open low E string to the 12th fret high E. For a bass guitar, it only goes as low as the open A string.
There may be some tracking issues if your picking attack varies too much. The use of a compressor before the unit can resolve a lot of the tracking issues associated with that. I’ve seen demo videos where they have recommended the use of a compressor for that reason.
The primary strengths of this unit are the variety of sounds and the versatility of it’s use in either live or recording scenarios. The pedal is also a very sturdy unit. It is housed in a solid chassis and the knobs and foot switch all seem to be durable. As far as the input and output jacks go, I have the pedals permanantly hooked up together on my pedal board, so I won’t be putting much wear and tear on them anyway.
The Bottom Line
As with the purchase of any equipment, I always recommend you research the product. Watch the demo videos, read the reviews and then make your decision. I recommend reading multiple reviews as well as watching multiple video demonstrations. Never rely upon one source because some will cover different aspects of the product that others won’t. As for myself, it works great for what I want it to do, so I am happy with it.
© 2018 Bob Craypoe