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flute on stairway to heaven?


lyjinx
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Help solve an argument between my son and me. Is there a flute part on Stairway to Heaven, or are all known recordings of the song actually a special type of organ and never a flute?

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Help solve an argument between my son and me. Is there a flute part on Stairway to Heaven, or are all known recordings of the song actually a special type of organ and never a flute?

It sounds like a 'recorder' to me. I don't know if it's 'synthesized' ,

but I doubt it, because the live versions (with keyboards) never sound

anywhere as good, for that part of the song.

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Yes, it is three over-dubbed recorders. :) On the studio version that is. For live version various key-instruments were used.

I know that in some countries in Europe the recorder is called a flute. This may be where the confusion starts. A flute is more like what Jethro Tull plays.

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JPJ used a keyboard instrument called a Mellotron to play those flute/recorder parts. It's the same instrument you hear playing the flute parts on Strawberry Fields Forever by The Beatles. The Mellotron is not a synthasizer however. Inside, it has a bank of 8 second tape recordings of various intruments for every key of the keyboard.

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JPJ used a keyboard instrument called a Mellotron to play those flute/recorder parts. It's the same instrument you hear playing the flute parts on Strawberry Fields Forever by The Beatles. The Mellotron is not a synthasizer however. Inside, it has a bank of 8 second tape recordings of various intruments for every key of the keyboard.

The Mellotron was not used on the studio recording however - if you don't believe me listen for the breaths JPJ takes between phrases.

Side note: The Mellotron was difficult to use in a live setting as it was susceptable to environmental problems (changes in temperature or humidity) as well as power irregularities (surges etc). This meant it was difficult to keep in tune and was not alway reliable.

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  • 7 years later...

I've heard some conflicting reports regarding the exact instruments. My ears tell me plainly they aren't flutes, but instead sound like Irish Low Whistles -- a flute-like instrument that uses a recorder-like mouthpiece. Hobgoblin Music must have at least two dozen varieties, and there are several YouTube videos showing how to fashion them from various materials. One could go through a lengthy experimentation process finding some that best emulate the tonality of those used on the recording. I have a hunch that the whistles were taped for the Mellotron and played live that way, but I can't say anything about the actual studio tracks. For those like me, who wish to find a set of those for ourselves, they come in differing ranges & sizes, each one imparting a somewhat distinct voice. The trick would be to find those that most closely emulate the ones heard on the original, while somehow avoiding the need to have to purchase fifty of them in order to experiment. I don't believe there's any need to look for a different instrument. A Mellotron can play a recorded instrument, starting with the actual capture of the instrument's initial attack envelope, and sustain it for up to eight seconds, the length of tape controlled by each key. The whistles played on Stairway to Heaven seem to need only sustain for about four seconds before a different note is sounded. If someone were wishing to sample those sounds for their own performance uses, keep in mind that you can use studio processing to enhance the inherent character of an instrument, but that little can be done to impart a natural-sounding character to an instrument that it doesn't possess on its own. If you want to give a sound an artificial character, however, the sky's the limit. If I were tasked with re-creating the exact sound of the whistles on the original, I'd start with the largest Low Whistles that would cover the musical range expressed on the original, and proceed to get a good capture that requires the least processing, hopefully needing none. This is an adventure I wish to follow through with someday.

 

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4 hours ago, randolph patterson said:

I've heard some conflicting reports regarding the exact instruments. My ears tell me plainly they aren't flutes, but instead sound like Irish Low Whistles -- a flute-like instrument that uses a recorder-like mouthpiece. Hobgoblin Music must have at least two dozen varieties, and there are several YouTube videos showing how to fashion them from various materials. One could go through a lengthy experimentation process finding some that best emulate the tonality of those used on the recording. I have a hunch that the whistles were taped for the Mellotron and played live that way, but I can't say anything about the actual studio tracks. For those like me, who wish to find a set of those for ourselves, they come in differing ranges & sizes, each one imparting a somewhat distinct voice. The trick would be to find those that most closely emulate the ones heard on the original, while somehow avoiding the need to have to purchase fifty of them in order to experiment. I don't believe there's any need to look for a different instrument. A Mellotron can play a recorded instrument, starting with the actual capture of the instrument's initial attack envelope, and sustain it for up to eight seconds, the length of tape controlled by each key. The whistles played on Stairway to Heaven seem to need only sustain for about four seconds before a different note is sounded. If someone were wishing to sample those sounds for their own performance uses, keep in mind that you can use studio processing to enhance the inherent character of an instrument, but that little can be done to impart a natural-sounding character to an instrument that it doesn't possess on its own. If you want to give a sound an artificial character, however, the sky's the limit. If I were tasked with re-creating the exact sound of the whistles on the original, I'd start with the largest Low Whistles that would cover the musical range expressed on the original, and proceed to get a good capture that requires the least processing, hopefully needing none. This is an adventure I wish to follow through with someday.

 

For the studio recording Jones is definitely using a wooden Treble recorder (sometimes called an Alto recorder, especially in the US).  There's a couple of interviews out there where he says something along the lines of 'I had a recorder lying about....', plus I play the recorder - it's a very distinctive and instantly recognizable sound, easily distinguishable from flutes & Penny/Irish whistles.

Here's an example of the sound of a Treble Recorder:

And an Irish Low Whistle as a comparison:

The Recorder has a purer and less breathy sound, whilst the Whistle has a reedier sound, with much more breathiness to it.

For the early live performances he used the Hammond organ, but soon changed over to the stock 'flute' sound (the same sound used on The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields") on the Mellotron all the way until 1979, when he used the Yamaha GX1 (1979) and then a Fairlight CMI (1980).

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On 3/3/2008 at 6:45 PM, lyjinx said:

Help solve an argument between my son and me. Is there a flute part on Stairway to Heaven, or are all known recordings of the song actually a special type of organ and never a flute?

Recorders in the studio, Mellotron live from 71 till 77 then the Yamaha system he was using for ITTOD live in 79 and 80.

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  • 3 months later...

I know this is an old thread but I can confirm specifically that there are 4 recorders on this track - A Bass recorder, and Alto recorder, a soprano, and a treble (or two sopranos).  It's not too hard figuring this stuff out but it helps if you are familiar with Bach.  Try following one part at a time.  And yes live it was played with a Melotron.  If you really listen you can hear JPJ's breath and vibrato as he lowers the intensity of his breath... you'll also note how this causes slight tuning issues.

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  • 4 years later...
  • 4 months later...
On 3/3/2008 at 10:50 PM, Gainsbarre said:

JPJ used a keyboard instrument called a Mellotron to play those flute/recorder parts. It's the same instrument you hear playing the flute parts on Strawberry Fields Forever by The Beatles. The Mellotron is not a synthasizer however. Inside, it has a bank of 8 second tape recordings of various intruments for every key of the keyboard.

it is a main recorder (or something similar) with two or three flute parts. you can hear all of the breaths they take. 

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On 1/20/2016 at 7:12 AM, woz70 said:

For the studio recording Jones is definitely using a wooden Treble recorder (sometimes called an Alto recorder, especially in the US).  There's a couple of interviews out there where he says something along the lines of 'I had a recorder lying about....', plus I play the recorder - it's a very distinctive and instantly recognizable sound, easily distinguishable from flutes & Penny/Irish whistles.

Here's an example of the sound of a Treble Recorder:

And an Irish Low Whistle as a comparison:

The Recorder has a purer and less breathy sound, whilst the Whistle has a reedier sound, with much more breathiness to it.

For the early live performances he used the Hammond organ, but soon changed over to the stock 'flute' sound (the same sound used on The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields") on the Mellotron all the way until 1979, when he used the Yamaha GX1 (1979) and then a Fairlight CMI (1980).

The only one who got it right all the way through. So many people assume Jones used the mellotron all the time for "Stairway", when he didn't start using it until the 1972 Japanese tour. Before that Jones used his Hammond B3 organ. Jimmy cheated on the "How the West Was Won" release. Jones played the organ at the 1972 LA Forum and Long Beach Arena shows, as he did all through the 1972 U.S. Tour. There was no mellotron on stage. Jimmy took one of Jones's mellotron parts from a 1973 show (most likely Southampton or one of the MSG shows) and overdubbed it onto the 1972 recording for "How the West Was Won".

Just another reason why I prefer the June 25 and June 27 1972 bootlegs to HTWWW.

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On 10/28/2020 at 9:16 AM, Pollux_Geminorum said:

According to Ian Anderson, Jethro Tull was recording Aqualung at Abbey Road Studio's the same time LZ was recording IV. Tull was using recorders for several tracks and when members of both bands met during a break Tull members were invited to 'sit in' (uncredited) and contribute the recorder tracks to Stairway.

In forty years of reading about Zeppelin I’ve never once heard any such notion. If someone in Tull had have played a recorder on the recording I think they’d have revealed all long ago. It didn’t happen. 

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On 3/12/2021 at 4:20 PM, jsj said:

In forty years of reading about Zeppelin I’ve never once heard any such notion. If someone in Tull had have played a recorder on the recording I think they’d have revealed all long ago. It didn’t happen. 

Never ever heard this tale before either. What is possible is Jones and Anderson might have spoken about recorders, and Jones had the idea. Jones himself said he had recorders and he wanted to use them, but at first Jimmy wasn't keen.  Also, it was not Abbey Road....it was Island Studios. Here is a very excellent analysis of Jones Recorder arrangement. 

 

https://youtu.be/OdZTfb2NblM

Edited by porgie66
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