Sunday, October 31, 2010

Melobar Guitars

Back in 1967 Walt Smith of California went to work building guitars. He knew John and Rudy Dopyera and learned how they made Dobro guitars.

Melobar Mosrite
Later he learned a lot about building guitars from Semie Mosley when Mosley started building Mosrite guitars. He was living in Ojah California at the time.

Interestingly, Walt Smith was encouraged in his effort by his friend Leo Fender.

As we know Mr. Fender started out building steel guitars and was a big encouragement to Walt.

He then returned to his hometown and started building his own brand of unique steel guitars. He named them Melobar guitars.

Melobar accoustic
The first instruments were wooden student models with positions engraved on the fretboard.

Smith built a metal version of this guitar.

However he was unhappy with the completed instrument. 

He kept some of them and had his son take the rest to the county dump. 

Many of these guitars were salvaged by dumpster divers.  This guitar has been unofficially designated as the Melobar Dumpster Guitar. His son, Ted Smith, mentions in a reply that his father was furious with him until his passing in 1988.

Melobar Rosac
Walt's claim to fame were the electric steel guitars he made, which were meant to be played like Dobros; standing up.   These were solid body guitars made so the boday tilted at a 45° angle from the neck.

Because Melobar guitars were all handmade there are subsequently few. Probably around 1,000. Not only are they unique, but rare as well.

Many well-known steel players have a Melobar in their collection. Players such as David Lindley, Rusty Young, and my favorite steel player, Cindy Cashdollar all own a Melobar.

As his family got older, Walt instructed his children and grandchildren in the craft of luthery.

Walt renamed his venture The Smith Family Music Company.

At first Melobar Guitars started with six string lap steels. The product line soon expanded to include not just six string instrument, but eight string guitars as well.

By 1991, after Walt's death, Ted Smith had taken the company reigns 1996 and introduced the Rattler six string guitar and the Tomahawk eight string.

The Rattler was built as an entry-level instrument. These were both sit-down lap instruments.

Another instrument developed that same year was the Supersteel, that came with interchangeable double and triple neck stands.

In 1998, Melobar added a Fiberglass resonator guitar to the line-up. These models were produced in six, seven, and eight string versions.

That same year Melobar/Smith Family Music add a double neck instrument called the Tele Steel Guitar.

The Tele Steel Guitar is reminiscent of Junior Brown’s Guit-Steel. The top neck is a guitar neck and the bottom-angled neck is a 10-string steel guitar. Walt Smith had a preference for 10 string guitars.

Possibly the most well known Melobar was the Skreemer. This is the one with a Flying Vee shape and an angled neck, designed to be played standing up. It was offered in a six or seven string version.

The Melobar X-10 is a 10-string Explorer shaped guitar that is made to be played in a standing position.

The Melobar Powerslide was indeed a unique guitar. It came with 10 strings and was shaped like a Gibson Explorer, but the body was soft.

Smith Family Music made a Mosrite Melobar model that came in sunburst or white. This guitar was based on the Ventures guitar.

Walt Smith died in 1991. His wife, Mildred Smith, and son Ted Smith kept the company going. They built over 1000 instruments, including lap steels and Melobars.

A family business is a tough to run. I know since I ran one for 27 years. Profit is hard to come by. Good employees are hard to come by and great ones even harder.

Mildred Smith passed away, so it was up to Ted and his son Marc to seek some financial backing. Jim Frost of Black Canyon Guitars and an investment group from Sweet, Idaho became backers of Melobar.

However, it may have been too late. The factory they were leasing did not renew their lease. This forced the new owners to close up shop.

I have read that Jim Frost and Ted Smith attempted to resurrect Melobar in 2008 with a company called Hardway Manufacturing.

Ted Smith has entered into the world of sales and is promoting a book he has written about cold calling.

Melobar/Smith Family Music is no longer in business. But for a while they produced a truly unique and unusual guitar.

Update!  ere is a wonderful link that I have come across from Ted Smith.



Ted said...

I love your Melobar post but dad's spinning in his grave on a couple of facts. He was born in California and never lived in Sweet=that is where I set up shop after he died. He didn't work with John but Ed and Rudy Dopyera who were good friends. The biggest influence on him was Leo Fender on the steel side, Leo always encouraged him that the EZ play Melobars would go=which they never did. I met Leo at the '80 NAMM show and Leo still was really encourageing dad with the Powerslide Melobar (name was stolen by Peavey a few years ago but Dad knew Hartley too and I think he would have been fine with that). Dad lived in Ojah Calif when he had Semie build 300 Mosrite models for him. Then x-employees of Mosrite built the Rosac models (about 500). He never built any lap steels and would only (except for David Lindley) build 10-string guitars, that was his down fall. He hated those dumpster guitars getting out on the market and was ferious with me about it right through his death. His last guitar was the model 88 just before his death right after the NAMM show. Then I took over and did the lap steels, Melobro, Steelgitr stuff in Sweet. I burned out after 3000 guitars were built in varios models and sold the company lock stock and berral to Jim Frost and to this date I think he still owns it. The people he tied up with ripped him off terribly. A few years ago he asked me to help build and we built some Hardway guitars and then that building had a fire and the new investors took the settlement and ran leaving Jim and I high and dry.
I am selling some lap steel blanks and old inventory off that survived the fire is how I found this post.
Even though the facts were off on the history - Dad would be very honored that you posted a bio on him and his life's work.
Take care and keep pick'n.
Ted Smith (son #5)

Marc said...

First of all Ted, thank you for taking the time to read my article. Secondly thank you for the corrections. That's very kind of you.

Taking over a family business is tough. I tried it and eventually had to sell out. There were too many crooked employees and too much corporate competition. I can relate to your situation.

Your Dad came up with a great concept and a great product. With competition from all over the world, it's got to be extremely hard for any small company to succeed.

I can tell from you words that you were very close to your Dad and he meant a lot to you. Working with your parents can be the toughest thing in the world and the best thing in the world.

May God bless his soul and may God bless you as well.

Thank you Ted for sharing.

Melobar Ted said...

Hi Mark,

Thank you for updating the information but I have an ebay buyer that is threatening a law suite because he read on your site that Walt worked under Semie Mosley and that is why he bought a Melobar and wanted me to confirm it, which I can not because Walt had Semie build the guitars but never worked under him, or at any other guitar mft. The Mosrite built Melobars are starting to go for a lot of money with collectors and they want the facts to the letter, if you could correct that and make sure the history follows the history that is laid out in the melobarted blog that would be great, especially the time lines of Mosrite, Rosac, Metal body guitars and the fact Walt was never in Sweet Idaho but died in Boise Idaho, which I think you have corrected but that was brought up, hopefully this buyer will be appeased by that enough to stop legal action, sure is a fun world...

Sydney Tarran said...

Ted please contact me at sydneytarran@gmail .com my father was one of the investors, I have some information I would like to discuss with you. I love your blog and learning more about the guitar!

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