Monday, February 7, 2011

The Gibson Melody Maker

Berz "Billy" Wagner was a kid that went to the same High School and Middle School that I went to. He had a band called The Erector Set, which was named after a popular toy of the day that contained many small dangerous parts.

Billy’s band played at many high school dances and did the usual covers of Chuck Berry, Lonnie Mack, and The Ventures.

The first time I saw Billy he was playing a 1963 Gibson Melody Maker. This was about the time I was learning my first few chords on my pawnshop Harmony Patrician. The Melody Maker was about the coolest guitar I had ever seen. His instrument was the dark sunburst double cutaway model with two single coil pickups.

I cannot recall what type of amplifier he was using. Back in that day a lot of kids were using Sears/Danelectro Twin Twelve amplifiers. Billy had all of Chuck and Lonnie’s licks down pat. I was impressed and envious. I had to practice more, and I did.

The Gibson Melody Maker debut was in 1959 and Gibson ended the run in 1971. The Melody Maker was an economical, beginner’s instrument which came with a thin slab-style mahogany body and a one-piece mahogany neck.

Gibson assembled all the electronics on the guitars black scratchplate, which they installed over a rout in the top of the body. This included the one or two single coil pickup, depending on the model, the volume and tone controls, the toggle, and the input jack.

They came with one or two pickup models. The words “Melody Maker” embossed in gold letters at the top of the scratchplate, just under the end of the neck The glued on neck was unbound. The fretboard was rosewood with dot markers. The headstock was very slim and not much wider than the neck. The strings attached to a Gibson wrap-a-round bridge/tailpiece. The Melody Maker was also available with a bridge/vibrola unit.

From 1959 until 1961, the Melody Maker had a single cutaway, making the body similar to a Les Paul Junior, however, the Melody Maker’s body was much thinner.

The scale of the Melody Maker was 24.75 inches, which was the Gibson standard, although Gibson offered the guitar in a ¾ version with an 18.56-inch short scale. To accomplish this, the neck joined the body at the 12th fret and the bridge was moved farther down the body. Remember the Melody Maker was to be a beginning instrument that a child could play.

'61 Gibson Melody Maker
It was in 1961 that Gibson redesigned the Melody Maker to a double cutaway instrument, discontinuing the single cutaway model. In 1965, Gibson made a slight modification to the horns that made them more pointy.

Sometime in the early 1960’s Gibson discontinued the traditional Les Paul. It was replaced by a guitar with twin pointy horns and a narrow body.

Originally, this was marketed under the Les Paul name, however Gibson’s relationship with Paul ended and the guitar was given the model more familiar designation, SG.

Perhaps to attract young guitarists to this style of guitar, in 1966 Gibson again redesigned the Melody Maker with the SG style of body. The scratchplate colour changed to white. So did the pickup covers.

In 1967, Gibson offered the Melody Maker/SG with one, two, or three pickups (known as the model III.) Additional offerings included the ¾-size model and a twelve-string version (designated the Melody Maker 12.) The twin pickup version was the Melody Maker D, for double pickup. The older model Melody Makers were only produced in dark sunburst finishes. In 1963, the standard finish was cherry. This changed in 1966 when Gibson implemented the SG design. Now the guitar was available in fire engine red or pelham blue.

Nineteen-sixty-seven brought about new choices and the guitar could feature sparkling burgundy, walnut, or Inverness green. Gibson ended the Melody Makers run in 1971 when it implemented some budget models of the SG guitar. But the Melody Maker story does not end here.

The Melody Maker double-cutaway was revived in 1977 and manufactured until 1983. Unlike the original, this version came with all metal tuners, a Gibson stop tailpiece and a Tune-O-Matic bridge. The pickup cover was updated with the word Gibson embedded in the plastic.

In 1986 the single cutaway Melody Maker was available with a single humbucking pickup in the bridge position and the same parts that were featured on the 1977 version.

In 2003, Gibson issued the Les Paul Melody Maker. Instead of a mahogany body, this single cutaway instrument featured a body of Jacareuba wood. The neck for this guitar was made of solid cedar(?) and came with a rosewood fretboard.

The guitar came with a P90 pickup in the bridge position. It was very similar to the Les Paul Jr., but for the Melody Maker headstock, white plastic button tuning keys and top mounted jack. The neck was slightly slimmer than the Les Paul Jr. Only 250 of these guitars were manufactured.

2007 Gibson Melody Maker
In 2007, Gibson once again brought the Melody Maker back for sale as a single cutaway version. This guitar came with one or two single coil pickups and made to be true to the original version.

'07 Gibson Melody Maker 2 pickups
By this time, genuine Gibson guitars were getting quite expensive and the Melody Maker was an economical way to own a Gibson as the retail price was $490. Within a year, Gibson discontinued manufacturing the two pickup versions.

The one pickup version is still offered at the same price.

Jonas Brothers

However if you really want a two pickup Melody Maker, you can opt to buy The Jonas Brothers Melody Maker. This guitar comes with twin P90 pickups, with pickups and controls mounted on the scratchplate and a traditional Gibson headstock, instead of the narrow version. A large “JB” crest is prominently featured on the guitars white body and the boy’s signatures are embossed on the scratchplate. The tuners are similar to Klusons. This guitar is in production and sells for a mere $700.

Joan Jett Melody Maker

In 2008, Gibson offered the Joan Jett model Melody Maker. The body for this instrument was based on the guitar that Joan purchased in 1977. Her original guitar was manufactured in 1965 when Gibson made a slight variation on the body to give the Melody Maker pointier horns.

Joan has extensive modifications done to her personal Melody Maker. Gibson offers this instrument for sale at $920. It comes with one Velvet Hammer humbucking pickup in the bridge position. The fretboard comes with red dot markers and two hearts inlaid on the twelfth fret. The neck is modified to be slimmer than a traditional Melody Maker. The tuners are Grover mini style.

The one pickup guitar comes with a “kill switch” that is designed to turn the pickup off. The bridge features is a Tune-O-Matic saddle and stop tailpiece instead of the original wrap-around style found on traditional Melody Makers. The scratchplate is larger than the one on a traditional Melody Maker. It was available in a white finish, but currently is only available with a black satin finish.

©UniqueGuitar Publications (text only)


Sex Bunker said...

that was such an excellent post about the melody maker. very interesting about the slight body differences after '65. awesome blog, ill definitely keep an eye on this blog.

Peter Rorvig said...

Marc...I really enjoyed your post. I just finished a short article on pawn shop guitars for my "new blog"... ...had an old Les Paul Jr back in the day that was a pawn shop purchase...wish I'd kept it. I bookmarked your blog. Thankyou!!!

Ebbot said...

Excellent Melody Maker history, well done!

Just one thing, the change to pointier horns took place in 1964, I have one myself. The '64 model still had the usual sunburst finish. From 1965, I believe, they were all cherry red.


William Swiggard said...

Fantastic blog post. Thank you Marc! Just one thing.........A friend of mine has loaned me a glorious instrument what was sold to her as an "Original 1959" Melody Maker (3/4 neck, single pickup, incredibly resonant and sweet sounding guitar), but the serial number (8 9678) clearly indicates manufacture in 1958 in the Kalamazoo plant. So does that mean that the debut year for the original Melody Maker was 1958? Thanks again for your teaching!...........Bill

Alaor Checchia Coutinho said...

Excelent post !!! Congrats ! Alaor, S.Paulo, Brazil

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