The Melody Goes On: The Evolution of the Melody Maker
The Melody Maker occupies a very special place in Gibson history. Arising from the company’s late1950s and early 1960s “Golden Era,” the Melody Maker proudly boasts a unique distinction: it was Gibson’s best-selling guitar during its most historic era. Introduced in 1959, the Melody Maker was designed with humble aspirations, but, as is often the case with rock music, it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.
The Melody Maker was conceived as an entry-level electric guitar for beginners and players on a budget. And if you look closely at the guitar, you’ll be able to identify a few features which are designed to keep costs low while maintaining quality. The body is made of slim and lightweight mahogany, and it’s flat, rather than carved. The modern Melody Maker features a lone, special-design, multi-ceramic single coil calibrated to deliver the same vintage tone and performance as its ancestor, and all of the electronics are mounted to a scratch plate, including the output jack, which cuts down on the time required to assemble each guitar. The bridge is a single compensated wraparound unit which minimizes moving parts, making life much easier for students while still allowing range for intonation and height adjustment. And the neck profile is a rounded, thick traditional ’50s shape akin to the 1958 and 1959 Les Paul Standards.
The Melody Maker has a few siblings, including the Melody Maker Special. This model is based on the same body style as the regular Melody Maker, but it features a pair of P-90 pickups (with a three-way pickup selector switch by the treble side cutaway) as well as a full-sized, Les Paul-style headstock. Think of it as a hot-rodded Melody Maker for players who need the versatility of a neck pickup and the character of P-90s. This model was also the basis for the Jonas Brothers Melody Maker, a limited run of 300 instruments signed by the band.
After more than five decades after the Melody Maker’s introduction, the line has been joined by some new models that maintain the sprit of the originals – in playability, tone, quality and cost-effectiveness – while also paying tribute to other classic Gibson body shapes. And with a concession to modern tonal requirements, too. The Melody Maker Les Paul, Melody Maker SG, Melody Maker Explorer and Melody Maker Flying V are all affordable but genuine USA-made variations with classic Gibson shapes. Each features a set-in neck, intonation-compensated wraparound bridge, genuine Gibson USA humbucking pickup, scratch plate-mounted electronics (with only a single volume control for ultra-streamlined strageworthiness) and nitrocellulose finishes in Satin Blue, Satin White and Satin Ebony. And all are based on body shapes that were designed and released during Gibson’s classic late 1950s to early 1960s era, which means they’re all guitars that look like they could have existed alongside the original Melody Maker. But one key difference is the use of a Baked Maple fretboard on the mahogany neck. This is maple which has been baked at 200 degrees Celsius (a process called torrefaction) before moisture is returned under pressure. The result is a fretboard which looks similar to rosewood or pau ferro rather than maple. It also results in a snappier tone than if rosewood was used.
And nowthere’s the Les Paul Melody Maker released as part of Gibson’s 2014 New Model Year. In keeping with the spirit of the Melody Maker line it keeps things simple and affordable. These made-in-the-USA guitars feature a pair of new, improved Alnico V-loaded P-90SR (neck) and P-S90T (bridge) pickups for clear, powerful and edgy tone; a thin-profile body, ultra-slick matte satin finish; a ‘50s rounded neck profile; new Supreme Grip Speed Knobs; and a Lightning Bar wraparound bridge/tailpiece with intonation compensation and a Satin Chromefinish. It’s available in Yellow, Manhattan Midnight, Wine Red and Charcoal finishes, and it’s suitable for everything from country and blues to stoner/desert rock and vintage metal. A Gibson gig bag is included.
The guitar world must have been surprised when the Melody Maker became the biggest-selling Gibson of its day, and players of the era surely couldn't have predicted that over five decades later guitarists would still be choosing Melody Makers for their cost-conscious riffing needs.