I’m writing this with a heavy heart as, at the time of writing, this rather lovely little guitar will be going out of production very soon and has no place in the 2015 Gibson line-up.
Now this fondness for a Gibson is a rare thing for me. I recall the dark days of the early 80’s when a Les Paul Custom might sell for a Thousand English Pounds (3 months wages back in the day) and still be a pile of crap. Even more recently I’ve spoken to guitar shop owners who were sick of unpacking £6,000 1959 reissues and finding the most basic finish issues on them.
So in 2013, I was surprised to find the really rather good LPJ, followed by the SGJ. Great, simple US guitars at Korean factory prices. The 2014 models were even better and among them was the Les Paul Melody Maker.
Gibson have used the Melody Maker name on a number of fine, cheap guitars aimed at the broke, student market. Around 5 years ago the name appeared on a range of incredibly basic single pick-up guitars – in terms of construction these were the most prosaic things I ever saw but they handled beautifully and sounded….like full-fat US made Gibsons.
I liked those, I liked those a lot. I liked the 2014 Melody Maker more.
First impressions are of an elegant little thing. The classic Les Paul shape but with a thinner body – your standard Les Paul shape always felt too blocky and clumsy to me, this thinner shape was much more to my liking. Under the pretty agricultural nitro finish there is a thin maple top on a mahogany body, so there is some of that classic LP DNA right there.
With a carved top the body fits nicely against your ribs and is pretty comfortable both sitting and standing. It’s not too heavy either and will not punish your back too much during a long session.
The maple neck is a 50’s rounded shape. There is no getting around that this is a handful and will polarise opinion. But that thin nitro finish gives it a lovely warm, satiny feel and give it time, I found an hour with it revealed it’s qualities. It is a great neck for long sessions and seemed to relieve some of my tendancies towards hand cramps. It’s not a shredder neck (but then, you really would not choose this guitar for your Y Malmsteen sessions) but once you are used to the extra girth, it is very comfortable.
The fretboard is a decent lump of rosewood – personally I never minded the baked maple of yore but I know that most prefer the more traditional wood. The radius is a comfortable 12″ and there are 22 of those pesky”cyrogenically tempered” frets. The fret job is very good for a guitar of this price with every fret smooth as silk and well seated.
Indeed the general set up was excellent – Gibson’s automated PLEK system seems to work especially well on their cheaper models and both the SGJ and Melody Maker were extremely comfortable to play from the start.
As with the Gibson SGJ (see the review here), the standard of woodwork here was stripped down but solid. The very thin nitro finish will fade and blemish pretty quickly but this is the type of guitar that will carry that sort of wear well.
Be warned – though the set ups on these cheaper Gibsons are very good, finish is much more inconsistent, the next Melody Maker on the wall I saw had a very messy finish indeed – as always with Gibsons, check the the specific guitar you intend to buy before you get it.
Electrics and hardware
You get 2, count ’em, 2 P90 Alnico V pickups with your standard 2 tone, 2 volume and 3 way selector set up. The bridge is a wrap-around affair (I have an almost sexual attraction to a LP type P90 guitar with a wrap-around bridge.) It has limited intonation options but the basic set up was good enough for it not to matter. The Melody Maker bridge has been criticised for a perceived lack of quality but I had no problems with it at all. It worked, was simple and looked very cool.
The nut was well cut and accurate and the machine heads – if not the classic Grover – worked well enough. The white plastic pegs look cheap though and are as ugly as hell -the pegs on the SGJ are much more attractive.
So stripped down, well-built and loaded with P90s, lets give it a go….in Part 2!