In 1966, Gibson switched the Les Paul shaped Melody Maker design for a completely new guitar. Still called the Melody Maker, the new design was essentially an SG with single coil pickup(s) and a solid colour finish for the body. In fact, the colour was what initially attracted me to my ’67 example. It’s pelham blue metallic, which looks to be the most commonly available colour.
However, whereas some examples have remained staunchly blue (similar to Fender’s Lake Placid blue) throughout their lives, others – like mine – have gone a really lovely shade of ocean green. The yellowing of the clear lacquer coat causes this colour change, but when I bought this guitar many years ago, I genuinely thought it had left the factory in metallic green. Even beneath the scratchplate the finish is green, and only when you look very closely around the edges of the screw holes (where the top coat has been chipped away) can you see the pelham blue of the colour coat alone. The difference in colour is very stark. The colour coat is very obviously blue, but the guitar is very obviously green! The clear lacquer has evidently yellowed to to some order, but the effect is aesthetically very pleasant.
I’ve seen a number of single pickup models from this period, but mine is the two-pickup version – also made in fair abundance it seems. The guitar has a vibrato unit fitted, but also features anchor holes in the bridge. This means you can isolate the trem and instead use the bridge as a classic stop tailpiece. I’m not much of a trem user, and since this guitar is a pain to keep in tune at the best of times, I’ve set it up using the stop tailpiece arrangement.
Tuning is poor for a number of reasons. The bridge is unfortunately cast rather than assembled with adjustable saddles, and since this is a ‘60s guitar, the cast saddles are staggered to take a wound third (ouch). So you either get yourself a ridiculously heavy set of strings, or use the guitar with very dodgy intonation. The machine heads are of the budget variety, and this makes the tuning more unstable. If you use the trem, the tuning has a mind of its own. Disconnect the trem though, and it’s just about tolerable.
It’s a great shame the tuning is such a problem because the sound of this little beast is excellent. The pickups seem more powerful than Fender single coils, and they’re definitely warmer. Playing clean, with edge, or moderately dirty you get masses of character, and the guitar kicks ass as much as any Gibson I’ve used. The neck’s nice too. It’s quite clubby, but it feels comfortable, and what with the design being SG-orientated, you can get right up to the very high frets with total ease. One of the signs of a great guitar, I think, is that you get carried away when playing it and lose track of time. Some guitars you have in your hand for five minutes and find yourself putting them down or switching them for another. This, despite the tuning issues, is not one of those guitars. It’s a guitar of its time, and when you play it you do feel like you’ve gone back to the heyday of early rock.
When I bought this SG Melody Maker it was clearly not a fashion item. It’s one of the guitars for which I don’t still have the receipt (or at least I can’t find it), but I think I paid £325, which in the light of the £1,500+ figures I’ve seen attached to these things in recent times seems like a bargain of a lifetime. I’d say the guitar is worth a fair bit more than £325, but as a player’s instrument it doesn’t justify £1,500 or anything close. In fact, looking at what else is available, I don’t think it justifies half that. It’s not a greatly durable guitar like a Tele, so gigging it would require care. If you have the kind of aggressive, impassioned act which could really suit a guitar like this, then you may be too rough for it, and it almost certainly won’t be in tune after a couple of numbers.
For studio use you’d have to get something done about the bridge (or use strings with a wound third), because the intonation discrepancies will prove too great for a pro recording. That just leaves leisure use, or leaving the guitar in a case as an investment. And since there are better ways to invest money than buying one of these and keeping your fingers crossed for a good return, leisure use will pretty much be the main purpose of this guitar. So, £600 would be about the most I’d pay for one today. It could have been so much more desirable had Gibson spared an extra couple of quid per unit and fitted better machine heads and an adjustable bridge.
Of course, if you like early punk and want a guitar that never quite plays in tune, this could be perfect – provided you don’t start banging it up against amps or thrashing it about. I get the feeling the construction - particularly the thin vibrato plate - just isn’t up to that. If you’ve got a load of guitarist mates though, a green pelham blue SG Melody Maker will have them enraptured for some considerable time I’m sure.
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