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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Electric Guitar Review!
Gibson Melody Maker Special:
"Budget Gibson Ain't No Cheapie"







Brevis...
Price: $$1,099 Retail
Like: killer P-90 tone
Dislike: only one volume and tone




by John Gatski

     The Gibson Melody Maker started its life in the late 1950s as a Gibson budget guitar, but its simple mahogany plank body and 24 inch scale, coupled with fat-sounding single coil pickups., made it a favorite of many a high-end player. The new Melody Maker Special, a non-monogrammed version of the Jonas Brothers Melody Maker that was on the market a couple of years ago, is now its own model with assorted colors, and that fat P-90 single coil tone. The guitar is a combination of the best Melody Maker, with its unique all-in-one pick guard control panel, and the Les Paul Special (the P-90s)

The details
 Made from solid mahogany, the MMS is a single-cutaway model with a thinner profile than your average Les Paul. The neck is solid mahogany, but the fingerboard wood is baked maple, that looks surprisingly close to rosewood. The peg head is more of Les Paul shape and size than the small headstock of the original Melody Maker. The MMS is equipped with Kluson-style tuners. The nut is made from Corian (a hard plastic).
  The neck scale length is the Gibson standard 24.75-inch with 22 frets and a 12” radius. The MMS is equipped with the ‘50s style wrap around bridge that does have some adjustment for intonation. Wrap around bridges, I believe, help enhance sustain on top loaded string guitars, and the MMS certainly has wonderful sustain. Not quite as much as a thicker body Les Paul, but the notes still sing sweetly.
  The key to the brilliant, girthy, warm, to-die-for-tone is the Gibson P-90 pickups. These non-hum canceling, big single coils have always offered a special sound; think Leslie West, Joan Jett, Bob Marley. Pete Townsend’s best tones were made on a P-90 equipped SG through the early to mid-1970s. These pickups have warmth, yet extra gain that a Telecaster and a Strat can only dream off; yet you roll back the gain, and they can be as sweet and jazzy as you want.
  Strung with Gibson .10-.046 strings, the first thing I noticed through the Deluxe is how familiar the P-90 tone was. Playing live or through an amp PA, I don’t think you could tell the difference between an upscale Les Paul Special and the MMS. 
  The pickups and the single tone and volume control are attached to a plastic pickguard, a la the original Melody Maker. Kind of like a Strat or Tele. The only quibble I have with the Melody Maker Special is that it only has one volume and one tone for both pickups (a 200K Switchcraft linear volume control and a 500K Switchcraft non-linear tone knob). Two controls per pickup, like the upscale Les Paul Special or standard Les Paul, would allow a bit more custom balance of the pickups when used together, but I understand it is a budget guitar. (I actually adjusted the neck pickup at a lower height, to match output of the bridge P/U when using both pickups.)
  Despite its budget Gibson positioning, the MMS is not a cheaply made guitar. The solid woods, USA made P-90s and real nitrocellulose finish give an air of quality that most budget guitars cannot match, Of course, this Gibson budget USA guitar is $1,100.  The Melody Maker Special comes in several colors, including the satin ebony, satin yellow, satin blue, and satin cherry. My review sample was finished in the ebony. With a thin nitro satin finish, you can feel the grain of the wood

The audition
  I played the Gibson Melody Maker Special through several different amps, including a 1966 Fender Deluxe Reverb, 1975 Princeton Reverb, and a 1965 Twin Reverb. I played it straight through those amps and through a number of pedals, including the Music Technology Assbite OD, my classic DOD FX100, and an Electro-Harmonix English Muffin tube OD.
  Strung with Gibson .10-.046 strings, the first thing I noticed through the Deluxe is how familiar the P-90 tone was. Playing live or through an amp PA, I don’t think you could tell the difference between an upscale Les Paul Special and the MMS. That warm tone with a jangly high-mid peak just nailed the rhythm tone I love with tube amps. And if you want more, just plug into an OD pedal, roll the selector switch to the bridge PU and that warm tone turns into a snarlin’, fat fuzz tone that will do any punker proud.


All hardware attached to pickguard


 The MMS is that versatile.  With the Twin reverb reissue, I also dialed in a really warm jazz tone on the neck pickup. For note picking, the neck is roomy enough with easy fret access, though the fret edges felt a little rough when moving my hand up and down the fretboard.  By the way, the compact mahogany body feels great. Its dimensions feel right with a healthy loud acoustic vibe. No cheap poly-smothered, cheap, feeble acoustic tone here. Nice and open. And the MMS does not weigh that much — about 7 pounds.
  The compact mahogany body feels great. Its dimensions feel right with a healthy loud acoustic vibe. No cheap poly-smothered, cheap, feeble acoustic tone here. Nice and open. And the MMS does not weigh that much — about 7 pounds.
  The black finish on my tester was kind of plain jane in its look, but it certainly fits the class and budget. Although its thinner nitro finish will likely ding easier than the normal Les Pauls, I consider any man-inflicted blemishes as warrior wounds and a badge of honor.
  There were a few setup issues that I addressed during the review, nothing out of the ordinary. I had to file a couple of nut slots to allow the guitar to intonate correctly when fretting and releasing, but the retooling took all of 20 minutes. The net result was also better tuning. Once the nut slot is properly routed for the strings, the tuners worked fine.
 The adjustable, wrap-around bridge means compromised intonation, versus the individually adjustable saddles of a Gibson tune’o’matic bridge. The wrap-around has two adjusters — one on each end of the bridge, but I adjusted the intonation to be dead on on every string.

The conclusion
  Although Gibson often recycles guitars from existing models that sometimes duplicate what they already have in a line up, the Melody Maker Special, gives us a the guitar we all really wanted when the Jonas Brothers Melody Maker signature edition hit the stores. Minus the white finish and teeny bopper autographs, the MMS, is definitely something special for those who want an affordable USA Gibson with that wonderful P-90 sound. 

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