Reader Guitar of the Month: 1960s Gibson Melody Maker

This Canadian player took over a luthier friend’s restoration project and turned it into a reliable gigging machine.

Name: Robert Morency

Location: Montreal, Canada
Guitar: Gibson Melody Maker

The story begins with my good buddy Pavlo Haikalis, a guitar builder at PHG Guitars here in Montreal, acquiring a vintage Gibson Melody Maker in a trade a few years ago. It had no serial number, but its single cutaway and narrow pickup indicated it was either from 1960 or 1961. The guitar was in poor shape and needed more than a little TLC. It had a bad refinish and lost quite a bit of its thickness due to prior sanding.

In his spare time, Pavlo proceeded to strip it and refinished it in a nice reddish brown, reminiscent of those double-cut Les Paul Juniors of the late '50s. He even managed to save the original Gibson headstock logo, which was covered in black paint, by lightly sanding it down to the original paint and then buffing it. He did an awesome job, but then it sat in his shop with no parts or frets for some time, as he was busy making his own guitars.

One day I asked him what he planned to do with the guitar and offered to finish it, as I'm a luthier myself and have been restoring vintage instruments for years (decades, actually). I thought it would be a cool guitar to use on gigs with my trio, Unkle Groove. Lucky for me, he accepted and I got the guitar with a bag of parts a few days later.

I began by re-fretting it with jumbo frets and working on the original nylon nut, which had seen better days. I found a newer wraparound bridge, but since the body had lost about a 1/4" in thickness, I had to cut the inserts, as they were now too long to fit flush. With a proper setup, the action was low, with no buzz, and the guitar played and sounded great acoustically. Then it was time to work on the electronics. I rewired everything with new CTS pots and an old Switchcraft jack I had lying around. But the pickup was quite microphonic, so I took it out and dipped it in my “special blend" of wax, et voilà! The pickup sounded great and pretty full for a single-coil, and no feedback … unless I wanted it to.

The neck originally had the thinner, early-'60s profile, but the extra sanding had made it quite thin. Surprisingly, it can still handle my heavier string gauge (.012–.052) without compromising the action or playability. The tuners are the usual open-gear variety found on cheaper instruments, but they stay in tune great and never give me any problem live.

I have to say, it was a fun project, and the Melody Maker has become my main gigging guitar for the past two and a half years. It's a light, resonant, solid guitar that's extremely versatile for a tiny, one-pickup plank. With Unkle Groove, we play everything from Hendrix to Pink Floyd and ZZ Top, and it delivers on all of it. I would encourage readers to find their own “basket case" and, who knows, with a little bit of work, the end result might surprise you.

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