This article previously appeared on Harmony Central - your information source for making better music.
By Phil O’Keefe
Two legendary names meet in one remarkably affordable USA-built guitar
Gibson's first Melody Maker was released way back in 1959 as a slab mahogany-bodied single pickup guitar designed to make a Gibson electric affordable to budget-minded players. While the Melody Maker has seen multiple versions and variations over the years, they've all generally been very popular, and in many years it was Gibson's best-selling model.
The 2014 Gibson Les Paul Melody Maker has two model names, which is a bit confusing, and while aspects of both models are apparent in its design, it retains a Melody Maker's emphasis on value. It is the most affordable Gibson Les Paul model available today. Let's take it for a spin and see how it handles.
What You Need To Know
The 2014 Les Paul Melody Maker has a mahogany body with a carved (!) maple top. The body is thinner than a standard Les Paul (about the same thickness as a Les Paul Custom Lite or SG Standard), which helps keep the Les Paul Melody Maker's weight down. The rear of the body features a tummy cutout, making it even more comfortable.
I was surprised to learn that this Melody Maker / Les Paul has a maple neck. This is rather interesting, since most Les Pauls and even Melody Makers in the past have had mahogany necks. The neck has a rounded 50s profile. Being relatively short-fingered, I usually prefer Gibson's 60s SlimTaper neck profile, but while it's a bit larger than I normally look for, the shape and overall contour of the neck are very comfortable.
The neck has a nice rosewood fretboard, with 22 cryogenically-treated medium-jumbo frets, a 24.75" scale length and 12" fingerboard radius. The cryogenic treatment is said to give the frets longer life, making them stronger without being harder, with increased resistance to abrasive wear. The neck position marker inlays are acrylic dots, with white dots on the side of the fingerboard.
As with all of Gibson's 2014 guitars, there's a nice inlay at the 12th fret commemorating Gibson's 120th anniversary.
The nut is a low friction TekToid (TM) unit, and the nut slots are cut with the assistance of the PLEK system.
The tuners are white button Klusons, which give the guitar a bit of vintage-inspired flair. They hold their tune fine, and turn smoothly. The gear ratio is 14:1.
The headstock is a full-sized Gibson style and shape, and not the thinner, straight-sided version seen on most previous Melody Maker models. The bell-shaped truss rod cover is stamped "MELODY MAKER", while the headstock has a traditional "Les Paul Model" logo silkscreened in gold, which matches the gold silkscreened Gibson logo at the top of the headstock.
The review unit is finished in what Gibson calls Charcoal Satin. It's a nice looking color; a very dark smooth matte satin grey. For some reason, this color is slightly less expensive than the other color options, which cost an extra $50 "street" price. In addition to Charcoal, it's also offered in TV Yellow Satin, Wine Red Satin and Manhattan Midnight Satin. Unlike some previous Melody Maker models, there are no wood pores visible in the finish.
The 2014 Les Paul Melody Maker's Charcoal Satin finish extends to the back, and up the back of the neck, giving it a very uniform appearance. I found the "feel" of the finish quite smooth and comfortable, and not the least bit sticky, even when playing it with sweaty hands.
The bridge is a one piece Lightening Bar wrap-around unit with a satin chrome finish that visually ties in nicely with the satin finish of the guitar. It has pre-set, non-adjustable saddles built-in, so the intonation adjustment is relatively limited, and can only be done by adjusting the two allen screws on either end of the bridge. Fortunately, the intonation was excellent straight out of the box.
The pickups are a P-90ST in the bridge and a P-90SR in the neck position. They are both top-mounted "soap bars" with black plastic covers and individual, non-adjustable AlNiCo V "slug" magnets instead of the adjustable pole pieces and bar magnets of most P-90 pickups. They are based on a version of the P-90 that was originally used on the ES-125 from 1946 to 1950.
The sound of the pickups is similar to, but a bit brighter and crisper than other P90s you might be familiar with, and the pickups snarl and growl in a very cool way when used with an overdrive pedal or cranked-up amp. Want warmer tones? Use the neck pickup, or just roll down one of the tone knobs a bit. While I'd characterize this guitar as leaning towards the brighter side of things, it does offer a variety of cool sounding tones.
The three-way pickup selector switch is from Switchcraft, and it is positioned in the traditional Les Paul location above the neck, as opposed to being pickguard-mounted like on most earlier two-pickup Melody Maker models. It's more work in the building process, with more routing involved to put it where it is on the 2014 model, but I think it looks cooler and it is much less likely to get in the player's way than a pickguard-mounted switch is.
In another departure from traditional Melody Maker specs, the 2014 Les Paul Melody Maker model has two volume and two tone controls, as you'd expect to find on a two pickup Les Paul model. The potentiometers are 500k units with a non-linear response, which makes them very fast and easy to adjust. The new Supreme Grip speed knobs have indentations in the top edges that make them easier to grab and manipulate, as well as larger numbers that are easier to see.
The output jack is mounted on the side of the guitar, like you'll find on a standard Les Paul. While most Melody Makers in the past have had pickguard-mounted output jacks, I greatly prefer the 2014 model's configuration. Again, it's more work to build it this way, but it's out of the player's way.
The new 2014 Gibsons now ship with Cleartone coated strings. Regardless of your personal opinions regarding coated strings (and I like the feel of these strings), they offer superior corrosion resistance and longer life over traditional strings, and that means the chances of you having a decent first encounter with the Les Paul Melody Maker in the store are greater, even if it's been on display for a couple of weeks and auditioned by multiple players. After all, no one likes trying out a guitar with grimy, rusted-out strings.
The new, larger sized aluminum strap buttons are yet another nice touch. They're big enough that it was a bit more difficult to attach my strap to the guitar, but the upside to that is that it's less likely to come off accidentally. I'll gladly take that trade off.
At this price, expecting a hardshell case would be pretty unreasonable, and while one is not included, Gibson does toss in a very nice gig bag.
It's a USA-built Gibson, and it comes with their standard limited lifetime warranty.
You're somewhat limited in terms of string gauges. Not that the guitar wouldn't handle significantly heavier (or thinner) strings, but you may have issues with getting the intonation dialed in as precisely as you can by sticking with the stock string gauges, which are 0.09 - 0.46.
Although the overall setup on the guitar was good, I did notice a bit of minor buzzing on the first few frets when playing unplugged. If you're bothered by that, since the stock action is quite low, it could probably be raised slightly to cure the buzz without adversely affecting the playability or action too much. It's a non-issue and inaudible when the guitar is being amplified.
If you have small hands, or prefer the more svelte SlimTaper neck profile, you may not find the neck suitable to your preferences. Even still, as someone with short fingers, I actually found it quite comfortable to play - much more so than I was expecting. Yes, it's a rounded 50s profile, but it's very playable, and the extra beef in the neck is bound to be a contributor to the solid tuning stability and overall tone of this guitar.
The combination of nice features and low price is always attractive to players, which is probably why the Melody Maker has been such a success over the years. Toss in light weight and good balance, coupled with the sound of the updated P90s and a ton of Les Paul-type features, and you've got a real cool USA-built guitar that practically anyone can afford, and more importantly, that you'd actually be proud to own.
I love the traditional Les Paul "look" of this guitar, with the single cutaway body shape and carved top, all four knobs, the switch in the upper position, and the traditional full-sized Gibson headstock. I was worried that intonation would be an issue with the minimal adjustment offered by the compensated wraparound bridge, but the factory intonation was spot on, and outside of some minor buzzing, it all worked and sounded great right out of the box.
Some are going to say that the Gibson 2014 Les Paul Melody Maker is not "really" a Melody Maker because it lacks this feature or that, or because it has this feature or that which Melody Makers have traditionally not had, but to me, that's quibbling, especially since the 2014 Les Paul Melody Maker gives you much more than most previous Melody Makers have. Besides, the core essence of the Melody Maker has always been USA-made quality coupled with maximum affordability and value, and this guitar nails that in spades. Had Gibson decided to call this a Les Paul Junior or Special, which in many ways it is, I wouldn't have questioned it. Some may have complained about the maple neck and satin finish, since most Juniors and Specials have traditionally sported mahogany necks and gloss finishes, but outside of that, the essentials of a good two-pickup Junior or Special are all here, but it's priced like a Melody Maker. That adds up to a ton of value in my book - especially since this thing smokes any of the earlier Melody Makers I've tried. Grab one before Gibson comes to their senses and raises the price by 50%.
Musician's Friend Gibson 2014 Les Paul Melody Maker online catalog page ($999.00 - $1,089.00 MSRP, depending on color, $569.00 - $620.00 "street")
Gibson's 2014 Les Paul Melody Maker product page
Gibson Les Paul Melody Maker demo video:
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.
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