The Melody Maker


My first electric guitar was an unnamed vaguely Stratocaster shaped instrument. It made noise that closely resembled music. I cut my teeth on that ax, learned about adjusting bridge height, repairing loose wires, proper re-stringing and so forth. Served me for a couple years in college and I think I got my money’s worth out of it. Paid $25, I think, at Ziegler Music in Gettysburg. Used to work on and off for Mrs. Ziegler, that and typing other peoples’ papers kept me in beer, cigarette, and pizza money. As I recall, it was a reddish color with a tortoise shell colored pick guard. For nostalgia’s sake, I’d like to have that old trash truck back; might even play it once on a while.

But, I digress. My college career was a bit of an uphill battle, but by my senior year, I was doing well; well enough that my mother, who had hated guitars but finally came around to the fact that her son was going to play guitar whether she liked it or not, decided to get me an early graduation gift. Someone had traded Mrs. Ziegler a blue, SG shaped, Melody Maker towards the purchase of another guitar. I was enratpured by that ax. To me, even though I play a Strat, there is nothing like a Gibson neck. I tell folks that picking up a Gibson and wrapping my hand around the neck is like shaking hands with an old friend, especially SGs and Pauls. So, Mom bought me the guitar for the princely sum of $75.

Although I had to play it through an old Univox tube bass amp, I was in heaven. I could finally keep up with the fellow who fronted the house band. I was astonished, I could play! That Melody Maker made me feel like a real musician.

Sadly, there are bumps in the road. My bedroom in the fraternity house was reverently referred to as the Black Hole of Calcutta. In years when membership was up, my room held three guys; it was the old formal parlor of the house. With one person living in it, I had space for bedroom furniture and space for a couple chairs, a horrible plastic coffee table, and a sofa that reeked of cigarettes, spilled beer,and a few things not to be mentioned on a website that might be accessed by minors. In short,it was a college senior’s dream room.

Quite often, the Black Hole was the site of some serious partying and during that partying, instruments would be produced, most notably guitars, a mandolin, a uke, and a mountain dulcimer. Being the old formal parlor, it adjoined the wrap around porch, so music often spilled out onto the porch. By the way, before I forget, one ot the reasons for the Black Hole nickname was that the bay window still had its stained interior shutters. You could close those shutters at mid day and suddenly it felt like 10 PM.

Anyhow, after one Saturday night of consumption of beer and other substances and lots of impromptu musical performances, I arose from my sleep and staggered across the room to survey the damage. Much to my horror, I saw the Melody Maker laying on the floor with the headstock broken at the first set of tuning keys. My world collapsed around me. Here was an instrument that I truly loved, broken and probably beyond repair. For those of you who don’t know, the Melody Makers of that era were one piece neck and body; no bolt on necks here. I emerged into the sunlight practically crying, carrying the wounded guitar, saying nothing. Most of the brothers were downstairs preparing their favorite Sunday-morning-remedy-for-Saturday-night and a hush fell over the kitchen. You might have thought that we received notice that one of us had died in an auto accident the previous evening. We all gathered round my +injured beauty and the best we could determine was that it must have slipped to the floor and someone not quite in control of their faculties had stepped on the headstock.

The next several days, I was in mourning; even considered wearing a black band around my arm. Unknown to me, two of my brothers took up a collection from the others and took the guitar up to Ziegler Music and told Eric, the repairmen, to make it right. Good thought, wrong person to give that order to. Eric looked at it and began to work on it. He decided that he would have to order an SG neck and remove mine. He got in Schaller tuning keys to replace the old Melody Maker tuning keys and began plans to do an action job. Eric was a perfectionist. When the guys found out that the cost of the new neck alone (about $150 raw in those days) was far in excess of what they were able to collect, they came to me with the bad news that they had sneaked my guitar up to Eric, but the repairs were far more than they could afford. I was overwhelmed by their secret plan to have my ax fixed, but was in no financial position to pay the balance due.

Eric was livid, “Just like a bunch of fraternity boys,” he growled, “trying to get something done they know nothing about.” Thankfully, under that gruff exterior, Eric was sympathetic. He cancelled the order on the SG neck. Mrs. Ziegler let me have the Schallers at cost and Eric was able to insert two steel posts into the broken headstock. He charged me a discounted rate for his time and even threw in an action job at no extra cost. Mrs. Ziegler made certain I got some extra hours in the store to earn the rest of the money I needed to pay for the repairs.

In the end, I had an ax that played as well or better than before. Played that thing for several years after graduating. I went through a dry spell without playing much, especially electric, for a few years. A lady I worked with had a young early teen son who was interested in playing guitar (I had taught him a few basics) and needed an ax for the fledgling band he was forming. I told Little Dagwood that he could use my Melody Maker, but he had to treat it as if it was his own, with two exceptions. He couldn’t sell it nor could he monkey with the electronics, no new pickups or anything like that. Several years passed and I picked up one of the original Japanese Squier Strats as I was playing again,

One fay, it dawned on me, Little Dagwood still had my Melody Maker. I knew that he had picked up one or more electrics of his own as he and his pals had turned into some sort of mix between a heavy metal and a glam band; certainly no place for a Melody Maker, so I thought it was time to ask for my guitar back. Strangely, he kept avoiding me. Finally, I asked his mother what was going on. She told me that he was too embarrassed to face me. He did the two things I told him not to do. He replaced the pickup, looking for some special sound and when he realized the mistake he had made, he couldn’t put the original back as he damaged it when he removed it. What did he do then? He sold it.

I tempered my anger as deep down, he was a good kid. I had a new and better guitar and he had learned a lesson. We had a short conversation about betraying trust and spoke of what he had learned. We remained friends for some time until he married, started a family and got into music production where he has had a successful career. Have not seen him in many years.

Do I miss my ax? Sure, but if I had not let Little Dagwood take it (and destroy it), I would probably never have purchased my Strat or my Ibanez Artist. In a strange way, I guess that I have continued mourning for my Melody Maker as I never owned another Gibson.

Here’s to all the guitars we used to have and regret selling or losing them. Somewhere, someplace, I’m hoping that there is a young teen, cutting his teeth on a once repaired SG style blue Melody Maker with a heavy metal pickup installed. If it is you and you happen to read this, let me know how the old ax is holding up. Is Eric’s repair still good?

— George Albany

Image By Prokopenya Viktor (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So... what do you think? Please leave me a comment.


  • Sparky2: A great read, George.
    I really enjoyed that.
    Sorry to be so long in getting to comment, things have been crazy around here.
  • George Albany: Been crazy here too. With the back-to-back nor-easters, we were without power for four days. Luckily a friend lent me a generator so only half the food in the refrgerator went bad.
    Interesting side note. I was watching some YouTube videos over the weekend and stumbled on a couple about Squier Stratocasters. Apparently, some of the originals that say Made in Japan, were actually prototypes that were made here in the States and are worth a whole bunch more than even the Japanese Squier Strats. Ever hear anyrhing like that?
  • Vale: Great story! I hope your power stays on the rest of the year and not too much more snow comes your way!

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