There are certain things we think of when we hear ‘Gibson Les Paul.’ Chief among these are the single cutaway design, two pickups each with their own volume and tone controls, and a carved top. And Gibson’s long-running Melody Maker model differs from this in many key ways, including a slab body, pickguard-mounted controls (most often just single volume and tone knobs), and usually just a single pickup. The Les Paul Melody Maker combines aspects of both designs and it does so in a way that brings out the best elements of each at a price that’s almost unheard of for a US-made guitar.
The Les Paul Melody Maker features the traditional Les Paul materials of a mahogany body with a gently carved maple top, although here the neck itself is maple rather than the much more common mahogany. The fretboard is rosewood with 22 cryogenically tempered frets and a flattish 12” radius. Fretboard inlays are pretty restrained – plain acrylic dots – aside from a 120th Anniversary decorative inlay at the 12th fret, common across a wide range of 2014 Gibsons. The neck is cut to Gibson’s ’50s Rounded profile, deeper than the ’60s shape but not as chunky as the ’50s profile on my Les Paul Traditional. The tuners are vintage-style units with white buttons and while they do the job they’re not the most high-spec tuners you’ll find on a Gibson.
The pickups are a pair of Alnico V-loaded P90S single coils, a calibrated set with a hotter bridge pickup and a reverse wound/reverse polarity neck pickup so that the two are hum-cancelling when you select the middle pickup selection. Each pickup has its own volume and tone control. The finish is a low-labor satin which helps to keep the cost down while letting the wood breathe, and the tailpiece is the Lightning Bar model, a single wraparound intonation-compensated design in satin chrome.
Tonally, the Les Paul Melody Maker is an aggressive, crunchy little bugger. The bridge pickup is capable of a punchy country twang in clean mode, but add a little grit and you’ll hear all sorts of great classic rock tones from the Stones onward, with a fine line in angular modern indie and alternative sounds as well. The neck pickup has a juicy, responsive feel which is perfectly voiced for slide or for textural rhythm guitar or for vintage Sabbath-style riffsmanship, and the hum-cancelling middle position is a perfect all-rounder tone, letting you crank up the gain for stoner/doom metal tones or coax rich, three-dimensional R&B chord work with equal ease.
Okay, so you’ll need a noise gate or a pickup swap if single coil hum really gets to you but this is a solid axe with solid tones for any player, and great playability no matter what your preference. If you’ve never gotten along with Les Pauls before, this one will prove a little more player-friendly, and if you are used to the unique angles and characteristics of a Les Paul, this is like a more ergonomic and spine-friendly version.