The Melody Maker has been a part of the Gibson family for over fifty years. Since its introduction in the product line back in 1959, it has gone through quite a few iterations, with changes to the body, neck, and pickups over the years. With the introduction of Gibson’s 2014 product line, the instrument has found a new existence as the Les Paul Melody Maker.
In previous features we’ve talked about all the famous rockers who have played Melody Makers at some point in their career, including such legends as Joe Perry, Slash, Billie Joe Armstrong, and Billy Gibbons - whose first guitar actually was a Melody Maker. But the one musician to really champion the Melody Maker for most of her career is Joan Jett.
When Jett first came on the scene with The Runaways she was playing a Les Paul, which she reportedly still owns to this day. However, the weight of the LP was a bit too much for the scrawny Jett to run around on stage with, so she started looking for a less heavy instrument, but one that could still deliver a punch.
That’s when Jett bought the white single-pickup Melody Maker that has since become synonymous with her gritty hard-hitting guitar sound. The guitar has been used to record many Joan Jett and The Blackhearts’ classics, like “I Love Rock n’ Roll,” “Bad Reputation,” and “Crimson and Clover.” But as it turns out, the guitar had spent time in the spotlight even before it ended up in Jett’s hands.
Joan told the story of how she came to own the white Melody Maker in an interview with Guitar World: “In the Runaways I was using a blond Les Paul. It’s beautiful, and I still have it, but it’s heavy as shit. I jump and run around a lot onstage, and it was really getting to my shoulder, so I was looking for a lighter guitar. I heard from one of our road crew that Eric Carmen from the Raspberries was selling a Melody Maker, so I ended up buying it.”
Although Jett has been seen with various other Melody Makers throughout the years, the white double cutaway guitar that she bought from Eric Carmen has been her main instrument both on and off the road. But Jett told Guitar World that the guitar has become way too precious to bring along on tour: “Then I took it off the road because I got nervous that someone was gonna steal it or break it. It’s so beautiful. It’s white, has no stickers on it, and there are cracks in the paint and yellowing from age or club cigarettes.
“It’s an unbelievable-looking guitar. I have it in a closet and I take it out occasionally to record. But I don’t even need to use it to record anymore, because I have a guitar that sounds pretty much like it. I’m actually kind of afraid to bring out the original. It’s got a great heritage. It’s a guitar full of hits.”
Gibson’s Joan Jett Signature Melody Maker? was designed with Jett’s input, and based on her original Melody Maker. Jett told Gibson: “I had a lot of input, right down to the pickups. They tried to copy the pickups from my original Melody Maker, which were hand-wound coils, and they did a really great job. I think we created that pickup sound. The body style, the toggle switch position — including the direction it goes on and off — is so you can keep your hand on the volume knob but you can kick the toggle on and off with just your pinkie.”
So, how do you go about getting your hands on your own Melody Maker? Well, head to the nearest music store and check out Gibson’s 2014 Les Paul Melody Maker! This light-weight instrument is decked out with two sweet sounding P-90S pickups and a ‘50s rounded maple neck that gives you the stability you want when churning out power chord rock. As with all the guitars in the 2014 product line, the Melody Maker comes with an extra large strap button, and the 120th anniversary banner at the twelfth fret. So try it out, and see what you think - maybe it’ll inspire you to write the next “Bad Reputation!”
Joan Jett proving she’s still got it, live on stage with Foo Fighters: