The Smith Family Melobar Guitar - the real story of Melobar from Ted Smith - melobarted@gmail.com

IDENTIFY MELOBAR MODELS




Melobar Models

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People are constantly emailing questions about a Melobar they have, wanting us to identify it, and it's history. Hopefully this page should help with that.
(If you are a Melobar owner; as the builder, I always love to see where the guitars ended up - many I can still remember - so take a photo with your guitar and I'll include you in the Melobar Family Hall of Fame page, I love seeing the guitars again, they are like my kids.)


As stated in the History pages, Walt Smith started working with Lap Steels back in the very early years owning the first patent on a pitch changing device (see the Melobar Story Guitar Player Magazine 1991)

The official name of Melobar didn't start until the mid 60's

The Melobar tilt neck design which Melobar is famous for started back in 1964 with Walt Smith, the originator, sawing the neck off a guitar in a shop at one of his ranches in Donnelly Idaho, however he still had a place in Ojai California and worked with the Mosrite factory and the Dobro Factory on building his instruments.

Original Patent Document:  Archives Washington DC


Special thanks to the players on the Steel Guitar Forum who supplied most of the photos shown below.
1960's
The very first production Melobars were standard guitars with the 45 degree necks bolted on top. The 45 degree neck was the original patent Walt filed in 1967 and was granted in 1969.

Mosrite Built Melobar


The really first production Melobars were manufactured for Walt Smith at the Mosrite factory in Bakersfield California and released in 1967.

However if you take these bodies apart (as shown here) you'll often see time stamps much earlier as these guitars were in the production process from 1964 through 1967
 
stamped OCT 25 1965 number 008 (my personal white Mosrite turned into a Telobar)

 The identifying factors are: Mosrite body, Mosrite labeled pickups, Mosrite knobs, Chrome control panel that goes completely around pickups as one piece with that half round area as shown,


Kluson Keys, a angle on the top of the head so the treble side is longer than the bass side of the head.


 Pick guards, fret boards were usually a pac man look. Odd 23" scale from nut to bridge. Various bridges were installed, nut's often had a serial number on the key side of the angle. The string spacing was very tight trying to squeeze in 9-strings or 10 on a 6-string pickup. The history is that Rye Cooder said the string spacing was too tight and Walt mothballed the entire lot of 300 plus guitars.
Most were sunburst with 6 white, 4 red and 4 blue that are known as originals from the Mosrite batch.

 We now know that the Rolling Stones Brian Jones somehow got a hold of one and loaned it to Jimmy Page just before he died. This was also the guitar model Jefferson Airplane used on the Crown of Creation Album. A few guitars were stolen out of a vehicle at the LA airport which have never been tracked down. After Walt Smiths death in 1991, his son Ted Smith dug into the back dusty pile of old Mosrites that had not seen the light of day since 1967. Another article in Guitar Player magazine called Melobars Basement Genius highlighted these guitars and nearly all of them were sold to collectors.

The emblems came in the standard psychedelic, the type above and more rare, the one with the bar as the -O-

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After Semie died a limited release (14 authorized but only 4 built) of a few Signature anniversary series were released in 1997 with Walt Smith's signature and Semie Mosleys signature in the chrome fretboard. A total of four were actually built of the limited release. 24" scale and 6 keys with modern kluson style keys.

Red one to left and White one below.





 


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The Rosac Model (pictured is an original non-converted model)

 





After the Mosrite factory was shut down the former Mosrite employees started what we called the Rosac factory and built around 300 for Walt Smith in the early 70's. The body shape has smaller upper bout horns, the neck is squared off where it meets the body, the head is square with 10 keys, real tortious shell pickguard for the volume tone, Paul Barth pickups had the chrome around the outside and the logo on the head is 70's modern a bit psychedelic.

There were rumors that they had kept some of the patented tilt neck parts in a rail road car but no one has come forth at this point.
Paul Barth created the pickups which had a 63mm magnet, again they tried to put 10 strings on this tight pickup which made the spacing very tight. 22 1/2" scale Most were sunburst but
 

John Selby had six custom built in black and white (the one Rusty Young and Pat Boone are shown playing).

Over 200 of the Rosacs were converted at the Payette shop for an easy play guitar for beginners.
This included the letters printed on the fretboard very large and simple and the Sounds Fantastic Instruments written on the fretboard, often a snap on fret guide was on the outside, and a hand rest was on the bass side. Usually tuned to a E major on the outside 6 and a E minor on the inside 4 strings.




 The pickups were staggered to allow a wider string spacing, the switch was cut off and the hold plugged, a fret guide (patented notched rubber guide for the bar to bump against for pitch accuracy) was usually snapped to the outside and they came in Victoria luggage (old Fender vendor) cases.
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John Selby (his full letter is in the Fun Melobar Facts Page) did an amazing job of getting Melobar into some of the top 60's rock legends with a custom version of the Rosac model of which he built 6 one seen being played by Rusty Young of Poco in his Steel Guitar Book


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A half dozen were converted with the Lawrence L-705 pickups before the new body styles of the Powerslide V-10 and X-10 were released
Here are two Rosac's modified that Mom and Dad took to the National Steel convention


Most were stripped down of their parts to use the pickups, tuners, volume tone on the first Melobar lap steel called the LS model lap steel in 1995. The necks are boxed and will probably be used on one of the Steelgitr models.
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1970's

Metal Acoustic modelThe body is suspiciously the size of the Dobro because the Dopyera's were helping Dad through this time. The guitar had a single pickup, a unique tail piece and usually in this sunburst (I know of three that were painted gold)

Less than a 100 were built around 1972 - Walt never was very proud of this model because when it was finished the rivets were very obvious around the outside and the acoustic volume was tinny and non-existent so he never released it.
Ten originals in the original boxes with the original Melobar instruction record and a Mosrite strap were sold to collectors in the mid 90's.





 Less than a dozen were sold to the public. The rest were taken to the Payette dump because the parts were too cheap to spend the labor in taking them apart. Unfortunately but humorously the dump salvaged the guitars and they have become notorious as the dumpster guitars.
Oddly enough they have been used on some albums and sound tracks due to the unique funky tone.
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A box lap steel type that a few dozen were made, actually was pretty good acoustically with these sound chambers inside.

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There was a series of Melobars with fiberglass on the outside of the body (Sheb Wooley's Purple People Eater Melobar;  who wrote the song was a close friend of Dads and dad built this for him. This is an example of this experimental that did end up in the public.

They had a single pickup - very thin uniquely shaped body sometimes painted red with a white neck.
The neck had was shaped differently reverting out at the control panel. The panel was black with black knobs, chrome open geared keys.
There is no real name for this model in that they were experimental however a large batch of these went to the dump with metal acoustics and got labeled the dumpster guitars too.

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The Wood Acoustic Melobars
Built in the mid-seventies these were a modified 12-string acoustic with an aluminum angled neck bolted to an existing neck. This is an excellent example of on in good condition. Most self destructed over the years from the 10 string pressure put at an angle and if you own one I'd string it six string to keep it from imploding over time. Steven Sherman Smith built most of these with Doug Smith for a Melobar teaching studio in Meridian Idaho that was attempted for a couple of years.


The Fretguide
Dad patented a guide you can see on this acoustic that ran on the outside of the neck
You simply bumped your bar against the notch and you were right on pitch.

This later evolved to a floating version (on foam springs) that went between the Powerslide 88 models string 6 and 7 that bumped agains the bar - but you could slide over it (see the 88 model below).


The Strummr "Buddy" model 
I built an acoustic version and sold a couple dozen here in Idaho around 1992 that had the outside fretguide on a 6 string guitar with a SABINE tuner built into the body (small body 3/4 acoustic) with a video for beginners wanting to just strum at a camp fire and not have to learn the left hand finger positions
(fits in below during Smith Family Music time period). 


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1980's

The Powerslide series

The Powerslide series had a chrome bridge saddle, chrome plate, plain fretboard, older era Grover Keys and the very obvious Lawrence L-705, L-605 10 string pickups. The scale started at 22 3/4" but as more were built we found the guitars played more "in tune" at 22 and 7/8".
Built in 1981 and released at the NAMM show these were very expensive guitars for the times (over $1,000) and not many were sold. There are probably less than twenty Powerslide guitars.

These are the first four painted by Wayne Jerrett - the Black V went to Troy Klontz, the Silver Strat was supposed to go to Bonnie Raitt but her producer in LA at the time gave it to Ron Woods and Keith Richards, the Gold parchment brown strat was used at trade shows for nearly twenty years and was last owned by Jim Frost. The Red Explorer on the right was delivered by John Selby and Arlan Roth to Ron Woods and Keith Richards in person in New York.

Two more were later built, a Black V-10 with a single pickup and the Hardrock Café purchased a Gold X-10 with Duncan 6 string pickups that was damaged on the back in shipping.

They can be identified by Wayne Jerretts unique signature and are probably the most valuable Melobars. (As the builder I always like to know what happened to my baby Melobars so if you own one please take a photo with it and I'll post it on the Melobar Hall of Fame when I have time)


Walt Smith patented a foam body that bolted to the Melobar neck, this model was called the PROFORM model.
Lindley made the comment he felt this model with the foam body and a metal plate on the back of the Melobar neck had the best Melobar sound

Bill Lawrence pickups are obvious by the metal magnets and bobbins. These guitar were suppose to help a steel guitar player be able to get their wrist down into the claw position and flatten the neck out more like a lap steel. It did do that with Buddy Emmons and Jeff Stevenson playing them as dueling steels on a video at the Steel Convention but the foam body did not become popular.

As a general rule all Melobar short scale guitars after 1980 were built with a 22 and 7/8" scale because  the guitars just flat played better at that length in the short scale.
I know this was not "normal" but Melobar was never "normal"
We may not have always built the best cosmetic guitars (we built Chevys for working players not Cadillacs for want to be's who hear with their eyes) but we always tried to build guitars that sounded great.
Sound is subjective and we always leaned toward the David Lindley sound on Jackson Brown's
 Running on Empty slide work.

As the sole builder after '91, I still remember many of these guitars like someone would their grandkids and would love to know who owns them now...so if you have a Melobar never hesitate to email me at melobarted@gmail.com with a pic of you and your instrument and I'll try to put it in the hall of fame when I can get around to it.

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Powerslide 88 model
 The soft foam body is a huge giveaway that this is an 88 model. The other distinctions is the E-66 plain black pickup cover, a G/C tuning with a floating fret guide down the middle.

 Video of one


Not many of these were built either, the guess is a dozen but it is a guess because the people mft at the time were not honest and took many Melobar parts and old guitars and sold them on their own.

 The Powerslide 88 model only had a dozen built authorized by Melobar

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Note:

One of the best ways to I.D. a Melobar is by the pickups and the fretboard writing

                                               This is the Paul Barth Pickup used on the Rosac and early LS Lap Steels


                                        This is a set of the Lawrence 705,605 pickups - even though it has a chrome panel like a Mosrite you can easily see the magnets and there is no writing on the pickups making this a Powerslide series Melobar. The same look was on the shorter SXL 6-string Lap Steels with Lawrence pickups

The E-66 Pickups on the 88 model are the same size with a chrome panel but you can NOT see the magnets.

The finger boards will usually have writing on them giving the Hollywood Post office box address on the Mosrites, Payette address, Weiser address for the Powerslide series then the Sweet address for the Smith Family Music era.
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                                            Overland Rd Boise = 1985-1989 Powerslide Era

Weiser Idaho on Fretboard is 1980 - 1985

                                         Model 17 Melobro's will usually have the
                                                  T.Smith Mel-O-Bro at the head


                                      No Address on top of fretboard means prior to 1980
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1990's

Smith Family Music Era
The key factor to start with is these will all have the Sweet Idaho address on the finger board.
A serial number will often be on the key side of the nut with a code saying the first numbers indicate year and number built = however as the number of lap steels increased in building this was dropped and the numbers were left with the new owners of Melobar and no one knows now what they did with those records.


1990's  Sweet ID = Smith Family Music Era with Ted Smith

after 2000 this fretboard was used
as well as a new one Jim Frost came up with
that had the original psychedelic
Melobar emblem on top in black and white,


anything with a lasered CNC cut-in fretboard
was after 2000
 
The Skreemr series
A less expensive 6-string version of the Powerslide Melobars. Cheaper pickups using the EMG selects, ping keys and very thin bodies. A couple dozen were built in 1992-93 then replaced with upscaled components.
early model SK with EMG Select pickup


1994 the Skreemr received better finishes, Grover keys and a 6-string Lawrence L-500 pickup which was a copy of the L-705. In a  single bridge pickup set up. Over fifty were built in that up-scaled style but there is no accurate count.

Pictured with L500 pickup and Grover keys


Many were custom built for players such as this model with the open Ned Steinberger designed head, dual Lawrence L500 pickups and the Dobroism electronics in the panel. Also note a few were built with more angle upwards trying to get the neck flatter to the player when standing up.
Blue Burst with upgraded Humbucker ... YOUTUBES video of this guitar


Melobar on National Television ACM awards

2013 update 
Tim McGraws Steel Player has made Black Skreemrs popular

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 LS model Melobar Lap Steel

The first lap steels ever built by Melobar; the first had all old Rosac parts with ping keys and a the Paul Barth pickup.

The cosmetics were not great on this model but the sound was warm and nice.
Wanting string through for sustain the LS model used a Brass rod to keep the strings from digging into the wood grain but was pretty hokey. The bridge was Dad's patented Phenolic with brass poles which helped the overall tone. 22 7/8ths scale. Built in late 92 through 93 about 200 were built in 6 and a few 8 string models LS sound on Youtube
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The Updated LS model
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mp51z3wE58M

Replaced the crude wire with a machined brass string through part. The pickup and controls were all inclusive machined pickguard. EMG select pickup on the first production then switched to the USA Bill Lawrence pickup. Ping keys. Over two hundred manufactured.

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S-Head Series
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sZo1J5Wlig
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcnBmt4cf-0

SLS model had Grover keys and all the updates on the old LS model but added Grover Keys and a custom pickup from Bill Lawrence and more router style on the head and upper bouts of the body.
This was one of the most popular distributor models built through '97, note the pickup magnets can be seen and the grooved upper body bout, dome knobs. Urethane finish. 22 7/8" scale. Stock options were Gold hardware or Black hardware. Usually shipped with a cassette instruction tape and a soft bag case.
Over 500 of these were manufactured during that time and shipped to distributors in Japan, Germany, England and Italy
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CC-8 model
named after Cindy Cashdollar because Lawrence copied the tone of her guitars pickup

Very popular 8-string S-head guitar it went through similar body transitions going from the old LS body to the carved S-head and carved upper bouts with a side jack. 24" scale.
Built through the same era as the SLS and S-Head over two hundred were built through to 2000

CC-8 custom with Stringmaster pickups
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SXL series

Ned Steinberger came up with a great design for guitar heads similar to the Stringmaster ash tray but it went clear through making it very easy to string the guitar and use Grovers. I loved this head style so we incorporated that into a 24 1/2" scale guitar with the SLS body. The SXL had a single or two pickup option using the L-500 Lawrence pickup which was just like the famous L705. Best looking and sounding Lap Steel we built approximately a hundred were built from 98 to 2001.

John Hauck



These were built with the optional Dobroism (electronics that made the guitar sound like a resonator guitar) and the ability to put it into the Melobro Fiberglass body to play it standing up like a Dobro
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The Teleratt

Inspired by Nashville Studio A-team player Paul Franklin; Click Here for Video, this was a 24 1/2" scale Lap Steel in a SXL body or a Ratt style body with Lawrence Telecastor pickups and the pickups re-set to the scale. Heard a lot on albums you listen to everyday this was a very popular guitar with about a hundred built during the same time as the SXL

This is the last Teleratt I built in 2014; David Cook bought it and a piece of me went with it,
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Mini - Teleratts (two built)
Video of Mini-teleratts

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The Strummr

35 six string mini-acousics (size of the child folk guitar) were built with six strings, an outside fretguide of plastic, letters on the fretboard for an E tuning, and most significantly a built in chromatic sabine tuner. This came with a video and Roy Clark song book for $299 list. Most were sold in Idaho mid 90's.

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Super Steel

A modular (each neck being independent and playable as a lap steel by itself or console guitar)(George Boards copied the idea years later with a better key design but I never saw them put in on a modular stand which is the way to go so you can add or subtract necks with different pickups and tunings or grab one and use it as a lap steel when you need to)

Stringmaster custom pickup with blender options plus every SXL option including the Teleratt option and pre-routered for the Dobroism electronics. Eleven were built in '97.
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                                                     The Steelgitr
                                        
video in action
 you can tell a Steelgitr from a Telobar by the flat butt end on the Steelgitr and the wide distance between the neck heads
This was originally a custom order from a customer who built a similar instrument himself called the Black Rose.
We put a lot of hours into making it ergo dynamically perfect. And this does work really sweet. Weighs less than a Les Paul and balances amazingly.
We sold 17 of them and I still have one myself that I love to play. This is the one guitar I'd like to build again.
 ______________Tel-O-Bar
Which I did build one 10 string version in 2013,
renamed this new version Tel-O-Bar; which is a Telecaster cut in half with the Melobar laminated on the other side (note the Tel-O-Bars have a rounded end at the lower bout)
built two more and sold them in spring 2014

Here is a six string version I personally own Video link here

and a Tele Custom with my old Mosrite Melobar


 
Here is a antique white 10 string version on the bottom neck with a custom fender on top that I had to sell in fall of 2014 - I love these guitars and probably have the largest collection of them now with 6 left in my music room including a
                                                Strat version, most fun guitars I've ever played in my life... 


10 or convertible 8 string Melobar

Video link of this guitar below here hard to see in grey

Played video below

I'd love to build more of these but players just won't pay enough to make it feasible so I am encouraging guys to build their own if they want, and I sell them scaled plans with tracings to get the neck distance and design right, if you don't get the angles right, they do not fit your body right - so I want to make sure guys get that right...here is a home built being played
Only thing I ask is guys not call them Melobar Tel-O-bars unless they use the plans and an actual Melobar original neck
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 The Rattler Model Click for video and More Video



 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHtGv87yw3k
considered by many players to be the best sounding Lap Steel Melobar
ever built for that David Lindley sound
 

Size comparison of a SXL long scale on the left
And a Maple body short scale Rattler on the right


Necessity was the mother of this model and we sold more of these than any other lap steel
A very simple hand rubbed finish on a solid 8 quarter piece of wood, Grover keys, M213  Kent Armstrong Humbucker, Strat style bridge, bronze radius cut nut.
Simple-cheap- fantastic sound
Over a thousand of these were built from 97 through to today.
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courtesy Roger Shackelton
Tomohawk 
We tried to do a less expensive 8-string version like the competition with the same lip stick tube pickup they were using and I was not happy with the pickup. We fudged the bass string to try and get it to cover but it was like the old Melobar days of trying to squeeze too many strings on too short a pickup magnet. We built a dozen and then I recalled the pickups and offered to replace them free of labor if the customer paid for a better pickup which we put in the last dozen built but this model never really took off. Still a good solid short scale 22 7/8" guitar with Grover keys and Maple body. If you can deal with the pickup it's a decent tone but if you replace it with a Stringmaster replacement you have a killer guitar.
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Melobro

These were Fiberglass guitars with the history documented in "after 91" on this web site

The first model was the Neeley which we built six in black, Red, and an amazing silver that Jeff Peterson has.

After that we built a layed up molded version in three body styles all are distinguished by the sound holes in the upper bout
                                             Raybay model IV shown  -  Royale   -   Hula


Hula - about 4 were built
Royale - 6 (this red one was the most amazing cut through resonator you'll ever play)
Raybay models I-XVII =  23 built then 3 more at the Hardway shop and I have three more in building stages as of 2011. These have the internal sound baffles with an amazing tone and volume.

In the Raybay series there was a series of models I through model XVII
You can tell these by a arched back, molded raised edge on the front lower bout and a half moon string tie down behind the Saddle attached to the cover plate for more string drive.
There are also changes in the internal components with mahogany baffle plates.
All had the NS head
Three more were built in the Hardway factory before the fire.

And I built two more out of older parts in 2013-2014
Video that published sideways
for some reason on youtube but will
give you an idea of sound


Raybay model XVII


Two standard guitar neck cutaway versions and one non cutaway was built as experimental

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Melobar side products

The Outrigger
Designed from the Melobro body, the lap steel bolted in it so you could play any lap steel standing up like a dobro.


The Suregrip Bar
Originally the "Ring Bar" which was wire in surgical tubing  your could wrap to fit your finger, this was with the Chase bullet bar. Then Walt made the Suregrip as shown with the plastic grips that could be heated and made to fit. Ted later made them in a medium bar size as shown.




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Hardway Guitars
Jim Frost asked us to build Melobar again in 2006 2007. We started Hardway guitars to build Melobars and custom Hardway guitars.
The genius of the Hardway guitars was this man Chad the man. He was the most gifted creative builder I ever worked with. The idea was no two Hardway guitars would be the same using things like fretboards that lite up with LCD lights when the guitar was plugged in highlighting the frets, woods laminated in unique half moons, dice laminated into the head, fun stuff all with CNC precision. P90 pickups with Les Paul bridges and tie downs. They were excellent guitars but only 16 were built.



Each guitar was unique and had the HW with a number and name of that guitar


One damaged by fire that I was able to reclaim and then get a really beautiful Green look (called it the Green Dragon) and built for Peggy Green (she has an original Green Teleratt and this last one I built in the Hardway design)

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Hardway Rattlers
I guess I should have been back on the Steel Guitar forum before we started this batch. We wanted to build more of the Rattlers but I wanted some pizaz so we did a very unique rattle snake pickguard - but it didn't go over...Built a dozen of these new Rattlers and then cancelled the series. I've heard collectors grabbed most of them.
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Thats all....so as of 2011 (smile)
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Update 2014

Well it's been 50 years for Melobar...and I'm retiring the name and quitting building.

To wrap it up; I did an out and out blitz building anything and everything hanging around...

 These are just a few of them..4 of the double neck Tel-O-bars, Three CC8 style 8-strings, couple of Teleratts, bunch of different Rattlers, Skreemr and the last Hardway Melobro. Viewing all the guitars I've built over the years, it sometimes rattles my mind, I can still remember so many of them on the bench ...it's funny (or sad) though, after 50 years and getting players from the Rolling Stones, to Melobar being on albums of number one hits on country albums, I can't listen to country radio without hearing it, guys inform me I'm just a weird odd ball, well this weird odd ball is calling it quits, 50 years is long enough to try and help players be innovative and still be called that. So a slug of these I'm keeping. I told my wife, "when I die, she can sell them to plant me in the ground :)"

So that's the end of it...I own the Melobar trademark, and for the family name, will protect it.

We may see some copies of the designs like the popular Teleratt, Rattler and SXL CC8 lap steels with all with my blessings, I hope they do well and all I can do is quote what Mom said; that they printed in Guitar Player magazines first article on Melobar September 1991...

"it's been quite a ride"

Keep on a pick'n