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

Melobar "Tech" Help


How do older Melobar's Sound? An important question now that we are no longer building them, older models are going for pretty high prices on ebay, and you should know what you are looking at.
Quick Reference:
Mosrite Melobar; The first production Melobars were built by Semie Mosley in the Mosrite factory with Mosrite pickups. I love these guitars in that they have that fat Mosrite sound with a longer scale. Excellent for Blues, professional stage and studio work if strung as a 6 string.
Rosac Melobar; Paul Barth single coil pickups, these guitars were supposed to be for students and this guitar is not good for stage if you don't want old single coil non-shielded hum. Magnets are 63mm, so with standard spacing, best if strung 6-string.
Powerslide V and X 10 models with Bill Lawrence Pickups from the 80's are the best and good for up to 10 strings. This was the best professional model built by Melobar until the late 90's.
Skreemr 6-sting models built in the late 90's started with EMG pickups but were later upgraded to L500 Lawrence pickups with Grover Keys, these are very good professional instruments but the short 22 7/8" scale doesn't give a fat blues tone like the Mosrites did, take the same guitar and lengthen the scale and they'd be even better.
Steelgitr and Telobar double necks were all built custom but all were expected to go on stage so they have good components and sound good.

In the lap steels...
The LS model had the Rosac Paul Barth pickups on them so limited to single coil problems.
SLS, upgraded using the Lawrence pickups but a bit sharp in tone because of those pickups, switching out to even a tele rhythm pickup can help that tone a lot.
CC8 again Lawrence pickups but built for steel not guitar so more of a steel sound.
Teleratt most had Lawrence Tele pickups and had a good tone
XL models had Lawrence L500 pickups with the best tone of all the Melobar Lap Steels
Supersteels had the above set ups so match your pickups to the above
Rattler, considered the best Melobar Lap Steel if you want that "Running on Empty" Lindley sound

In all, Melobar's were a crossover from a standard guitar to a steel built with Alder like a Strat' so you'll want to set your amp with that in mind and roll back the treble if it sounds too bright or aggressive if you want Hawaiian steel, and not be afraid to change out pickups.
Hope that helps...



Ted Smith's 20:20 viewpoint in hindsight; "It's interesting to step away from something your entire family was so involved in for decades, and analyze what went wrong or right. I now play mostly blues so my viewpoint on Melobar is skewed that way.
Although we had players like Troy Klontz with Brooks and Dunn and Jeff Peterson with Clint Black step out with the original tilt neck Melobar, I believe the instrument was never on the right track due to Walt's focus on a 10 string guitar only, and on a student instrument.
If I had it all to do again, I believe the tilt neck should have only been built on the V body, that shape fits your body and gives the player leverage with the right elbow to position the instrument at a better angle.
Second, and most important, it should have never been built in less than a 24.5 scale. The tone is so much better and it plays more 'in-tune' than the short scale that Melobars all came stock with.

Third, should have been in the 6-string version with pickup options like Telecaster and Les Paul set ups.
If this had been done from the start - SO many more players could have really done something with the Melobar."

If you have a Melobar and want to get tone and usability, re-build it with a 24.5 scale (I have some decal fingerboards if you need one for $25 ea.), put a new nut and saddle on it, and have someone cut a V body for it - just Ted's opinion on the subject.

I get a lot of questions about how to get an older Melobar Nut and Bridge set up for 6-string. I also recently heard a Melobro on a video that was not set up right and had lost a lot of punch that they came out of the factory with...so this page is Tech help to get the most out of you Melobar.

Nut
Early Melobar Nuts were a mess. Dad wanted to use tunings that had heavy strings in the middle and the nuts became butchered up as more and more new tunings were put on those "student" models.
The Powerslide series in the 80's started using Brass bridge rods and switched over to Bronze Nuts which has a good tone.
Aluminum gives a "tinny" tone where as brass or bronze when the nut groove is polished have a warmer thicker tone.

If you are trying to modify a early 60's - 70's Melobar; my advise is to throw away the nut and start with a piece of bronze, brass or steel - 1/4" angle.

Purchase the standard 6" file set you can find all day long on ebay for around $12
You'll use the three cornered file to get the groove started NOTE: ONLY CUT THE KEY SIDE OF THE NUT TO START THE GROOVE...NOT THE BAR SIDE.
 
Note the bar side is barely cut while the grooves on the other (key) side are cut deep.

Also note the radius cut whereas the first and sixth strings are cut deeper than the middle stings...this is what luthiers do on a standard guitar for better barre chording action.
See Guitar Player Repair Guide p26. a MUST HAVE guide!

This has also been an old controversy I have had with old Steel Guitar School thinking and Melobar set up. Melobar has always been a cross over instrument from Standard Guitar players to Steel.
 
Old School Steel uses thin strings and very heavy bars to clean out the buzz when metal comes in contact with metal (Bar to Strings), muted by the fingers behind it. Old Lap Steel players have been taught and learned to compensate with how they angle their wrist upwards, pressure the bar with the neck of the steel being very solid on a knee or stand and the tuning coordinated with the  string gauges to get that old steel sound.

 I have received ugly ridicule from a few of the self proclaimed "lap steel gods" about radius cut; and originally Melobar did use a machine that cut very straight grooves - but when examining the nuts on the guitars that played really well moving on stage with a light weight bar - they all had the 1st and 10th strings cut the lowest on a chromatic tuning. Melobar was created to stand up and walk around ala Rusty Young with Poco (if you can get a copy of his Steel book it's great). And the fact that you were not sitting down, able to push downward with the bar on to a solid stand or your knee meant that the guitar had to be much more forgiving when it came to a lightweight bar not getting middle string buzz. The radius solves that beautifully and not by accident - the bar contacts the middle strings first - however there is one other VERY important element to the radius nut, the strings can not come off the business side of the nut straight and flat. When you get down and sight down the nut from the first to sixth string you will see the middle strings actually arch up slightly so there is literally a little bit of "spring" in the strings as you lay the bar down which stretches the string slightly which is why the saddle has to be compensated.

With that said, the guys that want to ridicule the process can do what they like, but this has worked very well especially for standard guitar players adapting to steel/slide moving on stage.

The other Melobar design that the same gurus on the steel forum ridiculed was compensating the bridge...I remember talking to Cindy Cashdollar about the comment she put on her video of detuning the second string to make the dobro play more in tune and talking about compensating the saddles like we do...that was twenty years ago and we were ridiculed...this was interesting to see after all those years (compensated saddles).


Melobar used standard string gauges, lighter faster playing bars (SureGrip) and a radius cut on the nut along with this nut groove angle so the strings leave the nut actually trying to go upwards which creates a bit of spring in the middle strings which means as you put the bar down - the middle strings contact first and less weight has to be put downward to get a clean sound.
 
So this is a Melobar set up - if you are a Steel Player you should look at your Steel Guitar that you like the string action on and cut the nut and bridge to match it. This includes using your same bar, string gauge and tuning - you've already learned how to compensate for a flat nut and saddle cut so keep using that same method.
 
If you are adapting to walking around stage playing steel or are a standard guitar player...
 
After the three cornered file has established the groove - your file kit will come with a oval file. I follow the three cornered cut until the string notch is rounded out flaring open that groove so the string rests in it and is not pinched.
This again is a Melobar thing. I was having lunch with Larry Brooks (Fender Custom Shop Manager you'll see in that Guitar Player Repair Guide book) Larry and I have known each other since I was 17 years old and he's one of the best Guitar Builders probably in the world. I was drawing how I cut the nut groove to get the Melobars to "ring" out and he was amazed we didn't pinch the string tight like you do on a standard guitar. You have to remember that this is backwards from the principle of a standard guitar pushing downwards over metal instead of carrying the metal.
The string still has to be tight in the nut but not pinched.
To do this you will use the oval file and mirror the angle the string will take as it goes toward the key -- however -- when you move the string back and forth at pitch - it should rest tightly in the groove so it has no "wiggle" in the groove. To do that you need to not over cut the groove or make it too deep. Biggest mistake made on slide guitars is to cut the groove too deep and allow it to move in the groove creating a slight whine when you pick the string instead of a clear ring.
 
To insure the groove is smooth to the string resting in it (if there is a file bur or a rough area you will also get that slight whine) you need to polish the groove when the slot cuts are complete
I take the oval file and wrap 400 grit sand paper around it then polish the groove. Make sure you keep that same angle the string will end up traveling in so the string rest in the groove tightly and is not making such a severe angle either way as to pinch the string in the groove.
 
 
BRIDGE
Much like the Nut - the Bridge needs to have the cuts angling just as the string will be traveling, however, unlike the Nut, the Bridge should be tight on the string pinching it as tightly as a standard guitar set up. The reason is that finger picks and flat picks are grabbing, pulling and striking the strings so close to the groove that you can pull the string out of the groove and create buzz and whine.
 
If you are modifying an older Melobar you'll probably have a bridge plate with the Melobar name on it and a set of crazy cut grooves. My advise is to take the plate off - figure out what you have on hand to use as a saddle (round brass or steel rod has been used as well as phenolic), measure that new saddle then cut off the old Melobar Plate grooves and put the new saddle on it like this...
 This design was one of Dad's best Patents. It is Phenolic with a brass rod drilled into each string groove location. Great clean tone and sound. Simply get some phenolic and cut it to about 1/4", then get some 1/8" welding brass rod, figure out where the string grooves will end up and drill holes through the phenolic for the brass rod to go in. Glue them in with super glue then shape the saddle and start cutting the slots similar to the nut but use a half round file on the treble strings - with the flat side of the half round file going to the inside so the string is seated pulling against the flat side.
I hope that makes sense and I'm not sure  how else to explain it but as you cut the groove you want the half round side to be to the outward part of the groove - in this picture it would be the half round closest to us.
The phenolic works great to seat the string while the brass rod conducts the vibration into the Melobar bridge plate.
 
You will also note the second and third treble side strings are cut back slightly along with the bass string...this is done just as a standard guitar to compensate for the string stretch as you bar chord quickly up and down the neck just as a standard guitar is done.
 
This is a Rattler stock Melobar set up with the second and third bridge saddles back slightly, the fourth the same length as the first and the fifth and sixth back slightly...Depending on your playing style, if you are a standard player this will play and feel very normal...if you've only played pedal steel on straight bridge saddle you may have compensated with string gauge and bar pressure which means you'd want to straighten it as your Steel is set up.
 
Dad's  scale length started back in the early 60's with Leo and Rudy recommending 22 1/2" but as time went by we noticed that just a slightly longer length sounded more "in tune" when playing with other instruments so the short scale Melobars were stretched to 22 7/8ths " with the fretboard modified to that length. So the first string should be right on that 22 7/8ths inch with the second  third and sixth slightly longer. This short length scale was really for the stand up Melobars being focused on being mobile so the shorter scale was a shorter jump with the bar when playing on stage.
However...if you've played a lot of steel with bands you know the 24 1/2" scale is far more "forgiving" with a larger "sweet spot" to sound in-tune when playing and that's why I went along with Beard going 25" on the later Melobros. 
 
 
MELOBRO SET UP
I heard a Melobro not set up right on a youtube video and about croaked :)
Melobros came with a page on set up from the factory but if you have one it should have a very loud bark and bite and the later model 17's should have a wood warmth mixed with that...if not you need to check a couple of things...
 
 
The fiberglass made an incredibly strong sound well for the cone to rest in making it possible to take out the internal ring and open the air chamber up for far more volume...however when the sound well was polished with the glass ring it made it so smooth that the cone had a tendency to shift and turn when getting banged around in a case or shipped.
Quick Check when you get to a gig is to look through the cover plate at the half moon hole on the edge and see if the spider leg is centered in that hole.
If it's not the strings are twisted in the saddle and the entire engine of the saddle/spider/cone is not working taking all the mechanics out. You can barely see in this photo a pen (Pencil with the eraser end toward the cone will save the cone if you drop the pencil :) being put through the biggest hole turning the spider until that leg is centered (7/8 string spiders are off set slightly so I'd check the scale from the saddle to the nut and make sure they are equal distant or the bass side is just slightly longer..not much). Pick the first treble string as you do this and you'll hear it ring into position.
 
Don't lighten up your string gauges too much or you won't have enough to power the spider and cone. There is a half round string down rigger on some models to help increase that downward string pressure to "power up" the cone more that looks like this and you can adjust that higher or lower as you like with your string gauges.
 
Another thing to check as your Melobro gets used and abused is the neck to body joint - there is an Allan bolt in the heel block that allows you to tighten it slightly as the mahogany neck wears against the much harder fiberglass surface. 
 
Same goes with checking standard Melobar body to neck bolts in the back, they need to be snugged once a year.
 
Melobar stand up steel - I did a lot of experimenting trying to get Dad's original tilt neck design to be more user friendly when moving around stage - I tilted the neck up more as you'll see in Andy Volkes book on Lap Steel, I wrapped the bodies more, you name it. Dad's solution was the soft body which you see sometimes and it did work great and the guitar with the sound plate in the neck sounded great but it was too different and most players didn't go for the idea of a foam body on their guitar. I tried to incorporate both for Cindy Cashdollar but it just didn't do it. The Tel-O-Bar double neck doesn't seem to have this problem and plays great due to the fact it has so much to hold on to.
But on the old Melobars - I would suggest putting a no slip surface on the back of the body - then strap it to both ends of the neck with a long Web style strap. On my own Mosrite I then take the strap from the heel of the Melobar neck and screw it to the end of the body where I like the strap to angle the neck up for me.
 
Steelgitr now called Tel-O-Bar
I've only built 20 of these so if you are one of those 20 players a note on the Tel-O-Bar, as above, make sure you keep the non-slip on the back, use a long strap and strap it to the Melobar head so the strap comes up behind the standard neck (you'll never notice it, it works so well).
 
The double jack is set up is so the bottom goes to the bottom neck - and controls are volume tone on each neck. I like running each neck through a separate amp but be advised...there is a common ground so your polarity has to be right or shock time...the common ground is the only way to keep the other neck quiet while you switch back and forth but this does make the tone on one neck adjust the tone on the other neck if you have the switch in the middle position.
 
How do you play steel moving around on stage?  NOT that easy honestly...it's difficult to be in pitch and that guitar better NOT MOVE...that is why you will see all the later model Melobars with anti slip on the back - you GOT to have it on the back or the guitar will not work.
 
 
 
 
Looking for that Blues sound on Melobar.
Melobar will sound like a Sweet Steel Guitar if you play it with the normal bar straight, if you want the blues effect, get a thinner bar, then change your attack to mirror Bottleneck Blues. This includes a lighter touch, sometimes thinner strings and most important...angle your bar like a bottleneck player naturally does...
This angle happens naturally because of the curve of the wrist. The player is still playing note for note over the fret, however the overtones from the other strings create that blues sound we are used to. So simply reverse angle from over the top when sliding up to a note looking like the photo and you'll be amazed how it suddenly goes from sweet steel to blues.
 
 
 
When I get a tech question on Melobar I'll try and put the question and answer on this site so other players can get the info.
 
Hope it helps
 
 
 

 




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