Thursday, 25 November 2010

1980s Mel-O-Bar Explorer - 10 Strings!

I have a great fondness for the Mel-O-Bar, as regular readers may know. The listing has some great information and hints at some of the flexibility of this multi-string format. Here's what the seller has to say...
This 1980s Melobar X-10 Explorer, a true Vintage Classic. Melobar guitars were made for lap steel and Dobro players to be able to play standing up. Melobars were made by Walt Smith who collaborated with many outstanding innovators in the guitar world from the Dopyera Brothers to Ned Steinberger and Semi Mosley. The design is basically the same on all models -- the neck is tilted as to be slightly less than perpendicular to the player. It hangs from a strap. There were very few of these instruments made and a number of them are used by "A-List" players in contemporary country bands (Tim McGraw and Toby Keith), David Lindley has several, also Rusty Young of Poco and Cindy Cashdollar to name a few. You can use your favorite tuning on these. It is totally up to you. For pedal steelers the 10 string models enable you to tune the first six strings to standard "E" tuning (E,B,E,G#,B,E). The remaining four are tuned to "A" (A,E,A,C#, A) which allows for suspensions and secondary chords to be produced without pedals.
The last few lines of the ad are quite telling.
This Bad Boy is in Excellent Condition - Minor wear and tear. - Guaranteed to Shred in the Right Hands!
"Shred in the Right Hands!" Hmmmm, I would love to hear what could be done with this by a young, free thinking (that bit is very important) metallurgist, Jazzologist or shredderista. I think it needs someone like that just because of the high degree of skill and dedication required to really master it, the potential for the execution of the most esoteric and/or microtonal scales and the potential for the wildest solos combined with jaw dropping visuals. Not to mention instant and total admiration from the rest of the musical community. The Hendrix of steel guitar!

Probably the instrument's biggest drawback is its history as the backbone of country music. You barely have to look at a lap steel for it to start wailing out those whiny Nasville yeehah! tones and "Crystal Chandelier" melodies. Musicians like David Lindley have done a lot to popularise it to a non-country audience but for the world at large the association with "that sound" is so strong, it will take a complete change of way-of-thinking about it to shake off that baggage.

I bought my own Mel-O-Bar on eBay a few weeks ago (still awaiting delivery but I'm patient). I have a Peavey Powerslide and am awaiting the imminent delivery of an old (40s/50s) National New Yorker lap steel - also care of eBay. The slide guitar bug has bitten hard.

I've just invested in a pile of lap steel books and an instructional dvd from the wonderfully named Cindy Cashdollar, which I'd recommend to anyone thinking of taking up any kind of steel guitar. I'm not a country music fan (the only albums I have are Merle Haggard, The Dixie Chicks and The Indigo Girls) but one thing I found out very early on is, the lap steel requires a lot of practice and a fair bit of discipline. And, understanding a few basic techniques, exercises, tunings and scale structures makes such a difference.

This is not a dig at country music, by the way, before all you rednecks start giving me grief, y'all. Just out loud thinking that maybe there is a another tonal voice to be heard from these instruments. Gavin pointed me in the direction of Captain Beefheart circa "Ice cream for crow" (one of my favourite Beefheart tracks) and although the (Mel-O-Bar) has a prominent contribution, it doesn't sound like a regular steel guitar.

Anyone know of players in other genres doing innovative stuff, metal, jazz?

David in Barcelona

Guitarz - The Original Guitar Blog - now in its 9th year!

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