Nov 5, 2016

New Guitar Day: Cheap Japanese "Melodier"

Teisco Melodier Vintage Japanese Guitar

          It's another NGD with a rather unusual find - one of those vintage Japanese guitars that were cranked out in all sorts of funky shapes from the 50's through the early 70's.  The most common brand was Teisco, and sometimes all guitars of the sort are referred to as such, but this guitar is labeled as a much less common "Melodier" guitar.

Teisco Melodier Vintage Japanese Guitar

          While these guitars have never been praised for their playability or sound, it's been a very fun project fixing up this little oddball piece of history and turning it into a decent and quirky music maker.


Teisco Melodier Vintage Japanese Guitar

          While it's quite hard to date exactly when this guitar was made, as information is so scarce on uncommon brands and models, it's in quite good shape for a guitar no less than forty years old.  Apparently the seller's mother bought it as a package but only wanted the amp, and the guitar sat in storage for most of its life.

Teisco Melodier Vintage Japanese Guitar


          Cleaning it up wasn't bad at all; with just a bit of dust and very little corrosion, I only had to remove the strings, bridge, and knobs, and give it a good wipe down.

Teisco Melodier Vintage Japanese Guitar

          Up at the headstock, we see the logo, surprisingly decent tuners, and string retainer.  Notice also the zero fret design - this was no doubt a good call given the typical cheap plastic nut.  I wasn't sure what scale the neck was to, but I measured it and it's interestingly a 24" scale, like the Fender Jaguar, or certain junior guitars.  Given the shorter scale length, I put slightly heavier gauge strings on it to balance it out.

Teisco Melodier Vintage Japanese Guitar Action

          The biggest problem apparent from the start was the terrible, terrible action!  The strings were at least a quarter of an inch off the fretboard - all but impossible to play on the high frets.  Luckily, I learned while building this EvH Frankenstrat how to shim a neck when it's way out there.  A piece of a popsicle stick at the heel worked perfectly to straighten it out.  (I thought I took a picture at this point but apparently didn't, sorry!)

Teisco Melodier Vintage Japanese Guitar Reverse


          Luckily, all the electronics were in perfect working condition - a testament to the good condition it was stored in, and very convenient since I absolutely hate soldering.  The controls are pretty typical of the time and type - two small switches for the individual pickups, a volume and tone.

Teisco Melodier Vintage Japanese Guitar

          Interestingly, it seems that the pickups are wired in series when both turned on, as it drives the amp harder, unlike the usual parallel switching.  That being said, the pickups really don't drive the amp much at all and I wouldn't be surprised if they were only wired to ~4k ohms.  Or perhaps the magnets are just weak or degaussed over time.  Either way, it has a neat, open, vintage tone, a far cry from the punch of a modern humbucker.

Teisco Melodier Vintage Japanese Guitar Neck
The neck is actually quite cool looking - it doesn't look like it's maple (as is most common)


          There wasn't too much more work to do to get it playable - it primarily needed a major neck shim and some bridge adjustment to work the action down.  Once I got the action acceptable, however, I found that the intonation was way out there.  Individual strings were off, sure, but the entire guitar was half a semitone sharp at the 12th fret!

Teisco Melodier Vintage Japanese Guitar

The bridge, reminiscent of a mandolin bridge, is anchored to the body by two small screws... which were placed in the body, probably without measurement or intent of getting the intonation right.  Luckily though, it's an easy fix and the screws were tiny enough to not even need pilot holes when I shifted it back a few fractions of an inch.  The intonation now is still not perfect, because the strings aren't individually adjustable like on a Tune-o-Matic bridge, but is greatly improved from before.

Teisco Melodier Vintage Japanese Guitar
The string height after shimming - still no shredder, but definitely playable now.

          One last thing that needed some adjustment was the vintage style tremolo.  I've never worked with one of this style before but it's rather fun, and quite a simple mechanism compared to a Stratocaster or Floyd Rose.  The mechanism pivots, and the change in angle results in a change in string tension.  A design feature I found cool about this was that the G, B, and e strings are away from the axis, while the low strings are right on the axis.  Thinking in terms of leverage, this means that only the high strings are affected by the tremolo to a measurable degree, adding a little tuning stability to the low strings.

          Anyway, the tremolo needed some cleaning up, and a patina of corrosion taken off the spring, but after that it was still a little sticky and unresponsive.  The fix was simple - tighten the screws on top to anchor the mechanism together, and oil on the hinges, and now the vintage tremolo works like new, and doesn't kill the tuning too badly either.

Teisco Melodier Vintage Japanese Guitar

          I've had a lot of fun tuning up this odd little guitar the past two days and I'm really quite happy with how it turned out.  For a guitar that was cheap when it was new around 50 years ago, it now plays and sounds alright, with a vibe that's quite unique and a lot of fun.  If anyone knows anything about Melodier guitars or has any better guesses as to the age, please share - I'd be interested to hear it.

As always, stay tuned until next time!

Teisco Melodier Vintage Japanese Guitar

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