Rockin’ out at the bottom of the line

There’s an old adage about buying the least expensive home in the best neighborhood you can (something we in the Mikerophonography family did and boy, are we happy we did).

Sometimes, the same holds true with guitar gear — buying the least expensive model (with caveats) from a good company will net you a fun-to-play instrument that doesn’t break the budget.  While I have some beautiful instruments that rank at the top of the line from Rickenbacker and Ovation, I find my everyday guitars are the ones I spent the least on. In this post, we’ll talk electrics.

My current basement beaters include a recent Fender Standard Telecaster (made in Mexico) and a Gibson Melody Maker, Gibson’s least-expensive Nashville-made axe.  Each cost less than $400 new from local shops and each is worth every penny!

2007 Fender Tele (MIM)

The Tele is, well, a Tele.  Alder body, maple neck/fingerboard, two single coils.  Fender’s Mexican plant has the basics down to a science and have turned out a quality instrument that set up easily and looks and sounds great.  It stays in tune, can twang or snarl with the best of them and prefers to live on the stand for instant play (instead of living in the case).  I added a pearl pickguard and may one day try new pickups, but this is one cheapster I love having around.

2007 Gibson Melody Maker (USA)

The Melody Maker is about is simple an electric you can find.  A slab of mahogany with a satin finish, a mahogany set neck with rosewood fingerboard, a wraparound tailpiece, one single coil pickup with one volume and one tone control make for one basic six-string.  This is one of the ’59 reissues from 2007, remarkably made in the USA. Gibson spec’d Kluson-style keys that keep it in tune without a whole lot of fiddling. I’m not sure if I’m just lucky, but this Melody Maker came set up beautifully; despite having an uncompensated wraparound bridge, the intonation is practically perfect.  When plugged into one of my Epiphone Valve Juniors, this thing cranks — goes from glassy clean to crunch with just a turn of the volume knob.  And this guitar is very light, making it easy to play for hours on end.

So when you’re looking for a new guitar, don’t fear the bottom of the line.  You might be surprised how much fun the guitars are down there!