Hailing from Louisiana, Gerard Melancon is a former professional gigging and studio player who parlayed experience on the road and as a guitar repairman into a devout attitude toward building instruments. He is meticulous about every facet of the instrument, and it shows.
Not content to submit one guitar for review, Gerard sent two beauties – the P-90 Artist (suggested retail, $2,300), a Tele-style with two Seymour Duncan P-90s, and the Custom Artist ($2,400), a Strat-style with two single-coils and one bridge humbucker (courtesy of Rio Grande).
Both guitars feature figured tops, compensated scale lengths, contoured bodies, and deluxe appointments like custom electronics, gold hardware, etc. Unlike some custom builders, Melancon machines his own necks and bodies to carefully detailed sizes.
The Custom Artist is finished in Tobacco Sunburst with a quilted maple top over mahogany body. The maple neck has a hefty rosewood slab with jumbo frets in an aproximately “C” shape that’s neither too thick nor too thin. The flatter fingerboard radius (12 degrees) is reminiscent of an ’80s Charvel, and makes string bending easy, especially with the jumbo fret wire. The two-post tremolo is joined to locking Sperzel tuners that work great with the .009-.046 D’Addarios. The neck and middle position single-coils are Rio Grande Half Breed, while the bridge position is a Muy Grande tapped humbucker, coordinated to a five-way switch. The middle pickup is reverse wound/reverse phased to eliminate noise when combined with another pickup. The coil-tap on the bridge pickup is activated by a push/pull tone control.
The P-90 Artist test instrument featured a flamed maple top on mahogany body in a color Melancon calls Transparent Black. The fingerboard is Honduran mahogany on a mahogany neck. It’s the same shape as the Custom Artist, but has a slightly different feel due to the woods. And it uses a six-way fixed bridge, locking Sperzel tuners, and dual Seymour Duncan stacked P-90s. The angled three-way pickup selector works with a mini-toggle (parallel/series/split), master volume, and tone controls.
Construction is thoughtful, deliberate, and meticulous. Both guitars feature tummy and arm contours, and the tops are two-piece bookmatched wood. The result is a body that feels like a Strat but looks like a premium bookmatched top. Necks are secured with four screws into ferrules similar to a Tele (no neckplates here, folks!). Another cool feature is the rounded neck base on the body; it makes upper-register play much easier. Truss rod access is immediately before the nut at the headstock, making adjustment a breeze. All hardware is gold-plated and the fit and finish is superb.
We spent an afternoon with both guitars running into a Tech 21 Trademark 60. After spending time with the P-90 Artist, we noted its nice, solid tone, and the nice glowing effect in complex chords. The neck is wonderful, the body contours are really nice, and it is very comfortable. The P-90s give the requisite Tele spank, and you can get a fabulous rock and blues growl with distortion.
The Custom Artist has bigger frets than the P-90 Artist. Its rear pickup positions create great country sounds, and even with .009s it sounds like it has .010s or .011s. The tone knob has a nice roll-off with distortion on the rear pickup – a great singing quality with enough cut to hear the note attack. And the tremolo system works very well, consistently. The bar pops in and out, making case travel simple.
The Custom Artist is wonderfully touch-sensitive. For guitarists who vary their pick attack to produce different tonal colors, this is the ticket. All five positions produce very musical sounds that can be further colored by the tone knob. No matter how distorted the amp setting, the Custom lets the string sound through, whether on single notes or chords. Having the coil-tap on the Muy Grande enables twice the number of tones in pickup settings four and five. This is an extremely versatile guitar.
Later, we turned off the amp and played both acoustically. Both produce substantial volume unplugged; a good sign, and an interesting recording trick when mic’ed. We also tracked both on a PC hard disc recorder and were tickled with the results; the compensated scale length made tuning and staying in tune with the pre-recorded keyboard tracks a snap, and both sound wonderful on tape (disc).
Cosmetics matter to many players, and there’s a lot of extra effort put into the binding on the Melancons. Eschewing traditional white, he uses real maple binding, giving the instruments a truly unique flavor. Details are not overlooked, either; the jumbo frets are nice, and the volume knob is well-placed.
Melancon makes guitars for people who can see and hear the difference. Gerard’s philosophy, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right!” is evident. For more details, see www.melancon guitars.com.
Special thanks to Michael Hurwitz for his friendship and for putting me in touch with Gerard.
Melancon Custom Artist/P-90 Artist
Type Of Guiar: Solidbody/semi-solidbody Electric.
Features: Custom-built with variety of woods, specs, and electronics options.
Price: $2,400, $2,300
Contact: Melancon Guitars, www.melanconguitars.com.
This review originally appeared in VG‘s Feb. ’01 issue.