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Talking Shop with Michael Davis of Melo-Dee Guitars
Michael Davis is a retired Methodist pastor whose love of music and guitar-making led him to start a business, Melo-Dee Guitars. Davis handcrafts guitars from scratch, and sees music as a way of sharing life with others.
Q.: Tell us about yourself and your business.
A: I am a retired Methodist pastor for just over a year. My basic business is to make and sell basic acoustic guitars. I also will teach how to put the guitars together, and I have books on how to build guitars that I sell. I also teach music lessons. I love being creative. To put something together and have it sound good, there's nothing else like it. I like to make guitars that are really good. I've mostly been going to craft shows to sell my guitars.
Q: How did you get started making guitars?
A: I took a class with Kenny Martin at Shivelbine's Music Store on how to build guitars. I've always been into wood- working. I got together with Martin, made a guitar with him and gave it to my nephew. It was an interesting process that I didn't know. I like to collaborate with Martin and ask what he does on particular things. Since then, I've put together my own guitars. I like to put my own touch and brand on them. After I made the third one, I thought, "This works pretty well," and started to sell them. I only have so much room, and if I wanted to keep making guitars, I had to start selling them.
Q: What is the process like?
A: I handcraft guitars from scratch, from start to finish. They can take anywhere from 40 to 50 hours of hands-on time to build. I like to use wood from local farmers to make the neck. The neck and body take the longest amount of time. The neck has to be cut, shaped and designed to attach to the body. For the body, I like to use pressed wood put together with rosin. The Formica makes the guitars sturdy, durable and colorful, and can be molded and shaped any way. I use forms to make different-sized guitars. When I attach the neck to the body, I'll start to put the wires on. I don't know how it will sound until the very end. To put the guitar together and have it sound good is the payoff. I like to make my guitars with easy-to-play action that makes it good for children to learn. If you get them a good instrument that's easy on the fingers, children will learn easily.
Q: What are some of your goals?
A: I'm looking at being able to establish a pattern of life. I want to help teach children music. I hope to open my own store where I can sell my guitars, teach and bring in musicians to play and sing and have fun. I may try to build dulcimers or electric guitars in the future. When I retired, I looked down the road and thought, "How do I want life to be in the remaining years?" If I can build guitars, associate with creative talent, enjoy life and, most importantly, help others enjoy life, I can't think of anything better.
Q: What is your vision?
A: I want to change attitudes about guitars. There are a lot of prejudices about materials, that guitars have to be made from wood. I can make a guitar out of different materials that looks and sounds good and plays marvelously. I want to teach adults and children about music and give them a good product. Kids have to have a good instrument. If I can do those, I think I will have accomplished something. This has been a joy to do. I've learned a lot and have gotten to know some good people.