Chris Melville the Luthier

I was born in New Zealand in 1962 and moved to Australia when I was 24 years old. I didn’t know then that it was to become my home, but like so many Kiwi’s I have put down my roots here. Brisbane became my home and I eventually married and had 2 very ‘Aussie’ boys.

Ode to my Grandfather

People have often asked what made me start making guitars. The answer is connected to my upbringing. I loved playing the instrument but couldn’t afford a good one. So in 1988 I decided to have a go at making my own. As a child I had pretty much grown up in my Grandfather’s workshop, which was full of all kinds of wonderful and mysterious tools that he used to build or fix all kinds of things. Some people have begun playing an instrument at age 7. Me, I was building things! It was from him that I learned that if you couldn’t afford to buy it, then build it yourself, as he had built nearly every item of machinery in his workshop! I remember spending hours just playing with bits of wood and metal that my grandfather would help me fashion into a boat or plane etc. He was, you could say, my first mentor.

My grandfather had been an aircraft engineer on “Tiger-moth’s” before WW2 and for the time had a fairly unique qualification of being able to fully dismantle both airframe and engine, then rebuild the aircraft and fly it. He was a man who had a very good eye for detail and I remember being taught well that there was always a correct way to do something.

The start of my passionate career…

After researching as much information as I could, (which wasn’t much in 1988) I proceeded to carefully build my first guitar. In those days there was no such thing as a kit containing pre-shaped parts etc, so everything was built from scratch using a minimum of tools. I went on to build one after another, each time learning more and adding my new insights to each instrument. All my early guitars, though somewhat rough around the edges, are still in use and play very well.

But it was hard to make a living building hand made guitars in Brisbane, Australia in those early days.

An apprenticeship with one of the world’s great guitar innovators…

A few years later I was offered a job with a local repairer and electric guitar builder by the name of Chris Kinman. One of the things I discovered from working with ‘CK’ was the difference between good and excellent. Chris or ‘CK’ was obsessed with attention to detail. Close enough wasn’t good enough. It had to be perfect!

Over the next 6 years I worked on all the major US brands and quite a few handmade guitars from other builders both in Australia and the US. For someone who always wanted to know ‘how things worked’, it was the perfect training ground. I was able to understand the strength’s and weaknesses of different guitars, and assess the implications of various construction styles and how each ‘family’ sound was achieved.

Melville Guitars

Six years later I left to begin my own business and CK kindly referred all the repair work to me, as he wanted to concentrate on a new noiseless Stratocaster and Telecaster pickup that he had invented. (These pickups by the way are quite incredible. Check out www.kinman.com ).

I have now been building and repairing guitars full time for 23 years. I have pretty much seen, played and repaired most of what is available. I love the ‘problem solving’ element of repair work, and the knowledge it has provided, but building handmade guitars is about making something that not only looks beautiful, but also sounds exquisite.







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