Friday, September 7, 2012

Mel Bay: “the George Washington of the guitar”

The name Mel Bay was on many an instruction manual when I was first learning to play guitar, but I was so not prepared for the empire this mythical being created! If you type in his name on our website under books, CDs, or DVDs, you'll encounter a wonderland of music for myriad instruments that will gladden the heart of everyone from fumbling beginners to professionals (and those who merely want to kick back and groove). Here's how his Wikipedia entry begins:
Melbourne E. Bay was born on February 25, 1913 in the little Ozark Mountain town of Bunker, Missouri. He bought a Sears Roebuck guitar at the age of 13 and several months later played his first “gig.” Bunker didn't have a guitar teacher so Bay watched the few guitarists he knew and copied their fingering on the fret board, teaching himself chords. Once he felt he knew the rudiments of the guitar, he started experimenting with other instruments, including tenor banjo, mandolin, Hawaiian guitar and ukulele.... After the war, Mel was asked to write instructional materials on guitar for GIs wishing to learn music under the GI Bill. In 1947, Mel formed his own publishing company and wrote his landmark initial book titled The Orchestral Chord System for Guitar. This book is still in print under the title Rhythm Guitar Chord System. His Modern Guitar Method was penned shortly thereafter. For years Mel traveled from town to town talking to guitar teachers and players and showing them his publications. At one time, Mel claims to have known virtually every guitar teacher in America on a first name basis. The guitar and Mel Bay books caught on in a big way in the 1950s. His method books grew in popularity worldwide and helped establish the foundation for most of today’s guitar pedagogy. Guitar Player magazine referred to him as “the George Washington of the guitar.”
I have blurbed all of the  CD/DVD performances by modern classical and jazz guitar masters on the Mel Bay label, and they are fantastic (e.g., John Pisano's Guitar Night or any of the Jimmy Bruno items).
Above: Mel Bay, in 1928 with his National Triolian guitar, his first "good" guitar. Below: Mel in 1959, with a big ole archtop, and a lovely excerpt from a Jimmy Bruno DVD.


  1. I'm ashamed to say I didn't know him at all! Isn't it always that way, though? The true pioneers remain unsung. Alas, everything I know about playing the bass (quite sloppily) I learned from Dee Dee Ramone:)

  2. He definitely remained under my radar as well, I have never heard of him. I'll make sure to spread the word about the mythic guitar legend. Everything I learned about acoustic guitar came by way of Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A Changing"

    1. "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" -- one of my favorite Dylan songs! Supposedly inspired by one worn by Edie Sedgwick. Sure to be discussed in "Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan Vol.1:1957–73" (in stock, but I haven't seen it yet)

  3. What a story! Heard of an E Bay, but not a Mel E. Bay...probably the best musician to come out of Sears Roebuck. All I know of guitar came from Jose the house painter.
    And the video--finger pickin' good!

  4. Very interesting. It's always nice to be introduced to new-old music!

  5. These streamed video lessons can last a while, anywhere from less than one minute to more than five minutes. They do not generally last this website more than ten minutes, though, as each lesson usually requires a good amount of work to master.

  6. Music is dependably a fun and you needn't sit at the back of your youngsters to make them take in the music or the tunes, as they hear it on sound they get it by hearted thus there is no issue by any stretch of the imagination, fieryglazer

  7. This type has steel strings or guts strings in it and often has the same tuning as an electric bass guitar. full size acoustic guitar

  8. Most often, these guitar teachers have been teaching for years using a trial and error approach, or by seeking the advice of other guitar teachers who have only experienced small success.