Melvyn Hiscock was born in the south of England at the end of the 1950s. Growing up in what was then a small village meant few local influences, but the radio was always on, and so he grew up listening to some great music, in between the total garbage the BBC played the rest of the time. Starting school, and suddenly having a peer group open to outside influences, happened just as Bealtlemania broke very large indeed and Melvyn has firm memories of being in the Embassy Cinema in Fareham (now a branch of a takeaway where a clown serves something resembling food) to see A Hard Day’s Night. He remembers: “the lights went down and the screen showed the old classification card to say the film was fit for viewing by all ages, the girls in the audience screamed, and then ‘that’ chord was struck and that was it. From that moment I was a guitarist, it didn’t matter that it was another seven years before I got my first guitar for my thirteenth birthday, but part of my DNA was changed that day, and stayed changed for my entire life”.
At school Melvyn found himself in a year where hardly anyone played guitar and so forming bands, or even playing along with other people, was rare. A chance introduction led him to meet a bunch of fellow, like-minded people from another school who understood that life truly could revolve around guitar playing, Monty Python and home-brewed beer, although not always in that order.
One of them, Greg Croydon, even bought a part finished neck, made a body and actually assembled a playable electric guitar and this, together with an interview in the now defunct magazine Guitar with the 23 year old Brian May from the unknown band Queen, who had built a great looking guitar, pushed a few buttons that would eventually change his life.
At school Melvyn had exhibited a remarkable talent for being average at everything, and left school with a rather pathetic bunch of qualifications determined to become a photographer, but at that time the profession was overstaffed due to its popularity during the 1960s. Melvyn had been assaulting pieces of wood in the hope of emulating Brian May to make his dream Flying V, and had even managed to make a couple of reasonable electrics, so he applied for the fretted instrument making course at the London College of Furniture and made it as far as the interview, but no further.
Undeterred, he carried on making some guitars and many more mistakes, but he did slowly improve. Moving to London in the early 1980s led to Melvyn being fortunate enough to work alongside, and eventually for, Roger Giffin who very generously shared a lot of his knowledge.
In 1984 Melvyn started writing Make Your Own Electric Guitar after a suggestion from a customer and with the help of Roger Giffin, who lent his workshop for the all-night photo sessions, the book came together. It was released in May 1986 and sold well. Melvyn’s new found writing ability led to some magazine articles in Guitarist magazine and he also started writing on his other interest, aviation.
Melvyn left London and active guitar making in the late 1980s, as the future was looking bleak, and went into the ‘real’ job market, occasionally making the odd guitar and doing repairs, and ending up working in publishing for several companies and in various roles. By 1995, the original edition of Make Your Own Electric Guitar was showing its age and so Melvyn started NBS Publications to produce the second edition, which was released in 1996.
Melvyn was also active in aviation, gaining his pilot’s licence in 1992, rebuilding a vintage Rearwin Cloudster aeroplane from 1939 and working with the Memorial Flight Association in France building and rebuilding airworthy First World War aircraft, whilst writing about this and producing Classic Aircraft of World War One in 1994 and Hawker Hurricane, Inside and Out in 2003. Guitars were not forgotten and Make Your Own Acoustic Guitar was published in 2010. Melvyn has also worked on voiceover work and as an airshow commentator and between all of this continued making the occasional guitar until being forced to retire in 2016 when he was diagnosed with cancer – which he continued to fight for many years with the energy he put into brewing beer as a teenager. Rest in peace Melvyn.