Mel Bay, writer of music-instruction books that have sold more than 20 million copies, died in St. Louis Wednesday of a heart ailment. He was 84.

Bay was best known for his guitar books, such as 1948's Modern Guitar Method and later the Mel Bay Method, many of them still in print. "We sold 7,800 copies of Anyone Can Play Guitar last year," says Dave Weiderman, manager of the Guitar Center store in Hollywood.

"In the evolution of guitar in the last 30 years, he would be like the kindergarten teacher, the guru," says Weiderman. "He was the man."

Missouri-born and bred, Bay taught himself how to play the guitar as a teenager. He'd planned to be an engineer, but the Depression ended that dream, and his guitar became his livelihood as a musician and teacher in St. Louis. He wrote his first guitar instruction book in 1947, The Orchestral Chord System. Later, he founded Mel Bay Publications, which produces more than 200 new books, CDs and videos each year.

Brett Aieny, sales manager at Guitar Center, learned to play guitar using Bay's Modern Guitar Method. "It was great...very visual and simple to understand," Aieny says. "It got you to a level of efficiency very quickly. It let you read, as well as play. You were playing songs straight away."

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