Maton… more than Mastersounds

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Most kids today think Maton electrics just mean the new Mastersound, but they’ve been building some VERY cool guitars for over 50 years. Here’s a few of them.

The beautiful Maton in the above photo was actually made in the 1962 and was called the Goldline 750. Only 210 were made between 1962 and 1963, and the design later evolved into the Maton Fyrbyrd. The design is an elegant mix of an SG with a touch of Paul Bigsby’s guitars in there as well.

Maton’s most well known electric is the modern Mastersound, most famously played by Josh Hommes from QOTSA. This design is based on the original Maton Mastersound from the 60′s, which was a very different beast to todays version. It usually had a shorter scale neck, set neck, flame maple top & back, body & neck binding and a Bigsby tremelo. I’ve played one of these early ones and they are a little difficult to play, due to the smaller scale neck (which for some reason is VERY wide) and the neck sitting so far into the body.

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The most famous player of an early Mastersound is George Harrison of The Beatles. His regular guitar was being repaired, so the repair shop loaned him a Maton for a few shows. This guitar (which is apparently the one in the above photo) turned up recently and as per anything Beatles related, sold for a crapload of $$$.

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Maton knew that the Mastersound needed a few adjustments before being re-released in the 90′s, and so gave it a longer scale bolt on neck, ditched the body binding for a Tele style radiused edge and changed the body shape slightly so the design suited the longer scale. The neck was also a lot more playable. The 60′s version had a very flat fretboard, where the 90′s version feels like a nice worn in Fender. Apparently the new Maton Mastersound was designed by Adam Cole of Cole Clark guitars.

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The next most famous Maton electric (and one of my favourite guitar designs)  is the 60′s Maton Fyrbyrd. This is the guitar I based my Tym T-Byrd Bass on. In the last few years a lot of these have popped up in various garage bands (mainly around Melbourne) due to their awesome looks. I owned one for a while, but they are very primitive guitars, and you really have to play a lot of them to get one that feels right to play. I’m still looking for my ideal one. Maton REALLY should reissue this guitar.

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A guitar that was strongly related to the Fyrbyrd was the Maton Ibis. These shared the same electronics, except usually had 2 pickups instead of 3 and an even wilder body. Unlike the above Fyrbyrd, Maton also produced a bass version. The following example has a pearloid scratchplate which I first thought was added by the owner, but I’ve since seen a few early Matons which have this feature. And the pearloid bridge cover just looks cool.

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Another awesome design is the El Toro, which is actually a copy of the Danelectro Longhorn. But where the Danelectro was made out of cheapo materials, the Maton is a beautifully made instrument. I saw one once for sale in Brisbane for 600 bucks and passed it up. Idiot.

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Maton also made a great copy of a Vox Teardrop. Again, as will most vintage Matons, these are very rare. I’d love one of these.

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Another copy is the Maton Magnatone, which is based on a Rickenbacker.

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For a while in Australia there was no distributor for Fender guitars, which Maton obliged by producing their own Australian versions. The following is their take on the Fender Telecaster. As soon as Fenders started being sold in Australia, Maton stopped making their copies as Bill May remarked “Fender do a good enough job making Fenders”.

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I have also played a modern Maton Stratocaster that was custom made for Quan from Regurgitator. It’s a beautiful guitar and a total one off. I’ve also seen a few 80′s superstrat Matons which are based on the classic Charvel superstrats. These can be picked up for about 700 bucks and are great guitars.

And then there’s the KING of Maton electrics. The Maton Phil Manning Custom Stereo is an amazing instrument. Phil Manning is a blues guitarist from the band ‘Chain’, who was known as Australia’s Eric Clapton. His signature guitar is typical over the top 70′s… with splitable humbuckers, and out-of-phase switch and stereo outputs with a selector to choose which guitar amp you want to go through. I’ve owned one of these for a few years and I absolutely love it but it is honestly the heaviest guitar I’ve ever played. It’s like a car battery with a neck. And this guitar has hollow chambers! I’d hate to think how much it would weigh if it was solid.

Phil Manning Custum Stereo

There was also a Phil Manning Standard, which had the same pickups without all the stereo hoo-ha. They’re still coil splitable & phasable though. The body is also a lot thinner, almost like a Gibson SG, so they’re a lot more comfy to play.

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Finally, there are the amazing jazz guitars Maton made in the 60′s. These ranged from crude, cheaply made instruments to the high end models shown in the following photos.

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Noted Australian jazz guitarist George Golla had his own custom model Starline.

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The Rolling Stones even used a Starline to record ‘Gimme Shelter’. Above is Brian Jones fitting a capo at the recording sessions.

[Gimmie Shelter] was done on a full-bodied, Australian electric-acoustic, f-hole guitar. It kind of looked like an Australian copy of the Gibson model that Chuck Berry used … It had all been revarnished and painted out, but it sounded great. It made a great record … [I got it from] some guy who stayed at my pad. He crashed out for a couple of days and suddenly left in a hurry, leaving that guitar behind. You know: Take care of this for me. I certainly did! But it served me well through the album. And on the very last note of Gimmie Shelter, the whole neck fell off. You can hear it on the original take.
- Keith Richards, 2002 (quoted on timeisonourside.com)

There are many more forgotten electrics in Maton’s past (there are at least 4 or 5 different variants of the Fyrbyrd alone) which I will try and track down and add to this post. There’s the mythical Big Ben Twin bass which I have only seen an artists sketch of, the Vampyr bass (awesome name), and several hollow body 335-alikes. If you have one of these, please email me a photo and I’ll post it in this article.
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Since I posted this article I received an amazing email which had photos of yet another Maton electric I’d never seen. It’s a 1962 Maton EG75 and I think I’m in love. It’s like a cross between a Les Paul Jr, a Mastersound and a Fyrbyrd ‘Sharkbite’. Here’s some pix…

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Look at the pinstriping on that headstock! *droolz*

But the BEST thing about the email was that it also contained a picture of the Maton Big Ben Bass… it’s even cooler looking than I thought. And also, look closely at the Mastersound on the left. See the headstock? It’s actually a Fyrbyrd headstock. I’ve NEVER seen one of those in the flesh.

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Maton, while the new Mastersound’s are great, we’re all a little bored of ‘em. Please make guitars like these again.

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I had a nice surprise at band praccy tonight. Some other band had left their gear there (the room is shared by a few bands) and there was a nice Maton JB-6 there, so I snapped some shots on my phone for this article. The JB-6 was a typical 70′s design, sort of a cross between an Alembic and Ibanez Musician… but plainer looking.

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The neck felt awesome, really similar to the Maton Phil Manning Standard. Chunky but really smooth. The nut was a little strange. It was actually a fret with slots cut into it, with a zero fret right next to it. The action was ultra low…

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The headstock was a little strange looking, but suitable for a 70′s type axe. Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead would look right at home playing this axe. The next strange feature is the weird routing behind the bridge. Though it looks like this guitar once had a Floyd Rose and had been converted to a stop tailpiece, this is how it left the factory. There’s even a coil split switch on there which is a bit of a weird spot to put it.

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Finally, there’s the beautiful neck joint. Maton certainly know how to design and build a unique, well made guitar.

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Here’s a Maton bass I found on eBay. I’ve seen a few of these around, but always in a natural finish, apart from a stained blue one a friend of mine has. This is the first painted one I’ve seen, and also the first with a scratchplate, though that might have been fitted after…

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It sort of has an Ibanez Roadstar feel to it. Looks cool.

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I received a great email today from Paul about his beautiful custom made Maton Bass…

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“I have a 1986 Maton MGB fretless that was custom made for me in what was supposed to be candy apple red but turned out to be more of a Ferrari red. At the time they only made Tobacco Sunburst and Black. I sent over a colour sample to Neville Kitchen (the then Manager) who had it made up. They charged a percentage to customise the colour. The serial no is 137. Went over to Maton (when it was still at Canterbury) to see it finished off and take it home. I have some photos of the trip and the factory. I had a JB4 fretted which I sold for $900 in 1986 in order to get this one.”

“Used to play one of those black Maton Big Ben basses when I was a school student in 1978. I had no idea what its name was until I saw your picture and recognised it immediately. At the time it seemed the ugliest thing I’d ever seen. It lived in a cupboard in the music room.”

“It belonged to Westminster School in Marion, SA. It was pretty beaten up and had scratches on the back from students belt buckles. I still recall the heaviness but absolutely perfect neck and amazing sustain. It had one of those chunky selector switches like the Ibis. It was solid and seemed indestructible. Also had flat wound strings.”

“Didn’t have an amp at the time so tried playing it resting on my wooden desk (like a tea chest) to hear it. Ended up soldering together a lead and blew out the left channel speaker of my parent’s valve radiogram. They soon decided I needed an amp but I got myself an SG Ibanez bass copy and don’t know what became of the Big Ben. The music director at the time was David Jarman (now long retired). Never have seen another one. Hope I do one day.”

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Here’s a photo of Stephen’s awesome Maton collection. His 1962 Ms500 with the fyrbyrd type headstock looks amazing. The other 2 are a Maton Ibis and the very Les Paul like Maton AX-5, which looks to be the pre-runner to the Phil Manning.

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As this thread is getting so huge… I’ve made a part 2. Click here!

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