A Brief History of Maton Guitars: Australia's Guitar Brand

When it comes to Australian musical instruments, few names are as recognisable and legendary as the iconic Maton guitars brand.

From humble beginnings, the company has grown into a global icon, famed for its acoustic and electric instruments alike. Maton guitars have been proudly played and endorsed by an ever-growing list of players that includes some of the biggest names in music, both past and present.

One Man’s Vision

Bill May

Founded in Melbourne in the early 1940s by teacher and musician Bill May, Maton Stringed Instruments and Repairs (as it was originally known) was a simple, one-man operation that offered repairs and custom guitar manufacturing.

As is often the case with great companies, May never set out to create any kind of empire. He had a much simpler vision — to make hand-crafted, affordable guitars that were as good as any in the world.

As Bill’s reputation grew and word began to spread, it soon became clear that the business needed to expand in order to continue to meet demand. Prompted by this realisation, Bill convinced his older brother, Reg (a machinist by trade), to join him full-time. Together, they launched the Maton Musical Instruments Company in 1946 and began producing a steady output of the companies now-world-renowned acoustic guitars.

Going Electric

The next step in the company’s evolution came just three years later, when, with demand once again starting to outstrip supply, the company expanded. Maton also moved its operations into what was, at the time, Australia’s first and only major guitar production facility, located in the Melbourne suburb of Canterbury.

Tommy Emmanuel's 1999 Maton MS500 Mastersound

This factory would become Maton’s home for the next 40 years. It was here, in 1958, that the company broadened its horizons once again with the introduction of its very first electric guitar model: the MS500 Mastersound. The MS500 Mastersound remains the company’s flagship electric to this day.

Over the next couple of decades, Maton went on to release a swath of different electric guitar models in addition to its exceptional acoustics. These ranged from notably esoteric designs, such as the Maton Flamingo and Ibis, to slightly more understated yet equally unique guitars, like the Goldline and Fyrbyrd, as well as instruments inspired by other, more traditional designs. This even included copies like the El Toro, which was based on the Danelectro Longhorn.

Many guitars from this era were quite short-lived in their production and thus, are quite rare. In recent years, prices have soared on some of these hard-to-find vintage instruments, and they have become quite a prize for collectors.

1963 Maton Flamingo

1962 Maton 750 GoldLine

The Music That Matons Made

Throughout the years, a veritable who’s who of influential musicians have championed the Maton brand in one way or another. Going back to the ‘60s, one of the most prominent players was Harry Vanda of The Easybeats, known for his trademark cherry red Maton Sapphire 12-string that he used throughout the band’s career.

Tommy Emmanuel (Photo via Maton)

Locally, other prominent players throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s included the likes of Phil Manning, who had a short-lived Maton Signature model in the mid-’70s and Keith Potger of the Seekers. But arguably the greatest stalwart and advocate of the Maton brand is legendary acoustic guitarist Tommy Emmanuel, who’s very first guitar was a Maton MS500. He has continued to used Maton guitars almost exclusively throughout his long career.

On an international level, somewhat infamously, George Harrison played a Maton MS500 during The Beatles 1963 summer tour that he borrowed from a guitar store while his Gretsch Country Gentleman was in for repairs. That same guitar sold at auction in 2015 for a staggering $485,000 USD.

Contemporary Maton players include Eric Johnson, Keith Urban, Jack Johnson, Murray Cook of The Wiggles, and Neil Finn of Crowded House. Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme is also a huge fan of the brand and even has a signature model based on the Mastersound’s hollowbodied cousin, the BB1200. Homme isn’t exactly known for company or brand endorsements, so the fact that he worked with Maton definitely speaks volumes.

The Legacy Lives On

Maton remained in their Canterbury factory until 1990, when demand for its guitars again forced a move to a larger factory in the Melbourne suburb of Bayswater. A mere 12 years later, the company moved yet again into a purpose-built facility in Box Hill.

Maton’s new location has allowed the company to increase production enough to comfortably meet market demand while focusing on the next era of the brand.

Bill May sadly passed away in 1993, but his legacy lives on. Maton remains a family-owned and operated enterprise, with Bill’s daughter Linda and her husband Neville having taken the reigns and stepping up to steer the company into the 21st century and beyond.

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