Australian manufacturer Maton is perhaps best known internationally for their stunning acoustic guitars, which are regularly seen in the hands of one mr. Tommy Emmanuel. But Maton has a long history of great electric guitars too, such as the BB and Mastersound series, and some really funky vintage models. Even so, the MS T BYRD is a fairly unusual guitar for Maton to make. It seems to bring together a few disparate but equally historic elements: design cues from the Maton Mastersound and classic Tele-style guitars, along with an even earlier pickup design and a more modern-feeling fretboard adapted to current playing styles.
So, the most obvious marriage visible in the MS T BYRD is that of the Mastersound and the Telecaster. The Mastersound angle is covered by the curvaceous body shape, as well as a semi-hollow design which incorporates a sexy soundhole on the bass side body bout. The biggest giveaways as to the latter are the dot-inlay maple fretboard, the bridge, the single coil pickup and the controls.
The body is made of Quandong with a rock maple cap. The neck is made of rock maple and it’s not overly chunky, but its profile fits in the palm nicely. It’s not a particularly vintage-feeling neck but it’s very comfortable. The fretboard radius is a flattish 12″, a more modern rather than vintage appointment, and it makes playability a breeze, especially if you’re into huge bends or speedier playing styles, be they based on country flatpicking, fusiony shredding or blues-rock wailing.
As for hardware, the tuners are Grover minis which do their job well. The ashtray-style bridge by Wilkinson features three intonation-compensated brass saddles, while the controls are the typical master volume, master tone and three-way pickup selector switch. The bridge pickup is a Lollar Special T, a familiar-looking Telecaster-style unit featuring a flat pole design with graded Alnico 5 magnets and vintage style cloth covered lead wire. The neck single coil is a Lollar Charlie Christian pickup, based on a very, very early pickup design that you certainly don’t see very often these days. It’s wound with 38 gauge wire like the originals, with a nickel-plated blade pole piece and alnico bar magnets.
Aside from a cold solder joint on the review guitar’s tone control which caused the signal to cut out a bit (a very easy fix and one that any guitar store worth their salt would correct for you before letting you walk out the door with the guitar), construction quality was of a high standard.
Incidentally, that sound hole is the source of something incredibly addictive about the MS T BYRD that I haven’t encountered on any other thinline/semi-hollow guitar: its shape and location means that if you’re playing it unplugged, you will hear strangely beautiful phase-shift effects as your hand covers and uncovers the sound holes. It’s a really striking sound, and I wish there was a way to capture it through an amplifier. It helps to create an extra layer of interactivity and tactileness for the instrument. I guess if you really wanted to capture this sound for the ages, you could do so by micing the guitar up in the studio, much as you would an acoustic guitar.
The first thing you’ll notice about the MS T BYRD is how clear and musical it sounds, even when unplugged, but especially so once you plug into a nice tube amp. There’s a great treble ring and tight bass, along with a slight bloom to the notes, thanks I’m sure to the semi-hollow construction. This helps the tone to sit somewhere between the attack and snap of a bolt-on and the warmth and sustain of the classic mahogany/maple set-neck designs, and this tonal voice makes it an especially great fingerpicker’s axe, whether you play rhythm or lead, because it offers great note detail and separation. Complex chords maintain their definition, double-stops sound gritty, and single notes are articulate.
The bridge pickup sounds bright and sweet, and stays that way when you add overdrive. The almost pedal steel-like sweetness is maintained even when you really lay in with the pick, and it allows for a terrific amount of cut when playing through a higher gain setting.
The neck pickup sounds very full, with a singing quality and great harmonic overtones. It’s a really addictive playing experience, and it makes you want to play Santana licks or something equally expressive and bendy. It drips with bluesy harmonics through amp or pedal overdrive, while clean settings bring out a full, round, warm, atmospheric quality which reminds me of Jeff Buckley’s rhythm tone but with more muscle.
The combination pickup setting predictably presents the best of both worlds: the fullness and vocal quality of the neck pickup, with the top-end sweetness of the bridge one. I’d love to be able to blend the volumes of each pickup for the perfect balance in the middle setting, but it’s already pretty damn close to perfect as-is.
Aside from being a very attractive guitar to look at, the MS T BYRD plays great and sounds exceptional. The neck pickup is a real surprise – it’s so damn usable! It’s a real left-field decision to use a pickup like that in a guitar like this, but it works spectacularly. And the various design elements – the Mastersound shape, the sound holes, the Quandong body, the unusual pickup configuration, the player-friendly fretboard – all add up to a guitar that simply sounds like no other.
Maton guitars are available from Sky Music. [geo-out country = “Australia” note=””]In Europe you can buy Maton guitars from Guitar Gas Station.[/geo-out] [geo-in country=”Australia” note=””]This is an extended version of a review originally published in Mixdown magazine.[/geo-in]
And here’s a bonus: check out this video of John Butler giving the MS T BYRD a test-drive at Maton.