Premier Guitar

Maton MS500/HC Electric Guitar Review

September 21, 2010


Download Example 1
Both Pickups
Download Example 2
Coil Tap
Download Example 3
Hi-Fi
Download Example 4
Neck
Download Example 5
Rock

Australian-made Maton Guitars have become much more visible to American guitarists in recent years thanks to players like Tommy Emmanuel, Albert Lee, Ben Harper, and Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age. In Australia, however, the brand has been an institution for decades.

Maton was founded in 1946 by Bill May, who created the company’s name (pronounced MAY-ton) by combining his last name and the word “tone.” Back in the ’40s, quality guitars weren’t readily available in Australia so Maton quickly became the founding father of the Australian guitar industry. They began manufacturing high-quality acoustic instruments and ventured into electric guitars in the late ’50s. Their first solidbody electric was called the Mastersound in 1958, and the MS500 series followed soon thereafter. It quickly became a favorite for many musicians—including George Harrison, who played a Maton MS500 early in his career. The guitar was reissued in 2008 as a 50th-anniversary model, and now Maton has introduced a semi-hollowbody version of that guitar— the MS500/HC reviewed here.

Proven Design, New Twists
The 24.5"-scale MS500/HC has a maple bolt-on neck with a rosewood fingerboard and a Queensland maple body with a Blackwood tone cap. The pickups are Maton’s own design—a coil-tapped MVB1 in the bridge position and an MVS1 neck unit that has alnico magnets.

As you’d expect from its origins in the late ’50s, the MS500/HC exudes a retro vibe. Everything from the pickups and pickguard to the headstock with the original logo from 1946 contributes to the throwback nostalgia. One of the coolest features is the 3-way, gearshift-style rotary pickup selector, which features kitschy setting names: “Cool” for the neck pickup, “Midway” for both, and “HiFi” for the bridge pickup. The shape and position of the switch allow for fast and easy switching between modes. Plus, there’s something about having a rotary switch with a little handle that’s a lot more fun than a regular toggle switch.

The Queensland maple body and blackwood tone cap are probably not a tonewood combination most American guitarists are used to. But because Maton is based in Australia, they have access to a wide range of woods that aren’t available elsewhere. This particular combination is probably most analogous to the maple-and-mahogany-cap construction used for Les Pauls. These timbers help Maton make unique, quality guitars while keeping materials costs a little lower.





Light As a Feather, Fat Tones
The MS500/HC’s semi-hollow body makes it quite light, and playing a few chords unplugged revealed a singing resonance that can be heard and felt. The unique design of the cutaway and the heel joint make playing in the 17th position and above a little tricky, especially if you have smaller hands, but the neck has a slim, comfortable shape and a smooth satin finish for a faster, slicker feel. Action right out of the case was a little higher than I prefer, but I was able to lower it to a more satisfactory level with a few adjustments.

To evaluate the Maton’s tones, I dialed in a clean sound through a Paul Reed Smith 30 amp, with all the tone knobs set to 12 o’clock. The semi-hollow body made dialing in a warm, rich, jazzy tone easy, and chords rang out nicely with plenty of sustain. The hollow chamber also imparts a warm, musical midrange and a trace of reverb-like resonance. The MVB1 and MVS1 pickups are quite responsive to the resonant qualities of the body and exhibit a lot of tonal range. The combination of the neck pickup with the coil-tapped bridge pickup was a favorite—serving up a nice blend of deep, low-midrange tones with some high-end snap that I could easily adapt for jazz, funk, blues, and country riffs.

Next I plugged into a Fryette Memphis Thirty amp, again keeping the tone knobs at a neutral setting and adding some amp overdrive. In this setting, the guitar was perfect for heavy ’70s British rock—especially when playing power chords in a chugging rhythm. Pickup clarity was excellent in almost any combination. Chording in the neck position sounded tight and heavy without being muddy or too muffled. And the Maton proved perfect for bluesy leads—delivering impressive sustain with only a minimal amount of overdrive.

With the gain cranked and the amp fully saturated, the MS500/HC roared. Again, chords were chunky, with plenty of bite and clarity. Using both the neck and the bridge pickups in single-coil mode gave me access to a world of cool, Brian May-style tones. Perhaps the guitar’s only limitation in terms of tone shaping was that, at times, I wished the guitar had an additional volume knob so I could switch between a cleaner sound for the “Cool” neck pickup and a dirtier sound for the “HiFi” bridge pickup.

The Verdict
The Maton MS500/HC is a retro-handsome, well-crafted, semi-hollow variation of Maton’s first solidbody electric that doffs its cap to both Maton’s history and the guitars of the late ’50s in general. It is versatile enough to handle the softest jazz chords to the loudest hard-rock power chords—all while maintaining clarity. And the semihollow design and coil-tapping pickups offer a vast range of tones with the resonance of a hollowbody guitar and the sustain and bite of a solidbody. Lightweight, distinctively styled, and sonically multi-faceted, the Maton MS500/HC is a jack-of-all-trades that stands out from the pack.

Buy if...
you’re looking for a lightweight, semi-hollowbody with retro flare and some modern flexibility.
Skip if...
you don’t like shorter-scale guitars or prefer solidbodies.
Rating...


Street $1657 - Maton Guitars - maton.com.au