Led by the mighty mind of Bill May, Australian makers produced a number of electric guitars between the 1950s and 1970s that captivated local players, eschewing the proven shapes of pioneers like Fender and Gibson while still offering something of more elegant than the quirky designs launched by Japanese manufacturers such as Teisco or Guyatone.
In an act of parallel evolution, Maton had emerged with something entirely their own: an aesthetic characterized by jagged cuts, buttons galore, and a doll that only a mother could love. This odd combination only added to the otherworldly feeling of the Antipodes, already suggested by the sound of the guitars themselves – incredibly bright and twangy, with a scorching ‘G’ string that could cut through glass. flat.
These new Maton electrical appliances were a call to arms for hundreds of local garage groups who until now had to wait months, sometimes longer, to receive their new American or British-made six-stringers – often without much word to say. tell about color or optional extras. God help you if you were left handed.
Not only were these new guitars accessible and moderately priced, they were uniquely Australian: made from lutherie woods such as Queensland maple and often named after the bizarre native birds that inhabit the continent, the production Maton’s electric guitar throughout this era was simply historic. Guitars like the Wedgetail and the Ibis, for example, were just as unique as the birds that bore their namesake, while other models like the Flamingo, Wildcat and Sapphire could not have been born from the spirit of ‘no other creator.
While it’s debatable whether the Maton Mastersound – a guitar made famous by George Harrison, Murray Cook (aka The Red Wiggle), and a very young Tommy Emmanuel – may be the most visible of the early Matons, you don’t have to dig to discover the true iconoclast of the Maton catalog of this period: the fabulous Fyrbyrd.
Entering stores in 1962, the first rendition of the FB620 Fyrbyrd could not have been further from the typical solid body guitars found in stores at the time. Equipped with three Filtertone pickups, a trio of switches to switch between ‘HiFi’, ‘Mid-Way’ and ‘Cool’ sounds, a Maton sound control lever to adjust the pickup output and a Bigsby tremolo, the Fyrbyrd was designed to act like a true tonal chameleon.
The guitar’s unique, crackling sound can be heard through a number of early ’60s Australian rock singles, with Lithgow garage rock pioneers The Black Diamonds touting a pair of Fyrbyrds in a promotional clip for their Raucous 1966 single ‘I Want, Besoin, Je t’aime’. Further north, groups like The Rebels and The Grahams (the latter of which featured three Fyrbyrds in the same group) brought the jangle to Queensland, sporting the Maton flag and further helping to dispel any idea that it was just a Victorian thing.
Sounds aside, it was the aesthetic silhouette of the FB620 that instantly captivated gamers more than anything else. Along with the vibrant finishes, crazy electronics, and oversized dolls, these first edition Fyrbyrds featured an original cutout on the upper horn that was colloquially referred to as a ‘shark bite,’ and it was that original embellishment that tends to cause a stir in most collectors.
While these early Fyrbyrds weren’t exactly the most practical guitars ever made – the three-tone switches were prone to popping if you tapped down hard enough, and some models fell prone to neck issues later. in their lives – their original designs would nonetheless gain their cult appeal among budding Australian garages and indie rockers, for nearly 50 years, with Jay Watson (Tame Impala), Jules Douglas (The Panics) and Kim Salmon (The Scientists) who are just a few notable fans of the Fyrbyrd’s singular aesthetic.
After the first set of Fyrbyrds hit the local market – in extremely limited quantities, which would inevitably help them achieve collector status in the years to come – Maton followed the FB620 with a model that sought to improve on some of the shortcomings. of the original, adding in upper toggle switches to control the tone. However, these newer models had a significant lack of “shark bite” unlike their predecessors and as such are found around traps somewhat more frequently than their jagged siblings.
In 1965, Maton would give the Fyrbyrd a major overhaul with the release of the FB650, seeing them tweak some of the original race’s more eccentric qualities even further into something almost entirely new on its own. Gone are the drastic offset contours of the FB620, Maton moving closer and closer to the more streamlined body shapes found on the popular Burns and Fender models of the day.
Several improvements have also been made to the Fyrbyrd’s tonal controls; most notable was the lack of a Sound Barrier control in favor of two treble and bass extension switches, which were placed horizontally to prevent over-eager garage rockers from breaking them during their down-strums. panicked. Maton would also use a newly designed shaft for the FB650 models, upgrading to a 3 Ã 3 split head and using a much thinner shaft profile compared to the big baseball bat shafts that the FB620 Fyrbyrd models have.
However, the one that really turned heads was the FB1120: a twelve-string version of the Fyrbyrd, limited to just 120 pieces and considered one of the most coveted birds in the Maton Lodge. While the prospect of tuning a twelve-string guitar with a Bigsby sounds like an absolute threat on paper, in reality the Fyrbyrd FB1120 is nothing but astonishing – in addition to holding the chord, these models offer an incredibly inviting neck profile that makes navigation bar chords and riffs a cinch, while the pickups are perfect for nailing all kinds of chime sounds under the sun.
One Maton fan who made special use of the FB1120’s jangly sound was none other than Crowded House’s Neil Finn, who still uses one on stage to this day, even with Fleetwood Mac.
Many Australian guitar collectors consider that this is the only reason these guitars are as expensive as they are in the collector’s market, but the reality is that they are rarer than houndstooth. Other notable Fyrbyrd 12 players include Jim Monginie of Midnight Oil, but to be fair, owning one of these rare beauties is enough to make you stand out in our eyes.
After the release of the FB1120 and FB620 models, Maton will renew the Fyrbyrd range again in 1968 with the launch of the FB70; arguably the rarest Fyrbyrd ever to come out of the Maton factory. Supposedly limited to seven production models, the FB70 featured a trio of humbucker pickups, a three-way toggle switch, and a new Japanese Bigsby tremolo, while the guitar’s eccentric body was drastically remodeled to make it one of the most ordinary models ever to come from Maton’s camp.
However, the FB70 was quickly replaced with a new variant of Fyrbyrd that marked the return of the beloved Sound Barrier control and dual single-coil pickups, with Maton also changing the position of the pickup’s toggle switch and adding an odd doll inspired by Fender.
This second FB70 would form the blueprint for the last Fyrbyrd to come from the Maton factory in the 1970s: the powerful FBFX, an all-mahogany rock machine that reverted to a body shape similar to the FB650 and added an Italian Eko tremolo arm. There are few lucky enough to stumble upon a final Fyrbyrd in the flesh, but those who do are usually rather vocal in their praise for the FBFX: they’re nasty axes for hard rock and garage styles, and that mahogany body. in slab will sing for days with sustain.
Since then, there have been a multitude of tributes and custom builds paying homage to the legendary original Maton Fyrbyrd. Electric Guitar Company, Season three and Combine Guitars are just a few of the custom builders that have had a crack at the Sharkbite’s unique visual cues, combining them with all the playability of a modern guitar to result in the reissue that Maton simply refuses to do.
Recent Maton: the Australian guitar on display at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, the Sharkbite Fyrebyrd was one of two Maton guitars immortalized forever in badge form, available for purchase at the museum Souvenir shop. As they say in Hollywood – you know you’ve been successful when you’re on a badge in a museum gift shop.
For a country that sometimes lacks discernible iconography, the Fyrbyrd serves as a kind of friendly reminder of what it really means to be Australian. The sense of parallel evolution, the awkward and acerbic charm, the subtle sense of not belonging and all of this presented in a voice as high and dry as the midday sun. In terms of guitar icons, we could do a lot worse.
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