Guitar Review: Maton MS500 Mastersound

Posted 25 May 2008 in Electric Guitar, Reviews

The Maton MS500 Mastersound


For those not in the know, Maton is an Australian company, founded by Bill May in 1946. The name ‘Maton’ is actually a derivative of Bill’s family name ‘May’ and ‘Tone’. You can read their entire history on their website, but in short, they’re an established, reputable and well known local guitar manufacturer that pioneered the use of Australian wood species in guitar construction. They came back into resurgence during the early-mid ’90s with their acoustic line which featured high-quality instruments constructed with beautiful Australian woods like Queensland maple, walnut and bunya. Compared to the internationally recognised Gibson, Taylor and Martin brands, Maton were priced well-below these expensive foreign competitors but offering comparable quality. There are currently a whole swathe of artists who play Matons (both acoustic and electric) including Tommy Emmanuel, Tex Perkins and Queens of the Stone Age, just to name a few.


I bought my MS500 in ’98 when Maton decided to release electric guitars again, following the success of their acoustic line. Apparently this model was first built back in 1957 and was played by George Harrison from the Beatles at one time.

This guitar came in a tobacco sunburst satin finish. The distinctive Maton headstock, with jade-green Kluson-style tuning heads just adds to the guitar’s vintage vibe. Because of the finish, I’m not entirely sure what the body is made out of, although the Maton website states that it could be silkwood, Queensland maple or bunya. The neck however, is Queensland maple.

The fretboard is rosewood, with jumbo frets and simple dot inlays. The fretwork on the MS500 is relatively tidy, except past the 14th fret where things become a little crowded and notes don’t consistently ring out cleanly when played. To get to the truss rod, you will need to unscrew and remove the thin metal ‘Mastersound’ label between the end of the fretboard and the neck pickup. However, I found it much easier to just remove the bolt on neck to get at the truss rod.

Controls are basic: one volume knob, one tone knob, and 3-way rotary selector and a coil split switch. The standout feature, in my mind, was the rotary 3-way pickup selector. A bold departure from the Gibson/Fender-style switches, it’s a more durable design, less prone to accidental breakage/malfunction. Plus I think it just looks cool! The coil split feature is a bonus, increasing the tonal options available for a little extra cost.

The stock pickups on the MS500 are Maton custom pickups. A single coil in the neck position and a humbucker in the bridge. The humbucker is wired to a coil split switch. Both pickups come in chrome covers, wax potted to reduce microphonic feedback.

The bridge is a simple but functional chrome stop tailpiece, which gives the MS500 great sustain. According to the Maton website, you can retrofit any of their electric guitars with TonePro bridges which improves sustain and intonation on your guitar. In fact, TonePros are installed as standard on all Maton MS2000 series guitars. Now, those are seriously NICE guitars! Mmmmm… maple tops…

I do have a minor gripe on the copious amount of screws Maton have used to secure the plastic scratchplate and pickup rings in place. Having so many visible screws does nothing for the image of the guitar, and in fact can be downright ugly when the screws start to rust from all the sweat and grime that builds up from years of playing. I don’t sweat a lot, but all the same, I usually wipe down my guitar, especially around the screws to stave off corrosion for as long as possible.

Finally the MS500 chrome strap buttons are reassuringly chunky affairs. Only the most vigourous and outlandish onstage guitar stunts will cause your strap to come off, and if you’re one of those, you’d be wise to invest in a locking mechanism. The buttons are located in the right position and the guitar is very well balanced and comfortable to play.

In Action

Unplugged, the MS500 produces sweet chimey tones when strummed – lots of clarity there, suggesting that it’s most likely a maple body underneath that lovely sunburst finish. There’s loads of sustain on tap too, thanks to the stop tailpiece and satin finish. Great underlying tone overall which presages great tone when plugged in.

Or so I thought. It’s no secret that Maton’s stock pickups leave little to be desired. I’m being picky here of course. The clean sounds from this guitar is decent. Jazz afficionados in particular will love the neck pickup’s warm, smoky tone. Back off the tone knob about halfway, slap on a Diana Krall CD and start jamming away! Not bad for a P-90 wannabe…

The bridge pickup is where I found the most to grumble about. The tone can best be described as sickly. More so when you engage the coil split. In all my years of playing, I hardly ever used the bridge pickup on its own. Most of the time, I played with both pickups selected, giving some high-end definition to the neck pickup’s warmth.

I mostly enjoy playing rock and the MS500 handles classic rock adequately. I was able to coax some Angus Young, Slash and Jimmy Page sounds easily. It does modern Green Day power chords reasonably well too. Where it falls down is chord clarity, especially tending towards higher gain sounds. I found it so bad that it was difficult to distinguish between an ‘A’ and an ‘Am’ chord. Single or double notes were fine, but anything more than that was woolly.

The best single improvement you can make to this guitar is to upgrade the pickups, which I have since done. The only reason I can think of for Maton not to do this is to keep the guitar well below the $1,000 price point. Installing a pair of decent Seymour Duncans or DiMarzios would put it over that threshold. However, the difference in tone is significant. With new pickups, the MS500 is a whole new beast. That great unplugged tone is now accurately conveyed in all its glory and the tone is comparable to a Gibson Les Paul three times the price of the MS500. The implication here is that for a third of the price of a Gibson, you can get a guitar that sounds just as good – and still have lots of change left over for amps/pedals/accessories. Now THAT is value for money! True, there are other things that go into a Gibson that justifies the price, but for the majority of players on a budget out there, the laws and logic of economics still apply.

Moving on, the other electricals of the MS500 are up to standard. In action, the guitar is quiet, even with the single coil neck pickup. I have never had an issue with hum or crackling when selecting pickups or rotating knobs.

The factory set up is good. Not too high which makes the guitar hard to play, and not too low that fret buzz becomes an issue. I did have an issue with rattling in one of the tuning machines which I solved by replacing all the tuning machines at a later stage, but the MS500 holds its tuning extremely well. When re-strung, and with the strings properly stretched, it never goes out of tune.

One area in which some guitarists may find an issue with is the location of the input jack. On my early model, it’s located on the plastic scratchplate, near the tone knob. If your lead is not properly secured when plugged in, and you accidentally step on your lead while moving, you could damage the jack quite easily, or even rip it out of the scratchplate all together! I’ve in fact accidentally stepped on my lead many times, and the only thing that has saved me is that I loop my lead from behind, through my guitar strap which secures the lead in place that way. Due to customer feedback, Maton have since positioned the jack on the side of the body and this is no longer an issue on their newer guitars.


When reading a review, the burning the question that most will want answered is: “Should I buy this guitar?”. Well, the short answer to the first question will be “Yes!”. Overall, the build quality of the MS500 is very good despite the poor pickups. The inherent tone in the guitar is lovely and points to a well made instrument. It’s a beautiful guitar at a competitive price point, being Maton’s entry level electric guitar, and you would be hard pressed to find a guitar of equivalent or better quality with that retro feel.

If you had a few hundred bucks to spend, a pickup upgrade is essential to getting the most out of this guitar, and let’s face it, if you’re serious about tone, you’re gonna go for a pickup upgrade anyway, even if the pickups were decent. If you had an extra thousand dollars to spare, you should check out Maton’s MS2000 solid body maple top series which is feature packed, looks absolutely stunning, yet is still considerably cheaper than a Gibson Les Paul Standard.

Check out Maton’s website at


  1. Ian Tan (28 Jun 2008, 19:01)

    Hi Daniel, I’ll be posting a review of the Crafter SA series guitar in a couple of weeks. I used to own a Taylor T5 and I’m very keen to see how the two of them compare!

  2. Cramberry (23 Jul 2012, 3:43)

    Hi, this is a great article! Thanks!

    I know this article is from 2008, but if you’re listening, Ian… I have MS500 (2008) and I have the stock pickups still on. I love the midrange quality of the guitar. I find it really unique. If I were to change the pickups, do you think it would magnify this quality, or change it altogether?

  3. CRAIG FOURRO (12 Oct 2013, 21:52)

    Good honest review . I have one in honeyburst , a 2007 model . It’s tuned to open E, mainly used for slide work so the nasal twang of the humbucker sort of suits me . I also have a ms2000 dlx sd , which comes out standard with Seymour Duncan pickups {sh-1 neck and sh-4 bridge ) with coil tap , this is a pretty serious piece of work . The best thing about maton is that they are virtually hand made by a family owned company .There’s only sixty people in the workshop and they have a custom shop that will make whatever you desire . Name your body shape , tone wood and hardware and they will do it

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