The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) has announced Maton: Australia’s Guitar – an exhibition of the largest retrospective of Australia’s leading guitar manufacturer Maton, will open at the Powerhouse Museum on Saturday 25 July 2020.
Melbourne-born jazz musician, woodwork teacher and luthier Bill May founded Maton in 1946 and became a pioneer of Australian guitar manufacturing. Starting in a small workshop in May’s garage, Maton became a success against the odds, and has since created over 200 guitar models. The manufacturer has gained recognition across Australia and the world for creating instruments of the highest quality.
Australian musicians who play Maton guitars include ARIA award-winning artists Archie Roach AM and Tommy Emmanuel AM, New Zealand-Australian singer-songwriter Keith Urban AO, singer-song-writer Missy Higgins, folk-influenced pop quartet The Seekers, former frontman of Men at Work Colin Hay and jazz guitarist George Golla, and Australia’s rock pioneers The Easybeats.
International performers have included Elvis Presley, Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones), John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival), Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and the Beatles’ George Harrison, Billy Joe Armstrong (Green Day) and Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age).
“I have spent my whole life playing music to people in Australia,” said Tommy Emmanuel AM. “I mainly perform with Maton as I love playing an Australian-made guitar. It’s great to see the unique history of this part of Australian music heritage brought to life for visitors in the major exhibition. I’m thrilled to have my first Maton on display here, my Father, Hugh, gave me that wonderful instrument in 1960.”
Maton was also the first manufacturer to use Australian wood species in guitars on a large scale, with the models predominately created from Queensland Maple, Bunya (Queensland) and Victorian Blackwood (Victoria), considered worldwide to be more sustainable than traditional timbers.
Bill May’s importance to the history of Australian music was recently recognised at the Australian Music Association Awards, where he was posthumously awarded their highest honour and inducted into the hall of fame. Now operated by May’s daughter and son-in-law Linda and Neville Kitchen, the company is Australia’s largest manufacturer of guitars producing over 8000 a year.
“Neville and I took over the Maton company from my parents, Bill and Vera May back in 1986 and we are very proud of our involvement,” said Linda Kitchen. “Over the last 40 years there have been changes and challenges like any business, but the main constant has been and remains our unabated focus on maintaining our high levels of quality and workmanship.”
“I very much look forward to seeing the exhibition, including Wadih’s significant collection, and we’re extremely grateful to Powerhouse for creating an opportunity to share the Maton story with the broader community,” said Ms Kitchen.
In this first major survey, over 130 guitars will traverse the history of Maton, drawing on more than 70 years of music. Maton: Australia’s Guitar will explore the company’s beginning, its first models and influence on the music scene transcending through genres such as Country and Western, Folk and Classical, Rock and Roll, and Jazz.
A highlight on display from the Powerhouse’s collection is The Easybeats’ guitarist Harry Vanda’s Maton guitar which he used to write the song Friday on My Mind.
Also on display is Tommy Emmanuel’s first Maton – a Maton electric Mastersound MS500M and hand painted case; the first guitar Bill May made as a teenager; some of the rarest Australian guitars ever displayed, and instruments and amplifiers used in the heyday of Australian jazz, folk, rock and country.
This stunning and thorough collection of Maton guitars, ukuleles, lap steels and amplifiers are part of the personal collection of Bankstown-based instrument collector Wadih Hanna. A guitar player since he was a young teen, his wife Lucy gifted Hanna a Maton acoustic guitar for their engagement, and both a marriage and an obsession followed.
“Maton is an integral component in the development of Australian music both nationally and across the world,” said Lisa Havilah, Powerhouse Chief Executive. “At the Powerhouse, we are committed to communicating the history of our cultural and scientific heritage to our visitors and we are thrilled to be able to tell the success story of this homegrown manufacturer.”
The Powerhouse Museum reopened to the public with free timed entry admission on 1 June 2020. Maton: Australia’s Guitar is the first new major exhibition to launch following the reopening.
Maton: Australia’s Guitar
Powerhouse Museum, 500 Harris St, Ultimo (Sydney)
Exhibition: 25 July – 11 October 2020
Free entry – bookings essential
For more information, visit: www.maas.museum for details.
Image: The Easybeats with Maton guitars at Alberts Studio, Sydney – courtesy of Maton Archives