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The quest for the perfect guitar -

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Broadcast: 01/05/2006

The quest for the perfect guitar

Reporter: Mick Bunworth

KERRY O'BRIEN: In half a century of rock music, with guitars front and centre for any act, the big
American brand names of Fender and Gibson have dominated. But a modest Australian company, founded
just after the Second World War by a cabinet maker/musician turned woodwork teacher has managed to
win over some of the world's biggest names. Maton Guitars is celebrating its 60th birthday this
year, and the list of those who've used Matons over the decades includes Beatle George Harrison,
Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, and Creedence Clearwater Revival's John Fogerty. The late Bill May,
working out of his humble suburban garage in Melbourne, set out to make his perfect Maton guitar
and that quest continues today with his daughter at the helm. Mick Bunworth reports.

AMATEUR VIDEO (Recorded 1971)

INTERVIEWER: When did you make that one?

BILL MAY, FOUNDER, MATON GUITARS: Oh dear, this was made in around about 19, early 1930s. I'd
probably be around about 17 at the time.

INTERVIEWER: That was your first guitar, was it?

BILL MATON: Well, it was a first reasonable guitar.

MICK BUNWORTH: That "reasonable guitar" was the first of many to take shape in Bill May's suburban
Melbourne garage in the years immediately following the Second World War.

LINDA KITCHEN, DIRECTOR, MATON GUITARS: Dad being a full-time teacher in those days, to have a job
was a pretty good thing - especially in the Education Department - and to give it all up to
manufacture guitars, people thought that was a bit of a joke. Wood was his passion, working with
wood. When he finished school, he did a cabinet making apprenticeship and he did an honours course
in art and design - so, he loved working with wood and he loved playing guitar.

BILL MATON: When I set Maton up, I had a very ambitious mind - was to make guitars that was as good
as anywhere in the world, which was laughable, then, by anybody in Australia.

LINDA KITCHEN: In his day, to be an Australian product wasn't really cool, you know. He used other
terms for Australian wood, because it was unacceptable, you know.

MICK BUNWORTH: Bill May's daughter, Linda Kitchen, who now runs Maton with her husband, says her
father managed to silence the naysayers once musicians like the Beatles' George Harrison were
photographed playing his guitars. Artists who continue to use Maton guitars include everyone from
Neil Finn, Neil Diamond and Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page to arguably Australia's biggest entertainment
export, The Wiggles. Maton also has a healthy relationship with the guitar stars of tomorrow, like
the company's latest signing, Kieran Murphy. Maton's custom shop, Luthier, Andy Allen reckons he
has the best job in the world. Discerning guitarists prepared to spend anywhere between $5,000 and
$12,000 are his clientele, and he's currently making three guitars for Neil Fogarty of Creedance
Clearwater Revival fame.

ANDY ALLEN, LUTHIER: You've got a picture in your head of what the guitar is going to sound like
and then to hear it at the end, and see whether, you know, you were heading in the right direction
or not - you know, I mean, nothing beats that.

MICK BUNWORTH: Do you ever get there and it doesn't sound like you imagined?

ANDY ALLEN: Um, sometimes they can sound different. I've done some things where I thought maybe I
was heading in a direction, and then you realise there's a whole different sound coming out of
that. But it may become a sound that somebody's looking for in the future. And I'll go, "Well, I
know how to get that sound, you know, I accidentally stumbled across it one day," you know.

MICK BUNWORTH: But the distinctive Maton sound is due in no small part to Bill May's pioneering
spirit. Chris Finch joined Maton in 1966 and served a long apprenticeship to the master.

CHRIS FFINCH, LUTHIER: There was this guy fiddling around. I thought he was - I don't know what he
was, he just had hands on all the time. Little short guy, grey dust coat: "Bill." "How ya goin',
Bill." That was it. You know, it was "How ya goin', mate?" And, um, I found out later that that was
actually my boss. I started at the bottom, just glueing up necks, this, that and the other. Now I
can actually make a guitar out of a tree - if you know what I mean - I can literally take it from
the ground upwards.

MICK BUNWORTH: Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the Maton story is Bill May's battle with a
debilitating disease later on in life.

LINDA KITCHEN: He got Parkinson's disease, which was tragic for dad, who worked with his hands. So,
in the later years he was working, it was very difficult for him to actually do what he loved
doing. He died of a heart attack, which I dare say is a blessing, because he was just losing the
capacity, you know, to move. It was terrible.

MICK BUNWORTH: But there's no doubt Bill May left a resonating legacy, one that will be heard in
the bedrooms, pubs and concert halls of the world for many decades to come.

LINDA KITCHEN: He was driven to manufacture a guitar that was as good as any others in the world.
And I think he would have achieved the dream and the goal that he set out on all those years ago.

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