Mako Guitar (Les Paul Traditionals 56)

So a bit of an off-topic post for this site. But in addition to writing novels, I also play and record music. Recently while browsing in a locally owned guitar store, I came across a gorgeous Les Paul copy that looked to be from sometime around 1980.

My Les Paul II

The headstock, however, has been painted over with solid black to hide the brand name! And there’s no serial number info on the back or any useful info under the pickups or in the control cavity. So this guitar is a total mystery!

I turned to good old Google (and Bing…and Yahoo!) to try and find out what I’ve got. After tons and tons of digging, I figured out it’s a Mako “56” guitar. There are some details that give it away. The headstock design matches and the time period. But even more telling is the really unique bridge and white control knobs. Complicating things, the Mako “56” appears to have also been released under at least 3 other brand names during the time: the Hondo “Deluxe 748,” Marathon “Replay MG 120,” and Schafer (haven’t found a model name for that one). Those guitars all have the same weird bridge and often the odd white control knobs.

Les Paul Comparison

While the headstock shape definitely identifies my guitar as a Mako, there’s no info on where Makos were made. The prevailing theory floating around the Internet is that they were made by Matsumoku in Japan. However some claim they’re Korean guitars. A similar debate circles the Hondo “Deluxe” series, though the debate falls more toward the side of Korea on that one. Then the Schafer and Marathon also both have people saying they’re Korean guitars—specifically made by Samick. So which is it? Do i have a Japanese Matsumoku or a Korean Samick?

I kept digging. Again, the most identifying feature of my Mako and its cousins is the SUPER weird/unique bridge.

Hondo Bridge

Hunting, hunting, hunting, I find the bridge popping up as late as the mid-90s. And finally I find it on a guitar that has a maker identified: the Epiphone Sheraton guitars made in the mid-90s by <drumroll please> Samick in Korea. The Sheraton bridge is so weird that Epiphone owners often go hunting for replacements on the net and it’s even referred to as the “Samick bridge.” While not a smoking gun, I think this bridge being positively identified with the Korean Samick presents a pretty strong case for my Mako being Korean.

Or at least, that’s where I was leaning. Then I found a Mako Traditionals 56 on eBay with the serial number still on the back and a photo included. That serial number style is really weird. The sticker says “COAST F/A” followed by a 5-digit number. Stickers like this appear to have been how Memphis guitars (who also sold Les Paul copies in the 70s/80s) marked their higher-end, made in Japan guitars. And those were made by Matsumoku by most accounts.

However! I’ve recently discovered that there were Mako branded amps. They have the same type of inspection sticker as the guitars and very clearly say “Made in Korea.” They were Kaman products, which is probably better known as Ovation. I think that might be the closest to a smoking gun I’m going to get.

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.31.24 AM

The world may never know again who built these Makos (or its siblings under other brand names). But either way, I love my new Les Paul. It’s got a set-neck, mahogany body, binding over the frets, a nice medium tennon neck, and a lot of really “high end” features plus a gorgeous top. And I got it for next to nothing!

3 thoughts on “Mako Guitar (Les Paul Traditionals 56)

  1. There are no real Japanese Hondo LPs (except for some special non-full size single cut models). The 748, the early Marathons and most likely the Mako share the same Samick electronic cavity routing pattern, construction etc… Samick was the only factory that did fret edge binding in Korea. They did it till 93 or so on the Sheratons. The “Inspected By” sticker is also typical Samick.
    The finish quality on these guitars is usually a bit below the Japanese standard but they are great sounding instruments and clearly no low-end.

  2. Your guitar (Mako) was made in Korea.I pulled the capacitors out of mine and the letters SAM WHA were on them.A mfg. of capacitors in South Korea.

  3. This was a really helpful page. I recently found what appears to be a relative of your guitar – the Marathon Replay Les Paul copy. Owner claimed it’s from 1986, and aside from the color being darker, it’s an identical twin to you Mako. I didn’t find any stickers on it, so i cannot confirm or deny its origins, but you’re probably correct in saying it’s Korean.

    Does your Mako also weigh an absolute fucking ton? My Marathon weighs 4.8kg (and i though my 3.6kg Framus was a bit on the heavy side!), and just about everything in it is crap – the pots are scratchy and look to be linear taper, the pickups are dull (neck one in particular is boomy), the tuners ain’t worth shit and go out of tune after a few bends…

    …however, i bought it on sight, because, with all its faults, this thing has MONSTER resonance and sustain. Like, seriously, it vibrates like crazy, it’s loud as fuck and has a huge dynamic range – digging into the strings on this thing is pure joy. Even the lame pickups cannot hide the fact that it’s a damn fine guitar.

    So, it’s an investment alright (new pickups, new hardware, new everything…) and it doesn’t work out that cheap any more, but i have a strong feeling that this guitar will become my favourite once i put in the work. I mean, i love my Framus (which is three times as expensive as this Marathon would be *including* all of the work done), but this weird heavy universe destroyer of a guitar is just so much more fun to play, it’s so powerful!

    (Sorry, i may have posted this twice)

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