So, I, as most people, are used to hearing almost nothing but bad things about Marlin guitars. I am also well used to there being little very actual information about them - Planet Botch being one of the few notable exceptions: https://planetbotch.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/marlin-sidewinder-forgotten-legend.html
So this is my attempt to add a little to the sum of Marlin knowledge through my own experiences and guitars. I think most of the bad press received for Marlin Strat copies probably arises due to the later Korean made guitars. I suspect that the earliest Korean-made models (pre-Hohner acquisition) and the rare first-year-of-production East German-made ones actually are surprisingly good and solid, for what were essentially budget guitars.
I own, in order of acquisition, a black Marlin Sidewinder (Korean made, but almost certainly pre-Hohner) bought second hand for £50 in around 1991, as my first guitar (and has remained my main guitar to this day), a red Sidewinder bass which was given to me free in the late nineties by a friend, a red Marlin East German Sidewinder, which I sacrificed on the alter of investigation somewhat when I turned it into a travel guitar, and finally a white/cream Marlin Slammer, also East German. All of these can be seen together in this album:https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10154774165156790.1073741918.624466789&type=1&l=9780e28544
In order here are th features of each guitar.
1. The Black Marlin Sidewinder - Korean
This was my first guitar and it has "suffered" a fair few mods over the years. Its original specs are a plywood body, wax-filled pickups (HSS), locking nuts and fine tuning with a vaguely Floyd Rose style trem. Over the years I fully scalloped the neck, removed the middle pickup, replaced the 5-way selector with a 3-way and finally two years ago the crappy dark grey alloy trem block crumbled to dust and I replaced it with a rolled steel one. And the guitar sounds so sweet, even more so with the steel block increasing the sustain. The pickups are quite high output, higher than any of my other guitars, and the neck I now realise is that of a "super-strat", in that it is thinner than your average strat neck, and quicker to move the fingers around.
2. The Red Marlin Sidewinder Bass - Hohner vintage.
I must confess this is the guitar of least interest to me. This year the electrics went a bit wobbly, so I just bought a new fully loaded scratch plate and replaced the original one. It's a bass. It plays.
3. The Red Marlin Sidewinder. This was an interesting guitar which I bought this year from a seller on eBay for £16. My intention was to buy a guitar I didn't mind sacrificing, in order to make a fold down travel guitar which fits in my suitcase
(you can see the process in this album https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10154643692756790.1073741917.624466789&type=1&l=3de46339bf
But, as soon as I saw it up close I realised it was a different beast from my first Sidewinder. This was obviously (from what was contained in the Planet Botch post) a rare, year one, East German sidewinder. It has a solid basswood body, traditional pickups (SSS) but of East German manufacture backed by Russian magnets, and a much thicker neck, again much more like a traditional Stratocaster. The headstock was also considerably larger than the later Korean sidewinder. The trem block was also better than the later model, in this case being zinc. The investigation of this sidewinder can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10154634668701790.1073741916.624466789&type=1&l=1d96d8d4e8
4. The White/Cream Marlin Slammer. After butchering the red East German Marlin to make it a travel guitar I fancied an intact equivalent to add to my collection. And so I managed to obtain this Slammer off ebay for £40 a few weeks ago. You can see my initial investigation here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10154774376666790.1073741919.624466789&type=1&l=e8d9c23e3b
The Slammer was almost identical in construction to the East German Sidewinder with two notable differences. 1. the headstock was smaller; not as small as the Korean Sidewinder but smaller than the East German Sidewinder. However the neck was just as think as the other East German. Both East German Marlins have 21 fret fretboards while the Korean Sidewinder is 22 fret. 2. That second major difference between the two East German guitars is that the Slammer came with a steel block! As far as i can tell from fit this is original. So, it -seems- that, in these year one guitars, the Slammer may have been designed as the slightly higher end option, while the Sidewinder was slightly lower in features. That said both are -very- close in sound, play and weight. Both the East German guitars have a more raw, traditional strat sound on the bridge pickup down to the single coil there versus the humbucker on the Korean Sidewinder.
So there you have it