Marlin Sidewinder, Slammer and Bass guitars

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leithesleithes Frets: 2
edited September 19 in Guitar Reviews

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

and

http://planetbotch.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/early-non-korean-marlin-guitars-obscure.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

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Comments

  • ICBMICBM Frets: 25744
    We had an early Korean Sidewinder in the shop about a year ago - it was surprisingly nice, and not just 'for a Marlin', it was a pretty decent guitar. It didn't seem to be afflicted by the collapsing bridge block syndrome - which I've experienced personally, one literally spontaneously self-destructed while the guitar was on a wall hanger in the workshop! - and although the electrics were a bit ropey, I sorted it out and it played and sounded really quite good. We sold it for something like £180 :).

    I think the bridge problem may have killed quite a lot of them, which may be why you don't seem to see them around much now - there's no direct replacement for it, so without a lot of work, the body then becomes a write-off. And without the body, who wants a neck with a very cheap-looking locking nut (or the screw holes from it) and a fish inlay on it? :(
    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone."
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  • leithesleithes Frets: 2
    edited September 19
    ICBM said:
    We had an early Korean Sidewinder in the shop about a year ago - it was surprisingly nice, and not just 'for a Marlin', it was a pretty decent guitar. It didn't seem to be afflicted by the collapsing bridge block syndrome - which I've experienced personally, one literally spontaneously self-destructed while the guitar was on a wall hanger in the workshop! - and although the electrics were a bit ropey, I sorted it out and it played and sounded really quite good. We sold it for something like £180 .

    I think the bridge problem may have killed quite a lot of them, which may be why you don't seem to see them around much now - there's no direct replacement for it, so without a lot of work, the body then becomes a write-off. And without the body, who wants a neck with a very cheap-looking locking nut (or the screw holes from it) and a fish inlay on it?
    Hi! Yes, the steel block I used to replace the exploded one in the Korean Sidewinder didn't -quite- fit with the trem plate; the trem bar hole in the plate only -just- aligns with the one in the block, but fortunately just is enough. And all the block attachment holes to the plate lined up fine and were the right size in both. The cavity did need a few extra bits shaving off to give it full movement. But it wasn't the most arduous thing I've ever done This was the block btw: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Guitar-tremolo-block-solid-steel-including-screws-52-5-string-spacing-/391810583861?hash=item5b39bb0d35
    Might help save a few more Marlins
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  • P.S. The Zinc and Steel blocks in the East German ones were a -real- surprise, I suspect they may survive 'til the end of time! :D
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  • I had one as my first electric guitar in about 1988/9. It was a an off-white/cream affair with a maple neck/black inlays setup. The curious thing I remember about it was that the bridge pickup was a single blade (or at least looked like it). I'm sure the plastics were black too. 

    It was definitely "pre-hohner" as I remember the adverts stating that they'd taken the brand over and that was when the bridge HB pickups seemed to appear along with metallic finishes and locking trem/nut arrangements.  

    It was ok from what i remember but the ravages of time have long-since kicked in a distorted my memories. I also had a Marlin "10L" amp that was made from chipboard. 


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  • I had one as my first electric guitar in about 1988/9. It was a an off-white/cream affair with a maple neck/black inlays setup. The curious thing I remember about it was that the bridge pickup was a single blade (or at least looked like it). I'm sure the plastics were black too. 

    It was definitely "pre-hohner" as I remember the adverts stating that they'd taken the brand over and that was when the bridge HB pickups seemed to appear along with metallic finishes and locking trem/nut arrangements.  

    It was ok from what i remember but the ravages of time have long-since kicked in a distorted my memories. I also had a Marlin "10L" amp that was made from chipboard. 


    Hi! Pretty sure that all the Sidewinders after year one (1985-early 86?) were HSS. Only the "rare" East German 85 ones were SSS. My own Korean sidewinder has the -kind of- Floyd Rose trem system with the fine tuning nuts and the locking nuts at the headstock, and the bridge pickup is a double rail humbucker with the same size and shape as a single coil unit, and it, along with the two single coil pickups, are all wax filled. There seems to have been a wide range of styles of humbuckers used on the bridge pickups over the years, possibly even within any given year's range of options. 
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  • leithesleithes Frets: 2
    Here are all the Marlins in my "Marlin Museum" pictured together, side-by-side, for your enjoyment: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10154774165156790.1073741918.624466789&type=1&l=9780e28544

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  • leithesleithes Frets: 2
    leithes said:
    ICBM said:
    We had an early Korean Sidewinder in the shop about a year ago - it was surprisingly nice, and not just 'for a Marlin', it was a pretty decent guitar. It didn't seem to be afflicted by the collapsing bridge block syndrome - which I've experienced personally, one literally spontaneously self-destructed while the guitar was on a wall hanger in the workshop! - and although the electrics were a bit ropey, I sorted it out and it played and sounded really quite good. We sold it for something like £180 .

    I think the bridge problem may have killed quite a lot of them, which may be why you don't seem to see them around much now - there's no direct replacement for it, so without a lot of work, the body then becomes a write-off. And without the body, who wants a neck with a very cheap-looking locking nut (or the screw holes from it) and a fish inlay on it?
    Hi! Yes, the steel block I used to replace the exploded one in the Korean Sidewinder didn't -quite- fit with the trem plate; the trem bar hole in the plate only -just- aligns with the one in the block, but fortunately just is enough. And all the block attachment holes to the plate lined up fine and were the right size in both. The cavity did need a few extra bits shaving off to give it full movement. But it wasn't the most arduous thing I've ever done This was the block btw: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Guitar-tremolo-block-solid-steel-including-screws-52-5-string-spacing-/391810583861?hash=item5b39bb0d35
    Might help save a few more Marlins

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/8qmwrz86qni89rs/PHOTO_20171008_134908.jpg?dl=0
    It seems impossible to attach images to posts properly on this forum, but hopefully you can see a pic showing how tight it is for the trembar going into the hole on the block through the plate. However, believe it or not, it is still completely free to swing around wildly if you prefer it loose (or give it another turn for a stiffer bar). :)




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  • I had a sidewinder, must have been around late ‘88/89.
    I thought it was a great guitar but the trem was always sending it out of tune, so i never used that.
    That said, i bought it out of the catalogue paying monthly, and it was never set up properly.
    Honestly cant remember what i did with it.
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  • ICBMICBM Frets: 25744
    There's another one in the shop just now - a nice dark metallic blue.

    It's a good guitar, more or less. It plays well and sounds pretty resonant unplugged, and the neck is a nice profile. The bridge block has not (yet!) collapsed, the locking nut is tight and works properly and it stays in tune well even when using the trem. The pickups aren't great, it has to be admitted - the single coils are thin and scratchy-sounding, and the humbucker is extremely muddy when not split and a bit dull when split. That said, a pickup upgrade is not considered unusual even on many more expensive guitars.

    I really don't get the level of hate and derision they seem to attract… it's not the best guitar in the world, but for £129 - the same price as they were new if I remember rightly, and so much cheaper in real terms now - it's fair value for money, along with a big chunk of nostalgia if you were a beginner in the late 80s. It's no worse than a low-end Squier which sells for the same price now, and if anything (discounting the known bridge block problem) probably more solidly made.

    I did wonder about buying it and posting a NGD just to amuse everyone :). But no, although I like it I have to be honest... my Aria is better.
    "Take these three items, some WD-40, a vise grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone."
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