I’ve already covered the Marlin Sidewinder in a detailed review on this blog, but this post adds some wider snapshots of this big-hitting range of 1980s Korean instruments. Below you’ll find a 1988 UK advert for the Marlin guitars, which was part of a drive to maintain the brand’s position as a bestseller. To briefly recap, before Squier moved over to Korean production in 1987, the Marlin Sidewinder had been virtually unchallenged as outright bestselling guitar in the UK. But after Squier began shipping much cheaper instruments from Korea, the Marlin brand suffered, hence the need to push the guitars hard in advertisements…
The 1988 ad above shows four models of guitar, including the formerly market-busting Sidewinder. But I wonder how many people knew or remembered that Marlin also offered amplifiers?
The guitars in the ad are as follows…
Priced at £159, the K36KT Stingray was Marlin’s locking trem-fitted HSS ‘Superstrat’, featuring a coil-tappable humbucker and two single coils (all wax-potted), and coming in either Red, Dark Blue, Charcoal Fire, Pearl White or Black. All the finishes were metallic, but only two – the Red and the Charcoal – were available on the left-handed models.
MARLIN BLUE FIN
The Blue Fin was a roughly vee-bodied rock machine featuring two humbuckers, a locking trem and a maple neck. Priced at £139 it was the cheapest of the advertised guitars. There’s no stipulation that the pickups are wax-potted, so I suspect this cheaper instrument used pickups more typical of the Korean output of the day. Especially given that the Blue Fin’s price also included a gig bag, the guitar was pretty evidently a tier below the rest of the range in terms of budget.
I’ve covered this model in depth in its own article, but I should draw attention to the Sidewinder Bass (Model KB34), which is also depicted in this advert, and came priced at £129 in a choice of five colours. Notice also how all of the Marlin instruments in this ad have body-matching headstocks.
The £169 Marlin K38KT Loner was similar in concept to the Stingray, although it had a different body shape and a pointy, rather than traditional Strat-style headstock. The pickup formation was HSH rather tha HSS, but like all the other guitars except the Blue Fin, once again all the coils were wax permeated to prevent microphonic squeal. The five available colours were Candy Apple Red, Dark Blue, Charcoal Fire, Pearl White and Black – the same as the Stingray. However, three of the finishes (Black, Charcoal and Red) came with celluloid body binding. As with all the Marlins, left hand versions, where available, were priced the same as the right-handers.
Despite the prevalence of the 1988 adverts (the Sidewinder also had its own dedicated ad), the power of Fender’s Korean Squiers proved impossible to overturn at that time, and the Marlin gear slipped down the sales charts.
By 1989, British Music Strings had ceased UK distribution of the Marlins, and Hohner had taken over, even branding themselves in, presumably in an attempt to pitch Marlin as a sort of budget superbrand. The ad to the left comes from mid 1989 and shows a completely new range of instruments in which the ‘Strat’ is no longer strictly a Fender copy, and range-wide changes have taken place, including the dropping of the characteristic twelfth fret fish inlay, and drastic revision of the headstock shapes.
But even the combined might of the Hohner and Marlin brands was not enough to reassert the success of the guitars in what was now a very different environment. In the Sidewinder’s heyday of 1986, there was nothing comparable to the Marlins in terms of value and image, but by ’89 Korean manufacture had been adopted by more powerful brands, and the likes of Young Chang – source of the Korean Squiers – were offering their own brand guitars with solid wood bodies and considerably higher quality than that associated with Marlin. Additionally, of course, the kind of features which defined the ’88 Marlin range were going rapidly out of fashion by the end of the decade, and Marlin was unable to trade on past glory. Marlin was accordingly reinvented, and the reinvention wasn’t going to grab young musicians’ attention in the way the mid ‘80s models had.
By spring 1990, Marlin did still have a presence in the big sellers chart, with the Marlin Slammer creeping in at number 8, just ahead of the Gibson Les Paul Standard. But by that time, Marlin's top seller was being tanned by a number of acoustics, Young Chang's Fenix Strat Copy (predictably), Fender's MIJ Special Strat, Fender's American Standard Strat, and of course the then untouchable number one - the Korean Squier Strat. The Marlins had been huge in the '80s, but the "where are they now?" file was now preparing itself for use.
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