Early Non-Korean Marlin Guitars - Obscure Info

Bob Leggitt | Monday 28 July 2014
This won’t be a long post, but I think it’s an important one, as it regards the rediscovery of some long-forgotten and fascinating information on the Marlin range of guitars. The info comes courtesy of the mysteriously dubbed ‘Guitar Guru’ of the UK musicians’ paper Making Music, and was published back in the 1980s. The publication didn’t denote who its Guitar Guru actually was, but Jerry Uwins was among the paper’s listed contributors and looks the likely candidate. If you know differently, you can set me straight via my @PlanetBotch Twitter account.

1988 Marlin advert for the Marlin Sidewinder guitar
A classic 1988 ad for the Marlin Sidewinder.

So, if you’ve read my other posts on the Marlins, you’ll know that in their heyday they were Korean-made. But what about before that heyday? Well, it turns out that the original Marlin Sidewinder, Slammer, et al, were made in East Germany (this was before unification of course), by a manufacturer called Musima. Still remembered as a producer of guitars, but not, today, associated with Marlin, Musima was an old concern whose earliest instruments apparently predated The Beatles.
As regards the Musima versions of the Marlin guitars, it appears they were an entirely different breed from the market-storming models of 1986. The Sidewinder was less ‘Superstrat’ or ‘Strat with benefits’, and much more of a classic Stratocaster copy. It didn’t have the Korean instrument’s laminated construction either: The Guru cited a solid wood body and a rock maple neck, plus German hardware made in-house – the pickups notably featuring hi-power, base-mounted magnets sourced from Russia.

The East German Sidewinder had the model designation K32, as opposed to its Korean successor’s K34, and the German version was considerably cheaper, with a UK retail price of £89 convincingly undercutting the Korean model’s initial £139 of 1986.

The Guru gave a production date of "about 1985" for the initial run of German Marlins, and given that the Korean jobs were bestsellers by mid 1986, it’s clear that the European output was very short-lived. But perhaps the Guru’s most thought-provoking remark about the East German version, apart from his indication that he much preferred it, was his closing statement on the general quality: "They survive". I’m sure the original Marlins have weathered better than their subsequent, rather ‘tinny’ (if more trendy) mass market offspring, but sadly, it seems there were so few of the Euro jobs made, that hunting one down in 2014 is next to impossible.