Retrospective: Early 1980s Maya 8097 "Telecaster" Copy

Bob Leggitt | Wednesday 20 May 2020
Maya 8097 Telecaster copy

In some ways, the 1980s ruined the Fender copy market. In the 1970s, even the sub-£100 guitars were made in Japan. And working on their own initiative, Japanese copyists tended to have their own individual strategies and takes on manufacture. True, copying someone else's designs is not the best expression of individuality, but the copies were usually 'quirk-hallmarked', and sometimes pretty instantly attributable to a brand. Sonically as well as visually.

This was really a remnant from the very early days of Japanese electrics, when the guitars were only inspired by popular existing designs, and not direct copies of them. Broadly, you had derivative but technically original Japanese electrics in the 1960s, followed by copies of increasing accuracy through the 1970s. Some of the early Japanese brands, such as Yamaha and Ibanez, stuck with the derivative-but-original theme even at the height of the accurate copy era. But those who took the copy route often retained that heritage of doing it their special way.

Through the course of the 1980s, however, Fender copies became a lot more homogenous - largely because Fender themselves got involved, oversaw production, and progressively invaded all of the different price points. Fender were contracting manufacturers in a range of countries to produce cheaper copies of their own instruments, with official Fender blueprints and processes. And wittingly or not, in so doing they were setting a template for the whole industry to follow. Not only would some official contractors subsequently produce Fender copies, virtually to Fender's spec, and then sell them under their own brand, but other manufacturers would now be able to copy those copies, rather than trying to copy the originals. That changed the game.

It's a lot easier to accurately copy a cheap copy on the cheap, than it is to accurately copy a much more expensive original on the cheap. So when Fender used its knowledge and brand power to turn cheap copies into originals, it was creating a new precedent. The wider copy market responded. Fender copies steadily lost their quaint little hallmark features, and started to look like they were all coming out of the same factory. Even if they weren't, a lot of their parts were. This is not to say that the copies of 1989 were worse than those of 1980. Just that they weren't as interesting.

Made at the dawn of the 1980s, the Maya 8097 I'm describing in this post represents the tail end of that more interesting era, when different brands of copy had quirks and personalities. When the different factories cut different corners, because there was no official Fender template for producing a Telecaster or a Stratocaster at a sub-£100 price point.

Neither Maya nor its visually reassuring "Tele" were new market entrants in the early '80s. This wasn't the most convincing copy on the scene either. But the Maya 8097 was rendered important by its UK retail price point of just over a hundred quid. This was a guitar retailers could sell for the 'magic' figure of £99, or even a little below. And there was little else on the market that could touch the Maya for value in that budget ballpark.

The bodies on this particular model were solid maple, but before you get too excited and rush off to try and get one, the manufacturers used an age-old trick to hit budget: shave a chunk off the body thickness.

There are two issues with this - one being that you're less likely to replicate the tone of an original Tele. The other, which would doubtless have raised more concerns at the fledgling Fender company of the 1950s, is the impact on the guitar's overall balance. It's almost certain that this is why the manufacturer chose maple for the body wood. It's heavier than alder and ash, and so goes some way towards compensating for the reduced thickness.

Would it have been better to make a full-thickness body out of plywood? If it was done the way Young Chang did it on the earliest Korean Squiers, with veneering and a very substantial edge seal, yes. But those guitars were at least one tier higher in price. Bring the budget down to the 8097's ballpark and you wouldn't have the luxury of that encasement. And badly sealed plywood bodies could be disastrous. Finish sinking in between the laminate layers around the bodysides, and sometimes a lot worse. So the slim maple body was a pretty intelligent compromise.

It's interesting to note that Maya also hit higher budget points in the early 1980s, and did produce full-thickness copies with a more accurate spec, as well as its own, original guitar and bass designs at serious amateur or semi-pro prices. As regards the more accurate copies, the Maya 8085 "Strat" cost £165 at full retail around 1982, which allowing for inflation was the '87 Korean Squier's price tier. Somewhat inexplicably, the 8085's body was made of mahogany, but it was full-thickness, and it wasn't plywood, and it was a Japanese-made guitar. Certainly a more enticing package than a Korean Squier, but as I say, the early '80s were different times.

Returning to the plot, our 8097 "Tele" has a '70s-style body with the shallower upper body cutaway. And there's another hint at the instrument's 'seventies origins in the shape of its "bullet" truss adjustment on the headstock. Fender's own standard Telecaster never featured the "bullet", but some of the 'upgraded' Teles did, as did the standard Strat. There was a strong association, in the era of this copy, between genuine Fenders and "bullets", so it was quite a shrewd inclusion. In 1980 and 1981 there were kids who didn't get the vintage replica thing at all. To them, the "bullet" would be a more recognisable marque of accuracy than staggered pickup poles or a green nitrate scratchplate.

Among the obvious budget-cuts on the 8097, the output jack appears on the control plate rather than on the lower edge of the body. And there's a vaguely Gibson-style selector switch, which looks a bit alien, but if it helped to hit the budget without losing the aura of a decently made guitar, it's perfectly welcome. The strings terminate on the bridge plate rather than going through the body, but that's no biggie, since some of Fender's budget Teles adopted this tactic at much higher prices than the Maya.

There's also a chromed neck-pickup cover on the bridge pickup, which is another little hangover quirk from the 1970s copy scene, when a whole school of innovation developed around the idea of saving money behind a curtain.

Enclosing the pickups was a widespread tactic on both guitars and basses from the Maya brand. And the sound of the pickups absolutely screams "1970s hundred quid Japanese Fender copy!". A lot of people would complain the sound was too thin and bright (and at least one pro reviewer in the early '80s did). But a guitarist in my first band upgraded his super-tinny "Strat" copy to a genuine Gibson, and the band lost a major part of its personality from that point forward. That metallic bridge pickup clatter so typical of 'seventies and early 'eighties Fender copies was a much more evocative sound than the rather boxy late 'eighties Fender copy clunk. And these Mayas definitely had the evocative clatter.

The real problem with this Maya's pickups - and this applied to a lot of other copies birthed in the 1970s - was that they were not a standard fit, and therefore could not be straightforwardly replaced with aftermarket units. But as time goes by, even that can actually be a positive, because it means collectors are much more likely to find the guitars in fully original condition.

I was going to say that the original Maya guitars of the 1970s and early 1980s were well made. But I think a better way to sum them up is as ambitiously made guitars. The Maya brand clearly sought to offer guitars that were a lot better than one would normally expect at their respective price points. The 8097 "Tele" showcases that ethos very nicely. Not because it cut exactly the right corners (which it did), or because it looks more expensive than it ever was (which it does). But because not even Fender themselves, with a range of manufacturing locations and proven cost-cutting techniques at their disposal, could hit this price point at this level of desirability.