In its lovely sheer white sage finish, the Guild Surfliner couldn’t look more worthy of its name if you stuff it into a woodsy back and slather it in coconut oil. Sonically, however, the Surfliner is capable of much more than the garage rock, sunshine-pop and Chantays covers that the name and silhouette might suggest as a raison d’être. The cool pickup compliment and clever switching scheme make the Indonesia-built Surfliner capable of rough rock tones, bugle jangle, dusty lo-fi lead sounds and honey-sweet blues and soul. Key contemporary design cues keep it from looking like a strictly retro exercise, if modernity is your concern. And the $450 street price is nice for a high-quality instrument capable of unique sound combinations.
Guild’s history is rich with bold solidbody shapes. Some of them, like the S-200 Thunderbird (now called the T-Bird) and the S-50 Jetstar, live on in Guild’s modern lineup. The Surfliner shares a certain sense of design adventurism with those early 1960s guilds as well as some inherited family traits. It’s great to see the straight-six Fender-meets-Firebird headstock that briefly graced mid-1960s S-50s, for example. And the new DeArmond Aerosonic pickups in the middle and neck position are, at least visually, somewhat reminiscent of Guild Brian May Signature pickups from the 1990s.
In quintessential Guild style, some of the design idiosyncrasies go eccentric. The offset ferrules for the string-thru-body system look a little modern minimalist alongside the other mostly mid-century style elements. And the three switches that make up the pickup switching system, while conveniently located for quick changes, are at risk if you’re a vigorous drummer. It is not impossible to accidentally turn on a microphone during a descent. Also, the switches themselves, which are more like the type you encounter on modern consumer electronics, don’t look or feel particularly well suited to a guitar as 1960s-inspired as the Surfliner. That gripe aside, it’s hard to complain about the usefulness of the layout, especially when you have an idea of the many tonal combinations you can produce in a flash. It’s a great idea that could use a little tweaking.
The poplar body and two-piece maple neck capped with a maple fingerboard (a 45-degree angled junction is visible between the third and first fret) are well balanced, and I didn’t feel any dip from the neck when I played it with a strap. The 10″ fingerboard radius is a comfortable, super playable compromise between the more curved vintage Fender fingerboard radii and the flatter Gibson-style fingerboard radii. Combined with narrow jumbo frets, it makes the Surfliner an inviting vehicle. for string bending and nuanced finger vibrato. It’s super comfortable for chords too.
Incidentally, the build quality is excellent for a guitar in this price range. The fretwork is neatly executed, the neck is straight as an arrow, and the setup and intonation were just about perfect. The white sage, also reminiscent of a vintage ash-blonde finish, looks more upscale than the price of the Surfliner, revealing lovely poplar grain streaks beneath the mint green.
Pickup Pu Tray
It’s nice that the Surfliner feels so good to hold and play, because its core tones – and variations derived from less common pickup combinations – are a world you can immerse yourself in for quite a while. The LB-1 Little Bucker in the bridge is built around alnico 5 magnets and rated at a modest resistance of 5.06k ohms. I’m a big fan of low-output humbuckers and mini Firebird-style humbuckers, and the Surfliner’s LB-1 has attributes of both. The high-end output is prominent but chiming and smooth in the harmonics rather than rabid. The midrange and bass output are subdued in comparison. And in some contexts—slow, spacious, jazzy chord phrasing, for example—the composite voice can sound like soft bell tones ringing out over a relatively square low and mid. In most other contexts, the LB-1 output sounds more balanced, with a sort of concise yet punchy quality that excels for snappy beats and garage and jangle-rock settings. It also pairs well with overdrive, and the right one (I used a Klon clone) can balance out some of the perceived disparity in liveliness between low, mid, and high-end output.
The mid position and neck of Aerosonic single coils are both louder and warmer than the mid position and neck pickups of a Stratocaster (a cross between a Strat pickup and a P-90 neck is not far off ). But there are voice similarities between Aerosonics and Stratocaster units. The middle Aerosonic has a smooth, balanced voice. And the neck unit features plenty of deep vocal resonance that can make a Hendrix blues ballad so sexy. The combination of neck and mid and mid/treble pickups results in buzz-free and slightly more powerful takes on the out-of-phase, out-of-phase sounds of a Strat. The airy yet substantial neck and bridge combo was sweetest to my ears. And although the three pickups together sound a little tighter than you might expect, the combination sounds meaty and punchy with a fuzz.
At around $450, the Guild Surfliner sits in a competitive price bracket where taking chances on style can be risky. Yet the Surfliner stands out, and not just in its lines. There are many beautiful, rowdy, sweet and original sounds. It plays as well as more expensive guitars. And while it can look a bit like a styling mash-up at times, it’s downright pretty from many angles. The lack of a vibrato unit, especially under the Surfliner name, is a minor crime and a missed opportunity. Again, the guitar still seemed in tune. How you feel about the matter will depend on your own priorities. Is there room for fine tuning, refinement and revision? Sure. But Guild has built a solid platform that could evolve in many fun and compelling ways, and it’s a perfectly great – and great value – guitar in this first iteration.
Guild Surfliner Demo | First look
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