Guild Surfliner: What is it?
The Guild Surfliner is something of a do not adjust your TV set electric guitar. It looks par for the course for a brand of Guild’s storied heritage, in the sense that it looks like it came from a decades-old blueprint, as though it were a curio that did not have any success back in the day that seems ripe for revival.
And yet it is nothing of the sort. This double-cut electric, with its offset waist and a bolt-on build, is no repro job – this is an all-new design that Guild has introduced, a 1960s throwback that is 100 per cent 21st-century, which, when you consider the vogue for offsets, makes sense.
This, however, is your average offset; it’s barely off-centred at the waist, and altogether looks a little like a cross between Teisco pawnshop gold, a Fender Starcaster – at least with the headstock – and maybe some kind of Strat. Swap the headstock shape around, change the name, and it could be from Fender’s Parallel Universe collection. It’s unorthodox. It’s bold. And it’s pretty cool.
Guild offers the Surfliner in Catalina Blue, as you see in the pictures, White Sage, and Sunset Orange. You can see the grain of the wood underneath the finish. Here, Guild has opted for poplar. Poplar is particularly popular for price-conscious builds – try saying that out loud after a couple of drinks – and it makes sense here on a guitar that offers change from 400 bucks.
This poplar is complemented with a bolt-on maple neck, carved into a generous C profile. There’s a maple fingerboard, too, with dot inlays and – wait for it – 23 frets. And one of those is not marked zero. That’s a new one. But then there is an odd and proud vibe to this guitar, that extends to the eccentric control setup.
Now, there’s no quibble with the pickup choices. We have an HSS configuration with an LB-1 at the bridge, small, perfectly formed, and a retro Guild wind that you might find on models such as the Jetstar (another oddball), S-200 T-bird (ditto), and some of the Starfire models that we have been so enamoured with over recent years.
This small-footprint humbucker is joined by a pair of newly designed DeArmond Aerosonic single-coils at the middle and neck positions. There are volume and tone controls, and a little preposterously a trio of switches on the upper half of the body for switching the pickups on and off.
These rocker-style switches, just like your light switch, are a novel design, and initially charming, but in the heat of battle, y’know, on a stage, it could cause an issue either through accidentally switching yourself on and off or fiddling around.
With a guitar such as this, we might have expected a two-point tremolo or a Bigsby. But it’s as though Guild went all in with the switches and then decided to play it totally safe with a tune-o-matic style bridge with a string-through body setup.
The headstock is a strange old shape, maybe a little Starcaster-esque, a little like a paddle, and anachronistically bearing an '80s-style Guild logo. Those Kluson-style tuners are not from the ‘80s, though. And that’s the sort of impression you get from the Surfliner – a guitar of the 21st century but one somehow existing outside of time, which is an intriguing proposition as you plug into a guitar amp.
Guild Surfliner: Performance and verdict
Lightweight, comfortably under 7 lbs and ergonomically pleasing, with a subtly bevelled upper armrest, the Surfliner offers an uncontroversial ride. Its C profile won’t make you think of the Fender Player Series or similar; it’s got a little more beef on the shoulders, but it’s perfectly playable and once more deepens the sense that this is a guitar with a sense of its own identity.
It sure ain’t a Strat. But then, as you play around with those rocker switches to see what’s what, there are Stratocaster sounds on tap. Indeed, playing around with those single-coil sounds and this sounds more Fender than Guild, not necessarily a bad thing but again marking this out as a real fun, outré offering.
• Guild Starfire I Jet 90
The Starfire I Jet 90 is a guitar that will enhance your level of cool long before you play your first chord on it, but once you do, you'll surely win friends and influence people with those feisty P-90 tones and have a lot of fun along the way.
• Guild Starfire I DC and Guild Starfire I SC GVT
Both make great options for blues, jazz or rock 'n' roll but there's a nice versatility to these Starfire models' voice. Allied to the cool looks and sound materials, they make for excellent value in what is a crowded market for semi-hollow electrics.
• Guild Jetstar
It’s not quite an impulse buy – but the very sensible price buys you a competent build and a distinctive retro vibe that’s matched by the sounds we hear.
The LB-1 complements the single-coil jangle and spank nicely with more warmth and width without being out of place. The single-coils are plenty sharp; the first impressions that this is a guitar for surf rock tones, dampened by the clang of spring reverb, and for the skronky angular shape-throwing of garage rock are not misplaced.
If there’s something a little undisciplined about all this tonally then that just invites experimenting with fuzz pedals, delay, whatever you have to hand. That is when the Surfliner is at its best, and you can well imagine this being a staple of the indie and alt-rock player looking for a budget-friendly runaround with charm
That’s what this is. It’s a little rough around the edges, and its controls are a little impractical in a charming way. Yes, you have seven voices but good luck playing an E9 with both single-coils on the go then looking to switch to the bridge ‘bucker for the powerchords during the chorus. To do that without muting the guitar might take more dexterity than actually learning the thing in the first place.
If you like to live dangerously – and let’s not forget, surfing is an extreme sport – then who cares about that, right?
MusicRadar verdict: The Surfliner is retro-cool, retro-odd, and all shades of unusual for Guild, but with the tones are musical, the ride is fun, and the price is attractive.
Guild Surfliner: The web says
“Clearly an attempt to broaden the audience for its electric guitars in both style and price, this now start-up Surfliner is going to polarize opinion. It’s all a little oddball but somehow manages to come together to produce some good Fender-based old-school sounds, which certainly match the ‘was it designed in the past?’ vibe.
“While our sample did need a little tweaking, and we have to question what exactly those mini-rocker switches are bringing to the table, particularly for the gigging musician. Something a little different? Definitely.”
“At about 450 bucks, Guild’s Surfliner is in a competitive price class where taking chances on style can be risky. Yet the Surfliner stands out—and not just for its lines. There are beautiful, rowdy, sweet, and quirky sounds aplenty. It plays as smoothly as more expensive guitars. And though it can look a bit like one style mash-up too many at times, it’s downright pretty at many angles”
Guild Surfliner: Hands-on demos
60 Cycle Hum
Guild Surfliner: Specifications
- ORIGIN: Indonesia
- TYPE: Offset double-cutaway solidbody
- BODY: Poplar
- NECK: Maple, ‘C’ profile, bolt-on
- SCALE LENGTH: 648mm (25.5”)
- NUT/WIDTH: Composite/42.6mm
- FINGERBOARD: Maple, black dots (5mm), 254mm (10”) radius
- FRETS: 23, narrow jumbo
- HARDWARE: Guild tune-o-matic bridge with through-body stringing, Kluson-style vintage tuners – chrome/nickel plated
- STRING SPACING, BRIDGE: 51.5mm
- ELECTRICS: Guild LB-1 humbucker (bridge), 2x DeArmond Aerosonic single coils (middle/neck), 3x on/ off pickup selector ‘rocker’ switches, master volume and tone controls WEIGHT (kg/lb): 3.06/6.73
- OPTIONS: No
- RANGE OPTIONS: The Newark St electrics above the Surfliner start with the Jetstar
- LEFT-HANDERS: No
- FINISHES: Catalina Blue (as reviewed), White Sage, Sunset Orange – gloss body, satin neck
- CONTACT: Guild