Guild’s Surfliner popped onto our radar early in 2022, an original hardtail design for a brand that – up to that point – dealt in repros of its past glories.
It was originally offered in HSS configuration, with Guild’s LB-1 mini-humbucker at the bridge, while another HH variant was added later that year, this time using a pair of the standard humbucking-sized Guild HB-2s.
With the same name as the train service that runs down the West Coast of California and with ‘surf’ in its title, surely there should have been a vibrato, we argued? And instead of a conventional pickup selector switch, we were treated to small on/off switches on those first guitars, the sort of thing you’d find on a table lamp.
However, back in April Guild took the wraps off this new Deluxe version, which is still HSS but replaces the original’s LB-1 with an HB-2, adds a traditional five-way lever pickup selector switch and adds an offset-style vibrato. Hurrah! Offered in three colours (and without a gigbag), the Deluxe comes in at $/£699, adding $200/£300 to the original HSS and HH models, which currently list at $499/£399.
That’s one pretty expensive vibrato, you might think. But, as its name suggests, this new model is more deluxe. For example, along with that vibrato we get modern-style rear-locking tuners.
Then we get a bound block-inlaid rosewood fingerboard on a two-piece roasted maple neck as opposed to the plain, untinted unroasted maple of those original models, which had a dot-inlaid maple fingerboard. The back-angled and pretty large headstock is now colour-matched to the body and features a slightly raised silver Guild logo.
The poplar body of the original is retained with light chamfering to the top’s treble-side waist and in the usual forearm contour position, while on the back there’s a rib-cut – but, again, it’s pretty shallow. And although we have additional hardware, this sample is noticeably heavier than the 3.06kg (6.73lb) of the original we evaluated, weighing in at 3.85kg (8.47lb).
That large headstock is spliced to the main neck shaft under the 2nd fret and the caramel colouration isn’t particularly well matched. That said, those block inlays on the mid-chocolate colour rosewood ’board are nicely done, as is the bright white plastic binding.
Feel & Sounds
Unlike many offsets or offset-inspired designs, the Surfliner doesn’t feel like such a giant, more like an offset ‘melted’ Stratocaster or Guild Jetstar. It balances very well strapped on and feels pretty comfortable seated. The neck back has a slightly papery satin feel that will no doubt burnish up with playing, rather like the frets, which could do with a final polish.
As with the previous Surfliner, the ‘narrow jumbo’ fret description is a bit of a misnomer: they’re actually quite wide and low, approximately 2.7mm wide and just over 1mm high.
The setup is good, though, and after string stretching the tuning stability is pretty good, too. Nevertheless, you can’t help thinking that a roller saddle tune‑o-matic might have been better than the rather unnecessary locking tuners – because the actual light-waggle travel of the vibrato means the strings barely move over the nut (which is nicely cut, by the way).
The vibrato looks good quality with an arm that pushes into a nylon collar, and a small grub screw allows tension adjustment, plus there’s the standard spring tension screw above the ‘G’ cut-out. There’s certainly some appealing offset resonance caused by the ‘dead’ string length behind the bridge, but the bridge height is pretty much spot on.
Few will have any problem with the very mainstream C profile of the neck, which measures 21.1mm at the 1st fret and 23mm by the 12th, with quite full shoulders that actually make it feel a little bigger than it is.
There are no issues with the sounds. The five-way switch is much faster in use than the three on/off switches of the standard model, although, as it’s just wired like a Strat, we get fewer sounds without the Tele-like neck and bridge, or all three on.
As with any HSS, there’s good contrast with the relatively low-output, slightly generic-sounding bridge humbucker that’s a little thicker in the midrange perhaps, with slightly smoother highs compared with our reference 1976 S-90 with original HB-1s.
That said, it’s a pretty versatile voicing both for classic rock and some big cleans. The sparkle from the mid-scooped single coils does provide considerable contrast, but they are quite forward and a little brash-sounding and certainly not overshadowed by the bridge humbucker.
The neck-and-middle mix is good, as is the full bridge humbucker and middle single-coil mix, which produces a very characterful, vocal sound that works well with crunch and gain. Overall, there’s a bit more of a grunge and garage-y attitude here, rather than ‘pretty’ 60s surf. Things can get quite nasty – in a very good way indeed.
Fair play to the Guild team for taking the perfectly credible design of that original Surfliner and kicking it up a notch or two in style, vibe and sound.
Maybe it’s the moody and subtly metallic black finish that’s influencing our hands and ears, not to mention the vibrato, but this Surfliner feels much more like a good offset with quite mean intent, and frankly something Guild actually could have come up with back in the day.
A little TLC to polish up those frets and perhaps burnish up the neck back would elevate it further, but, as is, we’d put this to work right away, despite it being a costlier proposition. This is good craft with some retro character and sounds to match.
- PRICE: $/£699
- ORIGIN: Indonesia
- TYPE: Offset double-cutaway solidbody
- BODY: Poplar
- NECK: Roasted maple, ‘C’ profile, bolt-on
- SCALE LENGTH: 648mm (25.5”)
- NUT/WIDTH: Composite/43.1mm
- FINGERBOARD: Indian rosewood, pearloid block inlays, 254mm (10”) radius
- FRETS: 23, narrow jumbo
- HARDWARE: Guild tune-o-matic bridge with Guild Floating Vibrato, and enclosed modern-style rear-lock tuners – nickel plated
- STRING SPACING, BRIDGE: 51.5mm
- ELECTRICS: Guild HB-2 humbucker (bridge), 2x DeArmond Aerosonic single coils (middle/neck), 5-way lever pickup selector switch, master volume and tone controls
- WEIGHT (kg/lb): 3.85/8.47
- OPTIONS: No
- RANGE OPTIONS: The original HSS Surfliner and HH Surfliner both cost £399
- LEFT-HANDERS: No
- FINISHES: Black Metallic (as reviewed), Evergreen Metallic, Rose Quartz Metallic – gloss body, satin neck
- CONTACT: Guild