Surf Guitars Part I: The Boutique

Here I list some boutique guitar makers (or luthiers) who have some designs that could be working well for Surf music. Obviously they often have features familiar from the various famous Fender guitars such as the Stratocaster, the Jazzmaster or the Jaguar. There’s also a new model which combines features of the Jazzmaster and the Jaguar, called The Johnny Marr Jaguar. My rule of thumb was really for them to have at least two single coil pick-ups and a vibrato unit. I haven’t played any of these, but from my experience of digging at Surf music since the late eighties I have an idea what works. You have to acustom yourself with a guitar, especially for instrumental music, and for some players the feel of the whole Fender package might be too far from their heritage, or the sound is too cookie-cutter-like.

The pictures are links.

Cranium Divine Trem O Matic

OK, this might already be a controversial choice. But recently I find myself listening to Morpheus by The Toads who had a Gibson for lead, and it worked for them. This here is obviously based on Gibson’s Les Paul model, except for the unusual shape.



Here we have a similar candidate, with a set neck too and even mini humbuckers. Isn’t it a beauty? The 1963 Mosrite Ventures model had a set neck as well, with no lack of attack for sure! This being a very boutique enterprise, the builder would probably drop in a pair of singles coils if you ask him to. Kindly.

Roadrunner Bazaar

Roadrunner Bazaar

Roadrunner Bazaar

Roadrunner Surfmaster

Grave Digger

Roadrunner Grave Digger


Roadrunner Anty

These are creations by a frenchman. He seems to be into all the right bands and the inspiration for his guitars is as cool. He beats his own path, never copying a bodyshape, and coming up with different electronic layouts and color schemes. Unique stuff, perfect references for Surf.



Needham 2

Needham double cutaway

Needham Guitars from Austin, Texas. They remind me of Les Paul Juniors, Danelectros and a bit of Microfrets. Very nice, clean dual single coil designs.

Campbell Transitone

Campbell Transitone

Unusual combo of Jazzmaster style pick-ups with a 3/3 headstock and a Stratocaster-style vibrato.

Micro-Frets Signature

Micro-Frets Signature

This american 1960s and 70s company was revived in recent years. As far as I gather the company fits the boutique builder description. Carl Perkins and Buddy Merrill were famous Micro-Frets players.



The italians. Gone are accordion cover materials and pearloid fretboards, but this Billyboy is just as creatively weird in the style department as his ancestors of Eko and Galanti fame.

Fano Alt de Facto RB6

This one here by Fano looks like a cross between a Rickenbacker and a Les Paul – but if you are aware of the Chantays original recording of Pipeline you know they used a Barth guitar. Paul Barth was a southern California luthier who worked for Rickenbacker and Magnatone before making a few instruments under his own name. Pipeline happens to be a prototypical Surf instrumental, despite the lack of a vibrato on any guitar involved, so this guitar gets the blessing for its purist, Barth inspired style.

Wronski Slackercaster

Wronski Slackercaster

Dave Wronski of Surf instrumental greats Slacktone is working for Fender Musical Instruments and got this one of a kind Surf-machine together. This could also be in the later Do-It-Yourself article in this series, but since a proper custom shop of a righteous guitar company is involved I decided to declare it a boutique guitar.

Billy Childish

Billy Childish

Unfortunately I have no idea who made this guitar for Billy Childish. I certainly haven’t seen one before, so maybe it’s a one off, who knows? I would describe it as Bo Diddley meets Chuck Berry in the Höfner workshop. Sounds like a good description for Billy Childish’s music. The reason I don’t consider it a D.I.Y. project is that I can’t picture him building guitars instead of carving expressionistic woodcuts or recording punk-rock-rave-ups.

Here are two more links I couldn’t find proper photos for:
Galasso from Argentina
and Koll Guitars,
for which I have a very soft spot, the Gretsch design influence is a great variation, that few builders successfully pull off.

Ronnie Sargent Custom

Ronnie Sargent Custom

Oops I almost forgot this guy. Maybe the weirdest, and a big inspiration for this post!
Ronnie Sargent Custom Guitars

As usual I demand of my readers to provide further info where I missed it! Please use the comment function below.

Pioneering Surf Photography Icon Leroy Grannis

If you have The Cowabunga Box Set of Surf Music or the Taschen book about Leroy Grannis’ work you have already seen some of the greatest surf culture photography. What an incredible legacy for us late comers to witness these times through the lense of such a great photographer.

Malcom from Legendary Surfers writes (excerpt):

…Leroy Grannis — Granny — has fallen on hard times. Famous for his surfing photos and as an elder of the tribe — a local of Carlsbad and Hermosa — you would think he’d be able to supplement his Social Security and MediCal with modest earnings from his photography and his life savings.

Unfortunately, what ‘estate’ he had has been eaten up by executors, and others.…

Granny no longer can afford to stay in the assisted living home he has been living in and has moved to his son’s home. John Van Ornum has been helping Leroy’s daughter Katie get the word out and is exploring setting up a fund for donations. For more information, you can reach John at:

To read about Granny’s contribution to surfing, please go to the Legendary Surfers chapter, updated 2/15/2005: LeRoy ‘Granny’ Grannis

Yma Sumac Music in London

Phil Polecat writes:

I’m playing an evening of Yma Sumac songs with Chilean opera diva Katherine Prado Johnson & Cuban guitar whizz Ahmed Dickinson + musicians from Peru & Ecuador on 30th April at the Bolivar Hall, 56 Grafton Way, London W1T 5DL.

The show starts at 7.30pm, try and get there by 7.
15- it promises to be a great night! Try and come down! £7 on the door

Phil Polecat

The Moonlighters in Munich

DJ Lemon Squeezer writes:

Sa. 25.04. München – Substanz (Ruppertstr.28), Einlass: 20h/ Beginn: 21h, Tickets: 15€ Abendkasse

The Moonlighters — Hawaiian Swing from New York City

Support: CocoNami

Sie kommen wieder! Um dem europäischen Winter einzuheizen werden die
Moonlighters nun schon zum dritten Mal in veränderter Besetzung und
stärker denn je, mit ihrem süchtig machenden Hawaii Sound für Südsee
Wärme auf und vor den Konzertbühnen sorgen. Die beiden ersten Tourneen
riefen bereits extreme Begeisterung hervor! Relax and Enjoy!

exotica/hawaiian warm up mit DJ Lemon Squeezer

Schmockladen mit DJ Schmoko & gast DJ Martin hemmel aka Lemon Squeezer (60s, funk, soul, beat, brazil, 50s & 60s r’n’b etc.) bis 03.00 Uhr