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.
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 Grave Digger
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 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.
Unusual combo of Jazzmaster style pick-ups with a 3/3 headstock and a Stratocaster-style vibrato.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Surfguitar 101 made me aware of an article in Vintage Guitar Magazine. I don’t have it but it’s said to be really good, with big full color photos of his gear. Now, you don’t know who Dave Wronski is? He has this band called Slacktone. He’s working for Fender and plays with John Blair in Jon & The Nightriders, who were the most influential second wave surf band in the 80s, from an international view that is all I can say. Slacktone is Dave Wronski’s take on the modern Surf with strong historical references. They are one of the best, possible the best modern Surf band. He has great knowledge to get the tone he wants – and it’s amazing. He’s mainly a Jaguar player, even though he got famous with a Mosrite on the cover of Jon & The Nightriders Live At The Whiskey A Go-Go, a record any live performing surf band is hereby strongly advised to call their own.