by Lincoln Smith
The Surfcaster is a bit of a Chimera. If you look long enough and squint hard enough, you might think you’re looking at 4 or 5 different varieties of guitar. How did this model come to be, and why do people love it so much? Today, we’re going through the history of the Surfcaster, as well as reviewing the modern reproduction from Eastwood.
The Charvel Surfcaster was introduced by the Charvel/Jackson company in 1991, an era in which all of the company's models were manufactured in Japan at the Chushin Gakki factory.
This model was a departure from the typical Charvel lineup coming out of the 1980s, which were generally more "pointy" guitars fit for shredders. Suddenly in a brand new decade, this model splashed onto the scene full of 1950s and 60s design elements, likely looking to cash in on the mid-century-retro “reissue” craze of the day.
The Surfcaster used an offset body shape, reminiscent of Fender’s Jazzmaster or Jaguar, or Gibson’s “non-reverse” Firebird. It housed “lipstick” pickups similar to a Danelectro. It’s control knobs were similar to those of a Fender Telecaster, and the neck and tremolo system resembled those of a Fender Stratocaster.
One could very easily conclude that this may have been an homage-to or collage-of Charvel’s favorite vintage designs. Sporting a boutique-look with top-shelf appointments such as flamed maple tops and pearloid pickguards and inlays, the Surfcaster found quick popularity among players. Well-known examples include Steve Cropper, Vince Gill, Robert Plant, Bruce Cockburn, Barry Hay of Golden Earring, and even Scott Ian of Anthrax.
Photo: Anthrax's Scott Ian with Surfcaster
Thanks to the brilliant high-end response of the lipstick pickups, the balanced offset body, and familiar 25.5” scale, the Charvel Surfcaster was no stranger to Nashville recording studios. While the clean tones were perfect for country and (surprise!) surf rock, heavier rock acts found that it also did what Charvels have historically done best - it provided a great driven tone with plenty of note-separation and articulation. Of course, the high end of the EQ spectrum allowed the Surfcaster to cut through a dense mix with ease.
With time came change, and soon, the Surfcaster was altered dramatically. Production moved from Japan to India and quality suffered as a result. More affordable offerings played around with different pickup configurations, the removal of the pickguard, and the exclusion of the F-hole when Jackson released a solid-body version. None of these are as desirable to collectors and players as the original Japanese-built Charvel Surfcaster design.
In 2002, Fender purchased Charvel/Jackson, and the Surfcaster was quickly discontinued, likely due to its similarity to legacy Fender instruments from the 50s and 60s.
Photo: Eastwood's original Surfcaster prototype schematic
Revival by Eastwood
After a long hiatus with no Surfcaster on the market, the original design of the Charvel Surfcaster was pitched as a reproduction through Eastwood’s crowd-funded “Custom Shop” program. If you’re not familiar with the program, you can learn more and find our current projects here.
When a model is pitched via the Custom Projects page, it’s given a deadline and a funding goal. Customers can place a deposit to vote the model into production and reserve their spot in the first production run. If the model reaches its funding goal before the deadline, it goes into production. If it does not, deposits are refunded.
Video: I take a closer look at the specs of our Eastwood Surfcaster
In the case of the Surfcaster, the demand was obvious. The model reached 702% of the funding goal before its deadline, so into production it went.
As is Eastwood’s modus operandi, we did not just create an exact reissue; improvements were made in the body materials. The neck was still bolt-on maple with a rosewood fretboard, but where the Charvel Surfcaster had a basswood body, Eastwood vied for a chambered mahogany capped with maple. The inclusion of premium tonewoods lets the tone of the lipstick pickups shine in ways that they’ve never been able to when paired with a basswood or masonite body as they have been most commonly in the past.
Since it’s reintroduction to the world in 2015, the Surfcaster has been one of Eastwood’s most popular models, allowing a new generation to explore the ins-and-outs of what this guitar has to offer. Over time, Eastwood has expanded into producing the Surfcaster in 12-string and (now discontinued) bass variants. Most recently, Eastwood has introduced the doubleneck Surfcaster 12/6, giving players a model option that is supremely flexible and is sure to be the talk of any live set or jam session.
Photo: Eastwood Surfcaster 12/6