Suhr Modern tabletop view

Despite having paid my bills with the guitar for the last decade or so, I’d never felt tempted by a high-end or “boutique” guitar – although I’ve owned many high-grade amplifiers (some of which are reviewed on this site). There are so many excellent pro-level guitars available for around the £800 mark that I never really grasped the concept of spending more. My Japanese-made Wolfgangs, USA and Japanese-made Fenders, Japanese Charvels and Ibanezes simply ticked all the boxes for me. I found that as long as I chose a good one, performed a few choice mods, and kept the maintenance up I was completely happy. Funnily enough, doing this for a living gave me a good reason not to upgrade; I was already nervous enough about having an £800 instrument on stage with me. Unfortunately, I watch punters pour beer into electrical equipment and sit down uninvited at £4000+ drumkits with alarming regularity.
Suhr Modern bottom up
In the end, though, I became frustrated with the instruments I was playing. I’d modified every guitar I’d ever owned for coil splits and a treble bleed circuit; and as much as I loved the feel, balance and overall build quality of my EVH Wolfgangs I was starting to miss the chime and spank of a good Strat. I was so addicted to the premium neck feel, custom pickups, offset body balance and stainless steel frets of the Wolfgangs that my choices were becoming quite limited. I was a tough customer. In short; I needed a custom guitar – something that combined all the features I liked into one package that looked and felt right, wouldn’t need modding, and would play like greased lightning.
Suhr Top 2
One of the most renowned custom builders today is John Suhr; he’s simply building some of the best instruments in the world right now. The fully customised examples can very easily stretch into the £3000-£4000 bracket and beyond – and rightly so. Ingeniously, John decided to start offering some of his most sought-after custom build specs as production guitars: the Pro Series. This brought the cost down significantly to a street price of around £2500 (at the time of writing). With the additional introduction of the stripped down Modern Satin Series at under £2000, Suhr guitars were now coming on my radar. I first played one two years ago and its majestic, crystalline tones and gorgeous looks have haunted me ever since.
Suhr Headstock
The Modern Pro HH turned out to be the closest in specification to my personalised Wolfgangs – the dual humbucking pickup configuration is mated to a five-way megaswitch for a wide range of tones, the basswood/maple body and satin-finished maple neck are exactly to my taste, and the stainless steel frets and medium-high output pickups are all present and correct. Even my must-have treble bleed circuit comes as standard; I’d been using John’s spec since 2010 anyway after a schoolboy-excited email exchange (yes, you can actually talk to John, pretty much any day of the week). The Suhr Modern has 24 frets and expansive upper fret access (one of the areas I was looking to improve upon) yet doesn’t compromise on the placement of the neck pickup. This is due to an excellent piece of design in which the neck pocket and neck pickup cavity are mated together, creating an optimised neck pickup mounting position; almost right up against the 24th fret. The back-routed Gotoh double-locking tremolo would open up some new possibilities too; and the instrument was visually stunning. The delectable scraped binding; the supremely tight neck pocket and well-designed heel; the unnaturally natural looking satin-finished neck; and the chocolate-coloured Pau Ferro fingerboard with clay position markers. I felt like I’d ordered a Mercedes.
Suhr Modern upside down
While waiting for the guitar to arrive, I was hit with buyers’ regret. How could the Suhr possibly feel “£1200 better” than the customised Wolfgangs I’d been playing for so long? How could it possibly suit me better than a guitar I’d developed such a synergistic relationship with? What if was too different? What if it wasn’t different enough?
I needn’t have worried; the moment I opened the brilliant Suhr-branded soft/hard case, I knew this was going to be good. The Dark Cherry Burst finish was deep, rich, and mirror-perfect; the luscious satin neck made me feel physical hunger; and the top, the binding and the position markers were eye-wateringly exquisite. Picking it up, the overall shape of the guitar reminded me instantly of my first “proper” guitar, a Jackson Soloist, but with the organic feel of a great Strat, and the offset bodied hot-rod vibe of the Wolfgang.
Suhr Modern corner view
Plugging the Modern Pro in, it initially sounded darker and more recessed in the highs than my Wolfgangs – a psycho-acoustic effect that quickly passed. What I was actually hearing were thunderous, warm and visceral lows on par with the most physical Les Paul; and a relative lack of compression on the high end, making the sound sweeter and more natural through a distorted amp than I was used to. The Suhr SSH+ bridge pickup is remarkably uncompressed for a medium-high output pickup; in terms of output and overall EQ it’s not dissimilar to a Seymour Duncan JB and yet has no obnoxious high midrange or unwanted compression. When you dig in, the amp is driven into burning, screaming sustain, but when you pick more gently the sound chimes, swells, occasionally stings in measures almost entirely dictated by your picking hand. I’d been wondering if there was any way to combine the persuasive character of the custom EVH bridge pickup with a more open, natural sound – and I’d stumbled upon it in the SSH+. Of course, with any Suhr, the wood is doing a lot of the talking. The neck and body resonate organically in perfect unison like the best Strat you’ve ever played – only in this case, every Suhr is the best Suhr you’ve ever played. I now have three and it’s impossible to choose a favourite – they’re that consistent.
Suhr Neck Joint
Flipping through the remaining pickup options, I found a glassy position 4 (both pickups split) which compresses and sparkles beautifully for clean or semi-distorted arpeggio/chord work; a very honest and well-balanced position 3 (both humbuckers); and a surprisingly Stratty position 2. I was apprehensive about this position because I’ve never been convinced by parallel humbucking as a solution for single-coil-esque tones. I was wrong: the neck SSV is so clear and natural, and preserves such dynamics that the parallel version of its sound simply glistens with sugar-cane sweetness. It drives a semi-distorted amp into crunch in all the right places.
Suhr Top
The final position – the neck SSV in full series mode – actually has many of the attributes of a good Les Paul neck position. I’m accustomed to the very “hyped” neck pickup sound of the Wolfgang, which is smooth, compressed, and bubbles with an almost synthetically rich harmonic character. The SSV in the Modern is, by contrast, extremely honest and bluesy. It is simply the perfect vehicle for the wood and the strings to speak through. It reminded me of a Seymour Duncan Jazz or ’59 with its buttery high midrange, warm yet relatively defined lows and the hint of sparkle remaining in the high end. As with every pickup position on every Suhr; the wood is the real star. These pickups are designed to work in tandem with an extremely expressive, resonant instrument and as such they are perfectly judged.
Suhr Modern rear
I’ve now owned and gigged with my Suhr Moderns for four months; so I’ve had time to make a few adjustments, replace some strings and take care of some maintenance. This is where a great instrument can often fall down – sometimes parts wear out alarmingly quickly or don’t stand up to regular adjustment. Sometimes appointments lose their finish, fine tuners become troublesome, tremolo arm mechanisms work loose, or screwholes become threaded after a few uses. I’m pleased to say I’ve had no such problems on the Suhrs – with a sensible level of attention there’s no reason why they shouldn’t last forever. I play every day and I’m fairly physical with both hands, so the stainless steel frets and the beautifully engineered Gotoh tremolo unit are perfect for my needs.
Suhr Bridge
The tremolo system itself is wonderful; the Gotoh is a little longer and flatter in profile than a similar Floyd Rose system so it really facilitates fast, accurate picking with very little adjustment in technique necessary. Unless you’re using it, you’ll forget it’s there. The Gotoh fine tuners are a thing of beauty; I’m a big fan of traditional Floyd Rose systems for their robustness and brash, hot rod aesthetic – but there’s absolutely no question that the Gotoh fine tuners are superior. They’re bigger, knurled wheels with a refreshingly well-oiled feel and the accuracy of a sniper rifle. At the other end of the guitar, Suhr’s branded locking tuners (staggered in height for more stable tuning on their non-locking instruments) are simply a joy to use. Locking a new string in place is an entirely intuitive affair; and it can then be tuned up to pitch with well-weighted precision. Stretch the strings, clamp down the nut and the Suhr Modern will stay in tune until the ‘80s come around again!
Suhr Headstock Rear
There’s really very little to say in conclusion. The Suhr Modern has become “my” guitar – a “signature” instrument without the effort of custom building one. It’s a guitar that I want to play until I can’t stand up, and then look at until my eyes hurt. I now have three Suhrs and the only way you’ll catch me reviewing anything else is if you send it to me.

Published by DON STICK | GUITAR

Online session guitarist; supplying high quality bespoke guitar parts for your mix.

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