This glorious piece of ’80s goodness is the fairly uncommon Burnside (by Guild) Crossbow guitar, and thanks to a tip from a user on The Gear Page I scored this rarity from Guitar Center for the princely sum of $500. Was it worth it? How’s it sound? How’s it play? Read on while I answer all of these questions and more in the only detailed review of the Guild Burside Crossbow headless guitar you’re ever likely to find.
Back in the glory days that were the mid-1980s, a couple of important things were going on that help to explain this guitar. First, flamboyancy was all the rage, and when I say flamboyancy, I mean grown men performing on stage with huge hair held up with gallons of hairspray complimented by makeup, all the while wearing torn female lingerie. To accent the culture, guitar manufacturers released countless different wacky designs sporting loud colors, wild graphics, strange shapes, and in some cases, innovative design concepts.
Guild certainly made some sedate super-Strat type guitars like the S270 Flyer and the S284 Aviator but they had some pretty interesting models, too. From the X79 Skyhawk to the X88 Crüe Flying Star there were some crazy designs, and that’s not even counting the even crazier prototypes that never made it to production! If you really wanted some cutting edge state-of-the-art design choices, though, Guild sold those through their import brand Burnside.
So far as I’m aware, Burnside was the first import line of electric guitars sold by Guild, and from what I can tell, they were made by Cort. Though there are no tell-tale signs on the guitar itself, having previously reviewed a Burnside Lance I came to a similar conclusion, though with the Crossbow I have more ammunition for my conclusion. Why? Because it’s headless.
A headless guitar obviously has no head, but for the most part (especially in the ’80s) a headless guitar meant that the bridge was made by Steinberger, and in the case of the Crossbow, the bridge was indeed a licensed design made by Steinberger. Furthermore, there was only one company in the the ’80s that I’m aware of that was making licensed Steinberger bridges, and that was Cort.
From the Wikipedia article on Cort: Cort began production of headless guitars in 1984 with designs exclusively licensed from Ned Steinberger for Cort’s own brand as well as for brands like Hohner and Kramer [and apparently Guild]. This development helped bring the Cort name to the mainstream electric guitar market and attracted the attention of other well-known brand name companies seeking contract guitar manufacturers in Korea.
Burnside produced a nice selection of electric guitars, some with traditional designs like the Blade (Strat shaped), the Famous (Tele shaped) and even the Mini-Starfire which appears to be some sort of mini Guild Starfire, though I’ve never actually seen one. The real ’80s flamboyance shows itself in the Lance, the Warrior, and the Crossbow, though, with the winner for me being the Crossbow.
With it’s spideresque design and its complete lack of headstock the guitar is a real head-turner, and with the then advanced technology of the Steinberger licensed bridge/tuners, the guitar was something special no matter how you looked at it.
While the Crossbow guitar had the model number BE-70, the matching Crossbow bass was the BB-77. The Crossbow bass was the same overall design but larger to accommodate the longer 34 5/8″ scale length used on basses.
Aside from the two catalog entries shown here I have been unable to find any documentation on these guitars, and even online information is scarce since what is out there is also devoid of any actual verifiable sources, though a very cool write-up of a Crossbow bass can be seen here.
As a fun aside, when I first saw this guitar probably 10 years ago I was introduced to it via this tiny animated GIF. I thought it was great, but naturally my obsessive nature was a bit twitchy that the front and back images were not aligned, but what could I do? I mean the original is 72×96 and who knows how old, so I just kind of forgot about it. That is, until I got a Crossbow of my own!
If you’d like to see my rendition of the dancing Crossbow, then click on the red one right here. I made it so that it’s not dancing by default because it was starting to give me Fantasia flashbacks and the last thing I need in my life right now is an army of headless guitars running around the house dumping water everywhere.
Although I do not have the original case for this guitar, the Burnside guitars shipped with gig bags that fit the individual guitar shapes, all of which were of the style shown here from my Burnside Lance review. They were cheaply constructed and the vast majority of the ones I’ve seen have been in absolutely horrid condition. My Lance was in New Old Stock (NOS) condition which is why it looks so good, but don’t be surprised if you find a Burnside guitar for sale without a case. To get an idea of what the case looked like, here is a great picture from this Reverb ad showing the original Crossbow case.
Since mine did not come with a case, I set out to find something to store it in. Thankfully, there are still companies making headless guitars, so the key to finding a case for this oddly shaped instrument is to search for a headless gig bag. Since I have more money than brains (a condition that slowly rectifies itself with each guitar purchase), I went for a Strandberg bag which fits the guitar quite nicely, even if it did cost almost half as much as what I paid for the guitar.
The finish is most certainly poly given the age of the instrument and the fact that I’ve never seen a Burnside with lacquer checking. The finish on mine is in pretty good shape, and it feels somehow better than the Burnside Lance that I had.
Available colors were advertised as including Black, White, Metallic Red, and Metallic purple, though the color catalog shown above says that custom colors and graphics were available on all models including pinstripes, sidestripes, flames, arrowheads, and tiger squeeze. Though I confess that I’ve never seen any Burnside guitar with custom graphics, I have definitely seen all of the solid colors, and I’ve seen the Blade model in sunburst. If you’ve got one with cool graphics leave a comment and I’ll include it here if you send me a pic! Also, if anyone can tell me what tiger squeeze is, I could finally resolve the endless loop in my brain that asks what could it possibly be?
Fretboard and Neck
One of the first things you’re likely to notice about this guitar is that it has no headstock. Instead, it has a slightly flared out end to the neck with a metal cap that holds one end of the double ball-end strings. This end cap also has a hole for access to the truss rod as well as two small holes on the side which are for a small wire hanger loop that is sadly missing from my guitar.
An odd benefit of the nice flare on the end of the neck is that it helps to make it more obvious that you’re at the end of the neck when playing. My Steinberger GL4TA doesn’t have that, probably because it doesn’t need it thanks to the carbon fiber composition, but I must say that I like it on this guitar.
This guitar has a zero-fret and what looks like a weird angle behind it, likely put there to guarantee tension on the strings on that fret since there is no nut.
I’m not a fan of zero-frets since they have a tendency to wear in such a way that causes trouble when bending strings, so I’m not sure I’d be happy with this arrangement over time, but thanks to this guitar being in pretty great shape the zero fret on this guitar has no problems yet.
The fretboard material is rosewood and the boomerang inlays that are the hallmark of the Burnside guitars look pretty great on this model. Though the catalog states that the neck is 1 5/8″ wide, mine measures just shy of 1 11/16″, and though the first fret depth isn’t really representative of the rest of the neck carve due to the bulbous end, the C neck shape continues to a healthy .86″ deep at the fifth fret. This guitar actually has a pretty great neck!
The frets measured at .03″ high and .09″ wide making them pretty wide and firmly in the Medium or Regular range of the Dunlop fret chart. The rosewood fretboard has a 9.5″ radius which works for me, though it makes the saddle adjustments a little more interesting than if the guitar had a flatter radius.
This guitar feels surprisingly well made. The neck appears to be a set-neck design, though it’s at least possible that it’s a thru-neck or even a one-piece monster cut with a CNC machine, but I have a hard time accepting that theory even though I just wrote it. Why did I even entertain such a notion? Aside from the lack of sleep and possible stir-craziness of being inside for a year and a half (Thanks Covod-19!)? Well, I’ve got nothing aside from thinking how cool that would be.
With the neck pickup removed I see absolutely zero evidence of a neck tenon but the neck pickup cavity from a Guild X79 looks very similar and my X79-3 with its swimming pool route shows that the tenon could be hiding under the route on this guitar.
What’s more interesting to me is that small finish chip missing by the corner of the fretboard. While I was tempted to say that the Burnside Crossbow was made of poplar due to its light weight, the wood under that chip sure looks like mahogany to me.
As we’ll see in the hardware section, the bridge on this guitar impacted the wood, and that left another area where we can see beneath the finish. Between the wood visible in the upper corner and the color of the wood in the screw holes, I’m leaning pretty heavily towards calling this mahogany.
This guitar weighs 7lbs 4oz (3.3kg), but a fair bit of that weight is in the tremolo bridge which weighs 1lb 5oz (0.6kg) by itself. That one pound of weight sitting on the back of the guitar makes it feel very solid and very back-heavy if you pick it up by the neck, but it actually balances very well while playing.
The pickups in my Lance were POWERSOUND pickups found on Cort and Ibanez guitars but the catalog shown above says that the pickups in the Crossbow are MAXX high impedance pickups, and indeed they appear to be different than those in the Lance. Naturally, I found absolutely nothing about these pickups anywhere I looked, so here’s what I can tell you: they have no markings anywhere on them, they have what appear to be black metal baseplates, they have three-screw adjustments, and one of them was so poorly assembled that it shorted out while playing.
The neck pickup measured 9.87Ω and the bridge measured 9.99Ω, so the pickups were mildly hot given that the guitar hails from the beginning of the “hotter is better” age of pickup design.
Sadly the neck pickup on this guitar had an intermittent short because while it worked fine most of the time, it had a tendency to cut out completely if I hit it with my pick or hand. Honestly I’d replace them anyway, but I kept them in for the recordings in the Sound section. And then I replaced them because they suck.
This picture shows the problem with the pickup, though it can be hard to discern. If you look at the red lead, it comes up through the baseplate, then the white wire from within the red lead goes to the pin on the coil closest to the camera, while the shielding from the red lead splits with half going to the left (soldered to the baseplate) and the other half going right across the white wire’s solder connection over to the lead on the farthest coil. That is insane, because even the slightest movement of the pickup would cause that stranded shielding to short out against the white wire’s solder connection thus shorting out the entire pickup. The other pickup is not like this, so my assumption is that this pickup is wired like this on purpose.
Due to the uselessness of the pickups, I yanked them and I bought some well-regarded inexpensive Seymour Duncan Vintage Blues for $150 and… they didn’t fit.
This guitar has very shallow pickup routes and if you look at the pickup above it has no legs! The pickup adjustment screws actually screw into an extension of the base plate that are perfectly horizontal. So, with $150 wasted, I set out to find pickups with short legs, only to discover that this was not as easy as I’d hoped. Eventually I decided to get a set of Bare Knuckle pickups because they were the only ones I could find that came standard with short legs, but the less expensive versions weren’t in stock anywhere in the US so I ended up buying a set of The Mule humbuckers for $279. Sigh – that’s almost $300 pickups in a $500 guitar, but I cRaVe tHe ToAnZ!!
With the expensive new pickups in hand (and some fancy new metal rings to match), I went to install them, only to discover that the pickup rings are a weird size so I had to use the ones original to the guitar. That meant that I had to fashion an adapter so that I could use the three adjustment screws because I refuse to ruin irreplaceable rings by drilling an extra hole in them. Luckily I have a 3D printer and I’m not afraid to use it, so after spending too much time because they needed to be perfect, I had a great solution.
Then I learned that the new screws don’t fit in the pickup cavity because the screws are longer than the depth of the cavities. ARRRGH! After a judicial application of my bolt cutters, I was finally able to mount the new pickups in the guitar.
Be warned! If you score one of these guitars and want to swap the pickups, “standard” long-leg pickups won’t fit, the rings are a non-standard size and so cannot be easily replaced, and the adjustment screws will need to be trimmed to size. Yeesh.
The electronics are of the expected cheap import type, with a big boxed up toggle switch and two mini pots marked D500K with a stylized S logo that I could not identify. Both pots have 10mm nuts and use 7mm holes.
The knobs, however, are glorious and appear to be the same unobtanium knobs found on Guild Nightbirds from the same era! Future buyers beware: If I ever sell this guitar I’m keeping the knobs.
The circuit is fairly simple with each pickup connecting to the toggle and the output of the toggle connecting to the master volume, which is then connected to the tone pot and output jack. The tone capacitor is 0.033μF and is an off-the-shelf part of the same ilk found in Guilds from the same era. There is no fancy paper-in-[snake]-oil magic in this guitar.
The wiring is as tidy as it could be given the very small control cavity, and the soldering appears to be solid enough. Though I am 100% against cheap electronics being used anywhere, surprisingly the electronics had zero faults on this guitar aside from the aforementioned problem with the neck pickup. That problem is completely internal to the pickup, though.
Note that due to the very small control cavity a standard guitar toggle switch like you would get from Switchcraft will not fit. You cannot fit full-sized pots, either. Thus, my guitar with its stupendous new pickups has the crappy original electronics in it, but at least it works.
The main selling point of this guitar (aside from the shape) is the fact that it’s headless, and that headlessness comes courtesy of the Steinberger licensed tremolo bridge.
I’m a fan of Steinberger guitars and own an original Newburgh-made GL4TA that I modified into a GL2TA thanks to the design that allows for completely interchangeable tops. The original Steinberger Trans-Trem is a work of art, though a bit finicky, especially if it’s not maintained well. It’s also ridiculously expensive.
This bridge is no Trans-Trem.
There are three main Steinberger trems: The Trans-Trem, the S-Trem (basically a Trans-trem without the pitch shifting capability) and the R-Trem, a less expensive and simpler model found on many of the later Steinberger guitars as well as most licensed guitars like this one.
In the early-mid 1980s, Ned Steinberger licensed the design of the simpler R-Trem to other companies who made the bridges mostly of inferior metals. As a result of this, most of the almost 40-year-old licensed R-Trems have a serious problem where the main pivot points have bent causing the bridge to drive into the wood when used, and that’s if they still work at all.
You can see the bent post in this photo which shows the little bent tower that is one of the two pivot points the blade-edges sit in. Each of those little towers should be perfectly perpendicular and upright, whereas the one in the picture is leaning a few degrees towards the neck of the guitar. This causes the bridge to mash into the wood at the front of the cutout, not to mention making the bridge just not function properly. Those posts are removable, but good luck finding just those posts, and given the metal used in the bridge the base is likely out of true anyway. More often than not if you have this problem the entire bridge should be replaced.
For a while there were Chinese copies of this trem out there made by a company called MusicYo, but they seem to be universally panned as being even cheaper than the originals. If you have one of these guitars or even another brand with the same Steinberger R-Trem bridge, HeadlessUSA.com sells a much nicer modern version of the R-Trem made by JCustom. As you can see by thee photo, I bought a JCustom bridge which is now what’s on my guitar. Yup – that’s another $250 spent on this $500 instrument.
The JCustom R-Trem seems to be much more substantial than the one I had to remove from this guitar, and as promised it was a 100% drop-in replacement for the original. It also looks fantastic with its brand new flat black coating. I think the original design is fundamentally flawed, though, because a) the arm retention pin is an annoyingly small H1.5 hex screw as are the annoyingly small adjustment screws on the saddles, and b) no matter how tight I made the arm retention pin, it was still sloppy. Also the saddles are held in place by friction which is tightened by another annoyingly small pin on the sides.
Like all of Ned Steinberger’s bridge designs, the R-Trem can be locked in place if you don’t want to use it. It also needs to be locked into place while tuning after which you use the main tension knob to “dial in” the floating trem so that stays in tune in the zero floating position.To lock the trem there is a small lever to the left of the main tension knob that normally sits flat. With the bridge balanced, the locking lever flips up and engages with a small circular latch underneath the main body.
My only complaint with this system on this this particular trem is that with everything tuned properly I find the arm to be a bit too close to the body of the guitar for my tastes. This is not like a Floyd Rose or Strat trem where you can add or remove springs to change the behavior of the bridge. There is one spring, and while Ned Steinberger designed it to be a commonly available part, he did not design the bridge such that different strength springs would be available to alter the height of the arm. Thus, with the bridge properly adjusted the bridge and therefore the arm are parallel with the top of the body, and I simply like it to be higher. From what I can tell the only solution would be to bend the bar and I’m not doing that.
Having one of these Steinberger systems on a guitar means that you need to use special strings that have balls on both ends. These strings are only available from a very short list of suppliers, but luckily I have a stash of them due to owning a Steinberger guitar. There is an adapter so that regular strings can be used, but since I have the proper strings I have no experience with it and cannot comment on its usefulness.
The strap pegs are pretty typical and have the wider flair found on many guitars from the ’80s. The rear strap peg is on the underside of the top rear horn which is a little weird especially if you’re used to guitars like Strats and Les Pauls where there’s a clean back area to mount the peg. This position can make the strap seem a little awkward and since it’s not in the midline of the guitar might cause you to have to shorten your strap or have a dedicated strap for the guitar.
The front strap peg is at the end of the long upper horn which is a far more traditional position, though that’s probably the only thing about this guitar that I would call traditional.
As an aside I love that long upper horn because it makes a wonderful handle. While I normally pick up a guitar from the neck joint, the lack of a headstock and the resulting lack of tuners on the end of the neck means that the center of gravity for the guitar is deeper into the body than you might expect, so the upper horn is perfect for grabbing the guitar.
A guitar can look great, but if it doesn’t sound great it’s not worth much, so I did what I always do and recorded my normal boring chord progressions. I’m sad to say that I was absolutely not impressed. Why? Because the pickups are just too damn hot.
To be fair, this guitar was not designed, marketed, or sold to anyone who’s looking for a guitar that has amazing clean tones. No, this guitar was built and marketed as a guitar for screaming hair-band tomfoolery. Unfortunately, when it comes to tones I’d have to say that this guitar in its stock configuration just doesn’t have any that are worth using.
ODS100 Clean – Stock
Open Chords #1
Open Chords #2
JCM-800 – Stock
Recto Red – Stock
As usual, for these recordings I used my normal Axe-FX III through the QSC K12 speaker recorded direct into my Mac Pro using Audacity. I recorded using the ODS100 Clean patch, as well as the JCM-800 and one through a setting called Thick & Chunky which is a replication of a Mesa 3-channel Dual Rectifier on the red channel in vintage mode.
For each recording I cycle through the neck pickup, both pickups, and finally the bridge pickup. All knobs on the guitar are on 10 at all times.
With my normal test amps the pickups are so freaking hot that I could not get a clean tone out of the guitar unless I rolled down the volume significantly to the point that it just wasn’t worth playing. If you’re looking for a guitar to nail that Dire Straights Sultans of Swing tone, brother this ain’t it.
With the JCM800 things were a bit better because there was no chance of ever encountering a clean tone, and while it was OK sounding, it wasn’t getting what I’d call great tone.
The guitar comes into its own with a high-gain amp like the Mesa Dual-Rectifier where you can start to hear a bit of character from those almost 10k pickups. Sadly I found it still to be too fizzy for my tastes, so while it’s definitely a fun guitar with some high gain, I found it a bit fatiguing to listen to because the tone is more harsh than pleasing. My Steinberger with its much maligned EMG pickups sounds infinitely better to my ears.
ODS100 Clean – BK
Open Chords #1
Open Chords #2
JCM-800 – BK
Recto Red – BK
Honestly, I really love the guitar but the sound with the stock pickups and electronics it’s just a high-power muddy mess with some fizz thrown in for good measure. But what about with better pickups? With the Bare Knuckle pickups this guitar is an absolute monster that I couldn’t put down.
The Bare Knuckle pickups completely remove the sort of blanket over the amp feel that I get with the stock pickups. Unsurprisingly, the boutique pickups are more articulate and have more character than the stock Cort pickups, though I’ll admit that in the recording the difference isn’t that pronounced under high distortion (but the difference is absolutely there).
Oddly, I don’t hear the vast difference in the recordings that I do in the room with the amp, and all you “amp in the room” tube amp snobs know that if I’m feeling that with my AxeFX then it must be doubly obvious with some glowing hot bottles, since as we all know, the more fragile harmonics can’t survive in a crystal lattice.
If you’re not a tone-hunting collector snob the pickups may be just fine, and for a $500 guitar, it does a good job so long as the pickups don’t have wiring problems like mine did.
Would I recommend new pickups? Yes.
Would I recommend you go out and spend $300 on boutique pickups? Eh, probably not. The problem, as stated in the Pickup section, is that you need pickups with very shallow legs, so bear that in mind if you go shopping for replacement coils for your Burnside Crossbow.
The guitar plays great seated thanks to the design of the body, and it plays great standing on a strap thanks to the headless design which makes the majority of the weight in the guitar body. The way the strap lays on the body of the guitar due to the position of the rear strap peg can be a little weird, but not in a way that really affects anything.
The trem arm being perpendicular to the body is lower than I prefer and I would like it a lot more if the bar had an upward cant. I find myself two frets off a lot of the time because of the geometry of the guitar which causes the neck to look really long. That may very well be a “me” problem, but it’s happened so often that I felt like it needed to be mentioned.
Though not a playability concern, the guitar can’t be hung from a normal wall hanger (and it’s missing its original hanger), and it doesn’t really sit well in a stand since the back two horns might not fit in your existing stand. The guitar does stand and lean well, though I’m not one to recommend you leave guitars leaning up against things.
Based on my experience with the Burnside Lance I expected this guitar to be cheap and borderline unplayable, but I must say that I was pretty surprised at how much I liked the Crossbow. I found it to be a joy to play and I think it looks cool as hell. The stock pot-metal R-Trem was worn beyond repair but given the quality of the original manufacturing I’d imagine any R-Trem that’s been used at all will have suffered a similar fate.
The weak point on this guitar is the hardware and electronics but those are all replaceable, albeit with some quirky caveats like the small electronics and the pickup rings. I absolutely freaking love the design and I think the headless neck really works on this guitar. It’s a blast to play and everyone who sees it comments on it.
Yeah, the electronics are cheap import junk and while the pickups were OK for high distortion the neck pickup had a broken wire that made it unusable without repair. The fretboard has a bit of a cheap feel to it, but that’s from the point of view of a guitar collecting snob who favors his Brazilian fretboard Les Paul (And the ebony on his nice Guilds even more). The neck was straight and true when I got it and it plays great so there’s really nothing to complain about there.
If you find one of these in good shape I’d absolutely recommend it, but be prepared to replace the Steinbrger R-Trem and maybe the pickups. If you’re handy with guitars those are easy upgrades, but the J-Custom R-Trem alone was $250 from HeadlessUSA and a pair of pickups could easily cost you $150 or more, so it’s easy to need to spend as much or more than you paid for the guitar getting it up to snuff.
In the end I spent $500 for the guitar, $250 for the bridge, $300 for the pickups, and $180 for the Strandberg bag, so that’s $1230 all in. And yes, I paid $730 to get a $500 guitar the way I like it. Why? Because I are dumb. Then again, there’s a reason most of the Crossbows out there are beat to hell, and that’s because people played the crap out of them.
Is it worth it to upgrade one of these? Maybe, but that really depends on what you paid for the guitar. Let’s be honest here: this is a Cort-made guitar from the ’80s, so I wouldn’t pay more than about $500 in 2021 dollars for one in excellent condition. Then again I’m a fan of putting boutique parts into cheap guitars if those cheap guitars play well, so in this case I might not be the best person to ask. For me it was worth it just to make a new animated GIF!