Burns’ reputation grew and in 1960 he had founded Ormoston-Burns, which manufactured the Burns guitar to the tune of more than 150 units per week until 1965, when it was purchased by the Baldwin Piano and Organ Company. After the sale, Burns twice attempted to revive the line, and though he wasn’t successful, a number of his designs survived, including the Steer Cutaway.
Popping open the sturdy silver faux-alligator-skin case, it’s immediately apparent the Steer Cutaway is not your average guitar. Its single-cutaway string-through Basswood body boasts a unique beauty with its classic greenburst polyester finish. The other obvious aesthetic oddity is the metal plate between the neck the bridge, holding the single-coil Burns Tri-Sonic pickup in the neck position and the Burns split humbucking pickup in the bridge. The humbucker is tappable by the mini-toggle switch, and each pickup has dedicated Tone control. The electronics are rounded out with a three-way switch and a master Volume.
Attached to the Steer’s basswood body is a bolt-on 251/2″-scale maple neck with a gloss finished maple fingerboard supported by a bi-flex two-way truss rod. Neck and body are adorned with single-ply binding, while the neck and headstock are finished to match the body. Top it off with a quirky, slightly horn-shaped headstock, and the Steer is ready to stampede its way into any musical situation.
When one’s hands first wrap around the Steer, you’re struck by how solid the guitar feels. The materials, build quality, and attention to detail are more typical of a guitar costing two to three times as much. Our tester arrived with a nice setup and played extremely well right out of the case, and a few strums reveal a great ringing acoustic quality with good natural volume. Plugged into a U.S. Masters TVA30 (see review last month), the Steer’s Tri-Sonic single-coil pickup (a favorite of players like Brian May) sounds remarkably full and round. Rolling off the Tone knob creates a great Joe-Pass-type tone, thanks in part to the resonance of the body Steer’s cavities. Adding just the right amount of high-end from the Tone control through a Randall RM50 Top Boost module gives a classic British Invasion-type Beatles tone, a la “Revolution.”
A taste of the Steer’s diversity comes via its bridge-position humbucker. Though the guitar carries a decided retro-vibe aesthetic, its tonal varieties are plentiful. From Billy-Gibbons-style crunch to flat out Metallica-inspired distorted mayhem, the Steer delivers. Tapping the humbucker unleashes another one of this bull’s many personalities. Through a Fender Deluxe, the Steer trots straight to the rodeo, with an outstanding country/chicken pickin’ tone especially with the Tone control wide open. Visions of hayrides and sweet tea abound!
The middle position on this beefy tone machine produces a more “distant” tonal offering, perhaps due to the body cavity. It’s a tone that could be useful for ’60s-oriented music or perhaps surf, due to its almost lipstick-pickup tonal quality. There’s a minor change in output along with its more hollow overall sound, and certainly some will appreciate the alternate color, as it is markedly different from the other voices of the guitar.
Keeping in mind Burns’ search for an ideal guitar, the Steer Cutaway is made with a grand collection of player-friendly options. He was a musician first, design visionary second, and both are represented well. The take-it-or-leave-it looks may not be for every player, but if you’re looking for an extremely versatile instrument with unique style, and you’d rather not break the bank, this may be the guitar for you.
Burns Steer Cutaway
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This article originally appeared in VG‘s December 2008 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.
Burns Steer Cutaway review