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We have used the ultrafast pump–probe technique known as picosecond ultrasonics to generate and detect surface acoustic waves on a structure consisting of nanoscale Al lines on SiO2 on Si. We report results from ten samples with varying pitch (1000–140 nm) and SiO2 film thickness (112 nm or 60 nm), and compare our results to an isotropic elastic calculation and a coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulation. In all cases we are able to detect and identify a Rayleigh-like surface acoustic wave with wavelength equal to the pitch of the lines and frequency in the range of 5–24 GHz. In some samples, we are able to detect additional, higher frequency surface acoustic waves or independent modes of the Al lines with frequencies close to 50 GHz. We also describe the effects of probe beam polarization on the measurement's sensitivity to the different surface modes.An ultrafast optical pump-probe technique is used to generate and detect surface acoustic waves on a nanostructure.Vibrational modes up to 50 GHz are identified and compared to molecular dynamics simulations of the structure.Significant effects of probe beam polarization on the detected frequencies are also described.