Sunday, January 8, 2017

Guild Electric Guitars

Guild Electric Guitars
One of my favorite guitar companies is Guild. But during the guitar boom of the 1960, when it came to electric guitars, most performers preferred Fender, Gibson, and even Gretsch. Of the electric guitars players that were known for their use of a Guild electric guitar, only a few come to mind.

1976 Guild S100 Carved

Guild acoustic guitars seemed to enjoy better name recognition than the companies electric brands. However in my opinion, Guild electric guitars were every bit as good and in some cases superior to the products being put out by their competition.

Al Dronge on the right
The Guild Guitar Company was founded in 1952 by Avram “Alfred” Dronge, a guitarist and music-store owner, and George Mann, a former executive with the Epiphone Guitar Company.

Dronge immigrated with his family to the United States in 1916 and grew up in Manhattan, near the Music Row district, around West 48th street.

He was an accomplished banjo player and guitarist. He eventually opened a music store in the same part of town back he grew up in. This was in the mid-1930’s and Dronge successfully ran it until 1948. He then amassed a fortune by importing accordions and distributing them in the early 1950’s when the accordion was a very popular musical instrument.

Al Dronge - George Mann
In 1952 his friend George Mann suggested they team up as partners in a guitar business. Mann was in management with Epiphone Guitars. Around this time period the company was facing upheavals by employees who wanted to unionize. To put a halt this the Stathopoli Brothers left their manufacturing facility in New York City and set up shop in Philadelphia leaving many craftsmen without work. George Mann saw the potential in hiring these out-of-work craftsmen.

Another friend of both men, Gene Detgen, suggested the name “Guild”. So in 1952 the company was founded with Mann as president and Dronge as vice-president and former Epiphone employees were hired. A year after forming the company Mann departed leaving Al Dronge in charge.

Guild Guitar Factory Manhattan
By 1956 the company set up shop in Manhattan, but soon moved to Hoboken, New Jersey due to expansion. The men were fortunate to hire seasoned people to run the operation such as Bob Bromberg, who was the plant manager, Carlo Greco, who was an exceptional luthier, Gilbert Diaz, who was in charge of final assembly, and Fred Augusto, a finishing specialist.

Guild F-5212
During the “Folk Era” of the 1960’s the company thrived due to its acoustic guitar production and reputation. Especially popular was the amazing Guild F5212 that sounded like a canon.

Carl Kress & George Barnes
Because of Al Dronge’s ties with the New York Jazz scene, where he played guitar at clubs during his younger days, he was able to get a lot of input from players like Johnny Smith, Son Armone, Carl Kress, and Barry Galbraith on the needs of a jazz player for an electric guitar.

'58 Johnny Smith Award

In fact Johnny Smith worked with the factory to develop a signature guitar which became the Artist Award. Another jazz giant, George Barnes, helped develop another signature guitar. Both of these models were in high demand among studio performers. A signature hollow-body guitar designed for Duane Eddy became a rockabilly classic.

1962 Guild X-175

It was during this era that Guild created some of their classic electric models such as the X-175 and the M-75 Aristocrat.

1957 M-75 Aristocrat
The M-75 Aristocrat may have looked like a Les Paul, but it was far from that guitar. The M-75 was introduced in 1954. Although it had no f-holes, it was a hollowbody guitar with a spruce top. In fact Guild fouder Al Dronge was not looking to copy the Les Paul, as his attention was bent towards Jazz guitarists and their needs.

'58 Guild Aristocrat

The pickups on this guitar looked like P-90 soap bar models, but were made by the Franz company of Astoria New York and were of a lower output. It looked like a slightly smaller version of the George Barnes model.

1967 Guild BluesBird
This model was produced through 1963, but was revived in 1967 with the name BluesBird. At this time the body was routed instead of being hollow and the pickups were replaced with humbuckers.

'70 Guld M-75

By 1970 the designation changed to the M-75 and hardward was downgraded from gold-plated to chrome plated. The body on this guitar was solid beginning around 1971.

Guild S-200 “Thunderbird”, S-100 “Polara”, S-50 “Jet Star”

It was during the 1960’s that Guild produced their finest electric guitars.

These included the Thunderbird series, the S-100 Polara, and the Starfire series.

Jerry Garcia with Guild Starfire III

Guitarists Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia and bassist Phil Lesh, all of the Grateful Dead had their Guild Starfire guitars and basses modified by the Alembic company as did bass player Jack Cassady of Jefferson Airplane. 

Guild Starfire
In fact one of the most iconic group of guitars produced by Guild was the Starfire series. These guitars hit the scene as early as 1960 and consisted of five guitars and two bass guitars.

The Gibson company had first offered the ES-225 guitar in 1955. The Guild Starfire II and Starfire III bore a similar body shape to this instrument with its thin body, single Florentine cutaway, and twin pickups.

Guild Starfire II
The Starfire II, much like the ES-225, was a completely hollow body guitar. The body was 1 7/8” thick and bound on the front and back. The early models came with twin DeArmond single coil pickups, which were updated to Guild humbucking pickups in 1963. A pickup selector was on the top side of the upper bout. Each pickup had its own volume and tone controls. The set-in 20 fret neck was bound and topped with a rosewood fretboard with dot position markers. The scale was 24 3/4”. The Guild logo was inlaid at the top of the headstock and below it was Guild’s Chesterfield crest.

Starfire II with DeArmond pickups
The black pickguard was tiered on the lower side and marked with the Guild logo. The strings passed over a Guild adjustable saddle that was mounted on a rosewood bridge and were secured to a Guild harp trapeze tailpiece.

The Kingsmen "Louie, Louie"

One little known fact is that Mike Mitchell, the guitarist for The Kingsmen, used a Guild Starfire II to record the solo on the groups one big hit, Louie, Louie.

1965 Guild Starfire III
The Guild Starfire III was the same guitar, but with the addition of a Bigsby B7 tailpiece. These guitars were originally available with a cherry finish.

'64 Starfire III w DeArmonds

Later sunburst was added and available until 1967. In 1962 Guild added Ebony Grain, Emerald Green, Black, White and Amber custom finishes. The original models were offered through 1973.

1968 Guild Starfire IV
In 1959 Gibson Guitars first produced their double cutaway hollowbody model known as the ES-330. In 1963 Guild took the Starfire a step further producing the hollowbody Gulld Starfire IV double cutaway model. This guitar had a slightly different shape than Gibson’s ES double cutaway guitars.

1961 Starfire IV with Natural finish
The Starfire IV usually sported twin Guild humbucking pickups on its body, but some came with DeArmond single coil models that were mounted with rings to mask the fact that the guitar was routed for humbuckers. The body was bound on the top and bottom.

Once again the Starfire IV had individual controls for tone and volume for each pickup. The selector switch was mounted on the guitars lower cutaway. The set-in neck was bound and topped with a rosewood fretboard with 22 frets and dot position markers. The body joined at the 16th fret, then after 1967 this was changed to the 18th fret, Once again the distinctive Guild logo was inlaid on the black headstock veneer, and below it was the Guild Chesterfield crest. The tuners were either Grover Sta-tites or Rotomatics. Interestingly it was available with stereo wiring as an option.

Originally this guitar was offered in cherry and sunburst. Later custom colours were added including white, black, blonde, brown and natural finish. The strings passed over a tuneable saddles mounted on a rosewood bridge and were secured to a Guild harp tailpiece.

'63 Starfire V
The Starfire V was Guild’s best selling model from this series. This was a step up from the IV model. Once again it had a 1 7/8” thick body with double cutaways that was bound on the top and bottom. It came with twin Guild humbucking pickups, although some models were produced with DeArmond single coil models. Each pickup had its own volume and tone control, with the addition of a master volume control on the lower cutaway, right below the pickup selector switch. This guitar had the familiar Guild tiered design on the lower portion of the pickguard.

'67 Starfire V
One of the biggest changes was the addition of a 3 piece laminated neck. This was topped with a rosewood fretboard with 22 frets and block inlays as position markers. As before the Guild logo was inlaid in the headstock veneer above the Chesterfield design. The tuners were first made by Kolb, the were Grover Rotomatics beginning in 1965. The other addition was the Bigsby B7 vibrato tailpiece. This guitar was also available with stereo wiring. This guitar first was offered only in cherry or sunburst, but later in custom colours.

1967 Starfire VI
The top of the line model was the Guild Starfire VI. This gorgeous instrument had all the accouterments found on the Starfire V, but with the addition of gold plated hardware, including pickup covers, selector switch, bridge saddles, pickguard mounting strap and tuning buttons. Additionally not only the body and neck were bound, but the f-holes and also the headstock.

Instead of a rosewood fretboard, the Starfire VI came with an ebony fretboard and inlaid block markers. The headstock veneer had the Guild name inlaid, and inlaid under it was a Guild “G” logo.

'67 Starfire XII
Guild produced one more version of the Starfire guitar. This was a 12 string model known as the Starfire XII. It was similar to the Guild Starfire IV in its design, which included the harp tailpiece, but came with a 12 string headstock. Some models came with metalic adjustable saddles mounted on the bridge, while other guitars were produced with just a rosewood non-tunable bridge. Few models were produced with DeArmond single coil pickups, but the majority of these guitars came with Guild humbucking pickups.

'65 Starfire bass

The Guild Starfire bass was most interesting. Player such as Jack Cassidy and Phil Lesh played this instrument (albeit that their instruments were modified by Alembic). This was a double cutaway hollow body bass, somewhat similar in shape to the 1958 version of Gibson’s EB-2 bass. However the Starfire bass was a hollow instrument that hit the scene in 1965.

1966 Starfire bass
This bass came with one Hagstrom Bisonic pickup. Originally this was mounted just above the bridge, but by 1966 was moved to the neck position. The bridge unit was also made by Hagstrom and was a metallic plate with an angled and staggered rosewood bridge. This was a short scale bass; 30 3/4”. Originally the neck was a one piece unit, but later models were three piece laminate. The neck was topped with a rosewood fretboard. There was no pickguard on the Starfire bass.

The headstock, like other Starfire models, had the Guild logo inlaid on the veneer and the Chesterfield crest. The earliest models came with only a volume and tone control, but by 1968 a push-button bass boost switch was added.

1967 Starfire II bass
In 1967 Guild came out with a double pickup version; the Guild Starfire II Bass. This model came with two Hagstrom BS-1 Bisonic pickups, each with individual volume and tone controls. The selector switch was on the lower horn and beneath it was a master volume control.

'67 Starfire II bass in emerald green

This bass included the same Hagstrom bridge/saddle unit, but no bass boost button. In fact, by 1970 this was replaced with a tone control on the single pickup model. The Starfire and Starfire II basses were available with stereo wiring or with a fretless neck. The model was discontinued by 1977.

Zal Yanovsky with Guild S-200

Guitarist Zal Yanovsky of The Lovin’ Spoonful and Bluesman Muddy Waters used Guild Thunderbird S-200 guitars.

'63 S-200 Thunderbird
The S-200 Thunderbird was possibly one of the more unique guitar ever created. Sometimes it is referred to as the Gumby Guitar since it's body bears resemblance to the green claymation character.

This guitar was equipped with twin humbucking pickups, each with separate volume controls and tone controls. It also had a faceplate on the lower side of the upper bout that housed 3 slider switches in a similar manner to the Fender Jaguar.

The 2 lower switches were on/off controls for each pickup. The upper switch was an on/off mode switch. Housed between the switching faceplate and the volume potentiometers was another mode switch. Switched upward it effected only the neck pickup and downward effected both pickups. When the mode switch was on it activated capacitors that produced a single coil type of tone, while maintaining the humbucking capability of the pickups giving the guitar a sparkling clean sound.

Hagstrom Tremolo

The strings attached to a tremolo unit that was made by the Hagstrom Guitar company. The guitars neck was bound and had mother-of-pearl block inlays. The headstock was made with a very unique carve on it's top and the Guild logo was inlaid above a "thunderbird" inlay.

S-200 Built-in stand

Due to the inward carve on the bottom of this guitar, some ingenious designer at Guild decided the finishing touch would be to add a metal bar to the back of the guitar that acted like a built-in guitar stand.

S-100 and S-200

The S-200 Thunderbird guitar was also produced with twin single coil pickups. The S-100 was another guitar in the series that had less switching features and  a less fancy headstock but retained the built-in guitar stand.

In 1966, the Guild Musical Instruments Corporation, as it was now known, was bought out by electronics giant Avnet Inc. This was right at the end of the guitar boom, but corporations were still hoping to profit from the popularity of the guitar.

Guild's Westerly, Rhode Island factory
The company had outgrown it’s facility in Hoboken and the new owners decided, to move manufacturing to Westerly Rhode Island. Al Dronge was still in charge.

Sadly he was piloting a small aircraft and commuting to Westerly when his plane crashed in May of 1972. He was a popular and respected man and his employees, and the industry felt his loss.

'79 Guild D-40C

In 1972, under Guild's new president Leon Tell, noteworthy guitarist/designer Richard "Rick" Excellente conceptualized and initiated the first dreadnought guitar with a "cut-away" with the Guild D40-C. By the 1970’s and 80’s, the Folk Era, and the Guitar Boom were history.

'84 X-79, '87 Detonator, '88 Liberator
To keep afloat and survive the competition Guild introduced a series of Superstrat style solid body guitars including models such as the Flyer, Aviator, Liberator and Detonator, the Tele-style T-200 and T-250 and the Pilot Bass, available in fretted, fretless, and 4- and 5-string versions.

These guitars were the first Guild instruments to bear slim pointed headstocks.

Guitars drying at Westerly plant
In 2001 Fender Musical Instruments Corporation was on an acquisition spree and purchased many of their competitors leaving them in name only. FMIC (Fender) purchased Guild this same year. Production had been great in Westerly for over 30 years and Guild had employed many fine craftsmen.

But Fender had plans to move production to their facility in Corona, California.

The last job the good folks in Westerly did for Guild was to put together archtop and acoustic guitar “kits” that were to be shipped to California where they would be finished and assembled. Although Corona does have a wonderful plant, production of Guild guitars was not to be continued there. Later on there were rumors that FMIC may move production back to Westerly, but nothing ever happened.

The Tacoma Guitar Factory
In 2004 FMIC purchased the assets of the Tacoma, Washington based Tacoma Guitar Company with the thought of having workers there build Guild Guitars.

Sadly Tacoma Guitars, which were unique and excellent instruments, were never built again. Guild guitars were built in Tacoma for only a few years.

Kaman Music Corp, New Hartford
In 2008 Fender acquired Kaman Music Corporation aka Ovation Guitars and moved production of Guild Guitars to that facility in New Hartford, Connecticut where production of US made Guild guitars resumed the following year.

By then FMIC was also outsourcing production. To be fair, as far back as when Guild was in Westerly, Rhode Island, the company had outsourced some of its products, but not under the Guild brand name.

1979 Madeira Guitar Ad

In the early 1970’s Guild was importing Madeira acoustic and electric guitars from Japan. Later on these were made in Korea. The pickguard shapes and headstock shapes on these instruments are different than USA made Guild guitars.

Burnside Electric
Another line imported in the 1990’s was called Burnside Electric Guitars. These were Superstrat style guitars manufactured outside of the United States. The headstocks bore the logo “Burnside by Guild”. This line up lasted only a few years.

DeArmond Rhythm Chief pickup
As I have already indicated the Fender Musical Instrument Company was busy acquiring brands made by other companies. One of these was DeArmond, which was well known as the guitar pickup manufacturer, Rowe-DeArmond of Toledo, Ohio.

DeArmond M-77T

In the late 1990’s Fender made some reissues of Guild electric guitars that were manufactured in Korea and in Indonesia and marketed under the brandname DeArmond. These guitars and basses were variations on the Gulld Starfire, the X-155, the T400, the M-75 Bluesbird, and the pilot series bass. The headstock bore the DeArmond logo and some included a modified version of Guild’s Chesterfield inlay. Some even had the word Guild etched into the truss rod cover.

DeArmond Starfire IV

The best models came from Korea, while the less fancy guitars and bass examples were made in Indonesia. The DeArmond brand was first offered in Europe and then in the United States and was discontinued in the early 2000’s.

New Hartford F-412
The Guild guitars produced in Connecticut at the New Hartford facility were of very high quality. These were mostly acoustic guitars.The New Hartford facility had also created a new line of specialty, limited edition guitars, referred to as the GSR Series. The GSR designation stands for "Guild Special Run." This series was first revealed to Guild dealers at Guild's dealer-only factory tour in mid-2009 called the "Guild Summit Retreat".

Guild F-30 GSR

These models featured unique takes on classic Guild Traditional Series models.

2012 Starfire VI
In fact only one electric model was built at this facility and that was the Guild Starfire VI. Only 20 examples of this guitar were produced.

In the summer of 2014 Fender sold off the Guild brand to Cordoba guitars. Most Ovation production had already been moved to Asia and the Kaman Corporation was entirely out of the music manufacturing business.

Oxnard, CA Guild plant
Though it has taken them nearly two years to get fully back into business, Cordoba has built a new facility in Oxnard, California and placed master luthier Ren Ferguson is in charge.

Ren Ferguson
Ren Ferguson has worked for Gibson Guitars since they acquired the Flatiron Mandolin company in 1986 and is a well known figure in the music industry.

Guild GAD series

In 2015 the GAD (Guild Acoustic Design Series) was replaced by the Westerly Collection, which included the models such as the T-50 Slim, the Starfire IV, and the Chris Hillman Bass.

Later that year the first M-20 and D-20 guitars were built in the Oxnard factory and in the spring of 2016 shipped to the Chicago Music Exchange.

A Few New Guild Electric Guitar Models
Based on the website and checking online store, Guild electric guitars and basses are back in full production and selling in the $1,000 USD range.

Click on the links under the pictures for sources. Click on the links in the text for further reading.

©UniqueGuitar Publishing (text only)


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Anonymous said...

Thanks for this neat wrap-up of Guild's history. I was an Ovation owner back in 1981-82, and I remember so clearly strumming a weather-beaten Guild dreadnought (probably D-25) and thinking, This is what an acoustic guitar should sound like. Over the years in my mind, the brand lost its luster - and I now know why: Fender.

More a holding company than a maker, Fender's rapacious appetite for wringing profits from respectable makers evidently left players with poorer-quality instruments and plummeting resale value. Outside the business, one just knew the brand was tanking. Inside the business, I guess, it felt so cynical. I'd love to have that old dreadnought today and would put it up against anything from a legacy maker like Martin.

I would like to know how the new (Oxnard) Guilds feel and sound. Time for a field trip!

Radhika Sharma said...

I really like reading your post about guitar. They are very interesting and I have learnt new things about many different kind of guitars. Hope to see more articles on your blog. The twelve-string guitar is a simple variation of the normal six string design. Twelve-string guitars have six regular strings and a second set of thinner strings. Each string of the second set corresponds to the note of its regular string counterpart.

marcus ohara said...

Anonymous, I would like to play one on the Oxnard Guilds too. I take my hat off to Bill Schultz. He and his group of investors rescued Fender, but their appetite for acquisition sure made a mess of a lot of great brands. And that is sad. I'm glad that Cordoba is reviving Guild. I think Ovation is building a few guitars in Connecticut again too.

Thanks for reading,


marcus ohara said...

Radhika. I love the 12 string guitar. Like you said, it is a variant on the six string instrument and is based on European and South American instruments that have double-courses or 2 of each string tuned to the same pitch. The 12 string guitar has the two upper courses tuned to the same pitch and the lower four course consist of two string each tuned in octaves. It makes for a very beautiful sound.

Thanks for reading,


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Art Mattiello said...

Hi, thanks for this blog !
My first guitar was a Guild S90. I don't see it listed here, did they exist? I bought it from Bath Beach Music in Brooklyn. Then a couple of years later bought a S100. Great guitars!

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Wendy said...

Thanks for your historical Guild Blog.. Longtime Guild Owner and Player.. Don't know why they have always called them the "Poor Man's Martin".. I think my Guild's sound better and play better than most Martin's I have played in the store today.

Nia Nelson said...

Nice! Thanks for sharing this blog!
I bought my first and best guitar from All Strings Nylon that too from magnificent Cordoba Series !

I am in love with it, you can also buy it from , they have reasonable prices and much options with variety!