By Ryan Gabrinetti, Burbank Shop Manager
As consumers everywhere bemoan the rise in retail prices across each necessity and niche interest, a question we have been getting more and more frequently is: what is going to be the next vintage brand to blow up? With golden era Fender and Gibsons increasingly becoming unobtanium, players and budget collectors alike have had their noses to the ground for something fresh but full of vintage vibe, and lately in our Burbank shop, old Guild guitars have been quietly making a case for themselves.
Founded in 1952 by guitarist and shop owner Alfred Dronge along with George Mann, a recently departed executive at Epiphone, the Guild Guitar Company sprung out of New York City as a formidable brand up against much larger competitors. After a worker’s strike shook up the Epiphone plant, they moved production to Philadelphia and Guild wound up with many of their leftover workers. Because Mr. Dronge came out of the New York jazz tradition, Epiphone’s initial endorsees included early shredders like Johnny Smith and Dave Goldberg. Originally focusing on electric and acoustic archtop guitars, the company broadened out to flat top acoustics just in time for the folk boom of the late 50s, putting themselves in direct competition with big-wig C.F. Martin. Their quality built acoustic guitars sold well and could be seen at college campuses and hootenannys far and wide. Production moved around a fair bit in its formative years, going from Manhattan to Hoboken, New Jersey before finally settling down production in Westerly, Rhode Island.
Do you have a 1950s archtop you’d like to sell? Contact us here!
The fledgling brand continued to expand into a growing market in the 1960s. After the folk boom, the early part of the decade saw the inclusion of twang King Duane Eddy to the coffers, new electrics like the Freshman, and during the Summer of Love in 1967, Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead could all be seen sporting Starfire models. Blues pioneer Muddy Waters could even be spied ticking an S-200 Thunderbird in the Electric Mud gatefold. The most famous Guild performance, however, may belong to folksinger Richie Havens, who tore into a rousing improvised tune at Woodstock in 1969 that came to be known as “Freedom” on one of his many worn out Guild D-40s. In the 1970s, John Denver probably sold more records and Guild Jumbo 12 strings than any mortal man.
Not content to simply walk with the big dogs, Guild guitars sported some curious innovations of their own like the S-200 kickstand, but more significantly, they offered some of the first production cutaway acoustic guitars in the early 70s, right around the time Nick Drake was sporting an M-20 on the cover of Bryter Later. Flashing forward to the early 90s, Kim Thayil from Soundgarden served up the sludge on Badmotorfinger with his trusty S-100, an instrument from which he has hardly strayed. He said: “It only cost me $250, which was way less than a Les Paul or Strat. I think friends would have directed me to those other guitars, but this one looked good – it was black – and it was in good condition with great action. When I picked it up, I found that it was easy to play and had a fast neck.”
Despite this non-exhaustive list of quality models and killer players, Guild instruments, like Rickenbacker, Gretsch and many others, fall into a vast category of American brands that haven’t risen to the level of prominence awarded to the Fender/Martin/Gibson set. In the end, a lack of widespread artist association has probably left most Guild models in the periphery of vintage buyers. Considering their build quality matches the big tent manufacturers of the golden eras, it’s a wonder how original 50s and 60s examples can be found for prices you’d expect to see from vintage reissues — that is — for the time being.
Do you have a vintage Guild guitar you’d like to sell? Contact us here!