Vintage Guild Acoustics: The Best Deal on the Used Market?

A vintage Guild is an American guitar with an American guitar story. The Guild Company has lived the gamut of human experience. It was created, went through a strong but turbulent adolescence, experienced marriage, blended families, loss and rebirth.

In the 1950s, Gibson acquired its chief competitor Epiphone, and in many ways Guild emerged as a high-quality alternative to those two companies. Co-founded by a former Epiphone executive, George Mann, and a music store owner, Alfred Dronge, Guild set up shop in 1952 in New York City, amidst both session jazz guitarists and the craftsmen from the Gretsch and Epiphone factories. Guild hired from the group of craftsmen and received expert input from the session guitarists on building better instruments. The partnership disintegrated shortly thereafter, leaving Al Dronge to bring the company into its powerful adolescence.

Dronge hired the right people from around the world to build the first guitars. By late 1956, the company had outgrown its 1500-square-foot loft in NYC and moved across the Hudson River to a factory in Hoboken, New Jersey. It is here that Guild began to attract the biggest artists of the day, and the company attained a high level of market credibility.

Guild moved the factory to Westerly, Rhode Island over a three year period between 1966 and 1969 after Dronge sold the company to Avnet, an electronics corporation. Since then, the company has changed hands several times. With the exception of a custom shop built in Nashville in 1995, the instruments were still built in the Westerly factory until 2001.

There are several things you should know if you are looking to buy a vintage Guild. Aside from the general problems you're likely to find on any vintage acoustic (like finish overspray or re-spray, cracks and high action), Guilds tend to crack in the tops from shrinking pick guards, so make sure to inspect the top for any evidence of a crack repair and overspray. The body binding and fingerboard binding on high-end models can shrink and crack. Also, the plastic headstock veneer tends to warp or shrink on guitars from the '60s. This sort of warping is so prevalent that if you have a guitar from that era with a perfect headstock veneer, you should question whether it is original or not. The peg head veneer disappeared on lower model numbers during the 1970s and was replaced with a silkscreen logo. The veneer issue appears to have been mostly fixed by the time production moved to Westerly.

Guild built several versions of acoustic flattops. Dreadnoughts were denoted by “D” or “G” and showed up in several series: D-25, D-35, G-37, D-40, G-41, D-50, D-55, etc. Additional variations were issued throughout the 1980s and '90s.

Orchestra bodies were denoted with “F” and had a circular lower bout with a thin waist. These showed up in model numbers F-20, F-30, F-40, F-50, etc. The M-20 was a mahogany topped F-20. Incidentally, the M-20 was used on the album cover of Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter, fueling speculation that it was an M-20 which gave him his deep mellow sound.

Guild built some amazing 12-strings, during a time when other manufacturers hadn’t yet figured out how to build a 12-string that could be played like a 6-string. Those from the ‘60s are particularly coveted by 12-string players. Models included the F-112, F-212, F-412, F-512, and the mythical F-612. Also, the G-212 and G-312.

Unfortunately, the “F” and “D” series were developed independently of one another, so an F-50 is not always going to have the same trim and features as a D-50. With that being said, generally the 20, 25, 35 and 40 series were mahogany back and sides with a spruce top. The 50 and 55 were rosewood back and sides. Guild used Brazilian Rosewood in the early years for these guitars and had a similar cut-off to the other builders in approximately 1970. Before you get too excited about uncovering a 1969 D-50 for a good price, have an expert evaluate whether it’s Brazilian Rosewood or East Indian Rosewood, as the cut-off is not exact.

There are dozens of less common models and variations that Guild created from its foundation until the Westerly plant was closed in 2001. So many, in fact, that we’ve chosen to stick to the basics and mention only the models you’re most likely to encounter.

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What You Should Expect To Pay

Guilds from all eras are considered high-quality instruments. If you are seeking out the quintessential Guild sound, you can find it in almost any vintage Guild. The company did not have one era that was better than the others, and it did not have an era known for mistakes like the other big players in acoustics. Buy what you like, and you will have made a good choice.

The Guilds built in the New York factory are very difficult to find as they were made in small numbers and will thus be more expensive. Asking prices can reach $7,000 for clean and high-end examples of acoustics from that era.

The Guilds built in the Hoboken factory will be the next most desirable instruments. Smaller bodied guitars, like the F-20 Troubadour can be purchased for as little as $800 in rougher condition, with clean sunburst examples being in the $1,200+ range. Dreadnoughts from this time rarely dip below $1,000 and can easily break the $3,000 mark for Brazilian Rosewood models.

The Guilds built in the Westerly factory are slightly less desirable than the Hoboken models, however, the values and asking prices don’t reflect too much of a difference. The primary change is that the Westerly era Guilds had more variation in the product line. As new models were introduced in the 1970s, the instruments maintained a high degree of quality in their design and build. A mid-'70s Guild may dip into the $600 range but will be unlikely to exceed $1,500 for most models.

Dating An Old Guild By The Label

Guild kept good records and used a sequential serial number system. Therefore, dating a guitar is quite easy, provided you have a serial number chart. The system became more complicated as the serial numbers were assigned a specific sequence for each model in the late 1960s. If you run into a Guild at a garage sale or pawn shop and want to find the date of manufacture within a couple of years, you can look at the label for an idea of the guitar’s age.

Guild had several iterations and small variations in their label, which is inside the sound-hole and will have both the model number and serial number written in pen or pencil. The serial number is often stamped on the back of the headstock, and it should obviously match the number written on the label.

1st Label – 1953 to 1959

This is a vertical, rectangular label with a white guitar-shaped silhouette in a black background. All model, serial number and warranty information is written inside the white guitar silhouette. The factory will be New York in labels from 1953-1956 and Hoboken, NJ in labels from 1956-1959.

2nd Label – 1959 to 1960

This is the shortest run of labels and arguably the most interesting. Often referred to as the “Ghost Label” due to the white, ghost-like character with a bow-tie, playing guitar over a fret-board, with the model and serial number to the right.

3rd Label 1961 to 1972

The Oval G-Shield label had small variations which can lead to some confusion. Labels with Hoboken but no USA are from 1961-1964, and labels with Hoboken and USA are from 1965-1969. 1969 to 1972 will have no Hoboken nor Westerly factory listed. Consider these “transition” labels as the move to the Westerly factory was completed by 1969.

4th Label 1972 to 2001

Oval shaped, except with “Guild” written in a script logo, rather than the G-Shield of the previous version. The label had a “Guarantee” until 1974, after which it had no guarantee. It simply noted production in Westerly, RI. Also, most flattops had a date stamp on the back brace from 1973 to the mid-1990s.

Guild is one of the best values in vintage guitars today. Plenty of them are available, the asking prices are not sky-high, and you don’t need to avoid certain eras or years, since the company was producing high-quality acoustic guitars at every point in its history. Find a Guild that you like, and if its price is equal to that cash burning a hole in your pocket, pick that thing up before I do.

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