1972 Guild M-75G Bluesbird

The Guild Guitar Company produced its first guitars in 1953 in Manhattan. Shortly thereafter, labor troubles at Epiphone’s nearby factory caused that company to transfer production to Philadelphia; Guild picked up many of the newly unemployed luthiers, and throughout the 1950s Guild’s archtop guitars carried a strong Epiphone influence even as the latter company crumbled. In the 1960s Guild set itself up in direct competition with Gibson, and many models are remembered chiefly as cheaper substitutes for similar Gibsons.

“Cheaper”, in this case, refers strictly to prices and not quality. Guild guitars were top-quality instruments from the beginning, and musicians who have discovered them often prefer them to their Kalamazoo-made counterparts. Guild’s factory has moved several times (first to Hoboken, NJ; then to Westerly, RI) but its overall quality remained very high through the 1970s and 1980s. Most major American brands – Fender, Gibson, Gretsch – went through some period of decline in those decades, but not Guild.

While some of its models are clearly modeled after Gibson and Epiphone instruments, others were unique to Guild. One of the best examples is the M-75 Aristocrat, introduced in 1954. While it appears to be a solidbody guitar influenced by the new Gibson Les Paul model, it’s actually a fully-hollow archtop. The “M” in the model stood for “midget”, indicating that it was a shrunken version of Guild’s larger archtop guitars. The two Franz pickups, resembling Gibson P-90s but with a bit more bite and output, were also the same units used on the larger guitars.

The Aristocrat was discontinued in 1963 but revived in 1967 with some changes. Guild’s “anti-hum” pickups changed the sound of the guitar, and all-maple bodies shortly replaced the spruce and mahogany found in the first generation. The name was changed as well; Mark Dronge, son of Guild found Al Dronge, had noticed that blues players favored the Aristocrat, so the revived M-75 was nicknamed the Bluesbird. Guild’s larger HB-1 humbuckers replaced the mini anti-hum units in 1970, and about that time Guild added a partial center block to reduce feedback. The guitars with the center block can be identified by the Schaller roller bridge anchored into the block; earlier guitars without the block have a floating wooden bridge. Guild built a solidbody version of the M-75 starting in 1970; this is the version that most people are familiar with, but it’s construction is far removed from the earlier models.

My guitar is from the two-year period when there were no less than four Bluesbirds available: two solids and two semi-hollows with the partial center block. Mine is technically an M-75G (G for gold hardware, as opposed to C for chrome, and no S for solid). I’m not normally a fan of gold hardware, but it contrasts beautifully with the black finish on this guitar. It’s all original and in excellent condition; there are just a few nicks and light scratches in the finish. Most vintage Guilds have headstock veneers that have shrunken over time, but the change is minimal on this guitar. The heel cap has begun to rot, but the rest of the binding shows no signs of breakdown.

The HB-1 pickups are both woodier and chimier than a contemporary Gibson humbucker, giving the guitar a distinct sound. Guilds have always charted their own sonic course, further evidence that they’re not just cheap copies of other brands. My favorite sound is with both pickups combined; this is a great rhythm sound that strongly recalls Tom Fogerty’s playing with CCR (he played a Guild Starfire VI). The neck profile, characteristic of ‘60s Guilds, is narrow and thin but not excessively so, making this an excellent guitar for lead lines as well. Best of all, it’s considerably lighter than the average Les Paul, so long shows don’t take a toll on the player’s back.