1982 Guild SB-203

Although Guild introduced its first solidbody instruments in 1964, it continued to focus on hollow and semi-hollow guitars and basses into the early 1970s. By that point, however, the solidbody models were increasing in prominence, and in 1977 the company decided to radically revamp its solidbody line to keep pace with changing fashions. The M-85 and JS-II basses were discontinued in 1976 and 1977, respectively, and replaced (along with their guitar counterparts) with a series of uniquely-shaped models whose shape has been likened to a bell. The B-301 and B-302 basses had long 34” necks and newly-designed pickups broadly similar to those found on a Fender Jazz Bass.

The bell-shaped series were solidly-built instruments, but their odd appearance didn’t attract a large number of players. The basses were mostly discontinued in 1981, though the B-401 and B-402 hung on for another year or two. Guild’s next line of basses were introduced in 1982. These SB models had a relatively conventional body shape, clearly influenced by Fender but not quite identical. They were available with one, two or three pickups, and also as an active dual-pickup model called the SB-502. The SB series was complemented by the X-701 and X-702, pointy instruments that heralded the arrival of the age of Lycra, big hair, and Spinal Tap. While the SB series were comparatively tame in appearance, they were available in metallic and sparkle finishes reflect stage lights into audiences’ eyes.

The SB-201 and SB-202 are fairly abundant, but this SB-203 is a relatively rare bird. It features three J-style pickups, though some were built with a P-style split pickup in the middle position. The control layout is notably different from its brethren: there are master tone and volume knobs, plus three-way switches for each of the pickups (on, off, reverse phase). Guild touted the tonal flexibility of this setup in its catalog, noting that there were 13 different pickup combinations available to the player.

While the SB-203 is generally a high-quality instrument, there is one design flaw that affects it and contemporary Guild basses: the fretboard has a fairly small radius, while Guild’s BT-4 bridge is nearly flat. The contrasting radii have been remedied on this bass by swapping some roller saddles and fabricating one new one to induce a smaller radius in the bridge. The knobs are period-correct replacements, but otherwise the bass is all original. There is indeed a wide range of sounds available, though it’s questionable how often players would ever use the out-of-phase options.

The early SB series were gone by the mid 1980s to make way for the more successful SB-600 series Pilot basses. The SB-203 had the shortest run of all, being made only in 1982-3.