1969 Guild ST-402

Sometimes, it’s the least commercially successful guitars that are the most interesting. Instruments fail to gain a foothold in the marketplace for a wide variety of reasons; some have inherent design flaws, some lack the necessary distribution or promotion, and some are just too weird to gain a following. Some are just built without a clear market in mind, so that a perfectly good product may be redundant or unnecessary. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened to this guitar.

The Guild Studio series remains an enigma, a range of guitars by a major American manufacturer that is unknown to many vintage guitar fans. While their prices are respectable – reflecting Guild’s consistently high quality during the 1960s and 1970s – they don’t have nearly the same demand or recognition as the Starfire series, the more expensive archtops or Guild’s solidbodies. Initially, there were three models in the Studio series, all with the same thinline fully-hollow body. The body had a double Florentine cutaway, something rarely seen on a high-end American guitar. The ST-301 had a single pickup, the ST-302 had two and the ST-303 had two pickups plus a Bigsby tailpiece. Introduced in 1968, they came by default with Guild’s single coil pickups, but humbuckers were available for an additional $10.

A glance at the Guild catalog and price list shows that these guitars occupied a somewhat ambiguous place in the company’s product lineup. They were cheaper than the Starfire II and III and more expensive than the T-100D, but the incremental difference in price was small. The only significant feature separating the Studio series from these other guitars was the double cutaway, which made little difference from a functional point of view. The “Studio” name itself suggested a more affordable alternative to Guild’s full-depth archtops, but the double Florentine cutaways were themselves expensive to construct for the sake of pure cosmetics. As you might expect, the new guitars were not an instant success.

Strange, then, that Guild would augment the line with a fourth model – and a “deluxe” one by comparison. In 1969, the company debuted the ST-402 (at least one early example was labeled an ST-305). Featuring a deeper version of the same double-cut body, standard humbuckers and block fret markers, the 402 was at the top of the Studio line. The Guild price list documented it twice, once with the rest of the Studio line and once grouped with the other high-priced archtops. It seems as if Guild were confused whether this was the top of the semi-affordable line or the bottom of the high-end line. Like the rest of the Studio series, the 402 was largely redundant with another model. While the ST-402 had a slightly shallower body and a second cutaway, its materials, decoration, electronics and overall sound were indistinguishable from the CE-100D. The latter was Guild’s most popular hollowbody model at the time, so it’s not surprising that the company would introduce a similar model as an alternative, but the two aren’t really lumped together in the 1970 catalog.

None of the Studio series were built in great numbers, and the entire line was discontinued in 1970. The ST-402 is the rarest of all, partly because it was more expensive and partly because it was built for a shorter period. Mine is mostly original – the tailpiece is correct for the period, but the guitar sported a Bigsby when I got it. The pickguard is a vintage replacement with the correct logo. Everything else left the factory as one, and the guitar has remained remarkably clean in the 40+ years since. The serial number does not fit with Guild’s official system, but the mini-humbuckers indicate that the guitar was almost certainly built in 1969.