1970 Guild M-65

Today’s guitarists are lucky to have so many choices of what to play. Most major manufacturers now offer multiple variations on each “classic” model at every price point, plus custom shops that tailor high-end guitars to players’ most minute specifications. In addition, it seems that there are small-shop builders on every block who specialize in completely custom creations. While small builders have been around longer than big factories, they were relatively obscure during the 1960s and 1970s. However, big-name brands were often willing to customize instruments to suit their customers’ needs.

Guild, in particular, produced a large quantity of one-off creations. Pickups were added, subtracted and moved. Finishes were changed. Knobs were added. Tuners, tailpieces and other hardware were swapped. On occasion, entirely new instruments with no prior precedent were created (such as a flashy oval-hole archtop for Merle Travis). Sometimes, existing guitars were upgraded or customized to save production time and materials. On occasion, instruments were shipped back to the factory for repairs or upgrades; I believe that’s what happened to this guitar.

The M-65 debuted in 1959 bearing the nickname “Freshman”, a reference to its diminutive size among Guild’s archtop line and its affordable price. To emphasize the student-level nature of the model, a ¾-scale variant was offered for those who preferred a shorter (22 ¾”) neck. However, the guitar’s profile was very similar to the M-75 “Aristocrat”, a high-end model which is today one of the most sought-after Guilds. There were a few differences: the M-65 had a maple top while the M-75 had spruce, and the M-65 had f-holes and only a single pickup. When the M-75 gained humbucking pickups on its reintroduction in 1967, the M-65 retained a single-coil unit.

The M-65 had mahogany back and sides for most of its history, but starting in 1968 many were built with all-maple bodies. Combined with Guild’s own single-coil pickups, which appear to have been influenced by Fender’s Stratocaster pickups, this created a surprisingly bright guitar. Despite having a single pickup in the neck position, this was no muddy-sounding hollowbody. And, while a few economies were made over the years – such as Japanese tuners and the loss of neck binding – the M-65 remained a high-quality instrument.

This guitar started life as a run-of-the-mill M-65, but it now sports a couple of features that set it apart from the rest of the line. The most prominent is the second pickup. While a few two-pickup M-65s were reported shipped from the Guild factories, they typically have some indication of a special order on the label. This guitar carries no such indication, which leads me to believe that the second pickup was added later. This is supported by the tuners, which are not original to the guitar but are identical to the machines used on Guilds later in the ‘70s. I believe that the guitar was sent back to Guild several years after it was built in order to get these upgrades. It’s highly unlikely that anyone but Guild would have a spare pickup and a set of these tuners, and would be able to do a perfect rout for the added pickup (sticking a mirror inside the body confirms that it’s a very precise cut).

The result is a guitar that is fairly unusual, though not totally unique. Another modified M-65 might have been the guitar used by Keith Richards to cut the immortal riff on “Satisfaction”. My guitar sounds bright and clear, with more chime and jangle than I normally expect from a Guild. The sustain isn’t exceptional, but the guitar makes a great rhythm instrument. Interestingly, the bridge pickup is reverse-wound, allowing the middle position to be hum-cancelling; as far as I know, this is unique among Guilds with single-coil pickups. The neck is broader than most Guilds of the time. And, of course, there’s that spectacular flame on the maple back; Guild didn’t normally use their best woods on cheaper models, so this one is probably just an attractive fluke.