1964 Guild S-100 Polara

In many ways, Guild positioned itself as the successor to Epiphone. Although the old House of Stathopoulo wasn’t sold to Gibson until several years after Guild started building guitars, it was already faltering in the early 1950s; when it moved out of New York City to avoid labor problems, Guild picked up some of its workforce. Epiphone mainly catered to jazz musicians; they built one or two solidbody guitars in the 1950s but these never got past the prototype stage. Likewise, Guild was content to face the early 1960s building archtops and the occasional flat-top acoustic.

However, Guild decided to modernize its product line in 1963. The old Franz pickups (and a few DeArmonds) were replaced by Guild’s own units. More expensive models were fitted with anti-hum pickups, while cheaper guitars made do with the company’s own single-coils, apparently designed after the Franzes and given the same “Frequency-Tested” designation. More revolutionary than pickups, however, was Guild’s decision to build solidbody electric guitars. The company threw considerable effort into the move, simultaneously introducing three models at different price points. The most expensive was the S-200 Thunderbird, which featured two anti-hum pickups on a serpentine body, accompanied by a complex dual-circuit control system clearly inspired by the Fender Jaguar and Jazzmaster. The Thunderbird was fitted with a Hagstrom bridge and vibrato tailpiece, but most remarkable was a built-in stand (informally referred to as a kickstand) that enabled the guitar to remain upright without a separate stand. In practice, the stand was not very stable and lead to many broken headstocks over the years. Below the S-200 was the S-100 Polara , which had slightly more symmetrical body, two single-coil pickups and a conventional 4-knob control layout. It retained the Hagstrom hardware and built-in stand, as well as the Thunderbird’s radical headstock shape. Both models would switch to Guild’s smaller, Strat-style pickups later in the 1960s. At the bottom of the solidbody line was the S-50 Jet-Star, which was a single-pickup version of the S-100 without the vibrato. A Jet-Star Bass was also added late 1964.

The S-200 Thunderbird remains one of Guild’s most sought-after models primarily for its visual appeal, while the 1970s redesign of the S-100 is popular as an alternative to the Gibson SG. The original S-100 is relatively forgotten in comparison, but it is an excellent guitar in its own right. The mahogany body – or alder on guitars with a sunburst finish – combined with pickups reminiscent of P90s draws comparisons to the SG Special, and the S-100 holds its own in terms of sound and build quality. The neck is slim but not as tiny as Guild’s first Westerly necks, and the Hagstrom vibrato is both smooth and easy to adjust. If the Guild was never as popular as its Gibson counterparts, this may be partly due to price: in 1964, an S-100 listed for $279.50 and an SG Special for $240.

This guitar has been refretted and sports a few period-correct parts, including the truss rod cover, vibrato arm and two bridge saddles, but the only damage is a couple of cracks in the pickguard. The tuners are oddly aligned when viewed from the back, but there is no evidence of other tuners being installed.

 

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