1961 Guild X-350

Guild is sometimes derided for copying Gibson designs. Sometimes that inspiration is obvious; the CE-100 and second-generation S-100, for example, were clearly influenced by the ES-175 and SG, respectively. However, in its early days, Guild was actually influenced by contemporary Epiphone designs. This was not an accident: when Epiphone moved its factory from New York to Philadelphia in 1953, the fledgling Guild company hired many of Epiphone’s former factory workers.

The most obvious connection between Guild and Epiphone took the form of the X-350 Stratford. This triple-pickup archtop was clearly inspired by Epiphone’s Emperor Zephyr Regent (which, in turn, was probably inspired by Gibson’s ES-5), complete with a push-button tone selector system. However, Guild streamlined the design somewhat: the 17” body was easier for players to get their arms around than the Emperor’s whopping 18” lower bout. The price tag was a lot more attractive as well; while the Emperor was the top of Epiphone’s electric line at $510 (sunburst) in 1955, the X-350 was listed at $375 (also sunburst).

Aside from the small injection of typewriter DNA in that control panel, the sunburst X-350 and blonde X-375 (renamed the X-350B by 1958) were similar to contemporary Guild models. The body was made of laminated spruce and maple, though it became all maple in 1958. By that year, the scale had also been shortened from 25.5” to 24.75”. The pickups were built by the Franz company, and the same units can sometimes be found on guitars by Vega and United Guitars. They look much like Gibson P-90s both on the inside and the outside, though the sound is noticeably brighter than contemporary Gibson units. Guild referred to them as “frequency-tested” pickups in their catalogs and misleadingly implied that they were designed or built in-house.

The push-button system was intended to simplify the use of three pickups and allow players to access a variety of tones as quickly as possible. In practice, it does just that, but only after you’ve memorized the settings; the muscle memory required to use it effectively can be daunting to the uninitiated. The buttons are T (“high” treble), B (bass), M (middle), TM (treble-middle), TB (treble-bass) and MB (middle-bass), thus covering the range of possible pickup selections. A few resistors and capacitors are also wired to some of the switches to enhance the range of tones; these are frequently clipped by players who prefer the natural sound and hotter output of the pickups by themselves. The two conventional knobs are a master volume and tone.

The X-350 was a flashy and versatile instrument, and it was among Guild's best-selling high-end guitars of the 1950s. In 1965 though, despite two changes to the pickups (first to DeArmonds, then Guild’s own anti-hum pickups), it was discontinued. Somewhat surprisingly, its most visible proponent has been Barry Gibb, who played both a sunburst and a blonde version on stage in the 1960s and 1970s. This particular guitar is mostly original, including the fabulous Kolb tuners imported from Germany. Two of the push-button caps are replacements, as is the nut and the bridge saddle. As a 1961 example, this is one of the first Guilds to feature the updated body shape with a wider waist; it’s also one of the first X-350s to sport an ebony fingerboard instead of rosewood.