Forgotten Guilds VII by Jay Pilzer & Alan McDonald
In the wonderful world of Guildomania it just don't get much better than our next entry. In fact, this may not qualify as a forgotten Guild in the classic sense because it has been rediscovered. In the last year we have received many calls for these babies from a range of folks that spans the gamut from hard rockers to bi-lingual Canadian dentists.
This is the mighty Guild Thunderbird S-200. Available in either sunburst or cherry finishes, this is a striking guitar as are its less expensive cousins the S-100 (Polara) and the S-50 (Jet Star). These are the first Guild solid bodies and the T-bird ruled the roost.
With its asymmetrical body and headstock, and its bold Bird inlay, the Thunderbird was Guild's declaration that the company wanted to be a player in the solid-body market, and would not merely copy the signature guitars of Gibson and Fender.
The Thunderbird, introduced in 1963, sported more than just a nifty design. Its most unusual feature was its built-in stand which is also found on the S-100. This fold out unit proved to be a boon for both gigging musicians and for luthiers. While this baby looks cool as all get out, it does lack something in the stability department. One can almost hear the cries of "timber" that punctuated band breaks.
Mark Dronge, son of Guild's founder and sales exec with the company in the 1960's, was responsible for the basic design of the Thunderbird, but not, he exclaims, for the built in stand. He left town in the middle of the design process for a two week sales trip. Upon his return, he found that his father and Guild's sales director had bedecked the Thunderbird with its gumby headstock, derived from Merle Travis model Guild, and the aforementioned "crash-o-matic" stand.
But most important for tone are the three switches up there on the treble side of the upper bout. These, combined with the single slider switch just south of the bridge pickup and the normal tone and volume controls, give the player a wide variety of sonic options. The single slider switch is an on/off for the panel of three. When these are on, they act as pickup selectors and a phase switch.
The guitar was normally equipped with two Guild humbuckers, but some were made with single coil pickups. The most notable of these latter instruments is the one pictured with Muddy Waters.
These are really nice instruments that beg to be played in any number of styles. They have been praised for their tone in all sorts of music from rock to slide blues. Plug this baby into a Guild Thunderbird amp (20th Century Guitar, July 1995) and you're off and cooking.
Since we have already dealt with the amp mate of our Thunderbird guitar, we turn to our new "favorite" amp de jour, the 1963 Guild 98RT. This month's amp pick came to us via John Consugar of Minersville, PA.
As usual, let's start with appearance. The cabinet looks very Fenderish (think tweed Pro) and is covered in gray vinyl with the same off-white grill cloth as our Reverb Converter. The top/rear mounted control panel, backpanels, and single 15" CTS speaker sure makes this look like Fullerton kinfolk.
The control panel sports three inputs (guitar, mike, and the ever-popular accordion), a single volume and tone, a reverb knob, and controls for tremelo speed and intensity. Next in line are the single on/off/standby switch and a green pilot light.
The tube compliment includes 3 6SL7's, a 6SN7, a pair of 6V6's and a single 5Y3 rectifier. Sounds like an old Fender, doesn't it?
The amp had been to local techs who had replaced the output transformer and most of the tone and coupling caps in an unsuccessful effort to cure these problems. John's cry for help finally reached Stan Jay of Mandolin Brothers, who sent him to us.
We got the amp, confirmed that it was a sick puppy, and sent it to Dave Funk of Nashville's Thunderfunk Labs with instructions to "cure the amp." In order to discern the problems, Dave took the time to draw a schematic and wiring diagram. This was a slow and tedious job, but necessary to figure out where the circuit had gone awry.
Part of the amp's problems were traced to corroded wiring and misplaced parts. Once these were corrected, the output power and the heretofore disabled tremelo both returned.
We then got the amp back for a tad more therapy. We added more filtering at the rectifier to remove some residual hum, replaced the plate load resistors, and retubed.
This last brings up a touchy subject for us. We needed a rugged 6V6 to handle the 367 plate volts as well as the heat from a cathode-biased class A circuit. But as much as we like to stay with original types of tubes, we were unable to find any new 6V6's the could well handle the load.
We did break tradition after talking with the owner and taking several facts into consideration. First, the Sovtek 5881's are rugged, powerful, and sweet. They are also plentiful and cheap when compared with NOS 6V6's. Second, with a simple bias adjustment they are a direct drop in since the pin-outs are identical and the filament requirements are close. Third, John plays Jazz on an old L-7 and could use the added headroom.
We did have to remove the speaker's dust cover to allow for the additional length of the new tubes, but the cathode resistor had drifted enough to allow for proper bias.
Now the 98RT was whole again. We put her through her paces with Teles, a variety of Guilds, and even a Robin Octave with the same great results. The amp clucked, spank, sang, and swooned with full voice and a lot less heat.
We sent the amp home to John for review and he loves his "new" 1963 Guild 98RT. His comments agreed with ours and place this amp a tone tie with our incomparable Thunderbird amp. We give a big tip of the Hoboken bowler to John for his trust and patience.
Several others have called with questions about their 98RT's, so there must be a few more out there. (Hint: call if you have one for sale.) We will own one! How about you? We now have a schematic for the amp and there are several alternatives tubes for replacing the 6V6's in this or any other similarly equipped amp. Drop us a line for information.
As we finish up this latest installment of the "Forgotten Guilds," the company enters a new and exciting phase. Guild has been bought by Fender. We believe that this is great news for Guild and all of us who so love these instruments. While we do not expect Fender to bring back Guild amps (we've heard that they are pretty good at that under their own name), we do look forward to the promotion of Guild guitars.
Another important note: The Guild Guitar Book by Hans Moust has just been published. It is both beautiful and helpful. It is available from our friends at JK Lutherie (513) 353-3320.
Jay Pilzer lives in Fayetteville, Tennessee, where he teaches History at Motlow State Community College. He and his wife operate New Hope Guitar Traders which specializes in Guild guitars and parts.
Alan McDonald, also from Fayetteville, is a musician, songwriter, and amp geek. He has dedicated his life to real big farm animals, the world's cleanest tractors and, of course, the search for the ultimate tone.