First, let me say that I am by no means the expert on Guild guitars. That honor goes to Hans Moust, author of the excellent book entitled The Guild Guitar Book. Much of what I’ve learned about Guild pickups, I attribute to Hans helping me via email and through forum posts. If you’d like to learn more about Guild guitars, I heartily recommend that you pick up a copy of his book.
To the best of my knowledge, there are two types of Guild HB1 pickups – the mini humbuckers (affectionately called “mini-hums”), and the full-sized humbuckers. This article focuses on the full-sized pickups, which, for reasons that should soon be clear, are often confused. We’ll be looking at three different pickups, all of which look very similar from a distance, and some of which look identical from the front. I’m not entirely sure of the correct names, but for the sake of this article, I will call them Guid HB1s, Seymour Duncan SD1s, and Fender HB1s.
First, let’s take a look at the original full-sized HB1. This is the pickup that Guild guys lust for, because though they don’t quite sound like anything else, they sound amazingly good. I’ve not played an original Gibson PAF pickup since the 70s, but I’ve heard the Guild HB1 compared to that iconic pickup. I’ve seen these pickups on Guild guitars from the ’70s, ’80s, and early ’90s.
These pickups define what a full-sized HB1s look like. There are two raised areas on the pickup, one containing the pole pieces, and the other blank. The later SD1 and Fender HB1 pickups look the same at quick glance, but as we’ll see, there are important differences.
- Guild Hb1s don’t fit in many other guitars (including later Guilds)
- Regular pickup covers don’t fit on the HB1s
- Regular pickup rings don’t work with the HB1s
Note that the Guild and Fender pickups look almost identical from the top. The main trick, observing from the outside, is to look at the mounting screws. On the vintage HB1s, these screws are farther apart than they are on Fender HB1s. In fact, just from looking at the front of the guitar, provided everything is stock, this is the first thing to check. Unfortunately, it’s not a guarantee that the pickups are vintage HB1s, as we’ll see in a bit. Still, wide adjustment screws are a good indication of what you might find when you pull the pickups.
First, most all Guild HB1s will have “Guild Made in USA” engraved into the base of the pickup. Most of the vintage samples will also have a date, which may look like it was scratched in by hand, or with a rotary engraving tool. If you see this, then you’re in luck, because unless someone went to great lengths to make a fake (which I’ve never seen), then you’ve got yourself a vintage HB1. The date will likely confirm that the pickups are from the ’70s or ’80s. Not all vintage HB1s have this date, and I’ve seen some where the date was so faint that at first glance thatI thought it wasn’t there.
Zoom into the picture of the two Guild HB1s and look at the solder terminals. Notice how they look different on the two pickups? One has closer terminals, and one has them spaced farther apart. The pickup with the wider-spaced terminals is the bridge pickup. The terminals are wider to allow the addition of an additional ground wire that runs to a toggle switch. This switch allows the pickup to be thrown out of phase with the other pickup, a feature included on many of the 70s era Guild electric guitars. Regardless of whether or not the guitar had a phase switch, the pickup with the wider terminals should be the bridge pickup, since it will generally measure a little hotter than the other one in the pair.
In a nutshell, if the pickups look like the ones I’ve shown in this section, then they are vintage HB1s. Naturally, there is an exception to the rule. Until recently, I never knew this, but again, Hans set me straight when I bought a guitar and went online telling the world that it didn’t have HB1s.
Seymour Duncan SD1
My experience with SD1s came in the form of a beautiful Mahogany Guild Starfire III from 1997 that sounded amazing. It sounded so good, in fact, that I was honestly floored when I pulled the pickups and found them not to be Guild HB1s. If you’ve got a Guild with these pickups in it, don’t touch a thing. Though the purists may prefer the vintage HB1s, these pickups sound so good that there is no reason to pull them short of a mechanical or electrical failure.
Evan Skopp from Seymour Duncan had this to say about Seymour Duncan’s involvement with Guild pickups during the FMIC era:
When FMIC purchased Guild, we made their humbucker pickups for the first year or so while they were tooling up… What we wound under the covers to capture as much of the original sound as possible, was very close to our SH-1 ’59 Model. Ironically, when FMIC eventually took over production of this pickup, they called it the “SD-1” and everyone thought we were still making them — but we weren’t.
When Seymour Duncan did the SD-1, they were basically ’59s. They used an Alnico 5 magnet and a very similar winding spec to the ’59. The biggest difference was the bobbin material. We used a plastic with a different shrink rate than the polycarbonate we used on Seymour Duncan pickups so we could make the bobbins fit with the Guild-supplied covers and bottom plates.
Source: Seymour Duncan Forum
In the SD1s that I’ve sean, the neck pickup had a sticker with the label “NL”, while the bridge pickup has a similar sticker labeled, “BL”. As you can see in the comments, some people have reported other labels as well, including “NP” and “NB”. Though I have not personally witnessed these labels, I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the claims. Regardless of that the stickers might say, I would not judge the authenticity of the pickup from a label that is easily removed or replaced, but rather on the overall look of the pickup. Still, it’s probably a good sign if you see these labels.
This brings up the question, how do we tell them apart without taking the guitar apart? Well, I think I’ve found a way. This has not been proven, but it seems to bear out the critical application of judicious observation. If I’m right, the answer is in the adjustment screws.
What about later Guilds that have the wide adjustment screws but don’t have the “double hump” covers? Those aren’t SD1s, but rather regular old Seymour Duncan JB and ’59 pickups, and aren’t the same physical dimensions as the SD1s and HB1s.
I’m not a fan of these pickups, as I find then uninspiring and lifeless, especially when compared against any of the other pickups listed on this page. Still, many people like them, and they do their job while looking great. I must add that since I originally wrote this article, I have purchased a rare Guild Nightbird that has these pickups in it, and it sounds fantastic, but with a caveat. This Nightbird has a coil-split switch which removes the second coil from the humbucker, essentially making it a single coil pickup. With the Fender HB1 pickups split in my Nightbird, it sounds amazing. I can even get close to that Strat position 2/4 sound in the middle position. Unfortunately, the pickups get muddy and lifeless again as soon as I put them back into humbucker mode.
From the front, these pickups look just like the original HB1s. The teltale sign that they’re not is the space between the pickup adjustment screws. Notice how they’re a bit closer together than the adjustment screws on the Guild HB1 pictured above? That’s a pretty good clue that these are Fenders. In fact, the guys on the Guild forum (myself included) will see these screws and know right away that the guitar is a Fender-era reissue, assuming everything is original.
I should add that the “mess” of wires appears to just be the inter-coil connections which are usually inside the cover, so this “mess” of wires may offer some additional wiring possibilities such as those found in my Nightbird.
Notice that from the back there is the distinctive wiring patter and three threads on each side for pickup adjustment screws. This is another dead giveaway that these are Fender HB1s since vintage HB1s and even SD1s have only two holes on one side and one on the other. Though they still have “Guild” stamped on the back, that and the double bump covers are about all they have in common with vintage HB1s.
One of the benefits of the Fender HB1 pickups is that they are the same size as regular humbucker pickups, so they will fit in other guitars if for some odd reason you wanted to use them elsewhere. The real benefit is that they can easily be replaced. I like the looks of the covers though, so I’ve gone so far as to have a set rewound by a respected boutique pickup winder. He made me promise not to say who he was because he hates doing rewinding work. Sorry. He did tell me that he had to use the original bobbins because his “standard” bobbins would not fit in the Fender HB1 covers. Given the fact that the outer dimensions are the same, I found that interesting.
I get asked this a lot, so let me say catagorically that vintage HB1s will not fit into Fender HB1 routes. Any other humbucker pickup designed to standard Gibson specs will fit, but the Vintage HB1s will not. You can, however, use regular pickup rings with Fender HB1s due to the three adjustment screws on each leg.
In this guitar, the difference was about a millimeter at the corners. I have to wonder if this was the reason for the guitar being a second, because it seemed perfect in every other way. After manually filing out the corners, the pickups slipped in and worked like a charm. One one of my other Bluesbirds, this slight alteration was not needed and the pickup slid right in, though care should be taken as the HB1 rings do not fit between the pickup and the neck binding on these guitars.
I had to get vintage Guild HB1 rings, since the Fender rings had the adjustment screw holes in the wrong place. The neck pickup ring was very tight against the neck, to the point that I had to file it down, but it can be done. Note that the pickup ring mounting holes may not line up when converting to HB1s. In fact, let’s take a look at the differences in pickup rings.
Pickup Ring Dimensions
I know of three different pickup ring configurations for these pickups. I had examples of all three, so I pulled out my calipers and measured them all.
Guild HB1 Rings
Fender HB1 Rings
Regular Gibson-Style Rings
Heck, I like Guilds so much that even a Fender-laden Guild is a good Guild. I own two myself, because regardless of the pickups, nothing beats a Guild.
Be sure to check out my other Guild Guitar articles at gadsguilds.com!