Guild Full-Sized HB1 and SD1 Pickup Variations
One of the questions I see on the guitar forums quite a bit is, “What kind of pickups does this Guild guitar have?” Since I’ve posted i many of these threads, I seem to get a lot of emails with the same question. I thought that I might write up a quick summary of the differences as I know them.
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. Most 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.
I have been a psuedo-collector of Guild guitars since I bought my first real guitar – a Guild S300A-D in 1979. I’ve had the pleasure and good fortune to be able to own many Guild electrics since then, some of which are included on this page. Enough about me though, let’s take a lot at some Guid pickups, starting with the vintage HB1.
To the best of my knowledge, there are two types of Guild HB1 pickups – the mini humbuckers, and the full-sized humbuckers. Since they mini-hums were never reproduced, there’s really no discussion about what versions are out there. If you’ve got these, keep ‘em, because they’re fabulous pickups. This article focuses on the full-sized pickups, which, for reasons that should soon be clear, are often confused. My goal is to help you figure out what pickups you have in your Guild, so let’s dig in.
First, let’s take a look at the original full-sized HB1. This is the pickup that Guild guys lust for, because though doesn’t quite sound like anything else, but it sounds 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. Notice that there are two raised areas on the pickup, one containing the pole pieces, and the other blank. The picture above is from a vintage 1974 Guild HB1 that I mounted in a modern Guild Bluesbird (more on that later).
Vintage Guid HB1 pickups are longer and wider than Gibson humbuckers, so they don’t easily fit into other guitars. Here are the measurements that I took from the pictured pair of Guid HB1s and also from a set of Fender HB1s. Again, the Fenders fit into traditional Gibson-sized humbucker routes, while the Guilds do not.
Fender HB1: 2.725" x 1.48" (6.92cm x 3.76cm)
Guild HB1: 2.78" x 1.53" (7.06cm x 3.89cm)
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, but it’s a definite indication that they’re not Fender HB1s, and for many of us, that’s good enough.
The only way to tell for sure if the pickups in question are vintage Guild HB1s is to pull them from the guitar. They don’t have to be unsoldered, but you’ll need to pop them out to look at the back. I’ve included a few examples of vintage Guild HB1s for references, and you should be able to see the similarities in them all.
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. If there isn’t a date, it’s not the end of the world. I’ve seen some where the date was so faint that at first glance, I thought it wasn’t there.
Another thing to look for is the presence of solder terminals. Vintage Guild HB1s have solder terminals on them, so that if you need to replace the pickup from your guitar, you don’t have to pull the wiring. Not only that, but there is no risk of cutting the lead wires too short, or pulling them out by accident. Personally, I think this is about the most brilliant thing I’ve ever seen, and I have no idea why all pickups aren’t made this way. The solder terminal will appear on one side of the pickup, and will look like a little circuit board sitting up, perpendicular to the base.
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.
So 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.
This pickup came to me in a 1994 Guild Starfire. These pickups look just like the Seymour Duncan SD1s that we’ll talk about in a bit, but as soon as I showed a pic of them to Hans he told me that they were HB1s. Sure enough, when I measured them with a caliper, they measured as the wider and longer HB1s. This was a serious score for me, because this was a guitar with a modern neck profile, an ebony fretboard, and vintage-sounding HB1s – a rare combination in a Guild Starfire guitar.
I have never seen another pair of pickups like these, but obviously they’re out there. The only way I would know to verify them would be by measuring the pickup covers. If they match the measurements I’ve outlined above, then they’re likely HB1s.
Seymour Duncan SD1
My experience with SD1s came in the form of a beautiful Guild Starfire III from 1997. This guitar was a mahogany hollowbody 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.
From the front, these pickups look like all the rest, though they have the wider adjustment screws like the vintage HB1s. From the back, they have the Guild Made in USA imprint, but they do not have the solder terminals. Instead, tiny insulated wires protrude from the case where they are soldered under heat shrink to the cable that runs to the pots. The grounds will be soldered to the back of the pickup.
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”
Apparently, at some point in the late ’90s, Fender decided that they could make the pickups better, faster or (most likely) cheaper than Seymour Duncan was, so they started making their own model that looked like an HB1. 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.
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.
Notice that from the back there are a mess of wires, 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. Seriously though – don’t. 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.
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.
There is, so far as I know, only one exception to this rule – the Guild Bluesbird. For some reason, Guild Bluesbirds, up until the end of their production in Fender’s hands, were routed with vintage specs, so there’s a great chance that a Fender Guild Bluesbird will take vintage HB1s. In my experience, with my 1974 HB1s and a factory second Bluesbird, they almost fit. You can see how close they were in the picture to the right.
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.
Note that 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.
So there you have it: everything I know about Guild full-sized HB1 pickups. I hope it helps in your quest for Guild guitar bliss. If you’re lucky enough to have a Guild with vintage HB1s, or even those great-sounding SD1s, I’d love to hear about it! Consider joining the Let’s Talk Guild forum at http://letstalkguild.com/ where we can all drool over your guitar. That’s where I learned most of what I’ve written here, so imagine what else you might learn. There are a lot of people who really love Guilds over there.
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.