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 in 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. I originally wrote this article in 2011, and have updated it in 2014.
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 Guild HB1s, Seymour Duncan SD1s, and Fender HB1s. There are some others in there as well. Read on to learn more.
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. I call this the “double hump” cover.
Vintage Guid HB1 pickups are the same length as “regular” Gibson-style humbuckers, but they are wider so they don’t easily fit into other guitars. In the original article, I had written that HB1s are longer and wider than regular humbuckers, but that is incorrect. I discovered this by trying a very simple test; I tried to mash an HB1 into a Gibson ring. As you can see in the picture to the right, the HB1 fits lengthwise, but the width is too great for the ring. The odd size of the HB1 pickups causes the following problems:
- 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
Just how much of a difference are we talking about here? I whipped out the calipers and measured every pickup combination I could get my hands on. The diagram to the right reflects the measurements of Guild HB1s (red) and regular humbuckers (yellow). Both pickups are 2 ¾ inches in length, but the Guild HB1 is 1 9/16″ wide where the regular humbucker is 1 ½” wide. That’s only a difference of 1.59mm, but it’s enough to cause problems.
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.
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. Not all vintage HB1s have this date, and I’ve seen some where the date was so faint that at first glance that 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, since it will generally measure a little hotter than the other one in the pair.
By the way, the two pickups in the last picture have red spots on the base plates. I have no idea what this represents, but I’ve seen it many times. If you know what it is and can back it up with proof, I’ll buy you lunch. Personally, I think it means that the pickups were returned, repaired, or opened by Guild for some reason, but I have no proof of that other than thinking that every one I’ve seen looks to have a re-worked solder joint where the base plate meets the cover. I have a feeling that I may be buying Hans lunch when his next book comes out.
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.
Over the years I’ve scored a few more of these rare mid-90s Guild HB1s, so they’re obviously out there, though they can be very hard to find. I’ve not taken these pickups apart so I can’t say if they’re internally different than the Seymour Duncan SD1s shown below, but I can say that the 1994 Guild HB1s with the 4-wire setup may be my favorite pickup of all time. In fact, I now own two sets of these that are New Old Stock purchased through Hans Moust, both of which have been installed into Guild Nightbirds (one is shown to the right). And yes, I paid a lot of money for the privilege which was totally worth it to me.
Seymour Duncans with Guild Covers
I’m not sure if there’s a precise Guild-esque name for these cool examples, but I’ve been watching for Guild pickups on eBay, Reverb, and such for years and this is the first pair I’ve ever encountered. This pair is from a 1994 S100 serial number FB000019 which was torn apart for parts by a known vintage guitar chop-shop on eBay. I try not to buy from sellers that do such things, but they got me with these because I wanted ’em bad. As you can see by the first pic, they look just like the Seymour Duncan SD1s shown below and have the same tell-tale small black Phillips-head adjustment screws, but these are not SD1s.
I’d read some time ago that before Seymour Duncan (SD) started making the SD1s, that they literally stuffed their own pickups into Guild covers. That’s what these are. The bridge pickup is an SD JB. The last J in the JBJ sticker is a reference to the winder, who according to this link was Maricela Juarez before she joined Seymour himself in the custom shop. This is a 4-wire pickup with typical SD coloring and with the white and red wires twisted together. This pickup would have been in the bridge where the 4-wire configuration would have been used for the Guild phase switch.
The other pickup is a SD ’59 Neck pickup wound by the same person I believe, since as best I can tell that is also a J at the end of the very faded label (another reference here). This is a traditionally wired pickup with a length of braided single-conductor lead. Note that both pickups have 2-to-1 adapters that let the single adjustment screw leg work with the Guild rings.
The covers are the same size as Guild HB1s and SD SD1s, but as you can see there is a small gap around the base-plate because the pickup itself wasn’t designed for this cover. What’s fascinating to me about these pickups is that the Guild S100 guitar would later have regular SD JB and ’59 pickups installed without the iconic double-hump covers (not SD1s – actual SD ’59 and JB pickups). For me, nothing screams Guild like those covers, though, so these are a pretty cool find.
On a last note, I have owned the Guild S100 with the serial number FB000005 (one of the first reissues made) which had 4-wire Guild HB1s. These came from S/N FB000019 which is only 14 guitars away from the same year and they were already moving to SD making their pickups. That seems to indicate that a 1994 with real Guild HB1s is a pretty rare beast.
Seymour Duncan SD1
In the mid to late nineties, Fender (FMIC) bought Guild and contracted Seymour Duncan to make pickups for Guild guitars.
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
From the front, these pickups look just like Guild HB1s, and 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. You may see them with very short leads (above) or regular-length leads (below).
In the SD1s that I’ve seen, 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.
I would describe these pickups as looking like “HB1s without the solder terminals”. Indeed, according to the quote above, the covers and back plates were provided by Guild, so these pickups have the same dimensions and overall look as the Guild HB1s. Note that since they are the same size as the Guild HB1, they will not fit into traditional pickup rings or routes.
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.
Guild HB1 pickups come with large, flat-head silver or gold adjustment screws, while every SD1-equippened guitar I’ve seen has come with smaller, black or gold phillips-head adjustment screws similar to those found on the Fender HB1s. The thing about the SD1s is that the adjustment screws are father apart like they are on HB1s. See the pickups from the red 1994 Starfire IV to the right? ? Those are very late-model Guild HB1s, and look at the adjustment screws with those large flat-heads. The covers and the adjustment screws look the same on HB1s from the 1970s, though the backs look very different.
Contrast those with the picture of the mahogany Starfire III from 1998, and again look at the double adjustment screws. They’re still far apart like they are on an HB1, but the screws are smaller phillips-heads.
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.
At some point in the late 1990s or early 2000s, 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, at least from the front.
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. They have since been replaced with 4-wire Guild HB1s.
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.
Of course a better test is to pull the pickups and look at the back. Fender HB1 backs have a distinctive look to them that is easy to recognize on sight. The best way to describe this look is, “a mess”. As you can see, there is some variation, though, and not all of them are quite so messy.
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. If you’d like to learn more, check out my article on Guild Pickup Wiring.
Notice that from the back there is the distinctive wiring pattern 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.
I should point out again that the screw spacing trick is not fool-proof. My Nightbird looked from the front as if it might have Guild HB1s or SD1s in it based on the adjustment screws. I was very excited when I bought it because I’d never seen a Nightbird with HB1s. When I pulled the pickups, I was surprised to see Fender HB1 pickups with an adapter. This method of mounting standard pickups into a Guild HB1 pickup ring was used by Guild and you can see it in the Seymour Duncans in Guild covers above. I’ve seen the same sort of thing in a Dimarzio-equipped Guild S300A-D.
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.
There a couple of exceptions to this rule – the Guild Bluesbird being one of them. 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. You can also see the wide spacing routed to allow the wider legs on the vintage Guild pickups.
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 also 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.
Newark Street HB1s
At first I hesitated to include these because they’re not vintage, but they look so much like vintage HB1s that I felt the need to do so. The picture to the right is of a 2016 Guild Newark Street (NS) HB1 pickup, and yes, it looks just like the real thing. It even measures the same. That’s good and it’s bad, because it means that you can probably put a vintage HB1 into a Newark Street Guild (yay!) and it means that unscrupulous people might put a NS HB1 into a vintage Guild (boo!) I’ve not seen that happen yet, but I feel that it’s only a matter of time. Even the adjustment screws are similar (though technically a bit more rounded where the older ones are flatter).
The only way to be sure is to pull the pickup, because the back is quite obviously different than the vintage variety. The Newark Street HB1 has a very different solder board, and includes modern labels and an RoHS sticker. Technically, the NS HB1 pickups are slightly different in size, but you’d only notice this if you had them out of a guitar and examined them side by side. The difference is that the legs on the vintage HB1s are longer than the NS model.
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
First, the original Guild Vintage HB1 pickup rings. Naturally, they are designed to fit the vintage Guild HB1s, so the main hole is wider, and there are two adjustment screws on one side spaced ¾ of an inch apart. These rings tend to be a bit thicker on the sides and have a generally beefier feel to them from most modern pickup rings. Note that the outer dimensions of these rings is larger in both dimensions than the Fender or regular humbucker rings. These rings are pretty hard to find, and as of 2014, I see them selling for $75 or more for a pair on Ebay. Having a set of vintage HB1s without also having the rings can be a problem since the HB1s won’t fit in any other rings that I’m aware of.
The ring dimensions are the same for Guild SD1 pickups as well as the Newark Street HB1 pickups.
Fender HB1 Rings
The Fender-era Guild HB1 pickup rings have the same overall dimensions as a regular Gibson humbucker, with the addition of the dual adjustment holes on one side. These holes are spaced ½ inch apart. Note the smaller overall dimensions on these rings compared to the Guild HB1 rings. More importantly, notice that the mounting screw spacing is different. Again, these Fender HB1 rings are more closely matched to regular Gibson-style rings with the addition of the dual adjustment screws.
Regular Gibson-Style Rings
What I call regular Gibson-style rings are the rings you’re likely to get if you walked into any music store today and asked for “humbucker pickup rings”. Note that the overall dimensions are the same as the Fender HB1 rings, as are the mounting screw positions. Really, the only difference that I can see between Fender HB1 rings and regular rings is the difference in adjustment screw holes. Since the Fender HB1 pickups have three holes on each leg, they will work in regular rings.
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.
Be sure to check out my other Guild Guitar articles at gadsguilds.com!