1997 Guild Bluesbird Guitar

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Today’s review is for a 1997 Guild Bluesbird guitar from the Westerly factory that I picked up on eBay for a great price. I didn’t need it, but it was so pretty that I couldn’t resist. Sadly, that happens to me a lot.

The Guild bluesbird of this era is quite clearly inspired by the Gibson Les Paul, but there are some important differences. First, and perhaps most important, the Bluesbird is chambered which makes it lighter than the average Les Paul while also making it more resonant with a more open sound. The shape is a bit different, and Les Paul purists will likely rebel against that, but for me, it’s every bit the guitar that even an Historic Les Paul is. Let’s find out why, and talk about some of the differences between the Guild Bluesbird and a Gibson Les Paul. 

Finish

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This guitar is finished in lacquer, as are all Guilds of this vintage that I’ve ever seen, and the finish is impeccable. Of the three Gibson Historics I’ve owned, all three of them were sticky and still outgassing, sometimes ten years after their completion. I’ve never had a Guild with a sticky neck or one that smelled of lacquer.

It’s almost a shame that this beautiful top was covered in red as it would have made a stunning sunburst.

There are no factory flaws in the finish. No thin spots, no drips, and not even any dings from 20 years of use.

Fretboard and Neck

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The fretboard is a very nice dark rosewood with nice figuring. The inlays are blocks and look absolutely stunning in the guitar, with very nice detail around the edges. The pics don’t really do the rosewood justice, so I took it out into the sunlight where the beauty of the fretboard could be revealed.

The neck is typically straight on this guitar, and as I’ve written before, I don’t think I’ve ever had to adjust the neck on any Guild I’ve owned. I did have a Guild JS-65-12 that needed a neck reset, but if you held the tension of 12 guitar strings for 25 years, you’d need a neck reset, too.

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Some Bluesbirds have very beefy necks (usually the P90 models), but this one is nice and solid without feeling like the fat end of a baseball bat. I like necks to be on the fatter side, and this one delivers without feeling like a real handful. The nut width of 1 11/16″ seems to be standard on all Guild electrics from this time period, but this guitar actually measures 1 23/32″ which is halfway between 1 11/16″ and 1 3/4″.

The frets are excellently finished, and they don’t have those little nibs over the ends that Les Paul Historics have. I’ll be honest here in that I think the binding nibs are not my favorite feature, so in this regard I greatly prefer the Bluesbird.

Build Quality

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The maple top on this guitar is beautiful with very nice flame and figuring, though as is typical of a red-finished Guild, the color masks the detail from a distance. In the sunlight, the top pops a bit, but inside in normal light (whatever that is), the guitar can often be mistaken for solid red. In fact, I took a chance on this guitar because the original auction pics shows what looked like a solid red guitar but I had a hunch there was more to it.

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I’ve owned a lot of Guild guitars, and I’ve never been disappointed with any of them. This one is no exception, and seeing as how this is basically a 20 year old instrument, it has held up marvelously. In comparing the Bluesbird build quality to a Les Paul, I think they’re as well-made as any Historic I’ve owned (I’ve owned three). I think they’re much nicer than a “regular” Gibson Les Paul, and on-par with the Historics from Gibson’s custom shop, but to be fair the Historics are trying to replicate a guitar from the 1950s, so they’re not built for the same purpose, if you will. The Guild Bluesbird from the ’90s is probably more accurately compared with a Les Paul Standard, but I’ll be honest and say that I’ve never played a modern Les Paul Standard that I’ve liked.

I should point out that the cutout on a Bluesbird is quite different than that of a Les Paul, a fact which Les Paul owners immediately notice and complain about.  The Les Paul has a more curved cutout that tends to look “right” to anyone who’s stared at posters of Jimmy Page or Slash for too long in their youth. Functionally, it’s a cut out in the body of the guitar that lets your fingers access the upper frets, which it does.

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As stated earlier, the guitar is chambered which is why it’s so light, weighing in at 8 lbs 8 oz. You can see the chambering in the pic to the right with the electronics access cover removed. Pro tip of the day: don’t drop anything like little screws in there. They will rattle forever and drive you absolutely nuts, not that anything like that has ever happened to me.

Pickups

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The pickups are original to the guitar which was shipped with Seymour Duncan ’59s. While I’m a known fan of the vintage Guild HB1s, these pickups sound fantastic in this guitar, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

For the curious, Guild Bluesbirds are actually routed to fit the vintage HB1s, and will also take the new HB1s, should you be so inclined. I don’t see the need on this guitar, but I did it with another Bluesbird a few years ago with great results as seen in the pics.

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I should point out that on this Guild Bluesbird and almost every other Guild with humbuckers I’ve owned, the bridge pickup ring has split where the screws enter the wood. This is likely from over-torquing the screws, thus causing excess stress in the rings themselves. It used to be almost impossible to replace these HB1-sized rings, but now that Guild has reissued many of its electric guitars in the Newark Street line, the rings are more readily available.

Electronics

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Electronics are typical of Guilds in this time period. Though I can’t see any stamps on the pots, and without removing them I couldn’t venture a guess as to what they are. The capacitors are typical “electrical engineers don’t believe all the bumblebee hype” components also found commonly in Guilds of this era. The wiring is all plastic insulated except for the leads from the pickups which are braided, meaning that the pickups are two-wire and cannot be split. The pots are wired in common “modern wiring” fashion. Note that in the pics the volume pots are on the right and the tone pots are on the left. Check out the flame visible in the electronics cavity. That top is no veneer!

Hardware

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The guitar comes stock with a nice Gotoh bridge and tailpiece. The tuners are nice Grovers that stay in tune and have that nice tight feel of a quality tuner. Personally, I prefer the larger Shaller tuners that Guild used back in the ’70s and ’80s, but that’s just a personal preference. Functionally, these tuners are just great. They don’t have the flair of, say, the tulip tuners on a vintage Les Paul, but I personally think those only look good on a Gibson headstock. Tuners should be good at keeping the guitar in tune and varying the pitch only when needed. These tuners do exactly that.

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In the past I owned both a different Bluesbird and a Les Paul Historic R9 at the same time, so I was able to compare them side-by-side. The inevitable comparison to a nice Les Paul comes up again when talking about hardware, and when compared to a nice Historic R9, then the Guild might feel more like a modern guitar than a vintage instrument, which is what the Gibson Historics are emulating. The Les Paul feels different, and I think that has a lot to do with why Les Paul hounds chase them. There’s something about the way an Historic Les Paul feels in the hand that makes them feel somehow more organic. I think it has a lot to do with the way they’re finished.

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A common complaint of Les Paul owners who experience a Bluesbird for the first time is that the knobs are cheap. Guild lovers really like the black G-shield knobs, but I have to agree that next to the amber knobs on my Gibson Historics, the Guild knobs are pretty lame. Still, as someone who’s first real guitar was a Guild S-300AD, I love the Guild knobs.

The knobs on Bluesbirds are often clear plastic (which I dislike), but the red Bluesbird came with the more archetypal black Guild knobs which I love.

The guitar comes with a black pick guard, but was not installed at the factory (yay!), so the option of drilling into the top is left up to the buyer. Of course, being a 20-year old model, finding one without the pick guard installed is a matter of chance.

Sound

My favorite electric guitar of all time is my Guild Nightbird with vintage HB1 pickups. This Bluesbird guitar is surprisingly close to my coveted Nightbird in sound, and I’ll be honest, that surprised me. This guitar sounds great! Plugged into my Axe-FX with the JCM 800 patch, this guitar demands to be played loudly. With a cleaner amp, it’s still fun to play with a great tone.

You can certainly hear the chambers affecting the sound which may be what Les Paul purists dislike about the tone, but I really like the complex tone delivered by the Bluesbird. That’s not to say that I dislike Les Pauls – far from it! For the money, though, I could have multiple Bluesbirds for the price of one Gibson Les Paul.

All recordings in this section were recorded with an Olympus LS-10. Amp is an Axe-FX set to “Basic Brit 800” with no effects, or the “Backline” setting which is a “Brownface” and a “US Lead 1”. The Clean setting is “Tiny Tweed”. Speaker is a QSC K12.

Les Paul aficionados correctly state that a Bluesbird does not have that Les Paul Sound, but let’s be honest here; the subtleties between a Bluesbird sound and a Les Paul sound are lost on audience members that just want to enjoy the performance. If I play “Still got the Blues for You” on stage with a Guild Bluesbird, how many people in the audience will complain that it’s not a Les Paul? I’ve played rockabilly on stage with an orange Guild X-170T after which people came up to me and told me that they loved my Gretsch.

For those who insist that only a Les Paul can sound like a Les Paul, consider the fact that Billy Gibbons uses an EQ to make all of his guitars sound like the famed Pearly Gates Les Paul. This is shown in the excellent Rig Rundown by Premier Guitar shown to the right. It’s worth a watch all the way through (my link starts eight minutes in), but be warned that the drum check going on in the background is maddening.

I really like the distorted sound I get from this guitar, especially with the typical amp setups used with a Les Paul or other humbucker guitars. There’s something about a great sounding guitar through a great sounding amp that just makes me want to bang on chords and let them ring out for the world to hear, even if I’m not good enough to play it right. You know, according to the neighbors.

Playability

This guitar plays as well as my Nightbird! Well, maybe not quite that good, but it’s pretty darn good. Considering the law of diminishing returns, this guitar crushes the Nightbird when it comes to cost vs. performance.

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The Nightbird has a ridiculously nice ebony fretboard with superb inlays, top-shelf purfling, and a host of other features that just scream luxury. The Bluesbird isn’t over-the-top luxurious like the Nightbird, but it’s every bit the guitar any of my Historic Les Pauls has been. The least expensive Historic Les Paul I’ve owned was a 1958 plain-top (R8), and in my opinion this Guild Bluesbird crushes it in just about every way. It’s lighter, sounds as good, plays as well, and cost me about one third as much. My R8 was $2000 used and I scored this Bluesbird on eBay for $750.

This particular guitar does not have the super-thick necks associated with the R8 and to a lesser extent, the Les Paul R9s, but it is not shredder-thin, either. Online, I see a lot of Les Paul purists state their dislike for the Bluesbird necks. Having owned a lot of guitars over the past 40 years or so, I’ve learned to adapt to almost anything. The only necks I really dislike are the super-thin shredder necks and the really thin “pencil” necks found on many ’70s era guitars (Guilds included).

Conclusion

Will this guitar convince a rabid Les Paul fanatic to switch? Probably not. Is it all the guitar you need if you can’t afford the ridiculous prices Gibson is asking these days? Hell yes. Not only that, but in my opinion these late ’90s Guild Bluesbirds are far better guitars than the regular Les Pauls being pumped out by the thousands for well over $2500 new. The problem for someone who wants a Les Paul is that these guitars don’t feel like Les Pauls, especially the Historics.

These late-’90s Bluesbirds are really nice guitars that should be selling for far more on the used market than they do. I think the only reason they’re not is because Jimmy Page never played one. Personally, I think that’s great because it means I can buy them up for a song. I loved my Historic Les Pauls, but this guitar works just as well for me and I’m not freaked out every time I take it out because I don’t have $5000 tied up in it.

If you’ve ever considered a Bluesbird, I recommend that you try one. I bet that your fingers and your ears will tell you to buy it.

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2 thoughts on “1997 Guild Bluesbird Guitar

  1. Great purchase, I’ve had a tobacco burst Bluesbird (AAA top) since 2001 and a red (same ‘red’ as yours) Blues 90 since 2010. I remember seeing a Blues 90 (in a deep translucent green) in Leeds UK in the late 90s and always fancied one (to add to the collection as this includes a 1979 Guild B301 fretless bass). So job done and the P90s and chambered body IMHO sound even better.

    However, the vibrancy and transparency of the Bluesbird sound gets me every time, especially when i have jammed with colleagues with guitars including their PRS. The Guild looks fantastic and is very comfortable weight wise with the chambered body. I love the fact its left field, of the default choice LP. I have grown up with Les Pauls, slung over the shoulder of my heroes, so i am an LP fan, but don’t have one. I

    On the Guild i love the fat transparent knobs (though love the top hat golds on my 25th anniversary Explorer too.) Yes its possible to appreciate both !! My own query re the Guild would be tuners which i have always felt needed to hold tune a bit more firmly, esp the g string…though no major complaints. i recently upgraded the tuners on my Ibanez PS120 as i wasn’t to too impressed with these.

    So to conclude well done, great pictures, would bite the hand off, for a late 90s Guild Starfire single cutaway in natural, but that’s for another day.

  2. I own 2 1997 blues birds and they are both fantastic works or art that play and sound outstanding. I also own a 45 year old les Paul. The lp has monster tone but is nowhere near as easy to play as my guilds and weighs in at over a full pound more.

    Your post was spot on. I second the nod on the late 90’s westerly bluesbirds.

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