Battle of the Guild S-100 Reissues

GuildS1001990NewarkStreet
Up for comparison is a 1997 Guild S-100 reissue made in Westerly, Rhoad Island and a 2015 Guild Newark Street S-100 made in Korea. Since the Guild from the 1990s is a reissue of the Guild S-100 from the 1970s and the Newark Street model is a reissue of the Westerly reissue more than it is a reissue of the 1970s models, this perhaps makes the Newark Street Guild a re-reissue, at least partially.

The Guild S-100 is one of their most popular Guild electric guitars, so I thought I would take the time to put two of the most common models available today side by side. Let’s see how they compare. 

Introduction

Guild-1965-S100
Before we get started, a word about the different series of Guild S-100s is in order. I am not an S-100 historian, having opted instead for the S-300 series in my youth, but I can tell you that there are basically three series of the S-100: The 1970s, the 1990s reissues, and the 2010 Newark Street reissues. Actually, there were Guild S-100s in the 1960s as well, but they looked a bit more like the S-200 Thunderbird than the S-100s you see on this page. While the S-200 is called the Thunderbird, the S-100 is known as the Polara, a name which it still maintains to this day.

1970s

S100-NatureBoy-1200
In the 1970s, the S-100 became the model that most people associate with the S-100 name today. There are a variety of differences in different periods such as the bridge and tailpiece spacing, the addition of a phase switch, and the removal of the Guild logo from the pick guard, but regardless of the one in hand, a 1970s Guild S-100 will be a solid guitar that will easily take on any Gibson SG I’ve ever played. Additionally Guild released a version of the S-100 replete with a natural (and also, rarely, red) finish and an acorn motif carved into the top. These S-100s are called Nature Boys on the Guild forums, though they were just called S-100-SC (C for Carved) by Guild (Nature Boy refers to the finish, not the specific model). For more information I highly recommend Hans Moust’s excellent book, The Guild Guitar Book.

Guild1970sBridge
Most every S-100 I’ve ever seen has been made out of mahogany which is a big part of the dark sound these guitars are known for. The S-100s in the 1970s seem to all have rosewood fretboards with nice block inlays, and the excellent Guild HB1 pickups. These 1970s Guild S-100s all have necks that are 1 5/8″ at the nut with small (but sufficiently wide) frets that some modern players dislike. The bridges on 1970s Guild electrics are mostly all Mueller roller bridges. I love these bridges, but sourcing parts can be a challenge if they break.

1990s

Guild-S100-1997
In the mid-late 1990s, Guild reissued the S-100 and made some changes to it, the most obvious being the pickups. The reissue S-100s from this era generally have Seymour Duncan (SD) pickups, though the early ones had SD pickups stuffed into Guild HB1 covers, and the super early models actually had HB1s, though those are pretty hard to come by. If you don’t see the double humps of the HB1, chances are that the guitar has Seymour Duncans if they haven’t been swapped out. These S-100s have have more Gotoh tune-o-matic type bridges instead of the old roller bridges found on the 1970s models.

Additionally, the necks on these 1990s models are wider, measuring 1 11/16″ at the nut according to the published specs which is wider than the 1970s S-100s, a detail that makes them a winner in my book. For me, both necks feel great, but only if the 1970s neck is deeper. Since they were all hand carved back then, it can be a matter of chance whether you get a pencil-thin neck which is what I seem to get every time I find a 1970s model. I generally gravitate to the wider fretboards which is why I’ve never owned a 1970s era S-100.

Both the 1970s S-100s and the 1990s reissue S-100s were made in Guild’s Westerly plant in Rhode Island.

2010s

5D3_6822_1600
In the mid-2010s, Guild reissued the S-100 yet again, this time making the guitars in Korea instead of the US. This Korean line of Guild Electrics is known as the Newark Street line, named for the street on which Guild’s early factory was located in Hoboken, NJ.

These Newark Street S-100s first came equipped with mini-humbuckers, but were quickly replaced the next year with full-sized recreations of the venerable Guild HB1. They do not have a phase switch, and sport wood with more character than either of the other series generally shows, though it is unclear if this is a veneer. The switch tip is plastic on this series, and the pick guard shows the old Guild logo. Though these guitars are import copies, they do have a quality feel to them, and should not be dismissed.

Since I don’t have a 1970s S-100, I’ll compare a 1997 Guild S-100 to a 2015 Newark Street S-100.

Finish

GuildS100s-2
I would swear that the 1997 model has a lacquer finish, while the Newark Street is Poly. Since the older one is 20+ years old, it’s got some wear and tear on it and is starting to look and feel a bit like an aged lacquer-finished guitar, but from what I can tell, it’s likely poly as well! It’s sure well-done, whatever it is.

The poly finish on the NS S-100 is thin enough so that it feels nice, but it does not (and will never) have the wonderful feel of aged lacquer. Does that matter? Only you can decide.

Both guitars are finished beautifully. Note that the Newark Street model has what appears to be a more transparent finish.

Fretboard and Neck

GuildS100FretComparison_1600
One thing that modern players seem to complain about on the 1990s Guild electrics is the frets. They tend to be very low and flat which is not what most guitars have these days. I grew up playing a 1970s Guild S300A-D that had similar low, wide frets, so the smaller frets don’t bother me at all.

The Newark Street S-100 has much more modern frets with much more meat on them. The neck on the NS model is thinner, though, but with the meatier frets it seems to balance out. Since both have the same strings (Ernie Ball 10s), I measured with calipers over the strings at the first fret since I was too lazy to remove the strings again. The NS guitar measured 22.22mm while the ’97 measured 23.48mm.  And yes, the fret markers on the binding are larger on the Newark Street S-100.

The frets themselves measure as follows. Remember that I’m measuring used guitars, so wear and grime will affect the measurements.

Guitar Width  Height
1997 S-100  2.14 mm 1.04 mm
0.084 in  0.040 in
2015 S-100  2.30 mm  1.44 mm
0.090 in 0.055 in

Both guitars are advertised as having 1 11/16″ necks but from what I can tell, neither of them do.  A 1 5/8″ neck (the size commonly used by Guild in the 1970s) is 41.275mm while 1 11/16 inch is 42.8625mm. The 1997 S-100 measures 43.8mm at the nut (a full mm over 1 11/16″), while the 2015 NS S-100 measured at 42.22mm at the nut (1/2mm under 1 11/16″). I measured each probably 10 times because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Neither of them measured at 1 11/16″, but the 1997 model is definitely wider.

S100Fretboards
The fretboard material and attention to detail are better on the 1997 S-100, and the inlays have more interesting patterns and look to be of a better material.

Guild lists the inlays on the Newark Street S-100 as “pearloid block”. Pearloid is a fancy name for plastic, though there have been some version of Perloid inlays on guitars from every brand for decades. From what I’ve been able to find out, the inlays on the 1997 S-100 are not Mother of Pearl (MOP) as originally listed, but something called PolyPearl, which is a polyester substance with the appearance of MOP. Whatever the difference, the inlays on the 1997 are much prettier and much more iridescent than the ones on the NS model.

GuildS100NeckAngle
Someone on the Guild forum asked about the fretboard radius. Since I tend to like flatter fretboards, I never even thought about it before, but at his request I pulled out my StewMac radius gauges and measured them both. What I found surprised me. Remember, measuring older guitars can be less than accurate, but from what I can tell, the 2015 Newark Street S-100 has a 12″ radius while the 1997 S-100 has a radius that appears to be 20″. This could also be attributing to the impression that the fretboard is wider on the 1997 S-100.

The neck angle on these guitars can be problematic because if you lay the guitar down on the ground (which you shouldn’t do), then the top of the headstock contacts the floor before the base of the neck does. In other words, if your precious S-100 falls from the guitar stand on stage, there’s a good chance that your guitar will suffer a neck break. The break angle is not as severe as it is on some Gibsons, but it can still be a problem because of the thin body on the S-100. Bottom line: don’t let your Guild fall off of the stand.

Build Quality

Guild-1997-S100-PickupCavity
The 1997 seems to have better wood which is lighter and more resonant, though the Newark Street is admittedly prettier. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I think that the striped wood is almost too fancy for what is otherwise a “let’s get this done” kind of guitar.

The difference in weight between the two is 12oz, which is 3/4 of a pound with the older guitar being the lighter of the two. The 1997 S-100 weighs in at 7 lbs 12 oz while the Newark Street S-100 weighs 8 lbs 8oz.

Guild-NS-S100-BridgeCavity
Being the tinkerer that I am, I pulled the bridge pickups on both guitars to examine the wood and to see if the pattern was some sort of veneer. The first picture in this section shows the bridge pickup route on the 1997 S-100, while the second pic shows the same route on the Newark Street model. Sadly, I could not determine anything about the wood in the newer guitar because all of the routed areas in the Newark Street model are coated with what I assume is a conductive shielding paint of some kind.

Pickups

GuildS100Grass
The pickups in the 1997 are Seymour Duncans (a ’59 SH-1 in the neck and a JB SH-4 in the bridge), while the Newark Street S-100 has the new Guild HB1 reissues installed.

The 1997 model includes a phase switch, while the Newark Street S-100 does not. Both guitars sound great, but I would give the edge to the 1997 model since it seems to have more clarity and articulation than the Newark Street model, though that could be a result of better electrical components in the 1997.

The Newark Street model has more high-end and sounds chimier, likely due to the difference in the specs between the pickups in use. See the Sound section for more detail. Remember, pickups are easy to swap, and doing so can have a dramatic effect on a guitar’s tone.

Electronics

GuildNSS100Electronics
As stated in the Pickups section, all routed areas of the Newark Street S-100 are coated with something that prevents direct viewing of the wood. As I commented in my article about the Newark Street S-100, this guitar has a few pieces of unshrunken heat-shrink tubing in the cavity which I don’t like because it looks unfinished. The pickups are all quick-release on this guitar, which is nice, though the pickups have solder points on them which also makes them easy to replace (assuming they are replaced with similarly equipped pickups).

Guild-S100-1997-Electronics2
The 1997 S-100 has what looks more like a traditional control cavity with no shielding, no sloppy wiring (seriously – look at the difference!), and the additional phase switch in place. Neither guitar uses anything fancy in the way of capacitors.

I know most people will never see the wiring, but the electrical engineer that lives in my brain (thanks dad!) is much happier when looking at the 1997 wiring cavity. Attention to detail is a big deal for me, and the older guitar wins there, even if it is hidden most of the time.

Hardware

S100-Headstocks-Back
When it comes to hardware, the 1997 S-100 wins hands-down in my opinion, due in large part to the larger more solid-feeling tuners. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I don’t like the Newark Street tuners at all. I feel like they don’t hold tuning as well (though not in a “I need to replace these” kind of way), and the pegs themselves are smaller which I don’t like. To be fair, though, my daughter likes the smaller pegs since she has smaller hands.

As a fun aside, I never noticed the difference in the headstock shape until I looked at the picture of the headstocks side by side. The 1997 S-100 has a much wider, more masculine looking headstock while the Newark Street S-100 has less material on the sides which makes it appear much thinner and more curved.

S100 Controls
The controls are the same on both guitars with two noticeable exceptions. First, the pickup selector switch is an ugly yellow plastic thing on the Newark Street while the 1997 model sports a proper chromed tip, though it’s not as cool as the 1970s chrome tips. Second, the 1997 model includes a second toggle which is a phase switch.

The phase switch reverses the polarity of one pickup so that when both pickups are selected you have the choice between “normal” and that sort of nasally Peter Greene sound or even a sort of single-coil (but not exactly) sound. As a life-long Guild owner, I feel that this phase switch is part of what gives old Guild electrics their appeal, so I was bummed to see it missing on the Newark Street model, though I assume that, like the ugly plastic switch tip, it was removed in the name of cost reduction. Technically the 1970 S-100 didn’t have a phase switch, so I guess it’s technically accurate even if it is lame.

Guild-NS-S100-Knobs
I still dislike the goofy Guild logo on the pick guard, and for me the overall look is better on the 1997 S-100. Oh, and the Newark Street S-100 sports the old-style Guild knobs that say “tone” and “volume” on them while having only the numbers 1-9, while the 1997 model has more modern 1-10 knobs. Note that the original Guilds that had the 1-9 knobs also had small indicators in the wood, a nice touch that I’m happy to report is included on the 2015 reissue.

Sound

They can both sound pretty similar, though the nod for me goes to the 1997 for its more articulate tone and increased flexibility gained with the phase switch.

But there’s a catch.

The 2015 Newark Street (NS) S-100 has a much chimier tone than the 1997 S-100. When playing them both side by side into the same amp, I described the NS model as “spankier”, which my daughter thought was hysterical. There’s more high-end chime in the NS model, but there’s more grunt and articulation in the 1997 model. Remember, the bridge pickup in the 1997 model measures at something like 17k, while the reissue HB1 measures more like 7k, so there’s significantly more winding in the Seymour Duncan which is likely what’s causing that chime to be lost.

All recordings in this section were recorded with an Olympus LS-10. Distorted amp sounds are an Axe-FX Ultra set to “Basic Brit 800” with no effects. The cleaner sound is the “Tiny Tweed” setting. The speaker is a QSC K12.

The 1997 definitely has a fatter, more grungy tone which would make it the perfect choice for anyone chasing that C# standard drop-tuning stoner rock sound, but the cool thing about this guitar is that it’s in no way limited to such a sound.


1997 S-100 Bridge Pickup

I’m not going to bore you with a rehashing of the sound samples from the original articles. I’ll let you listen to them on the 1997 S-100 review and the 2015 NS S-100 review pages. Instead, I’m going to point out the differences between the two guitars in this article, most of which have to do with the high-frequency response and additional phase switch. Oh, and apologies for the guitars being slightly out of tune with each other.


2015 S-100 Bridge Pickup

The first sound bytes are just some A-shape barre chord riffs starting on the fifth fret with some sus-4 embellishment thrown in for good measure. This was recorded using the bridge pickup with all guitar controls on 10. Both guitars actually clean up a fair amount with the volume dialed back to eight or nine. The first recording is the 1997 S-100 and the second is the 2015 NS S-100.


1997 S-100 All Pickups

Next, I take both guitars and through the Tiny Tweed setting (basically a Fender Champ type of sound), I run through a simple barre chord progression on each guitar using each of the possible pickup positions. Both guitars have all knobs on 10 for these recordings. Again, the 1997 S-100 is first and the 2015 NS S-100 is second.


2015 S-100 All Pickups

Note that the 1997 S-100 has an addition sound thanks to its phase switch, and I gotta say that even though the NS is chimier, in my opinion the phase switch makes up for this by expanding the sonic capabilities of the older guitar.

Playability

These guitars feel pretty similar since they share the same size and shape, but the Newark Street (NS) S-100 is noticeably heavier. The neck is chunkier on the 1997 and the radius is flatter, but the frets are higher on the 2015 NS guitar.

The frets are much lower on the 1997 model, and this is not due to wear, but rather what was fashionable at the time on Guild electrics.

Neither of these guitars is neck-heavy, which is something I dislike about many of the Gibson SGs I’ve played.

When tuned down a whole step or more, the strings can get all sorts of floppy on either guitar since the bridge is so far away from the tailpiece which makes the string angles quite obtuse. Since these are 23 3/4″ scale guitars, I tend to prefer 10s on them whereas I’ll put 9s on a longer scale guitar like a Strat.

High-fret access is excellent on both due to the double-cutaway coupled with the set neck design.

Conclusion

So, which one wins?

Guild-S100-1997-Top-Full

For my money, the winner is the 1997 S-100. I make this statement as someone who has almost four decades of experience with Guilds, and as someone who knows what they like the minute they pick it up. This guitar feels better and sounds better to me.

But it’s not that simple. Some people don’t like the super flat radius on the 1997’s fretboard, and many people don’t like the low flat frets. By the same token, some people don’t like the Guild logo on the NS guitar, or the open tuners. The best advice is to play one of each, but if that’s not possible, then rest assured both of these guitars are damn good instruments.

When I was a kid deep in the last millennium, import guitars mostly sucked. If you bought the import model of a famous guitar, you could almost guarantee that it wouldn’t stay in tune, the electronics would suck, and it wouldn’t play or sound anything like the original. That is not the case with the Newark Street Guilds, and though the NS has more chime, that’s because it has pickups that were included in the 1970s S-100s, which had more chime than the Seymour Duncans found in my 1997 reissue.

5D3_6799_1600

I’ve owned two Newark Street Guilds now; an X175-B, and this S-100, and I can say that these are great guitars. If I could have had one of these when I was 13 and just starting out, I would have been thrilled beyond belief.

The reason for the comparison is that I got both of these guitars for almost the same price, and if you come across the guitars for similar prices, I think you’ll get more for bang for your buck from the 1990s model. Honestly, though, it’s a great problem to have, since they’ll both play great and last you for years.

I still maintain that I’ve never played a bad Guild.