2001 Guild X-500T

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If you’ve read any of my work then you may know that I can be a tad obsessive. Take, for example, this Guild X-500T. I already owned two Guild X500s (reviewed here) which were great, and I currently own a Guild Starfire III-90, but what I really wanted was an X-500 with a Guildsby and P90s. Oh yeah, and with a 1 11/16″ neck at the nut since that’s one of the other things I obsess about. I also like red in my sunburst guitars. But how would I possible ever find such a beast? Why, through constant trolling through Reverb, eBay, Forums, Craigslist, and such, that’s how!

Is this guitar everything I’ve ever wanted in a full-sized Rockabilly Jazz box? Let’s find out. 

Introduction

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I’m not going to bore you with another history lesson on Guild X500s. You can read all that stuff in my 1980s Guild X500s article. Instead, let me point out things that are different on this guitar compared with those older X-500s.

First, the obvious. It has a Guildsby on it! For those not aware, Guildsby is the affectionate nickname given to Bigsby tailpieces that say Guild on them. A Guild with a regular Bigsby just isn’t right to many of the Guild cognoscenti, a group in which I like to pretend to be in good standing by buying all of these guitars and writing all of these articles. The Guildsby makes the guitar an all around different beast than the regular X500s because the Guildsby begs to be manhandled. In addition to the Guildsby, and no doubt also because of it, the bridge is metal instead of ebony.

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Finally, this X-500T comes equipped with P90 single-coil pickups which really brighten the guitar compared to its humbucker brethren. Since these are large guitars, their size contributes to a deeper sound than most other electric guitars, and that sound doesn’t really work for Rockabilly, which is really what this guitar seems to be made for. The P90s are much brighter than humbuckers even though the Guild HB1s are about the chimiest humbuckers I’ve ever played. There’s just something about single coils that even the best humbucker can’t replicate, and that includes 60-cycle hum, but we’ll talk more about that later.

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I originally wrote that “While my other two X-500s were made in the Westerly, Rhode Island facility in the heyday of Guild, this guitar is made in Corona, California during Fender’s tenure as owner of Guild. Does that mean that this is an inferior guitar? Not that I can tell, but I’ll put it through its paces because that’s what we came to see.”, and I’d like to just update that I’m an idiot because this guitar was made in Westerly! I’ve added a pic of the label for clarification, and thanks to txbumper57 over on LTG for reminding me.

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A quick note is in order about the X-500T vs. the seemingly similar X550-P. The X-550P is called the Paladin because it was made as a signature model for Dave Gonzales of The Paladins. The X-550Ps were made in the Fender Custom Shop and while they had the same P90 Pickups and general overall look of the X-500T, the X-550P came with a Strat-like 25 5/8″ scale length since apparently that’s what the very early Guild archtops had and perhaps more importantly, that’s the way Dave Gonzales likes them. At least that’s what I thought was the case. The 2001 Price guide lists only the X-500 and describes it as a Paladin, so I’m not sure what the whole story is. My point is that this guitar has a 24 3/4″ scale neck, and not the longer one commonly seen on Paladins.

Finish

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The guitar in this review is a 2001 Guild X-500T in Sunburst and one of the things I love about this guitar is the finish. I tend to like very reddish sunburst finishes, and while this one doesn’t have quite the red that my beautiful 1994 X-170 does, it’s no slouch, either. It appears to be a bit like a tobacco burst in a dark room, but when you hit it with sunlight or a camera flash, the red comes out and the guitar really pops. The official name of the finish according to the 2001 price guide is 837 Antique Burst.

I have no idea of the finish is Lacquer or Poly and, frankly, I just don’t care anymore. I have some guitars where the poly finish is really obvious, and some guitars where I just can’t tell. I can’t tell on this guitar and I’m over caring what finish is on there. Sure, Lacquer ages better, but at this point I’m caring more about how the guitar plays, looks, and feels now and not how it will play, look, and feel in 30 years. That’s for my kids to deal with.

So far as I can discern, this guitar came in this sunburst, blonde, and Tennessee Orange, all of which can be seen though judicious use of Google image search.

Fretboard and Neck

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The only thing I’m not 100% thrilled with regarding the playability of this guitar is the fact that the neck measures a solid 1 5/8″ at the nut.

Somehow I had convinced myself that all modern Guilds had 1 11/16″ necks, but much to my continued chagrin, I was clearly mistaken. The neck on this guitar is comfortable enough, but I really wish it was just that little bit wider.

The fretboard is luxurious ebony and the fret marker inlays are abalone and mother of pearl in the high-end V-shaped Guild inlay pattern. The inlays are each perfectly installed and give the guitar a very high-end look from up close or even at stage distance.

The fretboard radius measures at 14″, though all the specs I’ve seen seem to indicate that it should be 16″. I doubt even the most seasoned pro could reliably discern between a 14″ and a 16″ radiused fretboard, so I’m not sure it matters. Hell, maybe I measured wrong; using fretboard gauges is not the most exacting of sciences.

Fret size appears to be size 6230 which is typical for Guild electric frets. In other words, they’re small in an almost fretless wonder sort of way. Guild fans are very accustomed to these frets, but if you’re after super-jumbo frets you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Build Quality

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This is a beautifully made instrument just like the two Westerly-made X500s I reviewed before. The attention to detail is superb, as one would expect from such a high-end instrument. This guitar had a list price of $3,599.99 in 2001 so if you’re wondering why so many people are listing them for $3,000 on eBay and Reverb, now you know.

This guitar weighs 8 lbs 7 oz which is a nice weight that seems light after playing my 1986 X500. The weight difference is likely due to the fact that the 1986 X-500 has a large sound-block under the bridge while this 2001 X-500T does not.

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Since this guitar is so high-end, it includes some sexy features such as a bound ebony fretboard, gold hardware, and bound f-holes which is a feature that I think really adds even more class to an already classy-looking guitar.

While the visible features are great, many people dislike gold hardware because it fades so easily. One of the benefits of using P90 pickups is that the covers are plastic so there is no gold to wear off, and since the gold-plated pickups are the most obvious wear points on a guitar, the lack of metal covers should allow this guitar to look great for a long time.

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One thing that surprised me on this guitar was the ugly routes underneath the pickup covers. If you look carefully at the picture with the pickups pulled, you’ll notice that the pickup routes are not simple rounded rectangles. Instead, it looks like someone drilled four holes and then connected them with a saw.

Hans Moust, author of the Guild Guitar Book (which you should absolutely buy if you have even a passing interest in Guild guitars) told me what’s going on in this post on the Let’s Talk Guild forum:

At Guild they used a jig to rout out the tops of the hollowbody electrics to allow for the pickups to be installed. They had a specific jig for routing out the holes for the humbuckers, but the P-90s were a recent addition on the X-500, and they never made the proper jig for it. The worker would drill 4 holes at the corners and the rest of the material was removed free-hand with a router, which is the reason why it looks like it does.

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The corners don’t affect the playability of the guitar at all and the rounded corners are not visible with the pickup covers on. The only way you would know that they’re there is if you removed the cover.

Though this surprised me at first, it only really caught my eye with the pickup covers removed and lets be honest; no one keeps them off since they’re plastic and have no effect on tone. While the metal covers on many humbuckers can cause issues, especially in non-wax-potted models, there are no such issues with these covers, and the only thing I’ve ever removed them for was to either add a spacer to raise them up or to change the covers from black to white or vice-versa.

Pickups

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The pickups appear to be Seymour Duncan Antiquity P90 Dog-Ears which are the same pickups in all of the P90-equipped Guilds I’ve seen from the early to mid 2000s. Seymour Duncan advertises the bridge version as “…using two specially calibrated alnico 2 bar magnets, and a custom coil wind to deliver the gritty, vintage correct growl of a late 50s ES-330 bridge pickup. Chords have a gritty, honky midrange, and single notes are nice and articulate without sounding harsh. If you remove our hand aged dog ear cover, youll find the same hand fabricated bobbin, plain enamel mag wire, and flatback tape that was made in Kalamazoo during the early days.”

The only thing I can add to that description is that it’s all true and they sound great. I also don’t think Guild used the aged covers referenced in that quote. While Fender made some unwelcome changes to the HB1 pickup while it owned Guild, they did the right thing by using these Seymour Duncan P90s.

Since these are single coils they do not benefit from the humbucker’s design goal of bucking hum, which is to say that they encourage it. If you’ve got ground faults in your electrical wiring or your environment is awash in good old fashioned RF interference, single coil pickups of any kind might annoy you. For lovers of the sound, though, it’s worth the risk.

Electronics

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The electronics are pretty standard fare for a two-pickup electric guitar with the only noticeable difference being the addition of a master volume.

Guild has always liked to make the master volume a smaller knob on the treble side of the guitar and in the case of these big hollow-bodies, they liked to put them next to the pickup selector switch on the bottom bout.

My personal preference is for the pickup selector switch to be on the top bout with the master volume on the lower bout in the way that a Gretsch 6120 is laid out, but that’s a bit nit-picky. I think it’s easier to grab a larger knob that’s not near anything else than it is to do swells on these small knobs which are kind of hiding behind the pick guard on these big jazz boxes.

I also discovered that for my tastes, the pickup selector being on the bottom bout for such a large guitar became problematic while playing in a sitting position because I felt like it it was a big reach to change the pickups where it would have been much easier if the selector switch was on the top bout. It’s not a deal-breaker by any stretch, but I noticed it.

Hardware

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The hardware is typical of high-end Guild electrics from this era (and from the late-Westerly era preceding it). The Guildsby is smooth and tight and works as expected. As with all such tailpieces I added a slightly larger spring to raise the handle so that it rests in a position more to my liking. The only complaint I am likely to have in the future will no doubt pertain to the gold on the handle either pitting or wearing which is common on gold-plated hardware, especially on Guilds.

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The tuners are grovers, again in gold. The strap pegs are boring, traditional affairs. The pick guard is the Guild-eblazoned stair-step design used on Guilds of this era. Of course it has gold hardware to match the rest of the guitar.

The bridge on this guitar is all-metal which is a contrast to the other X-500s I’ve owned, likely due to the Rockabilly roots of a guitar like this combined with the increased stress induced by the Guildsby.

Sound

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I have a history with guitars like this, and by “like this” I mean hollow bodies, usually with Bigsby tailpieces. The reason has to do with me loving the music of Brian Setzer and spending a fair amount of time chasing his tone. To that end I have owned a fair number of Gretsches and more than my fair share of Guilds. At one point I owned a Setzer signature Gretsch SSLVO which was an absolutely stellar instrument for nailing his tone. My only complain with that guitar was the V-shaped neck that I just couldn’t bond with. I like the neck shape on this one a lot better even though it is only 1 5/8″ at the nut.

What made the Setzer SSLVO sing, though, was not only the construction of the guitar but those TV Jones Classic pickups which are copies of the original ’59 Filter’Trons. I ended up selling the SSLVO because I felt like I could own two nice Guilds for the $2000 I spent on in, though that math only works when I consider guitars like the Starfire III-90. The X-500 is more inline with the SSLVO’s pricing on the used market.

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My first step in trying to get the tone I wanted with a Guild was a Tennessee Orange Guild X-170T from the early 2000s. This guitar had all the build qualities I was after (including the 1 11/16″ neck) but the pickups were awful. I tried replacing them with TV Jones in the English mount but the screw holes didn’t line up in the wood and I didn’t want to alter the guitar so I ended up selling it off. If this guitar had P90s I’d probably still have it today.

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My next attempt to nail the tone I was after was a 2002 Starfire-III-90 and I actually ended up with two of them, finally keeping the sunburst one that was just perfection in my hands. This guitar is *it* for me! The neck profile is perfection, the guitar is light and thin, and the tone just sings every note of what I’ve been looking for. This guitar had made me stop my quest for a Guild to get that Setzer tone. Sure, it wasn’t quite as perfect as the SSLVO with Filter’Trons, but it was close enough for this chord-fumbling hack. So why the X500-T?

I expected the X500-T to be everything the SF-III-90 was but more-so since it was from the same era (early 2000s), made in the same factory, and had the same pickups. I figured since the X500 was really an upscale deep-body version of the SFIII that the neck would also be 1 11/16″! Sadly, I was wrong about the neck but I was right on every other front.

All recordings in this section were recorded with an Olympus LS-10. The amp is an Axe-FX Ultra set to Tiny Tweed. The speaker is a QSC K12. All guitar knobs are on 10 for all recordings.

P90s are single-coil pickups so they retain the chime and high-end sparkle that’s a part of the magic of single coil pickups. Being larger than the single-coils in a Strat or Tele, they also produce more oomph and have a nice midrange punch that you don’t get from those guitars.

Sound Samples

7th Chords

A Barre Chords

Open Chords

Finger Pick

Open Chords 2

Open E

Open E-A-D

Riff

Sleepwalk Intro

There are a lot of sound samples for this review because I really wanted to show the versatility of this guitar given its simple configuration. All of the recordings are with all knobs on 10 and are designed to show the differences between the three pickup selections. All recordings progress from the neck pickup, to both pickups, to the bridge pickup.

The neck pickup produces a delicious jazzy tone with all the woody overtones I’d expect from a jazz box-type guitar such as this. The clarity of the Seymour Duncan Antiquity P90s really pays off here as the tone of the guitar really shines through.

The middle position, with both pickups selected, offers a wonderfully balanced sound where, again, the characteristics of the guitar shine through. The tones in this position are reminiscent of any single coil guitar in the middle position in that the deep bass from the neck pickup is not overpowering while the sharp bite from the bridge pickup is also not present. This is a wonderful position to play in on all of the P90-equipped Guilds I’ve owned and this X500-T is no exception.

The bridge pickup has all the girth and snarl of an angry Les Paul Jr. or SG while also offering some of that wonderful woody tone of the big maple guitar. It’s almost shocking, after playing the jazzy tones of the neck pickup, how aggressive and down right nasty this guitar can get with the bridge pickup.

Playability

This guitar is an absolute joy to play, certainly in part because of it’s high quality and attention to detail, but definitely because of the amazing tones produced by the guitar.

As delightful as this guitar is to play, it is my fervent wish that it had an 1 11/16″ neck, but to be honest that only bothers me when I’m playing complicated jazz chords that are not in my normal wheelhouse. Still, I notice the difference when I pick up my 2002 Starfire III-90 and as a result I like playing that one more.

As stated earlier, I don’t really like the position of the pickup selector switch which kind of surprised me since my Starfire 4 has it in the same position. I think the big difference is that this guitar is twice as thick as the Starfire and thus it’s just that much of a difference when reaching for the switch that I seem to need to move my entire arm, especially while sitting.

Conclusion

This is an amazing guitar that is almost everything I’ve ever wanted in a bigsby-equipped jazz box. My one and only gripe is the 1 5/8″ neck and even that only bugs me when I think about it. If it was 1 11/16″ or even 1 3/4″ it would be utter perfection for me.

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Yes, the selector switch is a minor niggle for me, but not one that would prevent me from buying one of these beautiful and elegant guitars. If, on the other hand, Guild were to build a US-made version of this guitar with a 1 11/16″ neck, the pickup selector on the top bout and a larger master volume on the bottom bout where the current switch is, I would sell this one to fund that purchase. You know, if it had P90s and Guild suddenly started producing X500Ts in the US again.

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In the end I cannot help but to compare this guitar with my 2002 Guild Starfire III-90, and as much as I love the look, tone, bling and everything else about this X500-T, I have to admit that I prefer the Starfire III-90, and that’s mostly due to the neck which is not only wide, but a bit chunky as well.

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This guitar was not cheap. Should you lay out the cash for one?  I’d say yes with the caveats listed above, the most important in my mind being the 1 5/8″ neck.

Happy playing!

One thought on “2001 Guild X-500T

  1. I own an Orange Paladin, Antiquity P90 equipped…. Awesome Guitar on Tube (various) and Solid state (Polytone – JC 120) amps. No One can discuss about guitars without knowing the Guild’s particular feel/workmanship and sound!

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