GAD’s Guide to Guild Nightbirds

Guild Nightbird - Lava Burst
Guild Nightbirds are some of the best electric guitars every produced at the Westerly Guild plant. I own more than my fair share of them, and since I have a pile of Nightbird reviews pending I thought I would consolidate some of the repeating information I had into a single article.

Nightbirds come in a dizzying array of colors, configurations, and models, and it can be quite difficult to discern the difference between a Nightbird, a Nightbird I, a Nightbird II, and so-on. Having gone through this pain myself and having collected a fair bit of information, I have put it all into a hopefully easy to digest article that should help you if you find yourself considering the purchase of one of these fine instruments. 

Fair Warning

The information in here has been collected by me over many years as well as from the sources listed at the end of the article. Any mistakes in this page are mine, and some of the information is based solely on observations and therefore cannot be considered fact. Compiling information in this way is kind of like writing the recipe for a cake by watching 50 other people bake a cake; the recipe will probably be good, but since you didn’t have access to the original 50 recipes, it might be a bit off here and there.

Also, many Nightbirds seem to have been either custom ordered or altered over time, so just because the catalog says something like “EMG Pickups” doesn’t necessarily mean that the model in question will only be found with EMG pickups.

Nightbird

The original Nightbird is usually seen with a carved spruce top and Kent Armstrong pickups, though EMG and other pickups were an option as were some beautiful maple tops like the one shown here. The primary way to identify one of the first series of Nightbirds is the fact that they have fat slotted diamond inlays and the truss rod cover says Nightbird GG with the GG in script. GG stands for George Gruhn who was one of the main people responsible for the design. The guitar shown here is a Nightbird with the fatter inlays and Nightbird GG on the truss rod cover, with what is obviously the maple top option. The pickups shown are Kent Armstrongs (EMGs always say EMG on them). Tuners started as Gotoh wafflebacks but changed to Grover Rotomatics at some point.

Though most Nightbirds are fabulous guitars, the original Nightbird is the one that started it all. They tend to be expensive, but the high quality, killer looks, and amazing playability makes them worth every penny if you can find one.

Guild Nightbird GG

By the way, take a careful look at the bridge and tailpiece on the example shown here. I call them Mueller bridges and tailpieces in the tables because they were made by Mueller (clever, no?) but I’ve not seen them on many other guitars.

Based on the often incorrect Guild serial number charts, around 324 original Nightbirds were made making them the most common of the variants. The serial number prefix for original nightbirds is BL1xxxxxx and the range reported on the charts indicates the following dates of manufacture:

1985: BL1000001 – BL100104 (104)
1986: BL1000105 – BL100324 (219)

Nightbird I

In 1987 Guild changed up the Nightbird and split it into two models: The Nightbird I and the Nightbird II. The Nightbird I is the “entry level” Nightbird with a carved spruce top, chrome hardware, and an unbound rosewood fretboard while the Nightbird II is the upscale model with high-level appointments like the original Nightbird (see next section). The price guide shows no option for a maple top on the Nightbird I.

The Nightbird I is a great guitar and offered most of the Nightbird experience at a lower price since it was devoid of much of the original Nightbird’s bling. The 1987 price guide lists the Nightbird I at $795 (up to 995 later that year) with the case an extra $150.

The quick way to identify a Nightbird I is the spruce top and unbound rosewood fretboard. The simple dots are also a significant diversion from most other Nightbirds. Note that the pickups on the models I’ve seen are Dimarzio with plain black covers that make them look like the Kent Armstrongs on the original Nightbirds.

Guild Nightbird I

Based on the often incorrect Guild serial number charts, around 100 Nightbird Is were made, though the veracity of the charts when it comes to Nightbird Is may be suspect. I’ve only ever seen Nightbird Is with BCxxxxxx serial numbers (including the data from the Nightbird Pages), but that only covers about 10 guitars so my data is by no means complete. The reason I bring this up is because if there are indeed two prefixes, then there would be 186 Nightbird Is out there and not 103. This is one of those areas where we just need to wait for Hans’ next book.

The serial number prefix for Nightbird Is is shown to vary by year as BE1xxxxxx (1987) and BCxxxxxx (1988) though again I suspect that this may be a typo. The range reported on the charts indicates the following dates of manufacture:

1987: BE1000001 – BE100083 (83)
1988: BC1000001 – BC100103 (103) or possibly (20)

Again, take this data with a grain of salt since I can’t confirm the change in serial number prefix.

Nightbird II

Where the Nightbird I was the entry level Nightbird in 1987, the Nightbird II continued the tradition of a well-adourned luxury guitar. The hardware is all gold, and all the high-level appointments like neck and headstock binding is back. The price list shows the Nightbird II as having a Spruce top with a maple option (the Nightbird I does not show the maple option).

The price for the Nightbird II in January or 1987 was $1195 with the maple top listed as a $100 up-charge. The case was shown as a $150 extra. In September 1987, the price is shown simply as $1395.

As a fun aside, these Nightbirds (like the original) have binding on the pick guard.

Guild Nightbird II

Based on the often incorrect Guild serial number charts, around 203 Nightbird IIs were made. The serial number prefix for original nightbirds is BL1xxxxxx and the range reported on the charts indicates the following dates of manufacture:

1987: BL1000325 – BL100426 (101)
1988: BL1000427 – BL100489 (62)
1989: BL1000490 – BL100530 (40)

Notice that the Serial numbers appear to continue from the original Nightbird the year before lending credence to this being the “real” Nightbird for this time period.

Nightbird ST (Standard)

In 1990 everything changed and Guild decided to break out the Nightbird line into even more options, those being the ST (Standard), DX (Deluxe), and CU (Custom). The Custom, which is covered below, is the only one of the three that’s really like any of the previous Nightbirds, with the ST and DX being more like a Les Paul Studio than anything else.

You’ll notice that this is not my pic. It’s a screen capture from Iron Mike Norton’s video on YouTube and the reason for that is that this is the only Nightbird ST that I’ve ever seen.

The description in the catalog from 1990 states that the Nightbird ST has a solid poplar body and a mahogany set-neck. The bridge is an ugly Schaller wraparound affair that seems to do the job pretty well despite it’s less than elegant appearance. The catalog reports that the Nightbird ST came with two Dimarzio pickups, both of which were swapped on Iron Mike’s guitar.

Based on the often incorrect Guild serial number charts, exactly 20 Nightbirds STs were made of which only four were made in 1991 with the other 15 having been made in 1990. The serial number prefix for Nightbird STs is LBxxxxxx and the range reported on the charts indicates the following dates of manufacture:

1990: LB000001 – LB000015 (15)
1991: LB000016 – LB000020 (4)

According to Iron Mike’s video, the guitar has a belly cut and a forarm bevel (both of which can be plainly seen in the video), but otherwise the guitar is pretty darn simple. If you’ve got one or have seen one, please do let me know!

Nightbird DX (Deluxe)

The Nightbird DX is basically the same guitar as the Nightbird ST, but with a carved maple top. The 1990 catalog says that the Nightbird DX has a solid carved poplar body, but based on the two I’ve seen including the one I own (seen here), the top is pretty obviously maple. The back, however, does appear to be Poplar which is a pretty important challenge to the “kind of like a Les Paul Studio” idea. There is a belly cut on the back but there is no forearm bevel on the DX likely because the carved top renders it unnecessary.

Aside from the carved maple top, the Nightbird DX appears to be the same guitar as the Nightbird ST. The pickups in mine are Dimarzios and appear to be original.

The only other Nightbird DX I’ve ever seen was this blue one listed on Reverb in the UK. Sadly, though I offered repeatedly to buy it, the seller simply would not ship to the US. That blue Nightbird DX is very appealing to me because it has Guild HB1 pickups and regular Nightbird hardware along with Guild G-shield knobs. If you own this guitar, please sell it to me. I just love blue guitars.

Guild Nightbird Deluxe DX

Based on the often incorrect Guild serial number charts, exactly 20 Nightbirds DXs were made of which only four were made in 1991 with the other 15 having been made in 1990. The serial number prefix for Nightbird STs is LCxxxxxx and the range reported on the charts indicates the following dates of manufacture:

1990: LC000001 – LC000015 (15)
1991: LC000016 – LC000020 (4)

Note that this is the exact same ratio as the Nightbird ST.

Nightbird CU (Custom)

Along with the very small production of radically different Nightbird ST and DXes, Guild also made the Nightbird Custom which looks very similar to the Nightbird II because that’s pretty much what it appears to be. The main difference from a historical point of view appears to be that the Custom was only available with a maple top (no spruce).

The Nightbird Custom is chambered with the mahogany back and all of the bling of the previous high-end instruments with the two that I’ve seen personally finished in very stunning green (shown) and red. The 1990 catalog lists the available colors as Cherry Sunburst, Amberburst, and Black so I don’t know if the green and red was a later year color or a special order.

Guild Nightbird Custom CU

Based on the often incorrect Guild serial number charts, only about 101 Nightbird Customs were made and this is the only model from the three nightbirds introduced in 1990 (ST, DX, CU) that continued to be made into 1992. The serial number prefix for Nightbird STs is BL1xxxxx (continuing from the Nightbird II)  and the range reported on the charts indicates the following dates of manufacture:

1990: BL100531 – BL100597 (66)
1991: BL100598 – BL100626 (28)
1992: BL100627 – BL100634 (7)

I’ve owned a fair number of Nightbirds and the Nightbird Customs that I’ve seen have all been some of the best of the bunch.

X2000

The X2000 is the proper name for the  the last Nightbirds ever made by Guild. In 1992 the X2000 was introduced and if you look at the picture (grabbed from this thread on Let’s Talk Guild before Photobucket ruined the Internet) you can see that it’s pretty much just like the previous high-end Nightbirds, though the truss rod cover now says X-2000 instead of Nightbird.

I don’t have a lot of information on these guitars because never seen one in person, but the main differentiator appears to be the transition away from the slotted diamond inlays over to the more Guild-esqe inlays found on such well-known high-end guitars as the Guild D55 and JF65 acoustics.

Of the very few X2000s I’ve seen online, none of them had pick guards and none appeared to have a pick guard mounting hole in the top so my assumption is that they either didn’t come with a pick guard, or came with one uninstalled.

The Guild serial number chart shows that the X2000 and X4000 share serial number prefixes, but I can’t confirm this because the few X4000s I’ve seen have serial numbers with the prefix FFxxxxxx which the Guid chart lists as Prototype. Meanwhile, the X3000 Nightingales (see below) I’ve seen have serial number prefixes of CLxxxxxx leading me to think that it the X3000 shares its prefix with the X2000 either instead of or in addition to the X2000.

Because the X2000 and X3000 (I assume) shared the serial number prefix, there is no way for me to know how many X2000s were built, but even combined there appear to be only about 54 of both ever made. Note that these are also the first high-end Nightbirds to change the serial number prefix which had always been BL1xxxxxx.

The serial number prefix for the X2000/X3000 (I believe) models is CL000000 and the range reported on the charts indicates the following dates of manufacture:

1992: CL000001 – CL000053 (53 of both)
1993: CL000054 – CL000054 (Only one – don’t know which)

The X2000 is a fabulous and relatively rare addition to the Nightbird family, If you’ve got one or know where one is, please to let me know!

Nightingale X-3000

While strictly speaking not a Nightbird, it’s close enough that I figured it warranted inclusion. Put simply, the X3000 Nightingale is more or less a Nightbird X2000 with F-holes. These are fabulously rare instruments that are always breathtaking and reportedly just stunning in person.

There’s not much I can add here aside from me begging for you to sell me your Nightingale. You know you want to. The serial number information appears to be the same as for the Nightbird X2000, though that is me extrapolating from the data at hand – we’ll have to wait for Hans’ next book for verification.

There are also Nightingales from previous years with slotted diamond inlays.

Miscellaneous Notes

  • The Nightbird, Nightbird II, and Nightbird Custom (CU) all share the same serial number prefix of BL1xxxxx making it appear that they’re all of the same type, which they certainly appear to be. Sadly, this also make it even more confusing when trying to figure out what you’re looking at.
  • Please take any and all “only xx ever made” claims with a grain of salt – even the ones on this page. Guild serial number charts are notorious for containing errors and those errors are often stated as fact. That’s while you’ll see me say being a big vague when stating how many of each model were made.
  • Every Nightbird I’ve handled has had a 1 11/16″ or slightly wider neck. Some are thicker than others, but none of them ore overly thin.
  • From what I understand, Guild HB1 pickups were always an option even on guitars listed as having EMGs, but I don’t have that in writing anywhere
  • Remember that there are a LOT of variations on the Nightbird theme out there and you may encounter one that’s similar but doesn’t exactly match any of them. The Lava-burst example at the top of the page is one such example.
  • Nightbirds rock and I want them all
  • I want a Nightingale even more

Sources

Hans Moust: I have learned much of what I know from a variety of sources, but the first person I have to acknowledge when it comes to anything Guild-related is Hans Moust, author of The Guild Guitar Book. No one knows more about Guild than Hans and much of what I know is thanks to him. There’s only so much he will share since he’s writing a new book that covers this era of Guild, though, so any mistakes I made are my own and have no reflection on Hans.

The Nightbird Pages: The now defunct Nightbird Pages was a great source of information about Nightbirds that has sadly gone the way of many early personal pages on the Internet. I managed to contact the owner who graciously transferred his files to me. I had hope to reinstate those pages which I may eventually do, but the source files are hard to manage having been written in software that no longer exists.

The Guilds of Grot: Kurt over at the GuildsOfGrot.com is a collector of Guilds that makes my obsession look like a passing phase. He has well over 100 Guilds, damn-near all of them mint, and the stories of acquisition to go with them all. He also has a fabulous collection of catalogs and price lists that he’s shared with me over the years that has made much of my research possible.

Guild Serial Numbers: The serial number chart that I malign repeatedly can be found here.

Books: More information on the books I reference can be found in my GAD’s Guitar Review Standards article.

Conclusion

So, what’s up with that lava-burst Nightbird from the top of the post? Here it is again in all its glory. First, let’s identify it. It’s got thin slotted diamonds and it says Nightbird on the truss-rod cover. That probably would make it a Nightbird Custom (It’s not blank and it doesn’t say Nightbird GG or have fat inlays). The problems with this guitar are the tuners which don’t match any of the ones on our lists (though do appear on the picture in the 1990 catalog), and the bridge and tailpiece which are not Nightbird parts.

According to Hans this guitar is a bit of an oddity and may have been made by an employee from parts or something else entirely. Heck, when I got it the pickups in the guitar (Fender HB1s) didn’t even exist when the serial number indicated the guitar was built. This guitar is absolutely stunning to look at and to play, but the parts on it make it not quite right. If you’re a collector, that stuff matters, but it just goes to show that all those little details add up. Does it matter in the end if the guitar plays great? It might if you’re paying for a 100% original mint Nightbird.

How about this one?

That’s a beautiful Nightbird with all the right parts with a Nightbird GG truss rod cover and is indeed one of the first run Nightbirds. I own this guitar and play it often but the pictures still make me drool.

Hopefully this helps with your quest for the perfect Nightbird. If you have any questions I’m happy to help, and if I don’t know the answer I’m happy to redirect you to someone who probably does.

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