Guild S270 Flyer

Today’s review is of a Guild S270 Flyer from 1985.  I picked up this ’80s Guild shredder at a great price because they seem to often get picked over by people looking for vintage Strats, Charvels, Jacksons, and the like. That’s a shame because any Guild from the Westerly plant should be taken seriously and this model is no exception.

As you might have guessed by looking at the picture, this is a very simple instrument so let’s see if it can hold up against the impossibly high standards that I have for Guild electric guitars.

Introduction

Why have a super Strat with only one pickup? Well, Eddie Van Halen did it, so it must be cool. Seriously, though, more pickups must be better, right? Well, that depends.

As a guitarist who learned in the ’70s and played in the ’80s, I played a fair bit of straight up rock along with a healthy dose of hair metal, and I can tell you that my guitar was usually set to the bridge pickup. I just liked that biting distortion that I got when using the bridge pickup in a high gain amp so, if I never used the neck pickup, why have it at all? That’s the theory behind the single-pickup super Strat.

There are those that will also argue that the neck pickup in a multi-pickup guitar pulls down on the strings and causes the strings to behave differently. This is not just crazy guitarist psuedo-science as this very issue can be found on Strats when the pickups are too close to the strings. Dissonant overtones are the result of this scenario and the behavior is colloquially called Strat-itis. Strat single coil pickups aren’t built like humbuckers, though, as the magnets in Strat single coil pickups are the pole piece themselves while humbucker magnets are bars that sit underneath the pole pieces. This means that the Strat pickup magnets are directly affecting the strings while the humbucker magnets are indirectly (through the pole pieces) affecting the strings. Honestly, though, having been around in the ’80s I think the reason most players went for the single pickup guitar was probably because it looked bad-ass.

An S270 Flyer with exact same finish (hell, it could be the same guitar for all I know) is shown in the New Aviations catalog from the mid-1980s and is described as the Guild S270 Flyer. I love catalogs from the 1980s and especially love the last line of copy on this page which states, Look for the new Guilds—or look out! What the hell – did Guild just threaten me?

Another thing I love about this particular catalog is that if you look closely at some of the photos of the guitars you can see the strings that were used to hang them. These guitars all appear to have been hung from trees in the park somewhere by fishing line and if you zoom into the catalog page and then zoom in some more then look on the bottom of each pic you’ll see the monofilament tied to the bottom strap peg reflecting in the sunlight. Hey – Photoshop didn’t even exist until 1988 so they did the best with what they could and even today I think that’s a pretty cool looking catalog. It’s also damn rare! If you’ve got one of these I’d love to buy it from you!

Thanks again to Kurt from the Guilds of Grot for the scans of these now ancient artifacts that are the Guild catalogs from the 1980s. 

At some point in the mid-80s the S270 was renamed the Spirit. According to this article in Vintage Guitar magazine Guild filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1988 and ceased solid-body guitar manufacturing which explains why I don’t recall ever seeing one of the Spirit-labeled S270s. For all I know they look just the same as the Flyer since the one I have doesn’t say Flyer on it anywhere.

The 1986 price list shows the S271 Sprint (not S270) which I believe means that they changed the headstock to the pointy version seen on other Sxx1 models. The price in that guide is $725 and shows that one EMG and the deluxe Kahler were stock. Standard colors are shown as Black, Candy Apple Red, Pearl White, and Sunburst with custom colors and graphics available as a $100 or $50 upchage respectively.

I own or have owned most of the Guild super-Strat and other shredtastic guitars from the ’80s, and this is probably one of the simplest given its single pickup, lack of controls, and bolt-on neck. I also got this guitar for a song because these Guild electrics seem to fly under the radar which is a shame because as you’re about to read, this is really one hell of a guitar. What makes it so great? Well, you’re just going to have to keep reading because I get paid by the word. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t get paid at all. Now I’m sad.

Reckless tangent alert! Have you ever noticed that there are no ads on my pages? If so, did you ever wonder why? Here’s the answer: I hate ads. The end.

If there’s one thing that cures sadness for me it’s strapping on a pointy ’80s guitar and turning the amp up to seismic levels and having done just that I’m ready for the rest of the review.

Finish

My guess is that this guitar is poly because I’ve never seen one of these ’80s shred-master Guilds check like lacquer does and I’ve seen a fair number of them chip like poly does. This one is freaking mint, though without a mark on it. It does have a glossy finish that collects fingerprints like crazy and it doesn’t smell or feel like lacquer. I’ve also gone on record as saying repeatedly that so long as the finish doesn’t distract me or get in the way, I don’t really care what it is.

This guitar is quite obviously black. There’s really not much else to say. Well, the neck isn’t black so let’s talk about that next.

Fretboard and Neck

This is a super-Strat all the way and has a 25 5/8″ fretboard for that extra chime and Strat-like feel in the strings with that bonus 1/8″ of scale length that says I’m not a Fender! which is kind of funny since Guild later got bought by Fender. Actually I have no idea why the scale length on Guilds is 25 5/8″.

The neck appears to be rift-sawn maple and the fretboard is a beautiful slab of unbound rosewood that is so pretty with an application of bore oil that I am still blown away by how great it looks considering that this was the least-expensive electric that Guild sold at the time.

The Architectural Woodworkers Institute defines “rift sawing” as a technique of cutting boards from logs radially so the annular growth ring orientation is between 30 – 60 degrees to the face of the board, with 45 degrees being “optimum” [wiki], and now you know as much about rift sawing as I do and I only know that much because I wondered if the pattern I saw on the end of the neck meant anything.

The neck is attached to the body with four wood screws that are threaded right into the neck. Some modern necks use bolts and inserts instead of wood screws and there’s a good article on that here. If I were of the constantly taking the neck off of my guitar persuasion I’d definitely prefer that, but since I see no reason to remove the neck ever again, I’m certainly fine with the wood screws.

The frets are among the largest I’ve ever measured on a Guild measuring 0.05″ high by 0.11″ wide making them 6150 jumbo frets. The fretboard radius measured 10″ on my gauges, though I could be convinced that it’s 9.5″ since there’s a subtle difference between those two and I’d imagine that 9.5″ would be more commonly used.

The headstock has what I generally call the foot shape common with Guild electrics of the time. I really like this shape but given the tastes of the long-haired spandex-wearing hair-band wannabes of the time, I can see why Guild transitioned most if not all of their electrics to the pointy alternative that defined the era, even if those highly desired pointy headstocks make the guitars look dated and ugly to most people today. I like the foot shape because I think it aged better than the pointed shapes and because the pointy headstocks almost universally have broken tips some 30+ years later.

Build Quality

This is a very simple guitar. It’s got a bolt-on neck, a single pickup, and a Kahler floating bridge. Hell, the Kahler is probably the most complicated thing on the whole guitar and since these bridges top-mount and have no springs that require routing underneath (their integral to the unit), even that’s self-contained and simple.

That said, the guitar feels amazing when you pick it up, and it just exudes that Westerly build quality that Guilds of the time are known for.  This being the lowest-priced Guild electric of the time, there is no binding, no block inlays, and nothing at all fancy about the guitar, though the rosewood fretboard is beautiful as previously stated.

This particular guitar weighs 7 lbs 10 oz (3.46 kg) which I’d guess is pretty average for a Strat-shaped guitar, especially given the fact that it has that big ol’ heavy honkin’ Kahler at the bridge. I have a Kahler sitting on the bench here and it alone weighs almost a pound. These ’80s Guid electrics tend to be poplar unless upgraded to maple so poplar is my guess as to what this one is made of.

This guitar has the typical Guild quality feel to it and sustains well given the Kahler which will never be as resonant as a good old-fashioned stop tail or string-through design.

Pickup

This guitar has one pickup which is an EMG 81. The EMG 81 was almost an industry standard for active pickups in the mid-80s and everyone wanted them back then. It’s a high-output active design with a rail magnet.

Since there is only one pickup there is no selection switch. Since there are no options installed (A fat control was a $100 upgrade at the time) the knobs are not push-pull and there are no toggles. You plug this guitar in, turn up the volume, and rock. End of story.

Electronics

The wiring on this guitar could almost not be simpler. I say almost because you could do away with the tone pot and if you had a passive pickup there would be no battery, but given the inclusion of both the tone control and the EMG 81 pickup, this is about as simple as it gets.

The potentiometers are small and since there’s not much to the circuit, the control cavity it small, too. The battery is contained within that small control cavity which is accessed via to pick guard screws. There potentiometers being small is a sign that these are not the original pots and sure enough the originals are in the case in a nice box. I’m not sure why they were replaced because the originals appear to be fine and no new functionality was added by replacing them. Perhaps one was sporadic or someone changed the pickup to something else then changed it back.

The schematic is as simple as the wiring. The signal comes from the pickup, goes to the volume where treble can be bled off via the tone knob, after which the signal goes to the output jack. That’s it.

There is the added complexity of the 9V battery, but it is typical of EMG designs in that the output jack is stereo so that the battery is only in use if the guitar cord is plugged into the guitar.

Hardware

The knobs are not original, but the originals were in the case. I assume the new pots have a different diameter shaft but the new knobs look very similar to the proper vintage Guild knobs with the exception of the white dots which the originals do not have.

The Kahler is a 2300 Pro and works great. My only complaint with 2300 Pros is that the fine tuning knobs can get thrown out of whack by normal play if you’re a fan of palm muting, but aside from that I like them just fine with the exception of the arm threads which I’ll cover next.

This guitar has no pick guard and the strap pegs are large but non-locking. Though I do like the Kahler trem, I’m not a fan of threaded trem arms and that’s what this model has. I tend to like my trem arms to be in the position I want them to be (I dislike a floppy arm) and that’s not usually possible on this design. I tend to favor the collared Floyd Rose arms for this reason but that’s not really an option here so I’ll just stop whining about it now.

Sound

This guitar has a very bright Stratty-like tone that’s made powerful through the EMG humbucker. There are no switches, and thus no options apart from volume and tone. Being a child of the ’80s, both knobs stayed on 10 the whole time.

I was kind of thrown by the single pickup configuration because normally for these recordings I have to get a certain rhythm down for changing controls between pickup changes or feature changes and there was none of that with this guitar. For a guy who lives in a pretty complex world and as someone who owns some pretty complex guitars, I couldn’t decide if the simplicity of this guitar was refreshing or jarring.

ODS100

Open Chords #1

7th Chords

JCM-800

A Barre

D-Shape

Riff

Citrus

D-Shape

I recorded this guitar using my Axe-FX II XL+, direct into my Macbook Pro using Audacity. I recorded using the ODS100 patch, as well as the JCM-800 and one through a setting called Citrus which is a simulation of an Orange Rockverb 50.

Since there is only one pickup and thus no pickup selector switch, the recordings are each of the one pickup with the knobs on 10.

I was surprised by the chime I could pull from this guitar and I attribute that mostly to the longer scale. I was also surprised at what appeared to be a bit lower output than what I’m used to with active pickups. It’s hard to judge this guitar on that because the electronics are not original, but the simple math derived from the values on the pots and capacitor being the same means that shouldn’t make a difference. And yes, I put in a fresh battery.

Though not present on the recordings, I found myself bumping the gain a bit on the amp while playing at high gain because I wasn’t getting that high saturation I normally expect from an active pickup, though I wouldn’t count this as a bad thing because I generally favor low-wind passive pickups anyway and I can always add more drive. Given the choice I’ll pick less signal from the guitar over too much signal every time.

Playability

The guitar is a joy to play because it’s light but feels very solid (likely do to there not being huge routes in the top) and there’s no pick guard to bother me or middle/neck pickups to get in the way while playing.

The guitar feels great both seated and standing and is balanced quite well which I attribute to the genius that is the Fender Stratocaster body shape. The relatively curvy fretboard radius makes chording a dream and because the Kahler is well set up, playing leads does not lead to fretting they way a poorly set up 9.5″ radius fretboard can.

A guitar is a tool and at a minimum should not get in the players way. This is why I don’t usually recommend cheap guitars for beginners because a poorly made or badly sat up guitar can get in the new player’s way thus making it less likely that they’ll want to play, let alone practice. There’s a minimum that I expect from a guitar, and this guitar goes way beyond that. Why does this guitar exceed that minimum? Because it’s a Westerly-made Guild.

The quality and great setup on this guitar, coupled with it’s great tone and articulate distortion make this guitar an absolute blast to play for this aging metal-head hair-band lover.

Conclusion

I don’t see these come up for sale too often, so when I saw this one in mint condition i was thrilled to have one to review. Then I started to play it and fell in love with it because it’s just a blast to play. With no controls aside from tone and volume, there’s nothing to worry about except your own chops and I think that’s why the simplicity felt jarring. Get rid of the distractions and focus on the art and there are suddenly no excuses. That what a guitar like this is for.

Yes, this is a simple guitar, and yes, it was the least-expensive electric that Guild sold for a time, but don’t think for a minute that the S270 Flyer can’t deliver because it can, and it delivers the goods with graceful aplomb the way that most Westerly Guilds do.

As previously stated, this is a very simple guitar. It is, however, a very simple guitar that is extraordinarily well made and then assembled with quality parts in the Westerly Guild factory. That matters a lot and any seasoned guitarist would pick up this guitar and nod in satisfaction while they started playing their best ’80s riffs.

I have a Guild S281 Flyer which is arguably a “better” model with its double humbuckers and slightly different body design but the simple truth is that I like this S270 better.

Highly recommended.

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