Guild X79-3 Skyhawk

I love me a wacky ’80s Guild shredder guitar and there are not many that are wackier than this! This odd looking instrument is a Guild X79-3 Skyhawk which, believe it or not, was one of the more popular Guild electrics of the 1980s.

This particular guitar is from 1982 and being an X79-3 varies from a regular X79 in that it has three single coil pickups instead of the X79’s two humbuckers. Being from 1982 also means that it predates many of the strange Guild solid body guitars of the 1980s which is kind of surprising given how unique looking this one is.

Introduction

In 1982 Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger would have been the #1 Billboard song of the year if not for being displaced by Olivia Newton-John’s Let’s Get Physical. .38 Special’s Caught up in You was a hit as was A Flock of Seagull’s I Ran which of course has the best one-note keyboard solo in history.  It was a time of very strange fashion, very distinctive music, and it was the beginning of new era in music affectionately known as the hair band era.

Not everyone was a fan.

In 1982 I was graduating high school and I was quickly becoming a fan of the entire genre, though it would take a few years for the movement to really get in swing. By 1984 Twisted Sister was huge and had signed some sort of deal with Guild because suddenly Guild and Twisted sister was a thing and Guild guitars started appearing in their videos. This screenshot shows a Guild X79 (not a -3) from the video I Wanna Rock. The song was huge and everyone loved it because MTV was now a cemented aspect of modern life. OK, everyone except people that thought the whole Twisted Sister schtick was a little over the top, but I didn’t know anyone like that. Twisted Sister was a cultural icon and the spoke for the masses! Well, maybe not the part of the masses the pushed Eye of the Tiger out of the #1 spot by listening to Olivia Newton-John, but you get the idea.

The X-79 is named the Skyhawk which is one of the many aviation-themed names that Guild would come out with in the 1980s thanks to a love of aviation by some pretty important people who worked at (and owned) Guild.

I’ve seen posts online where people seem to think that only 172 of these were made which is simply not true, though that number may apply to the much less common X80 as evidenced by this thread on LetsTalkGuild.com (see post 13). As for how many X79-3s there are, I couldn’t say, but they appear to be less common than the dual humbucker X79 model.

The X79-3 model was more expensive than the X79 which may be why there appears to be fewer of them with the X79 selling for $629 and the X79-3 selling for $685 in the 1983 price list. The case is listed as an option in that price list so add $135 for a total of $820 if you bought it with the case.

Speaking of the case, you really want one with the case if you find one for sale because this guitar is really quite oddly shaped with many long pointy appendages all of which are just begging to be broken, chipped, or damaged in some unforeseen way. Additionally, this is not a guitar that takes to gig bags well though I see a fair number of them being sold that way. Since the guitar is so oddly shaped it may not fit into any old case though given the diminutive overall size of the guitar I’ve found that it does fit into the case for a Guild S300, for example, which can not be said of the Guild X80, but that’s a tale for another time.

As someone who is constantly on the lookout for Guild advertising and catalogs from the 1980s, the fact that X79 and even X79-3 materials are so easy to find makes it pretty obvious that Guild really believed in this guitar and put the full force of their marketing machine behind it. It seemed to sell pretty well, too, given the fact that it was in circulation for five or so years and that over 1700 of them were made.

Hell, not long ago I walked into the local music shop in my town where I have known everyone for years. What did I spy on the wall but a black and white picture of one of the owners from the mid 1980s showing off the we’re the band and we should have an album pose that we all did back then. He was the keyboardist, but what caught my eye aside from the killer fashion and hair product choices was the guitarist who was holding a kick-ass Guild X79 guitar. If it was cool enough for high school kids, then you know it was a big deal.

Finish

I’m tempted to say that this guitar is poly because the finish always seems to chip off in large chunks in a way that doesn’t remind me of lacquer. I have definitely seen some lacquer checking on models for sale online, though.

Since the majority of the X79s I see for sale seem to be Candy Apple Red, I seem to notice that many of them have severe finish problems, especially on the neck. This guitar is no exception and there are two large pieces of the finish that have flaked off on the side of the neck. Thankfully they’re in a spot where I don’t feel it while I play, but for a guy who likes to keep his gear as close to mint as possible, stuff like this bugs me.

The neck has a definite texture to it and seems to be sort of pebbled. This is only on the neck and not evident anywhere else on the guitar. Notice also that the bottom part of the fretboard on the high-E side is a bit of a mess, too.

I don’t know if the pebbling is a feature or if it’s a problem with an undercoat that causes the common finish chipping or if it’s caused by the Candy Apple Red (CAR) finish itself (or perhaps all of the above), but if you’re in the market for one of these instruments make sure you give the neck a thorough look because this appears to be a common issue with these guitars.

Fretboard and Neck

I have to start with the headstock because just look at that headstock! As a fun aside, check out the truss rod cover because it mimics the shape of the headstock. Actually, most of the Guild trussrod covers mimic the headstocks which is one more reason why I find it so baffling to see them mounted upside down so often. You know, aside from the words being upside down.

The headstock is very cool and very distinctive looking but holy crap does it ever break easily. Long thin pieces of wood aren’t very stable and given the position of these little points, they tend to get whacked into things which causes those pointy bits to snap right off. Next to the finish the pointy bits chipping or breaking off has to be the most common problem I see with these guitars on the used market. Hell, just zoom into the picture of the headstock and you’ll see that the point by the high-E tuner has broken off (it was reglued – see the crack run right through the tuner hole). That’s kind of an odd one to break in my mind, but it’s evidence that it happens and it happens a lot.

Another side-effect of the odd headstock shape is the severe break angle of the high-E string from the nut to the tuner. The other strings are fine but that one makes me nervous. It also looks like the D and G strings touch the middle tuners (A and B), but they don’t. They are very close, though.

The headstock has another pretty severe angle which means that if you lay the guitar down flat the longest pointiest bit is the first thing that touches the floor. That’s one more way for the pointy bits to break off though I suppose having the pointy bit on the top snap off is probably better than a Gibson-esq neck break.

This is short-scale (24 ¾”) guitar and the fretboard is ebony with no binding anywhere to be found. The neck is almost exactly 1 5/8″ a the nut and is on the smaller side for an ’80s Guild. Though it’s not the smallest I’ve measured, it’s pretty darn close.

The fretboard has a radius of 9.5″ and the frets are pretty typical of ’70s and early ’80s Guilds in that they’re low and wide. One of the catalogs I have reference an article in Guitar World (which will be included in my X79 review) that comments on the guitars jumbo frets. If this guitar had jumbo frets then they were smoothed and leveled so much that they became vintage Guild frets which, though technically possible, I kind of doubt that’s what happened. The inlays are simple dots on this and all other X79s that I’ve seen.

Build Quality

This is a quality Westerly-made Guild with a set neck but it is so light weight that it feels a bit insubstantial. None of the marketing documents that I have access to describe the neck or body material but if I had to guess I’d say poplar for the body and possibly mahogany for the neck but my guess was wrong. I’ve seen people online claim that the X79 is made from mahogany but I didn’t think it was mostly because of the extreme lightweight nature of the guitar. Mahogany has a density of about 31-53 lb/ft³ (which varies by species) while poplar is generally much less than that at 22-31 lb/ft³ (source). This guitar weighs only 6 lbs 4 oz (2.83 kilos) and it just doesn’t feel like a mahogany guitar, but if you look closely at the screw holes, you’ll see mahogany so I my guess was flat-out wrong.

Another good reason for the guitar to be so light is the massive route under the pick guard which is there to support the pickups. Speaking of pickups, the pickups on the X79-3 measure 4 ¾” from the top of the neck pickup to the bottom-most point on the angled bridge pickup. On my 2008 American Deluxe Strat, the pickups measure just under 5 ¾” from tip to tip. Put another way, the distance between the neck and middle pickup on my Strat is just shy of 1 ¾” while that same space measures only 1 ¼” on my X79-3. Finally, the bridge pickup is ½” from the bridge on the X79-3 and a full 1″ from the bridge on my Strat. If that’s too much math to visualize, the pickups are more tightly packed together on the Guild X79-3 than they are on a Strat. Though this guitar is Strat-like in design with its three single-coil pickups, it is is really built quite differently from a Strat.

The headstocks on these guitars (which simulate the guitar’s body shape if you hadn’t noticed) are pretty commonly found broken on the used market any my example is no exception. The break on mine is in an odd place, though the way the headstock broke is indicative of the fact that the wood is severely weakened not only by the shape of the headstock, but by the fact that the tuner holes further remove mass from an already stretched design. On mine the headstock horn by the high-E tuner broke right through the tuner hole.

This guitar has a set-neck which adds to the slimness and lightness of the guitar. The guitar body is only 1.5″ (3.81 cm) thick.

As you can see from this picture this guitar has two strap pegs on the neck side of the guitar. I originally removed the one on the back and then learned that I had removed the wrong peg as the one on the back was the original one and the one on the tip is the one added later. I only learned this when I later got a mint X79 to reference, though I guess I’m just an idiot for not looking at the countless X79 pictures on the Internet.

Pickups

The Guild catalog from 1983 says that the X79-3 features three specially made Guild single coil pickups. The pickups in my Guild X79-3 appear to be Dimarzio SDS-1s which are pretty odd looking units from the back. They have cream-colored baseplates and contrary to normal Statocaster pickups that use the pole pieces as the magnets, the SDS-1s utilize ceramic bar magnets which is more like the way that a P90 pickup is built. The SDS-1 webpage sells them as sounding similar to soapbar pickups while also exibiting much less magnetic pull than normal Strat-type single coils. They go on to say that, The highs are less exaggerated and the bottom is deeper than most singles for a rounder, darker tone. I should point out that not all X79-3s appear to have come with these pickups, so you may have different results if you find one for sale.

Dimarzio recommends the SDS-1 as a bridge pickup so using them in all three positions seems to be kind of odd. For those that think the tone is too much, this thread on the Seymour Duncan forum seems to indicate that changing the hex screws to “normal” Fillister humbucker screws can help to deliver a more P90-like tone. I have not tried this mod.

The bridge pickup is mounted upside down in my guitar which appears to be the way it came from the factory. My guess is that they did this for space, but given the nature of the polarity switching in the electronics the added variable of one of the pickups being mounted backwards sort of hurt my head at first. Is the polarity different because the pickup is mounted backwards? No.

The pickups are wound in a certain direction. Let’s call it clockwise. If you take one of the pickups and mount it backwards then the winds are still clockwise; the only thing that’s changed is the orientation of the pole pieces and since these aren’t humbuckers with screws and slugs, the orientation doesn’t really matter. That assumes that the poles are all made of the same material, of course, and I see nothing to indicate otherwise.

Electronics

The electronics on this guitar are pretty interesting because they’re a bit different than a traditional guitar. Put simply, there are three mini toggle switches with one for each pickup arranged in the same order as the pickups themselves. Each of the single coil pickups can be phase reversed (top or bottom position) or disabled (middle position) and the output of all of the switches is combined which means that the three pickups are wired in parallel.

Parallel wiring is standard on Stratocasters, so that’s not a big deal. What’s cool about the wiring scheme on the X79-3 is the fact that each of the pickups can be enabled or disable in any combination. this is not possible on a traditionally wired Stratocaster because of the use of the blade switch. The 5-position blade switch in a Strat allows two pickups to be active at a time, but only in two very specific combinations, those being neck+middle and middle+bridge. With the individual toggles on the X79-3 the following combinations are possible (the bold options are not possible on a 5-position Strat):

  • all pickups off
  • neck
  • middle
  • bridge
  • neck + middle
  • middle + bridge
  • neck + bridge
  • neck + middle + bridge

But wait; there’s more! Since each of the mini-toggles allow the phase of each pickup to be reversed, instead of there being seven choices, there are actually 27! But that’s not all! Because of the way the guitar is wired, the options may not be immediately obvious, or at least they weren’t to me.

You see, the middle pickup is wired backwards from the other two. If you look carefully at the drawing to the right you’ll see that though the white and black wires from each of the pickups is wired to the same position on each switch, the outputs of those switches (dotted red and dotted green on the drawing) are reversed on the middle switch. That means that if you put both the neck and middle switches up (or down) you will not get the typical position 2 Strat-type sound. If you want that Stratty sound you need to reverse one of those switches. To me that is counter-intuitive because it would make more sense that if I wanted to reverse the polarity then I would reverse the switch (which, to be fair, is what happens), but if I wanted two pickups to have reversed polarity in relation to each other, I’d expect the switch positions to reflect that. Having the switches in reversed position (up/down or down/up) in order to make them have the same polarity is just baffling to me.

Doing the math there are three 3-way toggles which means there are 3³ permutations which works out to 27 combinations of pickup selection. That’s certainly better than the 54 possibilities on my Liberator Elite which has a similar switch layout but also includes a boost switch to double the complexity, but 27 is still a lot of options.

While having so many choices may seem daunting, many of them are duplicates of other choices since two pickups with the same polarity sounds the same regardless if they’re (+)(+) or (-)(-). I’d like to think that the combination of (+)(-) is the same functionally as (-)(+), but I swear I can hear differences, though they’re subtle. Where things get weird is when all three pickups are engaged where you can have combinations like (+)(+)(+), (+)(-)(+), or even (-)(+)(+). There are some interesting sounds in those combinations and while I started by trying to describe them, describing 27 different subtleties of tone was not an endeavor I was interested in pursuing. Then I realized that Guild only advertised it as having 13 tonal combinations in the catalogs which I then went on to realize was still to many to describe. By the way, if you’re wondering where 13 came from, it’s 27 minus the all-off position and then removing all the settings that are the same as other settings but with reversed polarity. Hence (27-1)/2 = 13. Yay math!

Hardware

This is a very small guitar and it has a pretty wacky headstock but one of the things that caught me by surprise was the fact that it has mini tuners on it. I don’t think I had ever seen mini tuners with those Schaller looking heads on them so my brain just assumed they’d be bigger. They work perfectly fine even if they’re installed at some pretty strange angles. Remember that there are at least one other headstock shape on X79 variants out there, so options may vary when it comes to tuners. According to the documents I have access to the tuners have 14:1 ratios.

The knobs are Guild notched speed knobs which were pretty common in the 1980s. If you get one of these guitars and the knobs don’t have notches all the way around the rim then someone replaced them with Gibson replacement knobs (I see this a lot). That person should be punished and you should replace the knobs as quickly as possible. I’ve been successful searching for notched speed knob on eBay and received knobs that only the purist of Guild snobs might eyeball as not being from Guild.

The strap pegs are old-school standard screw-in types that most gigging musicians replace with strap locks. There is one in the centerline on the bottom of the guitar and one on the back of the top horn. On this particular guitar someone in its past decided that they wanted the strap to orient differently so they installed a third peg on the tip of the horn. This makes the guitar look like it has barnacles to me but I guess they didn’t like the way the guitar hung with the normal peg location.

The bridge is the typical Guild Adjust-o-matic (that’s not tune-o-matic!) found on Guilds in the 1970s and and ’80s but the tailpiece is a little bit different than what I’m used to seeing.

The tailpiece is a Guild SP-6 Quick Change tailpiece and it’s interesting because where the Guild tailpieces I’m used to seeing have holes where the strings are threaded, this has no holes but rather slots in bottom where you can slide the string under the unit then let the ball end sit into a depression on the back. You can see this clearly if you zoom the picture to the right.

The pick guard is typical multi-ply material and is shaped so oddly that you’ll have a seriously hard time replacing it if you break it, so please, for the love of all things Guild, please don’t drill random holes in it so that you can add some stupid feature that the next person is just going to remove.

Sound

This guitar does deliver some Strat-like tones in addition to some pretty convincing humbucker tones. It doesn’t chime quite like a Strat because it’s not built like one and the pickups are built differently. Another big difference is that this guitar doesn’t have a 25.5″ neck. As much as the pickups can quack when they’re in the right configuration, you’ll never get that bell-like chime that Strats produce.

Since there are so many switch combinations (27) but only 13 different tonal combinations, I took the spreadsheet and removed everything that either wasn’t unique or produced no sound (Basically all settings N and down).

USA Clean

Chords

Riff

As usual, for these recordings I used my normal Axe-FX XL II+ recorded direct into my Macbook Pro using Audacity. For this guitar I only recorded twice – once for chords and once for a simple riff, with both recordings using only the USA Clean (A Mesa Mark IV) setting. For each recording I cycle through the the 13 useful switch settings as shown on the spreadsheet at the start of this section. For any of you with perfect pitch, apologies for the guitar being slightly out of tune. For those of you without perfect pitch just forget I said anything. Both knobs were on 10 for all recordings.

Just cycling through the progression of settings in a logical way was an exercise in frustration which is why I only did it twice with a clean amp. Three tiny switches each of which having three possible settings makes for an easy to confuse session with the guitar. If I were to play with this thing live I think I’d need a set list with the switch positions next to each song. Or I’d only use the guitar for one song. It’s crazy.

Some of the settings I really liked since they definitely have that Strat-like vibe. Some of the combinations are ultra nasally and almost unpleasant but I could see using them for special effects or even that guitar over the telephone sound that no one chases – ever.

This guitar, though capable of noise-cancellation, is built with single coil pickups so when configured to play a single pickup or with two pickups in phase, it will absolutely pickup up any and all sources of 60-cycle hum within a 50 mile radius. Unless you’re in the UK in which case it will pickup up all 50-cycle hum within a radius of 60 kilometers (that’s an electronics/math/metric joke if you weren’t paying attention). There is some shielding on the electronics but none on the pickups so I’d guess that the ability to switch pickups out of phase for noise-cancelling trumped the addition of any shielding in the massive pickup cavity.

Playability

The first quirk about this guitar is that it is downright tiny. Though its measurements make it seem larger, it’s mostly horns and the bulk of the middle section has been routed out to fit the pickups. It’s also very light so it feels like it’s not even there. That’s sort of a mixed blessing because while it’s easy to play for hours on end, it’s so light that it feels insubstantial and I’m afraid I’ll break it by playing it too hard.

Changing sounds on the fly is difficult because there is no easy selection when you have to manipulate three tiny toggle switches. I had the same complaint about the Liberator Elite which uses a similar and even more complicated control layout.

The guitar handles well and is well balanced though the very long top horn having the strap peg at its end seems to make it hang just a little bit differently than I’d expect which makes it even stranger that some joker put an extra strap peg on the tip of the long horn on this guitar.

Conclusion

This is a fun guitar but as someone who’s used to very substantial instruments I feel like this guitar is too fragile. It’s not, but between the extreme light weight, the easily chipped finish, and the pointy bits on the headstock that have a habit of snapping off, I feel like I need to treat this guitar with kid gloves.

Although it feels insubstantial to me, it is a heck of a lot of fun to play and I like the sounds that it can produce. The guitar looks cool and certainly helps to convey the look at me! vibe that the ’80s were all about. From a playability standpoint my only real beef is that it’s difficult to do quick changes because of the complexity of the switches and the dexterity necessary to manipulate them all.

Oddly enough I think I would like this guitar a lot more if it was made of maple or swamp ash because that would give it a more substantial feel. I have a maple Guild X80 that’s basically the same body shape in reverse and that guitar feels wonderful. Still, not everyone likes or wants a heavier guitar. If you’re gigging with back or shoulder problems a six pound guitar would be a life saver.

From what I’ve seen, finding one of these in mint condition is getting to be all but impossible. The very popular Candy Apple Red ones are all chipped and the pointy bits are often chipped or broken regardless of color. That says something about these guitars, though: they were played. Guild’s motto has been Made to be Played for many years and though I bitch about the finish problems and the points breaking off, it’s pretty clear to me that these guitars saw some major use in their lives, and that doesn’t really happen with crappy guitars.

I dig it, but if I was lusting after this body shape I would wait for a dual-humbucker X79.

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