Guild X97V Prototype

Today’s obsession is a 1983 Guild X97V. If you’ve never heard of that model that’s because it doesn’t exist… well, not as a production model, anyway. So far as I know this is the only one. This is a prototype guitar for a model that never made it into production, and while it’s certainly possible that there are other prototypes of the X97, as I’ll explain it looks like this is one of a kind. Should it have been a production guitar? I’ll let you decide that for yourself, though it’s pretty clear that Guild already determined that the answer to that was no. Still, this guitar has some interesting aspects to it so let’s take a look at this dangerously pointy Guild X97V.

Introduction

I was alerted to this guitar by some of the fine folks over on the LetsTalkGuild forum who know I love to write up rare Guilds, and since this one showed up on Craiglist as a Guild X97V prototype, I was all over it.

The term prototype gets thrown around a lot by people who don’t know what they’ve actually got in an effort to get people excited by their sale, but in this case after emailing Hans Moust and verifying that this guitar was a Guild prototype, I decided to buy it. Hans made sure to point out that the guitar was not original, though I had figured that much out on my own based one some observations that I imagine even the most casual of Guild fans would have noticed without having spent far too much time reading about Guilds and their many ’80s models.  Since Kurt over at GuildsOfGrot said he’d buy it for his collection after I wrote it up, buying this guiar was a total win.

There really is no history to talk about because this is the only X97V in existence that I’m aware of. I had no idea what the “V” in the X97V model number stood for, though I certinly speculated that it had something to do with the goofy headstock. Maybe they tried to sell it to Van Halen. Hell, maybe it meant Very maple. I had no idea, so i emailed Hans again who told me that the V stood for Vibrato.

Duh.

In my defense, most everyone in the guitar world calls a vibrato tailpiece a tremolo (or trem for short) thanks to Leo Fender confusing the terms back in the ’50s and labeling his tremolo circuits vibrato while calling his vibrato tailpieces tremolos. That has always irritated me, being of the “I like words” persuasion, so I was doubly annoyed to discover that the V meant vibrato since I had been so brainwashed by decades of mistaken nomenclature.

Normally, in this section I regale the reader (that’s you) with tales of what it was like to live in the ’80s along with some cool ads or catalog shots of the guitar in question. The problem here is, of course, that there are none of those things due to the guitar never becoming a production model. I do, however, have some pretty cool provenance that came with the guitar in the form of two signed notes from Guild.

This guitar found its way to a music store in 1984 where it was purchased by a fourteen year old kid who I will henceforth refer to as ’80s Kid. ’80s Kid had the presence of mind to send a letter (an honest-to-goodness letter!) to Guild asking if the guitar was actually a prototype as the store had insisted. Some time later he got the letter shown verifying that this X97V was a, in fact, a one-of-a-kind guitar that was made in 1983 (inferred from the dates on the letter).

Not only did ’80s Kid get a typed letter in response, but he also received a hand-written note from the Vice President of Guild, Bob Bromberg. Both of these notes were retained in excellent condition in an envelope in the case as the original owner played the guitar all through high school and college. Honestly, I’m amazed that there are no beer or coffee stains on either bits of very easily ruined bits of paper. Kudos ’80s Kid; good job.

No, the VP of Guild did not address the letters to ’80s Kid. ’80s Kid did give me his permission to post them with his full name and takes full responsibility for the atrocities you are about to observe, but I had too much fun photoshopping ’80s Kid (and Mr. Kid) into the documents.

Unfortunately, whatever vintage guitar collecting acumen ’80s Kid had did not spill over into the guitar itself, because at some point in the guitar’s life ’80s Kid took the guitar to a local shop and asked them to put a more modern bridge on it. You see, the guitar came with a cheap import Strat-like bridge, and ’80s Kid, being a kid in the ’80s, decided that he needed some double-locking tremolo goodness so he could get his whammy-bar freak on. That’s where things went pear-shaped.

Instead of the store saying, “Nay my good man, we will not alter such a fine and unique instrument thus destroying it’s value to future collectors!” (don’t they talk like that in your favorite guitar shop?) they went ahead and slapped on a Washburn Wonderbar, and they did so poorly.

This pic shows the guitar (pic courtesy of ’80s Kid who I guess is now ’10s Man… or something) as it was when it was shipped to me. As soon as I held the guitar in my hands I knew one thing with absolute certainty:

The WonderBar had to go.

The Restoration

The guitar was pretty much a nightmare when I got it because of the WonderBar bridge that had been installed. That’s right, someone (’80s Kid) took this one-of-a-kind Guild guitar and had the stock bridge replaced with the abomination known as the Washburn WonderBar. The shop apparently just screwed that one pound hunk of machinery right into the top of this rare piece of Guild history. Hey, at least that would make it play better, right? Wrong.

If you’ve never noticed, I’m very strict about making sure that my pictures are aligned properly. The picture of the huge WonderBar on the X97V is straight if you look closely at the pickup ring on the top. It’s the bridge that’s crooked, and it’s crooked by a lot. In the immortal words of Tommy Chong (I assume), “Not cool, man. Not cool.”

The bridge was clearly designed for a guitar with a wider fretboard, and it was so poorly installed that it was not only crooked, but whoever put it on had decided that the low-E string should be straight while the high-E string actually went off the fretboard entirely after about the 12th fret. Though I’m not a stickler for strings lining up over the pole-pieces on a guitar, this installation took that problem to the extreme. When I asked Guild expert and author Hans Moust about the original bridge for this guitar, he told me to look for the original six screw holes under the WonderBar. I didn’t have to look under it because they were plainly visible. Well, some of them were thanks to the angled installation of the hideous new bridge. I hesitate to even call it that since it made the guitar harder to play. It was basically ballast.

Honestly, the entire thing was a mess and the guitar was almost unplayable except for the first few frets. Surprisingly, the electronics and pickups had remained untouched. The nut had been replaced with a locking nut that was actually pretty well installed, so I left that alone.

The back plate for the tremolo cavity had been, and I use this term loosely, altered so that (I assume) the original bridge could be strung without removing the plate. It looks like this expert customization was done using a drill and, I don’t know… tin snips? Maybe scissors? A firearm? Whatever tools were used, this was clearly the work of a seasoned professional with a keen eye regarding the unique nature of the guitar’s place in Guild history. By the way, if that statement confuses you, your sarcasm meter may be in need of calibration.

If you look carefully at that photo you will also notice that there are a couple of extra screw holes in the body near the top of the image. It would appear that the holes got stripped so they were masterfully retained using scotch tape. I shouldn’t make fun because at least the screws were still there. Many of the vintage Guilds I come across are missing many of the screws, and hey – it’s clear this guitar was used and loved and we’ve all probably done worse things during a gig to keep an instrument going. Thankfully there was no routing done to the wood, though the wood did not get through all of these shenanigans unscathed.

When I removed the bridge I saw that the finish seemed to have worn away from what I was tempted to call overzealous torquing of the installation screws, but the same wear pattern is actually visible under the plastic pickup rings which make me wonder if the finish just wasn’t all that robust to begin with. Regardless of the cause, there are huge unfortunate marks on the top. I guess the upside of this type of damage is that there’s no doubt that the body wood on this guitar is mahogany because the bare wood is quite visible in many places.

As bad as the bridge installation was, the installer somehow managed not to destroy the original mounting screws for the six-screw fender-type tremolo (which is really a vibrato) bridge, though I could certainly joke that it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Miraculously, all six of the original mounting holes were still threaded and undamaged. After emailing Hans who told me that the original bridge was a cheap import affair, I set out to find one that matched his more detailed description after which I agreed to pay an eBay seller far too much for a part I would never have otherwise purchased. In fact, I bought two of them with slightly different designs because I had a feeling that I’d need to build a single working example from multiple sources which is exactly what I had to do.

The bridges I received were not bad but they weren’t great, either. The base plate from the one on the right was in much better condition, but I wanted to use the sheet-metal bridges from the one on the left. Additionally the one on the right came with an arm and that arm did not fit in the one on the left. I took them both apart, cleaned them as much as possible, then set about assembling a single working unit.

Since the WonderBar was a top-mounting unit, the springs and claw underneath the guitar were also long gone. Luckily the import trems I had bought came with all the original mounting hardware including a claw and springs. The screw holes for the claw were also thankfully undamaged and installing the old claw was simply a matter of strength since those big screws take some effort to get in to the right depths.

With the claw mounted, I set about installing the vintage trem. It’s certainly not the best bridge in the world, but it’s accurate for this guitar. I also have to say that with the vintage trem installed this guitar became infinitely more playable since the guitar was designed for a bridge of this size and string spacing. The high-E string now worked all the way up the fretboard, the string spacing and radius were now correct, and the guitar felt like a Guild once more. The crazy part is that it also sounded amazing, but I’ll cover that more in a bit.

At Grot’s recommendation (since he will be the next owner of this guitar), instead of refinishing the top or messing with filling in those marks, I simply drew them in with a black sharpie. Not exactly pro-level restoration work, but somehow fitting for this guitar after all it’s been through. Honestly, from more than a foot or so away, you’d probably never notice.  None of the photos on this page are retouched. That’s all Sharpie magic.

Finish

The finish appears to be Lacquer and is in the same Black Sparkle offering that was an option on many Guild electrics at the time.

I usually explain what all of the different options were based on the price guides and catalogs that I’ve collected, but this guitar was a prototype so no such information exists. Assuming that this is the only prototype then it came in Black Sparkle. The end.

Fretboard and Neck

One of the crazy things about this guitar that jumps right at anyone who sees it is the headstock which is unlike anything I’ve seen on another Guild. I can also tell you that it was almost universally disliked by everyone I showed it to. It’s not terrible (I’ve seen far worse), but I think the biggest problem is that it doesn’t quite match the personality of the rest of the guitar, pointy though it may be. While the body of the guitar is all straight angles, the headstock has some softer curves that somehow seem out of place.

The other thing that’s a little unusual is the fact that this is a long scale neck, which coupled with the fact that the neck and fretboard are both maple, makes for a very Strat-like tone on this double humbucker equipped guitar. I don’t usually like maple necks, but this one surprised me with its smooth playability and tone. The fretboard has a 9.5″ radius like many of the Strats and Teles I’ve played.

The frets measure .03″ high by .120″ wide making them crazy wide and not very tall. I could not find a reference to this fret size and I must have measured 10 times because I just couldn’t believe my calipers.

This is a bolt-on neck with weird neck plate that you’ll see in some later pictures. It’s weird to me, though it may very well be some sort of common part that I’m unfamiliar with. There is no binding and the inlays are simple black dots. The neck halfway between 1 5/8″ and 1 11/16″ and of a reasonable size with a C-shape contour.

The headstock has what appears to be added holes around the truss-rod cover, but I was unable to determine what these were for, my assumption being an experiment with a larger cover. The original owner reported that they were there when he bought it back in the ’80s. The nut shown is a locking nut of unknown origin that the original owner added when the WonderBar bridge was installed. It functions perfectly so I left it there.

Build Quality

This guitar feels like a Guild which means it’s got that quality build that every Westerly Guild electric guitar I’ve ever held shares. The body is quite obviously mahogany as evidenced by the many finish problems visible in the Restoration section above.

After removal of the boat-anchor WonderBar and my restoration of the original bridge, the guitar weighs 7lbs 9oz (3.43 kilos) including the whammy bar. With the WonderBar installed the guitar weighed 384 pounds. That is, of course, an estimation as I didn’t want to ruin my scale by weighing that obnoxious bridge. I swear it was made out of tungsten. I finally did bring it to a truck weigh station were I was surprised to find that it weighed “only” two ounces over one pound (~500g).

There are no high-end appointments on this guitar to distract you from the shape, which I’d have to say is probably the main design element along with the headstock. Judgements about the shape of either aside, this is a typically well-made American Guild.

Pickups

The pickups in the X97V are Guild XR7s which were made for Guild by Dimarzio. There are a few variations of these pickups out there which is a subject for another time, but these have adjustable pole pieces on both coils and the words Guild Model XR 7 on the back.

I’ve had mixed feelings about Guild XR7 pickups in the past, but I’ll cover how they behave in this guitar below in the sound section.

I was amused when looking at the pickups from the back because the bridge pickup has an extra nut on the single adjustment screw side. This doesn’t really matter much, but it’s probably a non-original bolt and the added nut just sort of continues the theme of the guitar even though the player would never know it’s there. I’m going to go ahead and call this the ’80s Kid Mod. May it live on in Internet lore forever.

Electronics

This guitar has three knobs. They are; Neck Volume, Bridge Volume, and Master Tone. The pickups are decoupled which means that you can turn down the volume on either pickup without muting the guitar while the pickup selector switch is in the middle position. The entire electronics assembly (minus the pickups) are attached to the pick guard which made it very easy to view and trace out the wiring. I’d imagine it would be great for working on the electronics as well.

The pick guard is completely shielded underneath which is a nice touch, but the cavity itself is not. The output jack is on the pick guard as well meaning you’ll likely want to use a right-angle plug on your cable unless you’re like me and have an unnatural hatred of the damned things. This is also similar in principle to the early X79s, though the later iterations of the X79 put the output jack on the side of the guitar when they did away with the pick guards.

I was delighted to discover that the electronics are exactly the same as the 1982 X79 that I have. This excited me because it meant that I didn’t have to draw a new circuit diagram and instead just copied the X79 layout and slapped on a new label. Hey, don’t judge; those diagrams take a long time to draw!

Using a tested electronics layout makes a lot of sense if they were just trying to get a feel for how the overall design worked, and since the same pickups as the X79 were used as well, it probably meant spending that they had to spend less time on design.

Hardware

The tuners on this guitar are Guild mini-tuners likely made by Gotoh. I’m not a fan of mini-tuners on 3×3 headstocks, but that seems to fit with the “built like an X79” theme that this guitar has going on. In fact, there are a lot of design aspects to this guitar that mirror the X79 models from the same era. At any rate, the tuners work great and I have no complaints other than them being small since I have big hands.

The knobs are Guild notched speed-knobs that were also commonly seen on X79s along with other Guild electrics in the ’80s. The strap pegs were replaced long ago with locking models. Since anyone who actually gigs with a guitar is likely to put on strap locks, I have no issues with this change, and they were actually installed quite well. 10 GAD-points to ’80s Kid!

The bridge was a nightmare as already covered, and I replaced it with the proper import bridge, or at least as close as I could make it. The switch tip is that wonderful nickel plated domed design that Guild-lovers love, and I’m honestly impressed that it managed to stay on the guitar all these years

That’s really it when it comes to hardware since there’s no other parts to talk about, though I would like to point out one last bit of psuedo-restoration that I did. Actually it’s not a restoration at all. Let’s call it an improvement on a previously hideous alteration to a one of a kind guitar.

Remember how the drill-weilding maniac added a hole to the back plate so that string changes could be done without removing the plate? I took a file and made the hole more or less squared. It still looks horrible so I guess you can go ahead and call me a file-wielding maniac. I think it looks considerably better than the previous state of that back plate since it looked like it had been drilled out by a .38 at 25 yards when I got it. Actually, that would be pretty impressive… Never mind. I made the back plate hole prettier is all. Let’s move on.

Sound

I was honestly kind of floored by this guitar. Once I got all the hardware issues straightened out and plugged it in, the guitar positively came alive in my hands. I was very surprised by this because it was almost unplayable when I got it and because I have a hit-or-miss relationship with the Guild XR7 pickups in a mahogany body. I also have no love for cheap import bridges so I fully expected to be disappointed by flubbiness and uninspiring tones.

ODS100 Clean

Open Chords #1

Open Chords #2

JCM-800

A Barre Chords

D-Shape Chords

Citrus

D-Shape Chords

EVH

Pentatonic Wankery

What I found instead was a guitar that begged for some gain and played with an articulation and power that caught me off guard. Looking at the guitar, I have to give credit to the maple neck, because almost everything else about the guitar is just like a bunch of other Guilds I have, most notably the X79 which has the same pickups and mahogany body, but which really didn’t blow me away with its tone.

As usual, for these recordings I used my normal Axe-FX II XL+ setup through the QSC K12 speaker recorded direct into my Macbook Pro using Audacity. I recorded using the ODS100 Clean patch, as well as the JCM-800 and one through a setting called Citrus which is a replication of the Orange Rockverb 50 and has become the “I wish it was still the ’80s” setting I like so much. Finally, I put in some pentatonic nonsense using the Brown Sound EVH-style amp because this guitar just begs for it with the way that it’s built given its humbuckers and maple neck.

For each recording I cycle through the neck pickup, both pickups, and finally the bridge pickup. Except for the last one. That one’s just pure bridge pickup tone. All knobs on the guitar are on 10 at all times.

Playability

I was surprised at how good this guitar plays after its limited restoration. It balances well while seated or standing, has absolutely no neck-dive tendencies, and feels great in my hands.

I thought that the odd positions of the strap pegs might be a problem, but once I had this angular beauty strapped on I just turned up the volume and stopped caring about anything but the air moving my pant legs while I cranked the juice.

I’m not usually a fan of maple necks, having played rosewood and ebony-necked guitars my entire life, but I gotta say that the playability and tone coming out of this guitar has made me a believer. This guitar sustains like nobody’s business and is quite easy to play which I’d say is a testament to the stellar people who worked at the Guild Westerly plant back in the ’80s. This guitar was subject to all sorts of ’80s Kid tomfoolery and once I got it back to where it was supposed to be the guitar just blew me away.

The only issue I had was reaching the top two or three frets, but that’s a pretty common issue on bolt-neck guitars so I can’t really fault the guitar too much on that point.

Conclusion

I bought this guitar because it was a Guild rarity that I could write about. I expected it to be a complete train wreck and at the beginning it was, but when I got it back into fighting shape, the guitar really came alive and made me grin like the idiot that I am while I annoyed the neighborhood playing it too late, too loud, and for too long. Luckily the only neighbors I have are squirrels, deer, and bears, and I don’t really care what they think so long as they stay outside.

Normally in the Conclusion section of my reviews I make a final determination if I would recommend this guitar and to who I might or might not do so. Despite it’s odd headstock and very ’80s style, I really enjoyed restoring and playing this guitar. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to chase that vibe or sound, but of course the problem is that you can’t have one since there is only one. This one.

Before you get all excited and send me offers to buy this unique piece of Guild history, I must inform you that the guitar is already sold. Kurt (Grot) over at GuildsofGrot offered to buy it for his stellar collection after I was done reviewing it, and since he has been such an amazing resource for me over the years he got first dibs. That means that if you want a guitar that looks like this you can contact him through his site and throw money at him until he caves, though I doubt he would. You might be better off going to see him play with his band Night Shift. You never know – he might just play his one-of-a-kind Guild X97V that night. You can still throw money at him if you’d like. Just understand that you probably won’t get a guitar in return.

 

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