The Guild S-275 is a bit different than most of the Guilds I own while also being a typical Guild. It’s a very interesting guitar in that it seems to be designed to appeal to both Strat and Les Paul buyers in the hopes of being the best of both worlds. Does it measure up? Let’s see how it fares as I put it through my normal evaluation routine.
The Guild S-275 seems to have been aimed at people tired of the status quo. With ads of the time espousing “When the thrill is gone… get it back with a Guild”, it seems clear that this model was designed to rekindle love of guitar in a world overwhelmed by tradition, and by tradition I imagine they meant Gibson Les Pauls and Fender Stratocasters.
Remember, this guitar is from 1982 which was a time where people were getting tired of what we now call classic rock and players like Eddie Van Halen were now center stage. Mötley Crüe was in its infancy, Poison hadn’t yet get come together, and Ratt was recording their first commercial album. Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast was charting, as was Van Halen’s Diver Down, and Judas Priest was owning the airwaves on one channel while Michel Jackson’s Thriller nailed the #1 spot on another. Also, Duran Duran was a thing. I can’t forget Duran Duran, though I’m sure the Iron Maiden fans at the time would have liked to.
It was the beginning of the Super-Strat age when guitars started to sport Floyd Rose (or those heathen Kahler) locking tremolo systems, long-scale necks, and generally high-profile neon paint jobs. The Guild S-275 guitar isn’t a super-Strat by any stretch, but it has some interesting features that are leaning in that direction. It was often advertised alongside the much more wildly designed Guild X-79 which screams ’80s like few other Guilds can, so I imagine that Guild had lumped them together into the same group, that being the new ’80s guitars that are different/better/wackier/flashier than ever before archetype.
The problem is, I believe, that this guitar tried to fill a niche that didn’t really exist. I was playing in my prime during the ’80s and loved all music, but the hair band scene was becoming the decade’s defining music for many of us and the S-275 didn’t quite scratch that itch. I bet it would have if it had sported a Floyd Rose floating tremolo system on it, but I imagine Guid would have mucked that up by putting on a Kahler instead.
During that time I continued playing with my Guild S-300, but I can tell you from memory that I didn’t lust for anything as mundane as a Guild S-275. No, what I wanted in the early 80s was Eddie Van Halen’s FrankenStrat because that’s what we all wanted, although by 1983 the idea of fuzzy Gibson Explorers suddenly had merit. While ZZ-Top is pretty much the antithesis of hair-band shredder-metal, they had embraced the look at my guitar! aspect of the era with gusto. I mean, just look at those bearded Texans with their fuzzy white guitars ogling girls with sexy legs during a music video devoted to the subject. How could you not want that? They’ve even got Zs on the fretboards! The white freakin’ fretboards!
It was a hell of a time to be a alive.
The Guild S-275 was sort of a luxury version of the S-250 with the S-275 adding gold hardware and binding on the maple top. The S-250 has more rounded edges and though the catalog stated that the S-250 came with three knobs like the S-275, I only ever see them with the more typical 4-knob layout when trolling used guitar sites. Of course, I’m not even sure those are the same guitars since Guild is famous for changing specs on a dime and doing all sorts of custom orders. honestly, I just can’t keep up with it all. Only Hans knows for sure.
In an effort to describe this guitar on the Let’s Talk Guild website, I wrote a quick list of reasons why the Guild S-275 guitar isn’t quite like a Les Paul or Strat while simultaneously being like both. I’ve included and expanded that list here:
- It’s like a Les Paul with its mahogany back and maple top
- It’s like a Strat because it’s a flat-top
- It’s like a Les Paul because it’s short scale
- It’s like a Strat in that it has only three knobs (vol/vol/tone)
- It’s like a Les Paul because it has a set neck
- It’s like a Strat because all the controls are clumped together
- It’s like a Les Paul AND a Super Strat because it has two humbuckers
- It’s like a Guild because it’s got an ebony board, XR-7s, and gold hardware that’s worn to the bone.
The Guild S-300 was a pretty oddly shaped model that I think turned a lot of people off from an otherwise stellar guitar. Sure, they’ve got a kind of ’70s bell-bottom vibe going on, but those guitars were monster players. If only Jimmy Page had played an S300 then I could have retired from the resale value of that sexy-looking bit of Guild guitar goodness instead of being thrilled that it just held its value for 30 years. I also think that if Guild had designed the S-300 to look more like the S-275 back in the late ’70s that it probably would have had more of a pop-culture impact instead of being an obscure footnote known only to hardcore Guild fans.
The guitar is typical Guild high-end quality which is quickly evident when you pick it up and there are no finish flaws anywhere on the guitar. There is a fair bit of wear on the back from being played for years, but no deep gouges into the wood.
The S-275 was offered in this Natural Top (NT) finish as well as a Red Sunburst (RSB) finish. The back is finished in a transparent red which is similar to the finish seen on the back cherry sunburst Les Pauls.
Fretboard and Neck
One of the things that surprised me about this guitar is the fact that is has a brass nut. Brass nuts were a popular upgrade back in the day because they were brighter and supposedly more robust than bone or plastic and because nothing says metal like literally having metal nuts. You know, like the way that like nothing says hack writer like the use of lame double entendres in an article.
The fretboard material is ebony and is not bound which is another reason why this guitar reminds me of the S-300 since that model had a similar neck design. I find it a little strange to have a guitar that has the top bound without also having a bound neck, but it plays great and that’s what’s important.
The fret markers are simple dots and the nut width is 1 5/8″ which seems pretty typical for the late ’70s and early ’80s Guild electrics. The neck is thinner on this guitar than I would normally prefer, but not uncomfortably so. I’ve played Ibanez RG guitars with necks so thin they make my hands ache and this guitar is nothing like that. It’s still better than some of the mid-’70s Starfires I’ve owned that had necks so tiny I couldn’t stand them. Again, it reminds me almost perfectly of the S-300A-D’s neck.
The fretboard radius measures at a pretty curvaceous 9.5″ which makes it fairly Strat-like, though the 24 3/4″ scale length puts it right back into Les Paul territory. The frets measure in the medium jumbo territory of “low and wide” (.03″ high by .1″ wide). The neck is one-piece mahogany which a departure from most of the Guilds I own that have at least three-piece necks. I believe as a result of the one-piece neck this is one of the only Guild electrics I’ve owned that seems slightly susceptible to humidity where the neck needed a slight tweak of the truss-rod to straighten it up after it’s journey to me.
This is a set-neck guitar that has a mahogany back and neck along with a maple top, though it is much thinner than a Les Paul of similar construction. This guitar also sports a completely flat top which, while also sporting an overall thickness more inline with a Strat, translates into a relatively light guitar at a scant 7 lbs 3 oz. That’s exceptionally light for a non-chambered solid-body guitar. Hell, it’s nine ounces lighter than my 1997 Guild S-100.
There is not a lot of flair to this guitar aside from the body binding and gold hardware. As expected, all the gold hardware is significantly worn which is not surprising given this guitars life of roughly 35 years. There is some character to the top but not in the form of eye-catching flame. It’s more of an almost flamed, sort of birdseye, not quite quilted look. It’s actually a great looking guitar but it doesn’t have a typically eye-catching top like the ones the Les Paul guys drool over.
The pickups in this S-275 are Guild XR-7s which were designed by Dimarzio for Guild and produce a bit more output than the Guild HB1s. XR-7s usually have a DC resistance in the 8.5kΩ range while HB1s are usually lower in the 7kΩ range. I’ve read more than once that the XR-7s are describes as “powerful and filthy”, but I have a feeling that may be multiple Internet pages quoting the same source. Still, it’s not a terrible description which is likely why it’s stuck around for so long.
The pole screws on the pickups (there are no slugs on these) are all gold plated which is a feature I didn’t even notice until I examined them closely. It’s actually a nice touch, especially since the gold matches well with the top’s finish.
The pickups sound OK but I think they’re a limiting factor in this guitar. If I keep it I may swap them out to either something like Seymour Duncan Antiquities or vintage Guild HB1s since the guitar is routed for them, though I will admit to really liking the timbre of the guitar when played through a high-gain setup. That shouldn’t be too surprising because I think that’s kind of the market Guild was chasing with this guitar. Hell, I may even use this guitar as a test-bed for my pickup swap experiments, though the inclusion of the phase switch makes that problematic for 2-wire pickups.
This guitar has two volume knobs and one master tone. There is a volume for each pickup positioned in the same order as the pickups, and the knob closest to the output jack is the master tone control.
I am not a fan of this knob layout as I would greatly prefer a master volume but I can appreciate the ability to tweak the interaction of the pickups when in the middle position. My problem with the layout is that I reach for the knob which is by the bridge when doing volume swells and such, and when I’m playing the neck pickup that doesn’t do anything on this guitar.
Options included with this guitar are listed in the catalog as “your choice of phase switch or coil tap” with the term coil tap likely being misused as it was by damn-near everyone for decades. The far more likely coil split capability is something I personally like a lot in a guitar like this, but this particular guitar came with the phase switch commonly seen on other Guild solid bodies. I think the addition of a push/pull pot on the master tone knob would be a killer addition on this guitar but I’m not sure there is room in the control cavity for the added height of such a control.
The electronics cavity is shielded with special paint and the control cavity cover is shielded with copper tape. The pots are stamped GUILD and appear to be all original. They all work perfectly without a scratch or pop to be found.
The tuners appear to be from Gotoh with the Guild logo on them and the nice big machine tuner pegs that I like so much. The tuner pegs are significantly worn and the original gold is long gone on most of the surface leaving the tuning machines to look like aged brass. It’s not really a bad look, but it’s not the rich luster of gold that was likely intended by Guild when the guitar was made. The tuners look so much like aged brass that I have to wonder if they’re made out of something like, you know, brass. I’m certainly no metallurgist and I’ve been mocked before for my poor use of the word brass.
The nut appears to be brass (the color of which possibly dissuading me from thinking that the tuners are, too) and appears to be original. I’m not a huge fan of brass nuts if for no other reason then they seem like a fad to me from the ’70s and ’80s when a lot of people were putting them on their guitars. I would argue that a brass nut should brighten up the tone of a guitar but only on open strings as the nut is removed from the equation when the strings are fretted. My guess is that it was just a marketing thing to make the guitar more desirable to the people that would immediately put such things on their guitars.
The bridge has a missing spring and a replacement screw, but that’s just typical wear and tear from the many years this guitar has been in use. This brings up a fair point about these Mueller bridges, which is that parts for them can be hard to find. If the little fiddly bits (technical term, that) go bad, break, or go missing, you’ll might have a hard time finding replacement parts.
The knobs are Guild speed knobs from the ’80s which I think look pretty cool though I find it a bit hard to read the numbers. Really, though, I’m not sure I actually spend a lot of time reading the numbers on knobs, instead just instinctively moving them in the event that the guitar isn’t loud enough because, any guitarist will tell you, the guitar isn’t loud enough. At any rate, the knobs work well and are easy to grab with sweaty hands. As stated earlier the switches are the pickup selector and a phase switch.
I put the guitar though my usual progressions and riffs to see how it did and it seemed to do alright, but it never really lit my fire. I can’t say that there’s anything technically wrong with it; it just never wowed me.
I put the guitar through my usual rig which is the Axe-FX Ultra into the QSC K12 speaker using the Tiny Tweed, JCM 800, and Backline settings. While the recorded tones seem to sound OK they sound of the guitar in the room was somehow lacking to the point that even my daughter noticed it. It just wasn’t as lively as the many other guitars I’ve played.
As much as I like playing this guitar, the sound is not what I’d call inspiring and I’m not entirely sure why. It’s good for hard rock, metal, and yes even the hair band stuff, but the overall impression of the tone is… meh. This was reinforced for me when my daughter had an impromptu jam session at our house with her friends and I let her use this guitar and it just sort of sounded flat. Not in the pitch a half step below the natural note kind of way, but rather in the boring and lifeless kind of way that makes you put the guitar back on the rack and grab a different one.
The uninspiring tone is disappointing because the guitar is a lot of fun otherwise and it looks absolutely great. I think a pickup swap would do the trick here and I think many people over the years have agreed which is why I often see XR-7 equipped Guilds sporting upgraded pickups on the used market.
To see if the problem was the Axe-FX (which has never disappointed me previously) I plugged the guitar into my Marshal Class 5 and let her rip. Again, it didn’t sound bad, but it didn’t make anyone go, “whoa!”, either. To further test the issue I swapped out the guitar for my 1997 Guild Bluesbird and everyone in the room noticed the difference right away. Grumbling to myself I decided to do some more tests.
One of the guilty pleasures of playing with high gain is the incredible sustain you get, but on this guitar I wasn’t feeling it. The lack of sustain on the guitar surprised me because every Guild electric I’ve ever owned has exhibited monster sustain. I set out to find the source of the problem and in doing so unplugged the guitar, put the body against my ear and plucked the strings. Sustain for days. In fact, playing unplugged, the guitar had all the resonance and sustain that I look for in an electric guitar and yes, I’m one of those guys that insist his electric guitars be loud and resonant acoustically. The guitar was fine on open chords; the problem seemed to only exist when fretting notes.
Why this guitar had a lack of sustain while plugged was was not obvious to me. Typical culprits generally include overly powerful or maladjusted pickups where excessive magnetism causes string oscillation to be dampened, so I lowered both pickups a full turn on the adjustment screws and rerecorded all of the samples. A full turn is a pretty significant change and I was rewarded with a measure of increased sustain. Hooray! Unfortunately, while I think the tone in the room improved, I was very surprised to discover that I kind of preferred the recorded tones with the pickups closer to the strings, especially on the high-gain settings. I recorded the difference with the second set of recordings with the pickups farther from the strings.
Finally, I decided to lower the tailpiece so that it was flush with the body. All my stop tailpiece guitars are like that and I think I just remembered why because as soon as I decked the tailpiece the guitar livened up and now it sustains the way I expected it to. I then put the pickups back closer to the strings, though I’m still pretty certain that I’ll end up replacing them.
This is a light and nimble guitar that’s fun to play physically even though its tone isn’t necessarily up to the gold standards of the type produced by vintage HB-1 pickups. Though I’d prefer a wider neck, it’s still nice to play probably because the guitar is so thin and light. My tone complaints aside, it seems to really fall into its own when played with high gain.
The shape of the guitar has a lot to do with how comfortable the guitar is to play and as stated previously, it’s very Strat-like in that regard. I’m not a huge fan of Statocasters mostly because I don’t like the way the huge plastic pick guards feel while I’m playing. I love the tones they produce, though, and as a child (well, 20-something) of the ’80s, I do like a nice super-Strat. Since this guitar has a solid wood top with no pick guard, I find it much more pleasing to play than a traditional Strat. I do think it would really do well with a coil-split option, though.
One of the things I did notice was that the neck volume knob and the pickup selector switch were too close to the bridge pickup for my tastes. It’s pretty popular to have a master volume near the bridge pickup on a super-Strat in order to make it easier to do volume swells, but I tend to be a pretty dynamic player and I end up hitting any controls that are too near the strings which is what happened a couple of times while playing the S-275. It’s not a deal-breaker by any stretch, but it’s worth mentioning, especially because that knob is not a master volume.
I think this is a very cool guitar that suffers from the inclusion of Guild’s XR7 pickups. I think it would sound amazing with Guild’s own HB1s, and I may try to go that route in the future. I’ll be sure to update this post if and when I do.
Even if I don’t go with Guild pickups, I think maybe some Seymour Duncan Antiquities or Dimarzio PAFs would do the trick. Hell, maybe I’ll hit up <a href=”https://www.jimwagnerpickups.com”>Jim Wagner</a> and drop some GoodWoods or some American Steeles in there.
The bottom line on this particular instrument is that I think it could be great but in its default configuration it’s got a bit of a lackluster tone that’s unfortunate for an otherwise cool guitar. The closest Guild I could compare it to is the M80 from 1981 which kind of suffers the same tone issues and, though I wrote in that review to “not be afraid of the XR-7s”, this guitar has got me rethinking that statement. This guitar absolutely crushes the M-80 in looks and weight, though, at least in my opinion.
It’s rare for me to not gush about a Guild electric guitar, and I think my beef with this one is primarily the pickups. Would I recommend an S-275? Yes, if the price is right. It’s a Guild, after all, and it’s hard to go wrong with a Guild. I would list any of my Bluesbirds above it though, with the probable exception of the 1981 M-80.