A Guild S300A-D was my only guitar for over 20 years and as a result I have a soft spot for these odd-looking beasts, so when the opportunity presented itself for me to score a 1981 Guild S300, I jumped on it. I needed to own this 1981 S300 both because I was without an S300 at the time and because I wanted to write about one of my favorite guitars which I could only do properly with one in hand. As luck would have it, the one that landed in my lap happened to be in almost like-new condition. Let’s take a look.
The Guild electric guitars of this era are rock machines. With its mahogany body and low-wind HB-1 pickup that guitar has a similar vibe to a Les Paul Jr., though the Junior had that P90 Mississippi Queen/Aqualung growl that that no humbucker can touch. Still, imagine a Les Paul Jr. with a Gibson PAF pickup and you’d be right about where that S60 was tone-wise.
Remember, these guitars were sold in the late ’70s and early ’80s when people were pulling out those lame old “regular” humbuckers and dropping in Dimarzios, so everyone wanted that super-cool bare-bobbin upgraded look because that’s what modern guitars looked like.
Yeah, I love these guitars.
As cool as I think these guitars are, I don’t think they ever caught on because, well, just look at the damn things. The catalog entry for the S300 calls this “the new Guild shape” which I guess is as good a name as any. It’s goofy looking in a way that worked in the mid ’70s but quickly didn’t work in a world where everyone was suddenly buying Super-Strats. That, plus the fact that no famous musicians of the time ever bought into the S300 look made these guitars have a relatively short lifespan of only a few years. That’s a shame, really, because they are great guitars as anyone who has owned one will tell you.
One of the things you’ll hear long-time guitarists talk about, often after looking around to see if anyone else is listening, is that they love the smell of their instruments. Lacquer has a tendency to outgas for many years after the guitar is finished and the smell of a lacquer guitar is something that we all adore. And yes, I’ll admit that when I first opened this case up at home I picked the guitar up and smelled it, and yes, it smelled great.
Available colors for the S300 were sunburst, cherry, black, walnut, natural or white while the ash-bodied versions were available in sunburst or blonde. I believe the guitar in this review to be walnut unless it was cherry and the finish faded a great deal. Sadly there is no sticker in the control cavity to confirm what the original color was but the finish inside the lip of the cavity is the same color as the outside so I’m calling this one walnut.
Fretboard and Neck
These necks are smaller than I’d prefer, but they’re deep enough to be comfortable and since an S-300AD was my only guitar for 20+ years, the neck on this guitar just feels like home. Even though I gripe about 1 5/8″ necks all the time, the S300 just feels so right that I can’t put it down. Of course I tend to be biased about all my Guilds, but the S300 is just such a great feeling guitar which is probably one of the reasons that I keep buying them.
The fretboard on this 24 3/4″ scale neck is ebony and the fret markers are simple dots. There is no binding on any S300 that I’ve ever seen and, though I love bound fretboards, this is another case where this guitar just feels right without it.
The catalog describes the fretboard as being curved, and indeed the radius measures at an almost perfect 9.5″. The frets are described in the catalog as wide and measure .10″ wide by .03″ high making them the typical Medium Jumbo fret wire seen on Guild electrics from this era.
This guitar weighs a very reasonable 7 lbs 11oz. The S-300ADs that I’ve owned all felt like they weighed about 38 pounds since they were ash so this one feels nice and balanced based on my memory of those heavier guitars.
We were all after hotter, louder, and better pickups in the early ’80s, so a lot of these guitars shipped with Dimarzios installed which was great for the time. This guitar has the HB-1s in it and they are as great as they are every other time I’ve gushed about them. I also think that they’re a better choice because the Dimarzio options can be darker than the nice bright HB-1s.
This is my first S300 with HB-1s and after one strum I found myself wishing that I’d had these pickups in all my S300s, but then I wouldn’t have looked as cool as I did in the ’80s with those sexy bare bobbins. ‘Cause, you know, that’s what was important.
The wiring on a Guild S300 is actually pretty interesting because though it looks on the surface to be just like any other two-humbucker four-knob guitar, it’s actually not. These guitars are wired in a way that never clicked for me even after owning one for over 20 years because the difference only manifests itself in the middle position that I never used as a 20-something guitarist in the “bridge pickup or GTFO” time that was the ’80s.
On a typical two-humbucker guitar with four knobs such as a modern Les Paul, when playing in the middle position if you roll one of the volumes to zero in the middle position, the guitar will go silent. This is the case on my 1997 Guild Bluesbird and my 1998 Starfire as well, but this does not happen on a Guild S300. Why? Because of the wiring.
Decoupled wiring is cool because each volume control is more useful in the middle position, but the problem with decoupled wiring is that the tone darkens considerably when the volume is rolled down.
Another thing that stood out to me when I looked at the components is the fact that there are 200K pots for tone. Additionally, while there is a fairly standard .047µF capacitor on the neck tone pot, there is a tiny .010µF capacitor on the bridge tone pot. A lower resistance pot generally makes a trebly pickup sound darker and a smaller valued capacitor generally means less treble rolled off as the pot is turned down, all of which combines to make me wonder if the engineers where trying to fatten up the tone of the HB1 pickups a bit.
According to the catalog, all hardware is chrome plated and as you can see from the pics, this example is still in exemplary condition with the only hint of wear to the plating appearing on the selector switch which almost looks nickel in comparison to the bright shiny chrome on every other piece of hardware.
The tailpiece is solid brass according to the catalog, and is “firmly anchored” to the guitar. I’ve always felt that these S300s were sustain monsters and it wouldn’t surprise me if these blocks of brass are a big reason why.
For these recordings I used my normal Axe-FX Ultra setup through the QSC K12 speaker recorded into my trusty Olympus LS-10. As usual, three of the recordings are through the Tiny Tweed patch, though I also added a recording through the JCM-800 and one through a pretty hair-band setting called Backline. I added another to the group from the patch called Angry 800 which is basically a JCM 800 with a TS-808 and a cocked wah in front. I just fell in love with this guitar on this patch, and I loved it on every pickup selection. This guitar through a cranked amp is something to behold, and I think it’s that magic combination of great low-wind pickups in a slab of mahogany that just rocks.
This is a surprisingly versatile guitar with HB1 pickups because it can deliver great clean tones on the neck pickup all the way through the tonal spectrum to raunchy overdriven tones on the bridge. Of course, it can’t nail that single-coil tone and it can’t quack like a Strat, but I have so much fun playing it cranked that I really couldn’t care less about what it can’t do because I’m having far too much fun enjoying what it does.
As stated earlier, these guitars have smaller 1 5/8″ necks but the necks are a bit deeper than some of the 1970s Guild electrics I’ve owned, so they’re very comfortable to play. The 24-fret neck coupled with the guitar’s design makes the neck seem very long when standing, and I find myself sometimes getting a little lost if I’ve spent a lot of time with some of my Starfires because the frets aren’t always where I think they should be.
Upper fret access is ridiculously good because of the design of the guitar, and with the 24-fret neck I can hit notes I only dream of on other guitars. Since the fretboard has a pretty curvy 9.5″ radius, playing open chords is a delight which is one of the reasons I think that I like the way this guitar plays even with its smaller neck width.
About the only gripe I have with the layout is the fact that the output jack is on the top which means that either the chord sticks out perpendicular to the top or I buy cables with right-angled plugs. I have always had an irrational dislike of right-angled plugs, probably because I need ’em when I don’t have ’em and have ’em when I don’t need ’em, so I have always just tolerated the straight plug sticking out of the top of my S300s.
Thanks to the uncoupled wiring design, the middle position on this guitar is a bit more useful than other similarly equipped guitars, at least in my opinion. I would imagine others agree because there are a fair number of websites out there describing how to alter Les Pauls to migrate to the decoupled wiring layout.
These are fantastic guitars and the only thing people generally dislike about them is the shape, but for me the shape is part of the appeal. I mean, how many distinctive guitar shapes are there? When I see one of these I know immediately that it’s a Guild and I know that it’s one I’ll like.
With it’s cool decoupled wiring and HB1 pickups, this guitar is a tone machine that is right at home with crunch or high gain while also producing some very nice clean tones. With four octaves of fretboard and amazingly good upper fret access, this is a guitar that was made to rock.
Devoid of many of the flashier attributes such as neck binding, elaborate inlays, carved tops, or gold hardware, this is basically a slab of mahogany with killer pickups which is always a great combination.
While most Guild electric aficionados tend to gravitate towards the S-100, or the Bluesbird, those guitars look like they’re trying to steal buyers from Gibson, and with good reason. An S300, though, is 100% pure Guild and is unapologetically its own thing. For me, an S300 is a must-have, especially when I can find one that’s this clean. As time goes on these guitars will become harder and hard to find, so if you’ve ever thought about owning one, now’s the time. You just can’t have this one. This one’s mine.