In my years of collecting and writing about Guilds I had never seen a Guild S285 Aviator and only read descriptions of them in books, but even though it wasn’t a perfect match, this guitar seemed like it might be one of those rare beasts. When the potential buyer informed me that he was passing on the guitar he gave me the store information and I made arrangements to pickup the guitar since it was in a store that was less than an hour from my house. My journey of discovery had begun. Was this really a rare S285? Let’s take a look and see what I’ve learned about this guitar and why I call it an S284+.
When I saw the picture I got quite excited because it’s clearly got the Aviator body shape with its tell-tale equal-length horns, but it also has the bound fretboard and headstock that is in the description of the S285. The guitar in the picture looks white but the guitar in hand is more of an ivory looking almost yellow in harsh light which you can plainly see in my studio shots.
After the person who emailed me let me know that they were passing on the guitar, they told me that it was located at Sussex County Music up on Route 23 North in Hamburg, NJ. I immediately called and asked them to hold it and drove up to check it out the next day where I discovered that it was actually one of the owners who was selling the guitar after owning it for some years.
The S285 shows up in the mid-’80s price list with the following description: Same as 284, but features ebony fingerboard with deluxe mother-of-pearl inlays. Binding on neck and headstock. There is precious little information about the S285 out there, but “deluxe” does not really describe the dots on this guitar’s fretboard which is kind of a big red flag in the “not an S285” column.
The inlays had me doubting the veracity of this being a S285, though I’d never seen another S285 to compare this one to. The next clue was the serial number. The serial number on this guitar is HG10048X (last number redacted) which according to the Guild serial number chart makes it an S284 from 1986. According to that chart an S285 would have a serial number that looks like GK10011 with xx11 being the highest number hinting that possibly only 11 S285s were ever made. That chart is known to have errors, though, so the final word generally comes from Hans and so far Hans ain’t talkin’ which usually means the topic is something that will be covered in the next book he’s writing. That means that I may just have to be patient and wait. I don’t wait well.
The picture to the right is from the 1986 Guild catalog thanks to Kurt over at the Guilds of Grot. That little headstock peaking in from the side is the only Guild photo I’ve been able to find of an S285 and aside from the truss-rod cover it’s a damn close match to the guitar in this review.
The doubts were there, but the guitar was a damn fine specimen that differed pretty significantly from the two S284s I have so I set out to return it to its former glory.
The tone pot split in half when I pushed on a proper Guild knob which is something that has never happened to me before. Replacing the pot turned out to be a challange because EMG active pickups use 25K pots and the pots that EMG sells today are nothing like the ones in use in 1986. It took me about a week before I found someone selling original EMG Vol/Tone sets on eBay. What can I say? I have a thing about restoring guitars to what they originally were meant to be and dammit, this one needed parts from the ’80s.
The Floyd Rose parts I bought directly from Floyd Rose and I have to say Kudos to them for stocking parts for long discontinued models. I’m not a fan of the screw-in arms from the ’80s but Floyd Rose still sells ’em! I could have retrofitted a collared arm in place, but remember I like to make the guitar as it originally was.
Fretboard and Neck
The inlays are dots and while The History of Cool Guitars says that the S285 came with sunrise inlays presumably like the ones on the Liberator Elite, these clearly aren’t those. According to that same book which cites Gruhn’s Guide as a reference, only 19 S285s were made in 1986 which doesn’t jive with the often wrong Guild serial number chart. Again, the S285 isn’t even mentioned in Guitar History Volume 5 (The Beesly Book).
The frets measure in at .04″ high x .105″ wide making them jumbo frets. The neck’s width at the nut is 1 21/32″ which is halfway between 1 5/8″ and 1 11/16″ which makes this a great feeling neck for my ’80s-loving fingers, and the neck has a nice depth without being shredder-thin like most of the Ibanez RGs I’ve played. The fretboard radius is a fairly flat 14″ which is a big difference and a welcome change from the curvy 7.25″ I measured on both of my S284s.
The shape of the neck, the flat fretboard radius, the bound ebony fretboard and the jumbo frets make this an absolutely wonderful guitar to play, in my opinion, and it is a very different experience compared to my two S284s.
Is this guitar finished in Lacquer or Poly? If I had to guess I’d say poly because there’s not a single check or typical bit of lacquer-type wear anywhere on it but I can’t definitively say that it’s poly, either, because I don’t see any of the typical wear-marks of a poly guitar. As I’ve stated many times before, I don’t really care so long as the guitar doesn’t feel like it’s encased in a candy-coated shell which happens to be how I’d describe my 2008 Fender American Deluxe Strat.
EMG pickups have grown on me since I’ve started collecting and reviewing ’80s Guild electrics, but I generally think that a guitar with EMGs in it sounds like every other guitar with EMGs in it. That’s fine for high-gain where the clarity of the signal is more important than the character of the tone, but no so much for softer rock, blues, or other styles where the player may want more nuance from the guitar. This guitar has got a bit of character that I don’t hear from my other EMG-equipped Guilds. I’m not sure if it’s the EMG 58 in the neck or what, but I like the tone from this guitar more than I expected to.
My dislike of blade switches aside (I really don’t like them), the electronics are not terribly complicated which is a good thing since I had to do some surgery to get it where it needed to be.
This is one of the few Guild guitars I’ve seen that used more or less color-coded wires and the colors you see on my wiring diagram are accurate representations of the wires seen in the control cavity. With both the volume and tone pots replaced with a proper vintage parts the guitar was ready to rock.
The knobs are typical ’80s Guild metal dome knobs and luckily I had an actual spare that I could use to break the tone pot which I’m pretty sure was not its intended purpose. If you’re in a pinch and need to replace one of these knobs, the closest I’ve been able to find are these knobs by JD Metal that I found on amazon. The domes are a bit shinier, but from more than a few inches away you’d never notice the difference, especially if you replace them all.
This is the first Guild I’ve seen with a Floyd Rose nut that’s attached from the back of the neck, though to be fair it’s pretty uncommon to find a Guild with a Floyd Rose at all and the only other one in my possession at the moment is the rare Libertor Elite which isn’t the best installation I’ve ever seen so I try not to compare to to other guitars except when complaining about that guitar’s bridge installation.
The strap pegs are larger than traditional pegs which is a nice touch, but I firmly believe that any guitar played live should have strap locks, so if I were to gig with this guitar that’s what would go on.
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 high-gain Orange amp simulation.
For each recording I cycle through the neck pickup, both pickups, and finally the bridge pickup. All knobs on the guitar are on 10 at all times. Most of them are the same simple progressions that I use in all my reviews with the addition of a 12th fret riff with the JCM-800 and a couple of random Citrus recordings just for fun because this guitar sounds really good with an articulate high-gain amp like an Orange RV50 which is what this setting is based on. This guitar has some absolutely killer sustain and I tried to show that in the last recording marked Sustain. Judge for yourself, but damn was this a fun guitar to test.
This is a killer guitar no matter how you slice it. It was made to rock and it has almost all of the features I look for in an ’80s shred machine. Between the nicely shaped and bound neck, the flat radius, the jumbo frets, and the Floyd Rose, I swear this guitar gives my Jacksons a fair bit of competition.
Seated, standing, kneeling, or during spinning back-kicks, this guitar plays and sounds amazing, though if you’re going to be doing spinning back kicks while playing I’d advise putting on some strap-locks lest you end up in a YouTube-worthy video wherein you risk destroying such a nice guitar while splitting your pants on camera.
My only gripe is that the Floyd Rose was installed in such a way that it can’t be pulled up, but aside from that it’s an absolute dream to play if you’re a fan of the whole Super-Strat thing.
As I was finishing up this article, a reader sent me an email after reading my S284 post saying that he actually had an S285. Intrigued, I asked for a picture which he supplied. That picture is shown to the right and as you can plainly see, those sunrise inlays are magnificent. Aside from the Inlays and obvious difference in the pickup and output jack layout, this guitar seems to have everything else the S285 has right down to the cool headstock.
As you no doubt know if you’ve read any of my articles, I love Guild electrics, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is probably one of the best Guild electrics I’ve ever played. Whatever the “it” that we guitarists chase is, this guitar has got it, at least for me. I think it may have to do with the neck being perfect along with the bound ebony board, jumbo frets, and a real Floyd Rose. It behaves and feels and sounds like the high-end Jacksons I like so much — you know — the ones that retail for $3000 and up. Did I mention that I got this guitar for less than that? A whole lot less than that.
Still, in order to love this guitar you probably need to love playing high-end pointy shredders because if what you lust after is an early ’70s flat-fret tiny-necked Guild, this ain’t the guitar for you.
So why is it better than the S284s I’ve played? I think the key elements for me are the bound fretboard, the properly installed Floyd Rose bridge, the lack of a swimming-pool route like on my S284s, oh, and the maple body and neck (my S284s are both poplar). Yeah, I like this guitar better than the other S284s I’ve played, and that’s saying something because I really like my black S284 Aviator. As a result of this one being so different and likely not being an über-rare Guild s285, I’ve dubbed this one the S284+ which has no bearing on what it’s official name may be.
The only downside to this journey is that now I’ve seen a picture of a stunning red S285 and now I want one. Until that happens, this seemingly one-off S284 (I assume) with its bound fretboard and headstock is a great way to pass the time.
And no, you can’t buy this S284+ from me unless you’ve got a red S285 to trade and even then I’d need to play it first. That’s how great this guitar is.