The first guitar review I wrote for this blog was back in 2014 when I wrote up a 1965 Guild S200 Thunderbird. That post started a trend of me writing about Guilds with almost 30 guitars reviewed along with a pile of other articles, all of which you can see at GADsGuilds.com.
When Guild reissued the Guild S200 Thunderbird T-Bird, hits to that page soared and one of the most common requests I get ever since is, “When will you review the Newark Street Thunderbird T-bird?”
The time is now. Let’s take a look at the Guild Newark St. S200 T-Bird.
First off, the actual name of this guitar is the T-Bird, not the Thunderbird. I’ll probably get that wrong more than once. I’m not sure why the name is different. Maybe to be cool, maybe because they can’t use the original name for whatever reason – I have no idea. Guild sells another model of the T-Bird which differs in the controls and the tailpiece which is why it’s called the T-Bird ST where ST stands for Stop Tail. Note that the T-Bird ST does not appear to sport the S200 product number.
I should point out that some of the pictures on this page are in black and white for no other reason than I like the way this guitar looks in black and white. Just look at that! Doesn’t that look great! What can I say? Sometimes I like my own photographs.
Guild introduced the Newark Street (Technically Newark St.) line of import guitars in January 2013 when they announced a bunch of archtops including the X175B, the Starfire III, and the Starfire IV. They also released a single solid body guitar, the Newark St. S100.
When those first Newark St. guitars hit the streets, Guild was owned by Fender, but in mid-2014 Fender sold Guild to the Cordoba Music Group (CMG). In 2016 Guild announced they they were resurrecting the Thunderbird, leading some on the LetsTalkGuild forum to suggest that they should call it the Phoenix, clever lot that they are. Guild also announced the return of the Starfire VI and a new guitar design, the Starfire 2 ST which differs from the classic Starfire II in that it has a Stop Tailpiece instead of the iconic Gulid harp. The ST model T-Birds were announced at the 2017 NAMM show.
If you’ve ever wondered how a guitar company resurrects a model, sometimes there’s more to it than just having old documents to build from. In the case of the Guild S200 Thunderbird from the ’60s (as well as some others), Guild actually contacted Kurt over at GuildsofGrot.com because he is well known as probably the premier collector of killer vintage Guilds in mint or near-mint condition. Grot’s ’60s Guild S200 Thunderbird was shipped to Guild where they measured and examined it after which they shipped it back. How cool would it be to know that you own the guitar that spawned an entire line of remakes? Pretty damn cool, I’d bet.
The one in my possession is a 2016 model with an early serial number that came to me in like-new condition. I even got to peel some of the protective plastic off of the guitar which is always a treat. Guild did pretty darn well in replicating the overall design measurements of the guitar, though they did change some things. For example the ’60s S200 Thunderbird is pretty famous for having a built in kickstand that, frankly, was a terrible idea. Thankfully that feature did not make it to the reissues, and as a result there are no little rubber feet on the bottom of the guitar to aid in the kickstand’s stability, either. The kickstand shown is from the 1965 S200 Thunderbird that I reviewed here.
There are some other changes as well that I’ll cover in my review, most of which are improvements in my mind. The guitar is really a lot like the one from fifty-plus years ago. Let’s see how the Newark St. S200 T-Bird holds up to this Guild-lovers scrutiny.
Where it’s made
This guitar has a KWMxxxxxx serial number which indicates that it was made in the World Musical Instrument Co. Ltd. (WMI) factory in South Korea. So far as I know all solid-body Guild Newark Street guitars are made in the WMI factory while all of the hollow and semi-hollow Newark Street models (Starfires, X175s, etc.) are made at the Sound Professional Guitar Co, Ltd company (SPG), at least at this point in time (2018).
WMI is a company that makes guitars for a lot of brands that you’ve probably heard of including (but not limited to) ESP, Agile, LTD, PRS, Chapman, Schecter, and of course, Guild. They are well-respected in the industry and from what I’ve been able to gather, WMI and SPG are probably the two best companies Guild could have chosen to work with. If you’d like to see the inside of WMI check out this video from Rob Chapman where he tours the facility. You can get a good feel for the brands being built there just by watching him walk around looking at headstocks.
This guitar came to me in a Guild deluxe gig bag. I’m not a huge fan of gig bag’s though I do own a stellar one from iGig. That iGig bag was also close to $200 so I guess that’s not a fair comparison. The Guild bag is OK and has a fair bit of padding. I certainly wouldn’t bring it on an airplane, but it protects the guitar just fine in the rigors of my home office. The bag is padded and has a pocket, so it’s better than a lot of the gig bags I’ve seen in my life time, some of which amount to nothing more than a wrapping of nylon for your guitar. The Guild deluxe gig bag is available on the store at this link and as of February 2018, retails for about $70 USD.
Guild does not seem to offer a hard case alternative for this guitar, which is a shame, but the enterprising folks over on LetsTalkGuild seem to agree that it will fit nicely in cases designed for a Fender Jazzmaster.
I’ve been known to say I don’t care what the finish is so long as it doesn’t feel like a candy coated shell. This guitar’s finish feels like a candy coated shell, but I have to admit that I’m not sure I care. This is a gloss poly coated guitar so it doesn’t have the feel of a nicely aged lacquer instrument like the originals do, but for the price these guitars sell for that’s a non-issue in my book. The finish may not be thin or lacquer, but it is a quality job and looks great.
As of February 2018, this guitar comes in only black and antique burst. I really wanted an antique burst model because they look just like the one I had from 1965, but I look for mint used ones and buy the first one that meets my rather aggressive price goals. Thus, mine is black. I actually kind of dig it in black so that’s a plus, even if black is harder to photograph well. Glossy black guitars tend to be fingerprint magnets and let me tell you, this one is very black and very glossy. I spent more time cleaning fingerprints than I did photographing it.
I’m admiration for the look of the guitar will rapidly become a moot point because my teenage guitar-playing daughter (who thinks that Les Pauls look dumb) thinks this guitar looks “very cool”. That means she’ll probably be absconding with it once she finds out that I’m done with my measuring and manipulating.
Fretboard and Neck
This guitar has a one-piece mahogany neck which is vintage correct. I greatly prefer 3 or even 5-piece necks because I find them to be much more stable than 1-piece necks. In fact, this guitar is one of the few Guilds I’ve owned that required a rather significant truss-rod adjustment when I received it. To be fair, it had been below freezing here for weeks and after a week in the hands of Fedex, who knows what it’s been through. After I adjusted the neck and let it settle for a couple of days it played fine, and since necks sometimes need to be adjusted and the truss rod worked as it should, I call that a successful test of that feature. Note that this is an import guitar so the truss rod nut is 7mm and not ¼” like a vintage Guild.
This is a short scale guitar and the specs say that it is 24 ¾” which matches my measurements. The frets actually have some nice fret ends and I feel no snags when playing or running my hand up the fretboard. The frets are .04″ high by .08″ wide making them medium jumbos as advertised. The fretboard is bound rosewood and the inlays are block pearloid. While I originally thought that the neck had some dead spots, that issue cleared up once I got the neck stabilized
The inlays are actually very well done with zero rough spots and no signs of filler. I attribute this to the wonder that is the CNC machine. They’re honestly perfect.
The fretboard is reasonably dark and shows consistent grain. It doesn’t feel quite as nice as some of my vintage Guilds, but it doesn’t feel like a cheap guitar, either. It’s actually a pretty nice-feeling guitar to play. If you’re used to vintage lacquer guitars then the neck can feel a good deal different and I sometimes feel like my thumbs “sticks” to the neck, but that’s a glossy poly-coat thing that probably can’t be avoided at this price point. I don’t consider to this to be a problem, really. It’s just something a vintage guitar snob would notice.
The specs say that the fretboard is 10″ and I measured 9.5″, but the difference between 9.5″ and 10″ is so subtle that it’s easy to blame the guy doing the measuring if he got it wrong. I hear he’s had a tough day so you should cut him some slack.
The neck is exactly 1 11/16″ at the nut and progresses up at a comfortable pace. The neck is a little more shallow than I prefer, feeling more like an ’80s Guild X79, though that’s also vintage correct as the old S200 Thunderbird necks weren’t terribly deep.
One of the things I harp on a lot when talking about Guild Newark Street guitars is the quality control. I advise people that they should buy one only if they can inspect it in-hand first or if the shop where it’s being purchased has a good return policy. My Newark Street Bluesbird came with a bridge without string notches, for example, and this guitar is not without problems of its own.
The headstock veneer on this guitar is off-center. Now, this is not the kind of thing that affects the tone or playability of the guitar, and it’s not something anyone in the audience would notice, but it is also something that I would never expect to see on a Westerly-made Guild. Some people may not be bothered by something like this but it drives me nuts. I’m also not the only one who has seen this problem as evidenced by this thread on LetsTalkGuild.com, though sadly the pictures have been removed.
My first edit of this article had a long rant about the tailpice because it looked like it was not installed quite right. This pic shows the tailpiece, bridge, strings and bridge pickup that led me to that conclusion. If you look at the strings you can see that they break to the left as they go from the bridge to the tailpiece. The bridge is correct because the strings line up over the pole pieces on the pickup and are properly aligned down the entirety of the neck which means that the tailpiece is misaligned. The yellow lines on the right side of the image show where the strings would go if they followed the path taken from the nut to the bridge.
Does this tailpiece misalignment affect the playability of the guitar? Not when playing without the tremolo arm, but if you were to regularly use the feature for which the tailpiece was designed, you would stress the strings and the saddles at the point where the bridge is angling the strings. To be honest, I didn’t notice the issue for a few days until I happened to sit at a certain angle where I noticed the string alignment, but once I saw it, I was railing about Newark St. quality control in a pretty aggressive manner.
For comparison, the pic of the sunburst S200 Thunderbird is from the 1965 example I had. On this one the tailpiece is properly aligned and you can see that the strings fan out slightly so that the least possible angle exists on every string.
The angled string issue drove me nuts and my lengthy rant about how terrible it was epic. I even went online and found pics of other T-birds that showed the same problem! I was so worked up, in fact, that I felt that I should give the guitar a thorough once-over to make sure that it wasn’t my fault.
It was totally my fault.
This video shows how, with the strings slackened, the top plate of the tailpiece can be moved from side to side. Not only that, but with the plate off-center, if you start to tighten the strings, that’s where it will stay, which is how many of these guitars seem to ship.
This is not a “Guild” problem, but rather a “Hagstrom” problem. If you get one of these guitars, make sure you line up your strings before tuning up. This was a bit of an eye-opener for me which caused me to add one more reason to the “why I dont’ like Hagstrom trems” list. I have to imagine that if I had the original lock-down screw that it would have locked the tailpiece down properly aligned (like the vintage one shown above), but I’d still advise double checking the alignment if that’s what you do.
After determining the source of the tailpiece alignment problem (me), I realized that the rest of the guitar seemed to be pretty damn solid. Based on the dust from the screw holes when I removed the pick guard, the body appears to be mahogany. The specs on Guild’s website state that the body top is mahogany but I’ll give Guild the benefit of the doubt on that one since that’s probably just website boilerplate text used for all guitars and you can see the mahogany grain on the top and back of the antique burst model. This guitar is fairly heavy at 8 lbs 4 oz (3.74 kg) but it’s also fairly large so I’d imagine you’d be pretty hard pressed to get much lighter than that.
The pickups in this guitar are Guild Newark St. Little Bucker LB-1s that were designed to mimic a set of vintage Guild mini humbuckers, which they do pretty well. There’s just one problem; the neck pickup is hotter than the bridge pickup. This issue manifests itself by the neck pickup being noticeably louder than the bridge when playing. Now, this can be mostly rectified by putting the bridge pickup pretty close to the strings and the neck pickup pretty far from the strings but that’s not how you get the sweet spot from either of them.
Whipping out the multimeter I measured the pickups and discovered that the neck was 7.11k Ω while the bridge was 5.24k Ω. That… is not cool. Normally the bridge pickup is hotter than the neck and usually within a certain tolerance which is how you get “matched” sets of pickups. So, I did some digging.
Guild’s website lists the parts for these pickups (February 2018) as Neck: 7.20k and Bridge: 5.06k. What the hell? Even better, if you buy them in gold then the Neck is listed as 7.20k and the Bridge is 7.20k too, but who knows if that’s just a misprint. Still, this goes against decades of what the “norm” is for guitar pickups, so lots of people complained. Guild came up with this blog post that supposedly explains why they are the way they are.
Sorry Guild; I call shenanigans. I have a pair of original AntiHum pickups from a ’60s Guild Starfire in my collection, so I pulled them out and measured them. The neck pickup is 6.92k, and the bridge pickup is 6.93k. They’re practically identical. The Guild blog describing wire size while discounting resistance smacks of trying to misuse science that the average person wouldn’t understand in order to explain away a mistake. Not only that, but all the post does is explain why the resistance might be lower. It does not go on to explain why the pickup is better given this information.
There is a discussion about these pickups over on the LetsTalkGuild forum that started a year before this S200 Thunderbird was made because Guild has been putting these backwards LB1s in every guitar that includes them since the beginning of the Newark St. line. This mismatched pickup business got me so worked up that I ordered a pair and tested them while also compiling a pile of information about vintgae AntiHum pickups (the real name of those vintage mini-humbuckers) and will soon report on what I find in another article. Stay tuned.
Oh! I almost forgot that both of the pickups were tilted in the wrong direction. The neck pickup (shown) was tilted towards the neck and the bridge pickup was tilted towards the bridge. In both cases the pickups were situated in such a way so as to put the adjustable pole pieces farther from the strings than the other side of the pickup. While not a huge deal I think it looked terrible and in order to fix it I had to remove both pickups and bend the ears with pliers. That’s certainly not the end of the world, but it is sadly the kind of thing that I’ve come to expect from most brands that sell lower-priced import guitars.
The electronics are actually a pretty spot-on replica of what I saw in the ’60s S200 Thunderbird I had. In fact, I used the same switch diagram below because the control layout is the same. That’s pretty cool. The wires are color-coded which is nice since the wiring is relatively complex and color-coded wire makes tracing circuits much simpler. The pots are all stamped Made in Korea and the soldering is mostly adequate. The caps and resistor (yes there is a resistor – look closely!) are off-the-shelf components but Guild used off-the-shelf parts back in the Westerly days so this is oddly kind of historically accurate, too.
One of the benefits of having new marketing material regarding the S200 Thunderbird (dammit) T-Bird is that Guild has published pics like this one on their website explaining how the guitar works. That didn’t exist when I wrote about the ’60s Thunderbird and I had to figure it all out the old-fashioned way which is to say that I had to trace out the wiring to determine exactly what the switches did (It’s a tone switch isn’t good enough for me). I also think that it’s pretty cool that Guild puts a peel-off cover on the pick guard that explains what all the switches do.
I think it’s neat that they made the guitar historically accurate in regards to the controls, but I’m not a big fan of the controls to begin with. Still, the four switches do offer up a fair number of options which can be nice to have. Given the choice I would much rather have a simple toggle like on most other two pickup guitars, but that wouldn’t really nail the vibe that this guitar is going for. Though I’ve never owned a Fender Jaguar, I’m told that the switches behave very similarly to that guitar’s controls. I must also point out thats the switches aren’t really all that complicated. After playing it for a short while it became almost second nature to dial in what I was trying to do with either pickup. I did discover that I left the tone switch in one position the whole time except for when I was recording all the options, but of course that’s a personal preference thing.
As already stated, the wiring is almost an exact copy of the original S200 Thunderbird. Though I’d already traced and document the wiring for the 1966 S200 Thunderbird here, I figured I would do a modern new colored version to fit in with the rest of my reviews.
I don’t really have much to complain about with the wiring in this guitar. Had I not seen a vintage version previously I might have complained that it’s too complicated, but it’s a match to the vintage model right down to the odd 68K resister on the mode two controls. If I had to complain about anything it would be that they’re all import components but that’s completely expected on a Newark St. guitar.
There is one thing that I harp about over and over when it comes to Guild’s Newark Street guitars, and that is the tuners. I don’t like them. I dislike open gears on electric guitars, I don’t like the feel of them when in use, and I really don’t like the tiny buttons. Yes, they look close to vintage correct, but the tuners, more than any other part, make the Newark Street guitars feel cheap to me and as soon as I took this guitar out of the bag and went to tune it up that feeling came flooding back. Some people like them so they can’t be all bad, but in my opinion they don’t compare with Grover Rotomatics. Of course Grover Rotomatics would not give that vintage vibe, either, and they would likely cost more.
The volume and tone knobs are pretty close to being vintage correct though the smaller knobs on the ’60s Thunderbird had markers on them. That’s not something I’d lose sleep over, especially considering the fact that the larger knobs sport the Volume and Tone labels commonly seen on ’60s and ’70s Guilds. That’s a very cool touch, especially if we’ll be able to buy them from the Guild store to use on our vintage Guilds with lost or broken knobs because those vintage knobs sell for big money on sites like eBay and Reverb.
The vibrato tailpiece is historically accurate which is a shame because it’s terrible. Sure it adds to the vintage vibe of the guitar, but I’ve never known anyone to have a guitar with this tailpiece that used the vibrato action until recently when people on guitar forums asked why I dislike them so much. Everyone I’ve ever seen in the wild has the arm missing and the tailpiece locked down to make it easier to string. Oh, and this pic? That’s me circa 1979 with a borrowed Hagstrom III that sported the same terrible tailpiece. And yeah, it’s locked down and the arm is long gone. The hat though, is completely authentic as is the kick-ass ’70s bandana surrounding it. Man, I was such a stud.
My dislike of the tailpiece aside, it’s kind of cool that it’s correct and if you’d like to know more about this odd chunk of metal I found this interesting website about the Hagstrom Tremar over on FetishGuitars.com. To be fair the bridge seems to function exactly the way the old ones did. My biggest complaints with the design is the handle is not very ergonomic, and of course the fact that the entire thing is apparently quite easy to misalign, but to be fair the only non-double-locking vibrato bridge I like is the Bigsby and its variants.
The fact that Guild now offers this guitar with a stop tailpiece and vastly simplified electronics (shown in the Sam Ash exclusive red version above) tells me that I’m not alone in my dislike for the Hagstrom tailpiece or the overly complex controls.
I like the bridge on this guitar better than the one on the vintage S200 even though this is a standard import B2 bridge of the type found on Epiphones and other import guitars. This bridge has nice deep notches in it and seems to work well enough for the guitar. It’s nothing to get excited about, but it’s also not something I feel the need to run out and replace.
The downside to this bridge on this guitar is that it’s not a rocking or a roller bridge so it can interfere with the smooth operation of the Hagstrom trailpiece. Given that it’s already hard enough to keep a non-locking trem in tune, if you’re going to use it you may want to look into upgrading the bridge. I’ll never use the Hagstron so it’s not an issue for me.
The bridge on the ’60s S200 Thunderbird was a MicroMatic bridge that the necessary mate to the Hagstrom Tremar due to it being a rocking bridge (according to the GuitarFetish site) but it was uncomfortable to use during palm muting because it felt like it has six little knife blades holding up the strings.
Note that all of the hardware on this guitar is nickel coated and not chrome like the vintage models. Nickel is arguably better at resisting nasty acidic musician sweat, but just note that nickel tends to look different than chrome.
Yeah, this guitar’s got some issues, but it’s pretty solidly built, so how does it sound?
The LB1 pickups definitely deliver the jangly sound that I expected but I had some issues with their balance as expected given the fact that the neck pickup produces more output than the bridge pickup. Having the neck pickup mounted very low and the bridge pickup very high helped to balance the volume between the two, but you lose a fair bit of the magic from the neck pickup when you pull it so far from the strings which is a shame, because the neck pickup sounds killer.
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 did something a little different for this guitar and recorded the same simple barre chord riff through all of the available settings. I recorded using the USA Clean patch, then a Tweed Deluxe, and then finally the JCM-800. The order in which I set the switches is as follows:
Mode 1 Neck only
Mode 2, Tone switch up, Neck
Mode 2, Tone switch up, Both
Mode 2, Tone switch up, Bridge
Mode 2, Tone switch down, Neck
Mode 2, Tone switch down, Both
Mode 2, Tone switch down, Bridge
All knobs on the guitar are on 10 at all times.
My main complaint is that since I had to lower the neck pickup so much in order to balance the bridge pickup the entire guitar seems weak. With a stronger bridge pickup this guitar could really sing, but sadly it’s crippled by this very odd setup.
The guitar balances well while standing and it hangs well from a strap. Sitting, the guitar also plays great, though it sometimes feels a bit longer than I’m used to. That could very well just be my brain rebelling against the “what the hell is this thing?” shape, though.
Sometimes while playing, my fingers hit the switches, though it’s not enough to change their settings or really cause any discomfort – it’s just annoying and probably a result of my over-enthusiastic style of playing.
My biggest complaint from a playability standpoint is the tremolo/vibrato/whammy/Hagstrom tailpiece as I simply do not like the Hagstrom Tremar system, if you haven’t yet figured that out. If I’m going to remove the bar and deck the bridge anyway, I’d rather just have a stop tail.
My constant nit-picking aside, this is a pretty fun guitar to play just like the originals from the ’60s are. No it doesn’t quite have the feel of a 50+ year old guitar, but it can deliver most of the tone, most of the look, and most of the vibe without spending as much as you would on a nice used car.
Most people like the idea of an import version of the S200 Thunderbird because the US-made vintage models now sell for thousands of dollars – if you can even find one. Spending your hard-earned money on a modern copy of a vintage classic should at least get you a guitar free from problems. Sure there may be electronics that may not be up to snuff, but that’s an expected shortcoming of the modern import guitar market, at least at the level where this guitar sits. This guitar can deliver the goods so long as you get a good one, and therein lies the potential for concern.
The retail price for the Guild Newark Street S200 Thunderbird is $1180 (February 2018) with the street price sitting at about $850 new. This is a pretty cool guitar that’s fun to play and has a great sound (once you get the pickups straightened out). Yeah, the tailpiece is less than ideal, but it adds to the vintage vibe and if you’re looking for the vintage vibe this guitars got it. Just watch out for misaligned headstock veneers and know that the pickups will be unbalanced.
I must point out that there are many people who have these guitars and love them so clearly they don’t all have the issues that mine does. Honestly I think mine should have been sold as a factory second based on the headstock veneer alone.
If you have to have an S200 T-Bird, my recommendation is to buy one of them used. I got mine for $500 and that seems like the right price to me given its foibles. If Guild can get their act together and produce these guitars flaw-free then I’d recommend them whole-heartedly, but given the quality issues I’ve seen on too many Newark St. guitars and given the unfortunate decision to continue making these guitars with unbalanced pickups, my enthusiasm for recommending them is a bit muted. If you know what you’re getting and know that you can either live with it or fix it, then this guitar can be a great instrument.