Guild Newark Street T-Bird ST

Guild released a couple of variants of the T-Bird around 2017 including the Stop-Tail model which has the ST model suffix. The red version, shown here, was easily my favorite looking of the lot, but when it first came out it was a Sam Ash exclusive model and I couldn’t find one anywhere. After finally finding this one they became very available which kind of bummed me out because the exclusivity of the guitar was no more and all my efforts that went into finding one suddenly seemed a waste, but aside from that, this is still my favorite combination for the Guild Newark Street T-Bird. Does it sound and play as good as I think it looks? Let’s find out.

Introduction

The S200 Guild Thunderbird is a pretty iconic guitar these days selling for some pretty serious money, so when Guild released a modern import version of it, there was much rejoicing (queue 20-minute Monty Python quote-fest). Both guitars suffer from some excessive complexity in my opinion, though to be fair that complexity allows for some serious options when it comes to the guitar’s tone. Guild very smartly thought that a simpler option might sell which led to the T-Bird ST models. At least, that’s what I assumed happened because that’s what I would have done and it only makes sense to assume that anything I would have done would be what the rest of the world would do.

The T-Bird STs do not sport the S200 model number in the marketing material like the S200 T-bird does, possibly because of the simplified control layout and stop tail. Well, that’s certainly why they have ST in their names, but my assumption is that they wanted to differentiate these and make them more moden or something. I don’t know. I just needed enough words to fill up this section so that it wrapped around that long-ass catalog page when viewed on a desktop.

The 2018 catalog shows this guitar on page 29 along with the cool blue T-Bird ST which I will be reviewing separately, and yes – I currenlty own three of the Newark Street T-birds, all of which were bought by me on the open market. The only one I don’t have is the white one which is identical to the red one except that it’s, you know, not red. The blue one is obviously different in that it has what the catalog describes as Franz P90 Soapbar pickups along with the faux-tortiseshell pick guard. I love me some P-90s, so stay tuned to see see how that guitar fares after being abused by this Westerly-Guild-loving fanatic.

The case

The standard means of conveyance for Newark Street solid body Guilds these days is the Guild Deluxe Electric Gig bag. It’s functional and it protects the guitar well enough, but the guitar can flop around a bit inside since it’s not a custom-fitted solution. I’ll always prefer a hard case, and if I’m using a soft case my go-to solution is the iGig G515, but since this is basically a $500 guitar (used) and is not really all that fragile, I’m probably not going to put it into a $230 case unless I’m taking it on a plane. Also, as a frequent flyer who flies upwards of 80 times a year, I’d never take a guitar on a plane, but that’s a rant for another time.

Finish

The finish is certainly poly and that’s OK considering what I paid for this guitar. The color is a beautiful red that accentuates the mahogany wonderfully and the guitar looks absolutely great. This combination of the red finish over mahogany with the black pick guard is hands-down my favorite of all of the T-Bird offerings to date.

There are no problem areas that I can discern on the finish and the guitar feels great in the hand. Having grown up during the ’70s when “inexpensive” meant “crap”, I am constantly amazed by the overall look and feel of some of the import guitars I’ve had the pleasure of trying. While they’re not all gems, I’ve got nothing but praise for this Guild.

Fretboard and Neck

This is a short-scale guitar with a bound rosewood neck that has block inlays. The rosewood doesn’t compare with some of my nicer guitars but then some of those guitars cost more than I’ve paid for cars in my youth. I don’t know what kind of rosewood this is and I wouldn’t pretend to be able to tell, but suffice to say that it doesn’t look or feel like the Brazilian rosewood on my 2003 Les Paul Historic Goldtop. The pickups in that guitar cost more than this entire instrument, though, and when you start talking in cost/benefit ratios, this guitar delivers. Sure, it’s not an uber-rare beautiful fretboard, but it feels great, looks fine, and plays better than it has any right to.

The neck is bound in a nice sort of aged-looking plastic and the inlays have a wonderful opalescence that makes me think they’re at least a nicer grade of whatever they are. I have a Japanese Jackson that has plastic inlays that feel absolutely terrible and these are nothing at all like those.

The frets are all quite well done and have wonderfully smooth ends and running my fingers down the sides of the neck results in zero snags or rough spots. The neck is really the heart of a guitar and this neck feels and plays great.  

The fretboard is just a bit wider than 1 11/16″ at the nut and is a nice .8″ deep at the same point. Given Guild’s penchant for tiny thin necks back in the ’70s, the neck is a joy to play. The frets are .055″ high by .105″ wide making them nice jumbos, which is another nice departure from vintage Guilds that usually have very low and wide frets. The fretboard radius measures a nice 10″ or so which adds to the feeling of ease while playing.

A quick word is in order about the headstock angle because it’s pretty severe given that the rest of the guitar is essentially flat. While this is not an issue in terms of playability, it is an issue when transporting and storing the instrument as the headstock will be the first thing to touch the ground should the instrument fall on its back resulting in a likely headstock break. The fact that the guitar generally comes in a gig bag doesn’t make me feel any better about this, but as I said it’s not a problem regarding playability but rather a point that needs to be made so that users don’t end up with broken guitars.

Build Quality

This is a very solid guitar that feels great and has no real weaknesses in terms of build quality that I could discern. The neck is set like on most Guild solid-body electrics with the body and neck both made from solid mahogany. The neck appears to be a single piece of wood while the body appears to be three pieces, though that’s not something you’d really notice (on this guitar at least) unless you looked for the seems.

The guitar has a surprisingly ergonomic shape and I say surprising because it’s so unique looking, but a big part of that is the belly cut on the back and the bevel on the top, both of which make the guitar comfortable to play for long periods of time.

Speaking of comfort, the guitar weighs 7 lbs 12 oz (3.52 kilos) so while not a featherweight given its design, it’s a whole lot more comfortable to play than a Norlin-era Les Paul.

The pickup and electronics route is coated in a shielding material that does its job. I was pleasantly surprised to find a label in this route showing that this is an S200 T-Bird even though the marketing materiel never mentions the S200 model number, instead only ever referring to the guitar as a T-Bird ST.

Pickups

The pickups in this guitar are Guild’s own Little Bucker mini-hums which are modern copies of the coveted Guild AntiHum pickups from the ’60s. If you’d like to read great detail about the differences, check out my article, Guild Anti-Hum and LB1 Mini Humbucker Pickups.

To summarize, Guild insists on shipping these pickup sets with the bridge measuring around 5k and the neck measuring around 7k. This makes the neck hotter than the bridge (it’s more complicated than that, but let’s keep it simple) which makes them infuriatingly unbalanced to my ears. In fact, if you look at the picture of the pickups in this guitar, you’ll see that the bridge pickup is very high while the neck pickup is very low. This was done in an effort to balance the output which was only partially successful. This drives me crazy and is one of the only downsides of this guitar (and almost every other LB1-equipped Guild selling today).

I may swap the pickup positions, and I may swap the pickups out entirely with a vintage pair. Stay tuned because if I do, that will be an article unto itself. Until then, know that I consider the pickups themselves to be great, but Guild would be MUCH better served putting in two 5k or two 7k pickups – not a mixture of both.

Electronics

The prime benefit of this model of T-Bird is the simplified wiring scheme, which I like a lot. I’ve always been a fan of master volume/tone guitars because they’re easier to manipulate under pressure and simpler to maintain. My only real beef with the design is the position of the toggle switch which appears to me to be placed in order to use an existing hole from the more complicated T-Bird design template, but all things considered that’s a pretty minor gripe.

The electronics themselves are quite simple and all of the components appear to be Korean made as evidenced by the Made in Korea stamp on each of the pots.

The electronics themselves almost couldn’t be simpler. The pickups connect to the toggle which connects to the master volume and tone which then connect to the output jack. Both of the pots were 500k and the tone capacitor, a simple off-the-shelf metal-film part, was labeled as .022μF.

The wiring was fairly neat in an “import guitar” kind of way and there are no illusions of the electronics trying to be vintage. I could play the elitist vintage snob game and complain that the wires are all modern and plastic-coated, but no one cares including me so let’s not. If I had to complain about anything it would be the solder joints which have that same “import guitar” look to them which I think is a result of assembly line efficiency along with that terrible scourge that is RoHS solder. Yeah, RoHS is trying to save all of us who solder from breathing in lead fumes, but it’s just awful to work with and I’ll never be a fan.

Really, though, I’m being nitpicky. For a $500 guitar (which is what this is, really), there is nothing to complain about.

Hardware

The hardware is almost entirely nickel coated which differs from vintage Guilds that were almost all chrome. This isn’t a problem or anything, but it’s worth pointing out as a data point. The bridge and tailpiece appear to be common off-the-shelf parts, though they’re of sufficient quality to not be a problem for things like intonation and playability while also allowing the guitar to be assembled for the desired price point. Adjustments are simple and work well and I had no problem setting up the guitar to my preferences. The knobs are modern copies of vintage Guild G-shield knobs that sport the Tone and Volume labels while famously only showing the numbers 1-9.

An oft-repeated gripe of mine on every Newark Street Guild I’ve played is the tuners. Though they function well enough, I really dislike the tiny tuner buttons and I’m not a fan of the open-gear design on a guitar like this. Aesthetics aside, the tiny buttons annoy me every time I have to tune the damn thing.  I’d say that the guitar stays in tune as well as I could expect so my complaint is more about the way they feel and to me they feel cheap. Part of that may be because of guitars that I owned in the ’70s and ’80s that were actually cheap and had similar tuners, so I acknowledge that this issue may be my own as plenty of people have reported to me that they’re totally fine with the tuners on their Newark Street Guilds.

Sound

For me, with the pickups as they are, this guitar really shines in the middle position where the chime and interesting character of the LB1s shows off. I think this guitar is the most fun to play through a Fenderish clean amp or one with some slight hair on the signal. The guitar has a great jangly sound from those LB1 pickups and accentuating that is where I’d find myself the most happy with this instrument.

ODS100 Clean

7th Chords

Open Chords #1

Open Chords #2

D-Shape

A-Shape

JCM-800

A-Shape

Citrus

D-Shape

I found the neck pickup to be a bit woofy at times, and remember this is with that pickup lowered a great deal because it is the hotter of the two pickups. The bridge pickup really depended on the amp for me changing from harsh to weak to just right depending on how the amp was dialed in.

I tend to be a lover of more aggressive or high-gain guitar, and so tend to favor super-Strats, Les Pauls, and the like. I have a very nice American Deluxe Strat that I keep for Strat tones, but it rarely gets played unless I’m in a mood for some Dire Straits. The reason I’m telling you this is because this guitar wasn’t really meant for that kind of playing and so isn’t a great fit for me. I think it sounds killer playing some backing chords into an amp that can make it sing, and I think it could do well where you might think of a Gretsch. Put it through a JTM-45 and revel in jangly crunch which is where I liked this guitar best when distorted. Though it worked through higher gain, that sweet spot just worked for me and I could see ripping up a blues jam with that setup.

This is the first time I used my new Axe-FX III for recording which I did direct to Audacity to my Mac Pro.  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.

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.

Playability

This guitar is fun to play and there are no ergonomic problems to speak of. Access up the neck is good, the smooth frets are a joy, and the ergonomics of the body shape work very well.

The guitar does feel a little bit long because it’s got a lot of wood behind the tailpiece, but this is not a problem that I could discern with a possible exception of how the strap sits on the back of the guitar while standing, but that’s honestly me just looking for something to complain about.

With the action nice and low and no need to adjust the truss rod, playability of the fretting hand is better than 99% of any of the inexpensive guitars I grew up with.

Conclusion

This is a pretty darn nice guitar for the price, and for a while they were being blown out on eBay for $400 a piece brand new. That’s a freaking steal! Sadly, I don’t see them around for that kind of money much anymore, but who knows what the future will bring. Honestly, for $500 this guitar is a no-brainer.

As should be quite obvious by now, my only real problem with the guitar is the pairing of the pickups. The tuners bug me, but that’s just a personal preference since the tuners don’t affect the playability of the guitar. The pickups issue is a shame, too, because individually the pickups are fantastic – they’re just terribly matched on this and every other Newark Street Guild that has them. I should point out, again, that many people aren’t bothered by the pickups, so you’re mileage may definitely vary.

This is a very solidly made guitar from Korea that delivers all of the vintage cool vibe of the original with the simplified controls and playability of a modern guitar. I like it. If the pickups were properly matched I’d probably love it.

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