Guild Model Four Amp

Todays journey into lunacy is my detailed review of this craptastic little import amplifier from 1980. Now, I don’t want to seem biased, but this little import transistor radio amplifier is about as far apart from the quality I’ve come to love and respect from Guild as listening to 128k MP3s through a pair of dollar store ear buds are from listening to Mozart on a Merrill-Williams turntable through a pair of Sennheiser HD800s delivered through a McIntosh MHA150. Actually, that’s ridiculous; this is worse.

Tag along while this Guild-loving reviewer lists all the reasons why you should never buy one of these adorable little wastes of money. 

Intro

If there’s one thing I remember about the 1970s it was the influx of import electronic crap. With the gas crisis, the recession, Nixon’s gold shock, and the end of the Vietnam War, the ’70s were an absolute financial mess. In order to satisfy the baby boomer’s never-ending desire for cheap electronic crap, companies that had been known for quality started to import electronics from overseas, and back then overseas pretty much meant Japan. Since Japanese companies had been selling cheap inexpensive transistor radios for years, US companies needed to compete, and they did so by outsourcing to Japanese companies so that the US companies could compete against the Japanese companies by using other Japanese companies against them. Also, I am not an economist.

Since the ’70s had come to an end (roughly around 1980) and the world was now familiar with Eddie Van Halen, Guild decided that they would produce low-cost amps made in Japan because… well, I’m not exactly sure why, to be honest, but in 1980 Guild released four solid-state amplifiers cleverly named the Model Four, Model Five, Model Six, and (wait for it…), the Model Seven.

The Model Four, which you see in all its resplendent glory in this review, was the smallest of the four as you might have guessed by it sporting the smallest number (Guild’s marketing department was on fire in 1980.)  The Model Four was so named because it had a 4-inch speaker, while the Model Five was named that because it had a 6 1/4″ speaker. Wait, no… The Model Six had a 6 1/4″ speaker and the Model Five was the same amp as the six but without reverb. The Model Seven had an 8″ speaker. Wait, what? Who the hell named these things?

To be more accurate than that last paragraph on nonsense, the amps were probably named Four, Five, Six, and Seven because there were already amps named Model One, Two, and Three. These amps were larger combo-type amps that appear in the 1977 price list but seem to have disappeared by 1980. These were larger, more powerful (but still solid state) amps that had larger, more powerful, and more numerous speakers. Here’s a Model Three listed on Reverb where you can see that the amp at least has the decency to have three knobs to honor its name.

If you’d like to see pics of all these amps, check out The Guilds of Grot Amplifier Page where he’s got one of each of them, all in pristine condition. And I thought I had a problem!

How about some specs in a nice table. Wouldn’t that be nice? Here are the specs for the Model Four, Five, Six, and Seven. Well, it’s the specs I cared about because these little amps aren’t exactly the kind of rigs where people compare specs. The phrase, I’m playing the Stone Pony this weekend, do you think I should take the Guild Model Four or the Guild Model Five? has never been uttered, let alone considered until just now. Ooh – I made an historical statement!

 

So many specs! But how much did such a spectacular bit of engineering and marketing magnificence cost back in the glory that was 1980? I’m glad you asked.

Page 15 of the September 15th, 1980 price list shows that the diminutive Model Four Retailed for $159.95 which is WAY too much money even in recession-riddled future-bucks. By March of 1981 the price had gone up to $184! I remember inflation being in all the news in the ’70s, but this was the ’80s and we were supposed to be past all of that. Using the CPI inflation calculator from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, $184 in 1981 Regan-bucks is roughly equivalent to $535 in early 2019 I thought we’d have flying cars by now bucks.

You know what I can buy for $500 in 2019? An iPhone 7. Sure, it’s two generations old, but I can buy it new with a Warranty from Apple for $449. Hell, I can upgrade to the 128GB model and still only spend $549. Was the Guild Model Four the Apple iPhone 7 of its day? Hardly.

What’s stranger to me is the fact that these little solid-state amps were the only amplifiers listed in the price list. Guild has a pretty odd history when it comes to amps, but these pricey little numbers (see what I did there?) just seem like an odd choice for the entire amp selection of a well-established US guitar company.

Anyway, let’s take a look under the hood and see if this Model Four has any redeeming qualities. Spoiler alert: it does not.

Features

All of the four amps in the series pretty much sport the same feature set. They have high and low impedance inputs, typical controls that I’ll cover later, and perhaps most interesting, headphone line out jacks

The marketing material also lists the pilot light as a feature, though I think they were trying to fill a minimum ad copy word count on that one. The amp does have a master volume which could make things interesting. I’ll cover that in a bit, too. Spoiler Alert #2: It’s useless.

Note that if you’re doing research because you really want to buy one of these, first please check yourself into a mental health clinic, and then have them remind you that the Model Six comes with reverb, so it has five knobs, because thinking about that will probably make you realize that you’re in the right place. Oh, and the Model Seven does not have reverb, and so reverts back to having only four knobs. My guess is that because 7-5=2 and 2² is 4, so how about another round of the little yellow pills? Those are my favorite.

Cabinet and Grill

The cabinet on this little amp is actually pretty nice. It’s built just like a regular combo amp and looks to be made from 3/4″ pine just like the real deal. The back attaches similarly to a big amp, though the screws are much smaller. I even like that there’s a small vent on the top to let the heat out while providing a backing for the speaker and a space for the fairly long cord. That cord has a 2-prong plug on it, but this is a solid state amp and not one of those high-voltage tube amps of death that no one wants to use any more because this is the future and the future is transistorized!

The grill is some sort of grill cloth. How’s that for a detailed review? I suspect that it’s acoustically transparent because it’s optically translucent. Actually I’m not sure that’s technically accurate and I’m too lazy to look it up and I really like the way it sounds so I’m keeping it. Wait – I like the way my transparent/translucent statement sounded – not the amp. I don’t want people to get the idea that I like the sound of the amp. Anyway, if I used the term translucent long talk to my editor who can be reached at totallynotautodeleted@gad.net.

The amp cabinet has adorable little feet on it which actually do a really good job of keeping my hardwood floor from scratching every time I shove the little amp out of the way with my feet.

Controls

The Guild Model Four amp has four knobs: Volume, Master, Bass and Treble. The control layout is simple and easy to understand, mostly because none of the knobs seem to do anything.

Seriously, so far as I can tell, none of them do a damn thing. Well, the Volume and Master both crackle and cut in and out like nobody’s business, and on the odd chance that they cut in when you’re holding them just right, they remind you that you shouldn’t have touched the knobs or spent money on this amp, so I suppose that’s a function. So far as my testing has determined, the Bass and Treble knobs serve no purpose, whatsoever.

Now, I’m a soldering Ninja, and I’m not afraid to tear anything apart to restore it, so I took the entire thing apart which I’ll detail in the next section. Oh, the pilot light works, and that on/off switch works like a champ, so that’s a win!

This amp should be in no way compared with the Fender Champ because that little amp is freaking amazing and sounds like a million bucks. Honestly I feel like I did a disservice to the venerable Champ by using the word champ to describe how well the on/off switch works. This amp ain’t no Champ.

You may have notice that the knobs don’t look right. They’re supposed to have little silver circles in the center like what you see on all of Grot’s super-clean examples. Hey, I bought mine on eBay for very few dollars and I wasn’t about to spend money improving this thing. That said, I think they should have put Guild G-Shield knobs on it!

Why didn’t they use Guild G-shield knobs? My guess is that because this is an import piece of crap amp which uses those little metric pots that you sometimes see in pedals, so the Guild knobs of the day (‘Merica!) wouldn’t fit on the import metric shafts. This pic that I took with the cool Guild knobs belies the fact that if you tilt the amp forward, the knobs all fall off. Since most of the knobs don’t work worth a damn anyway, who cares? I could glue those suckers right to the face plate for all the good they do, but then I’d be out a nice set of knobs and that would be a waste.

Electronics

This is not a tube amp. This is not a boutique amp. Frankly, this is barely an amp at all. It’s not loud, it doesn’t sound good, I can’t dial in any tones, and when I do get it to play, it hurts my ears. Intrigued, I dug in to see what electronics wizardry could power such a device.

I’ve dismantled a fair number of amps, so I know what I’m doing (note to any future coroners researching my electrocution – this is a lie). With my experience at the ready, I unscrewed the two top screws and prepared to slide the chassis out. Only it wouldn’t budge. Ah! It slides out the front so I have to remove the speaker grill! No dice. What the hell? As it turns out, the chassis is held to the cabinet not only by the two obvious chassis screws and the the speaker grill, but also by the two screws for the handle! Those screws go through the handle ends, through the cabinet, and into the amplifier chassis. Crazy!

With the amp finally apart, I could examine the guts. Crammed into that little chassis was what you see here, a wonderful old circuit board with hand-drawn etched traces. Normally I would keep digging, but I was home alone and starting to get hungry so I put the entire thing to the side so I could order a pizza. The pizza was delicious, with half pepperoni. In fact, I think I may have another slice.

The black transistor is a D313 (audio amplifier) and the green one is a B507 (power amplifier). The one in the middle is no doubt vitally important to the operation of the amp because I was too lazy to remove the heat-sync attachment and see what was in there. I spent about six minutes trying to figure out who made the amp for Guild based on the MGA etching on the circuit board, but then I lost interest and made myself a drink. A fair bit of this review may be a result of that drink, of which I had only one two three. Who are you to judge? They were delicious, thanks for asking.

With the amp dismantled and the pieces laying all over my photography backdrop paper, I roughly lined up all the parts and took a final picture before embarking on the journey of reassembly. Thankfully, ever since my dad yelled at me for taking the phone apart and leaving the pieces all over the kitchen table (he may have needed to make an important call), I’ve got a pretty good ability to reassemble anything I dismantle. Usually it even works again!

Speakers

The speaker is no-name import crap of the four inch variety. Well, that’s probably not fair. I’m sure it was the right solution to meet the desired price point at the time, but the fact remains that it’s a generic four inch speaker. It doesn’t even have full-sized speaker terminals on it.  Hey, but the specs say it’s a rockin’ 15 Watts, in an amp that’s 6W RMS and 12W peak, so the math works, I guess. At least it’s got that cool silver dust cap in the center for that No really, it’s a serious JBL speaker vibe.

The speaker specs don’t matter so long as it sounds great, right? So how’s it sound?

Sound

This crappy little transistor amp sounds like a crappy little transistor amp. Grot said it best over on LetsTalkGuild when someone asked and he replied that it sounds like playing though a transistor radio. I’d say that’s a fair assessment if the controls work, but they probably won’t.

Oh, and for those of you under probably 40 who have never seen a transistor radio, this is what he was talking about. I’m sure I could argue that any radio with transistors is part of that family, but the term transistor radio has cultural significance as the first small hand-held audio devices. The were Walkman MP3 Player  iPod  iPhone of the day.

As an aside, there are people that collect transistor radios that would probably take offense at my maligning the character of this amp by comparing it in a negative light to a transistor radio. My guess is probably not, though, as anyone who’s spent any time at all listening to anything through one of those little one or two inch speakers will know exactly the sonic character I’m describing.

Since this is a solid-state amp and not a modeler or anything more advanced than a transistor-based amp using 1980 technology, it does not clip in a pleasing way. There have been transistor-based amps based on transistor radios that sound divine with the famous Deacy Amp used to great effect by Brian May of Queen coming to mind. This is no Deacy amp.

I decided that I must be overdriving the amp with my guitar, so I went and got a guitar from the same time period: My Sunburst S300AD (review pending). That made it sound worse! Well, it sounded worse on the bridge pickup (a Dimarzio Super Distortion) but almost tolerable on the neck (Dimarzio PAF) which made me wonder if even those were too hot for the little amp. I then got my 1981 Starfire IV (review pending) with Guild HB1 pickups and the amp started to suck less. Had I stumbled onto the magic combination of suckless performance? Perhaps.

Rockin’ 7th

Knob Twiddling

It would seem through my experimentation that the amp only tolerates low-output humbuckers because if you push the amp at all it distorts in a very unpleasant way. I actually got what almost sounds like a nice ’60s vibe out of the amp using my Starfire. After fiddling with this amp for over an hour with three different guitars, this was the absolute best tone I could pull from it. For the first recording I cycle through the neck, both, and then the bridge pickups.

Recorded with my Olympus LS-10 I left all knobs on 10 on the amp and on the guitar except for the knob-twiddling recording which is me turning the volume and master knobs on the amp. I suppose the pots could be cleaned, but with all the knobs on 10 the amp does not produce much volume so I can’t see why I would ever turn it down. The key for me turned out to be managing the volume on the guitar, anyway, which produced much better results. Plus, the whole thing is so dodgy that once it produces a clean sound you kind of just back away from the knobs for fear of it cutting out again.

Conclusion

Does this little amp have any redeeming qualities? I suppose it does look pretty cool on my bookshelf, but more often than not I get annoyed that it’s taking up space. Right next to it I have a Roland Micro Cube that I take with me when buying guitars. I’ve had that little MicroCube for probably 10 years and I love it, so that’s proof that I’m not against tiny amps. That MicroCube is the same size as this amp, runs on batteries, had six DSP effects, seven COSM amp models, and a digital tuning fork. Oh, and it sounds freaking great and cost me a hundred bucks new (They’re about $160 now). If you’re looking for a tiny amp, go buy one of those.

When I write conclusions for my review I aim to answer one simple question: Would I recommend that you buy this item? Allow me to succinctly answer that question for you regarding the Guild Model Four amp:

Хьау, Nee, Indi, Jo, Jok, Non, Nama, Ten, Nenten, Ayi, Ez, Na, He, ना, Dai, Ne, Nann, He, Nau, Wala, Amu, ХIан-хIа, Iyayi, ʔį́lé, Niet, Au, Na, Ne, Nej, Ínín, Näj, Ne, Ei, Ao, Nei, Sega, Ei, Non, Nee, Noa, Non, არა, Nein, Όχι, Nahániri, A’a, ʻAʻole, Tsis, Nem, Nei, いいえ, Уга, Nié, Hî-î., Na, Nē, Te, Ne, na go’i, He, Tsia, Tidak, Le, Jab, होइन, Aowa, Nei, Não, Nu, Нет, Ньит, Leai, नैव किल, Naw, Nie, Ně, Не, Lae, Nogat, Nej, Aita, Hayır, Daabi, ياق, , Yo’q, ئەمەس, Non, Ei, Hí’i, Ae, Hayi, Bẹẹ kọ, Ó ti, Ra ra, Cha.

In other words, No. Not recommended. Unless you’re a dork like me who can’t resist old stuff with the Guild logo on it. Actually, not even then. Seriously, don’t ever buy one of these.*

 

*Leave a comment if you’d like to buy this amp.**

 

**OK, fine. If you can find one of these for say, twenty bucks and you want it because it says Guild and looks good on your bookshelf, then have at it. Also, if you’re looking to record that special guitar through a transistor radio sound, then this might just be the ticket.

 

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