1985 Guild D46

This review is of a 1985 Guild D46 acoustic guitar which, believe it or not, is the first Guild six-string acoustic guitar I’ve ever owned. It is also the first acoustic guitar I’ve ever reviewed, so please accept my apologies in advance should i get any of the terminology wrong or if I just flat out write something stupid. Actually, scratch that last one; writing stupid things is what I do.

This is a fairly interesting guitar for a bunch of reasons, the most obvious being that the back and sides are solid ash. I tend to be drawn to uncommon Guilds, so let’s take a look and see how this one fares.

Introduction

I get a fair amount of disbelief over on the LetsTalkGuild forum because my favorite acoustic guitar is a Taylor. Being primarily an electric guitar player, I’ve always been drawn to Guild’s electric guitars, and since I didn’t own an acoustic through the ’80s and ’90s, I didn’t really develop a taste for the typical Guild (or even Martin) acoustic sound. Certainly, I’ve heard my share of acoustic songs and like the timbre of the instruments played on those recordings. The simple truth is that thanks to my years playing in bands, I have a degree of hearing loss that is centered around certain frequencies which I think may be the cause for my attraction to brighter-sounding guitars.

Since most Guilds don’t sound bright, I was intrigued when I first came across a Guild D46 because the entire guitar (except for the fretboard) is made from ash. Ash is not a typical tonewood in acoustic guitars, most likely because it produces a brighter timbre than the normal maple and rosewood materials used.  The quality of the sound from a D46 is not quite like a Taylor and it’s certainly not like a traditional Guild, either. It’s its own thing.

Some Guild D46 guitars have a large stripe of rosewood down the middle of the back like this one grabbed from a pic on LetsTalkGuild. I believe this usually occurs on later models, my assumption being that it became more difficult to find pieces of ash wide enough to fill the back of a dreadnaught sized guitar, though I’ve been contacted by someone with a 1981 D46 that has the stripe, so my assumption is worth exactly what you paid for it. I’m not a big fan of this variation as to my mind it’s “not as good” as one with a full ash back, but people who have them report a sound as good as those without the center strip, so my perception is based mostly on the looks of the instrument versus any perceived difference in sound. What can I say? I’m shallow when it comes to guitars. I will say that some of these have some absolutely killer grain on them, though, like this one from this thread on the LetsTalkGuild forum. I’m a sucker for great grain so my shallowness is somewhat abated when considering that guitar.

Since this model isn’t seen very often, people sometimes post that it was very limited or never became a production model or some other form of guitar-forum hearsay. The Guild D46 was very much a production guitar, and to quote author and renowned Guild collector Hans MoustGuild made quite a few D-46s more than the ones that are listed on the ‘official’ serial number lists and for a longer period. We won’t know more about the details of how many were made until he publishes another book on the subject, but suffice to say that it appears as though they are not as rare as some sellers might have you believe.

The biggest variation I’ve seen on these D46s (aside from the center stripe) is the width of the grain on the back. This first example is from an old Elderly Instruments ad. Note that I shamelessly flipped the pic and removed the stand to make it match my picture below, but my point is to show the nice tight grain on the back of the guitar. As an aside, someone scored a great deal on this guitar because, though it was marked factory second, it also sold for only $450 which is a killer price for a guitar of this caliber, factory second or not. At any rate, notice the very tight grain throughout the wood on the back. That’s the kind of grain I tend to prefer when looking at a guitar made from Ash.

This next guitar is the one in my possession, and you can see that the wood grain is much wider. I have my doubts that the width of the grain affects tone assuming all else being equal because when it comes to acoustic instruments it’s practically impossible to make everything else equal. Every piece of wood should be evaluated on its own merits just like every guitar should be evaluated on its own merits. I’ll admit to wishing that my guitar had tighter grain on the back because, as already stated, I’m shallow when it comes to guitars. Really, though, the only people that see the back of the guitar are the person who picks it up out of the case and then possibly the people that person then shows it off to. After that, it’s all about the top or hopefully, and more importantly, the sound.

The 1981 catalog shows the Guild D46 and describes it as the first dreadnaught to use solid ash back, sides, and neck in conjunction with a solid spruce top and then goes on to say that, Ash is noted for both its superior sound properties and exotic wood grains. 

Two model numbers are shown: D-46BL with a natural spruce top and an all blonde finish, and D-46SB with a sunburst top, back, and sides. Mine is simply labeled D46-BLD on the sticker in the sound hole, though mine is a 1985 and the catalog shown appears to be from 1981 (Guild catalogs are rarely dated).

There didn’t seem to be a lot of fanfare about this model, and I was unable to find any magazine advertisements for it. That doesn’t mean that there weren’t any, but rather that my ability to search for them on the Internet met with frustration. That’s how it is with the Internet some days when you spend hours searching for a nice blonde. And no, I will not be making any jokes revolving around the phrase, “nice ash”.

The Guild D46 was available with simple electronics that had only one control – a volume knob on the top bout up near the neck. What was especially cool about this setup was the fact that the volume knob was a Guild G-shield knob commonly found on electric guitars from that timeframe. An example of this installation can be seen in this absolutely terrible iPhone picture that I took back probably around 2010 or so when I saw one for sale in a local store. I didn’t buy it at the time because I thought the price was too high and the seller wouldn’t budge. These guitars were marked D46-E or some variation thereof such as D46-Bld-E for the blonde finish.

The case

The case is a fairly typical Guild hardshell case from the era with one feature that I must say I do not like. The case has a strap on the bottom near the latch that everyone breaks because they forget it’s there. That strap keeps the case from opening too far, which I suppose is a nice feature, but the design of that strap along with the case means that either the strap is sitting shoved up against the guitar, or it’s sticking out the case when it’s closed as shown in this picture. One the one hand, I don’t want things rubbing up against my fine Guild guitar, but on the other hand, when it sticks out like this it makes the case harder to close. I consider this a feature of dubious benefit with at least two downsides. I guess that’s why I don’t see this feature on many other Guild cases.

Finish

The guitar is finished in lacquer and shows the typical quality Guild is famous for. The finish has aged a fair bit which gives the guitar a rich amber hue that is common on older blonde guitars with light colored wood.

You may notice in some of the pictures what appears to be a darker band of spruce on the top down the center of the instrument. This is not quite as visible in normal light and seems to be highlighted by the flash when photographing the guitar and is further accentuated with the slight contrast tweak that my standard editing recipe has applied. Though the streaks are certainly prevalent, the guitar’s top doesn’t look like quite so much like two-colored wood as it does in the photos. The difference is there, though, and I find it almost appealing because it looks like a shadow drawn out from the bridge since the bridge and the darker center are almost exactly the same width.

While blonde and sunburst are shown as options in the catalog,  sunburst seems to be pretty uncommon. Hell, this model already feels pretty uncommon, so I guess sunburst would be downright rare, though I try not to use the “r” word given it’s common abuse in the guitar world. I feel compelled to add that since I first wrote that paragraph, I’ve seen two sunburst D46 guitars for sale, so making judgments about what I’ve seen for sale on eBay and Reverb is probably not the best way to gather data.

Fretboard and Neck

The fretboard is a simple ebony affair with simple dot markers and no binding. The neck is ash with what I assume to be a rosewood stripe down the middle likely making it a three-piece neck.

The neck on this particular guitar is arrow straight after 34 years and the guitar plays like a dream. I attribute this to the three piece neck design which I think adds a great deal of stability over single piece necks and I say that because of all the guitars I’ve owned (mostly Guilds), the ones with the three piece necks are the ones I’ve never had to adjust.

The headstock is similar to the nicer Guilds of the era with the angled Guild logo and the Chesterfield in-between the tuning pegs. For those of you who concern yourselves with such things, there are no lines in the Chesterfield which makes sense given the timeframe from which this guitar was made.

The frets are typical of Guilds from the ’80s which means that they’re a bit small, though having played a 1979 Guild S300 as my only guitar for 15 years, the frets don’t bother me at all. The fretboard radius is a pretty flat 20″ which is pretty standard for acoustics in my experience. I really like the playability of this guitar with the exception of one aspect, and it’s kind of a biggie for me.

The only thing I don’t like about this guitar is the neck width, which measures almost exactly 1 5/8″ at the nut. That was the typical size for electric guitar necks from Guild when this guitar was made, and I can play comfortably on an electric with such a neck, but for me an acoustic should be larger with the neck 1 11/16″ at a minimum with 1 3/4″ being my preference. I have fairly big hands, though, so if you have smaller hands then this could be a great guitar for you, bearing in mind that it’s still a full-sized dreadnaught body and thus a pretty large guitar.

Build Quality

This is not really a high-end instrument when compared with other Guilds such as the venerable D55, and the reason I say that is that there is no binding, the inlays are simple dots, the body binding appears to be plastic, and so-on, but make no mistake: this is a damn nice guitar. Guild acoustics always feel very solid to me and I often joke that you could paddle a canoe with one (don’t do that). Hell, the Guild JF65-12 that I had felt like you could club someone over the head with it and it would stay in tune (don’t do that, either). My perception may be due to playing Taylors which, by comparison, feel like they’re made out of balsa wood. My guess is that Taylor use thinner pieces of wood all around, but I have no idea if that’s true. I still love my Taylor, but I feel like it needs to be babied where my Guilds feel like they need to be played and played hard.

While this is not a flagship instrument, there are some wonderful touches here and there. My favorite is the inlay going down the middle of the back which has a delightful yet simple pattern that adds a bit of panache to this otherwise simple guitar. There are other touches of elegance such as the three concentric rosettes around the sound hole and the 5-layer purfling inside the binding on the top and back of the guitar. These are the little touches that don’t affect the playability of the instrument and they don’t really stand out like the ornate additions on high-end guitars, but they’re there and I think they’re just right for this model where the real visual impact is from the wood grain itself.

I’m not enough of an acoustic aficionado to tell you details about the bracing and how it affects the tone, so I’m going to reference GardMan’s excellent drawings of Guild bracing patterns as he’s observed them over the years. You can see his original thread from the LetsTalkGuild forum here.

I can tell you that this guitar passes one of my own tests which is to say that no matter how hard I strum it I can not overdrive the top. I like an acoustic to push some serious air when I dig in, and I’ve had issues with some lower-quality instruments (and some surprisingly high-quality ones for that matter) that just couldn’t keep up with my aggressive right hand. This guitar, like most every Guild acoustic I’ve ever played, just takes it and asks for more.

Hardware

The tuning machines are Schaller mini-tuners, which I found to be very odd and a little bit annoying. I mean, why have mini-tuners on a full-sized headstock? Mini tuners are for goofy guitars like the Guild X79 where the headstock simply cannot support larger tuners, or for six-on-a-side installations like a Fender Strat where there is no room for larger machines. Having these little tuners on the big headstock just seems dumb to me, and yes, they’ve been verified to be original to the guitar.

I have since acquired a Guild X175 from the same mid-80s timeframe which also has these annoying little mini-tuners. 

Really, that’s all the hardware there is on this guitar since it’s an acoustic and there are no pickups or knobs or anything else where metal might show up.

There is no upper strap peg which is or at least was common on acoustics since many people used straps that tied around the guitar’s headstock. The bridge is a very nice piece of ebony and the pick guard is a typical and simple black affair that serves its purpose.

The nut and the bridge are both made of Micarta (Thanks Hans!), which according to Wikipedia is a brand name for composites of linen, canvas, paper, fiberglass, carbon fiber or other fabric in a thermosetting plastic… The term has been used generically for most resin impregnated fibre compounds… The article goes on to describe the applications for Micarta as including …kitchen tool handles, handgun grips, guitar fingerboards, nuts and bridges, pool cues, and safety gear such as hard hats. StewMac describes the Micarta they sell as being ivory in color and a bit softer than bone. They also state that Martin has used it for their nuts and saddles since the 1960s.

The elitist tinkering snob in me feels the need to replace the nut and saddle with bone, but the player in me likes the sound of this guitar as-is. I also appreciate vintage instruments that are original, so the guitar has remained unmodified in my hands.

Sound

This guitar has a very tight, very articulate tone that is best described as focused. It has a very nice high-end sparkle that really shines when a capo is used. If I capo on the 7th fret and pick out Hotel California, the overtones for the notes give just a hint of that 12-string sound that the original exemplifies even if I do battle the capo with my sausage fingers on the narrow fretboard. The only other acoustic I have that does this so well is my Taylor DN-K which has solid koa back and sides. The sustain on this guitar is fantastic, and the notes just ring and ring no matter what register.

With the capo down on the third fret, picking Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick delivers a wonderful tone as well. Since Ian Anderson famously played parlour-sized guitars including Martins and other brands, his acoustic tone tends to be a bit brighter than the typical large dreadnaught seen in most rock music. The subtleties of his tone can be hard to match with a typical acoustic, but I think this Guild D46 does an admirable job.

Open Chords #1

Open Chords #2

D-Shape Chords

Barre Chords

Hotel California

My God

Mother Goose

My go-to test when I pick up any new acoustic is the intro to Jethro Tull’s My God from the Aqualung album. Those first two notes can tell me a lot about a guitar including sustain, timbre, and intonation. This is a piece with a lot of phrasing evident and a guitar that doesn’t hold up to it well is one that I’m frankly not interested in. The Guild D46 handles the timbre and sustain brilliantly, but I quickly become frustrated by the narrow neck where I don’t have that problem on a modern wider-necked guitar. Of course, I’m most at home on a big 1 3/4″ wide neck (measured at the nut), and that just makes this guitar all the more frustrating for me. The tone is absolutely killer, but for someone like me who doesn’t like small fretboards, it just feels cramped. If the fretboard was wider I’d probably have multiple copies because I love the tone that much.

Mother Goose, from the same album, shows off not only the guitar’s timbre with a capo on the fifth fret, but also my complete inability to play at a consistent or even reasonable tempo. Of course the mistakes would probably have been lessened if I’d just slow the hell down, but then this article would have taken that much longer to complete.

I’m really not much of an acoustic player, and I really need to play one for a week or more straight before I feel comfortable with my playing, which is not what happened before I decided to record that Jethro Tull stuff. What’s more, I’ve had the guitar for about a year and played it non-stop when I got it but wasn’t smart enough to record myself (or if I did I didn’t label the recordings). I sat with the guitar for about an hour this time and just couldn’t deliver a good enough recording without embarrassing myself, but since this review has sat 90% completed for a freaking year I recorded some chords and let ‘er rip. Enjoy my public humiliation while I think about what I’ve done.

Since this is an acoustic guitar without electronics, I recorded it with my trusty Olympus LS10 recorder. I put the recorder on my desk (on a foam pad) and positioned the guitar with the sound hole about 18″ from the mics. I’m not very happy with the recordings (even aside from my playing) and might have to invest in a nice large diaphragm mic if I review any more acoustics. Note that I also play with a .50mm pick because I like the brightness and attack, so the guitar may sound quite different in your own hands.

Playability

This guitar plays like the big ol’ dreadnaught that it is, meaning that it’s a big ‘ol dreadnaught and if you don’t like that body style, then you probably won’t like this guitar. As for me, this is what a guitar should look like, so I love it. I wasn’t able to test it standing because I don’t have a strap that ties to the neck, but it’s very similarly sized to every other dreadnaught I’ve ever played so I can’t imagine there would be much surprise there.

My only complaint is the 1 5/8″ neck, as previously covered, and though I wouldn’t mind griping a bit about the tiny tuners, they keep the guitar in tune just fine so it’s not like they affect the playability of the guitar. The neck width, though is the deal breaker for me. I absolutely love the timbre of this guitar and I love the way it plays, but the fretboard just isn’t wide enough for my fingers. While I can tolerate such a neck on an electric guitar, I play differently on an electric and spend a lot more time playing solos or other “electricy” type things, whereas on an acoustic I tend to play more, well, “acousticy” things and I just don’t feel like my fingers have enough room. If you have smaller hands then this may be the perfect guitar for you, assuming you’re OK with the big dreadnaught body.

Conclusion

I love this guitar but the fretboard is just too cramped for my long monkey fingers. As stated earlier if the fretboard was wider it would be an absolute winner for me. I you like a 1 5/8″ fretboard at the nut and you like a brighter sounding guitar, the Guild D46 should absolutely be on your short list.

Since this guitar is a Guild and is built like a Guild I feel like I could paddle a boat with it and then play all night around the campfire (seriously – don’t do that) without it going out of tune. The big dreadnaught body delivers all the acoustic volume I could ask for but with the extra bit of high-end that I prefer in an acoustic guitar. If you’re after the more traditional bass and mid-heavy sound of a rosewood back and sides guitar, though, this is not the instrument for you. Why conform, though? Embrace something different!

My quibbles about the fretboard width and the little tuners aside, this is a fabulous guitar, especially if you’re looking for something that’s a bit different than the standard recipe that most acoustics deliver. Besides, it’s a Guild, and you just can’t go wrong with a Guild.

 

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One thought on “1985 Guild D46

  1. Greetings! I was the one that scored the great deal on the D46 from elderly instruments..

    Anyways.. I currently have 5 Guild D46 guitars, simply because they are perfect for my hands and my style. I love the balanced tones and the way the individual notes sound and well as the sound when strummed light or hard. Extremely versitile guitars in every way.

    All my Guild D46 guitars are from 1981 and 1982.. I have two that have the rosewood stripe in the back as well as an electric version.

    However, the main reason I am commenting is simply this: All my Guild D46 guitars have the standard size tuners. Obviously, yours have the smaller ones. Why, I don’t know. Strange indeed.

    Cheers!

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