Guild Newark St. M75 Aristocrat

Here we have a 2014 Guild Newark St. M75 Aristocrat in Gold. The gold top (goldtop) was a bit of a limited edition for guild that was only made for about a year before being discontinued, though it was not called a limited edition. Typically available in Antique Sunburst or Black, this guitar is fairly striking in appearance with its gold finish. Did I mention that this guitar is gold?

Read on while I go through the process of reviewing this guitar in all it’s goldtop glory.

Introduction

Guild Newark St. guitars are not exact copies of their vintage namesakes, but are rather said to be inspired by them. Since Guild Aristocrats from the 1950s and ’60s can command prices sometimes exceeding $5000, having the ability to buy an import model with a very similar design for about 15% of that eye-watering price is an appealing option. Enter the Newark St. M75 Aristocrat.

The Newark St. M75 Aristocrat first appears in the 2014 Guild catalog and is described as a Semi-Hollow body guitar with laminated spruce top, solid mahogany back and laminated mahogany sides. There is no mention of color options and sunburst is the only model shown. Note that the M75 Aristocrat in my possession is not semi-hollow like a Starfire IV, but is rather fully hollow like a Starfire III, albeit without the f-holes. Not having access to a 2014 M75, I cannot say for certain that the early models had the same structure, but it would seem likely that the reference to the guitar being semi-hollow is a marketing mistake more than a design change. If you’ve got an early Newark St. M75 that’s obviously semi-hollow leave a comment and I’ll add an update here.

The gold-top version appears in the 2015 catalog along side what appears to be the same image of the sunburst M75 from the previous year’s catalog along with a black model. In this catalog the M75 Aristocrat is described as having a spruce top with mahogany back and sides. There is no mention of laminates, though I seriously doubt that changed. The pickups in the 2015 catalog are listed as SB1s. By 2016 the gold top was gone.

The goldtop differs from the other M75 Aristocrats in the 2015 catalog in that it has silver hardware while the other two have gold. The current Guild webpage (as of May 2019) states that Antique Burst and Black models have gold hardware while the goldtop has nickel, but the same page shows pictures of the black M75 with nickel hardware. Guild never has been very good about keeping its story straight.

This guitar was made in 2014, and since the goldtops seem to be slightly more desirable on the used market, cost a bit more than other Newark St. M75 Aristocrats that I found. I must say, though, that of the three (Black, Antique Burst, and Gold), I like the goldtop the best by far, at least cosmetically.

Many Newark St. guitars come in gig bags which aren’t great (but then most aren’t unless you pay a premium). This guitar came in a hardshell case which is pretty nice.

Finish

The finish is poly, and is excellently done as is typical of every Guild I’ve examined including all Newark St. models.

The gold top is really quite beautiful, and while I’m not sure it’s fair to compare it to my 2003 Historic Les Paul R7 that cost almost 10 times what I paid for this guitar, I think I’m going to do exactly that. Hell, let’s thrown in a 2002 Guild Bluesbird for good measure.

The three upside-down guitars pictured are, from left to right, a 2002 Guild Bluesbird, the Newark St. M75 Aristocrat from this review, and my 2003 Gibson Historic Custom Shop Les Paul R7. As you can see, the finishes are all very different. Starting with the Corona-made Bluesbird on the left, that guitar has a much lighter gold tone than the other two. It’s arguably more reflective, but what stands out to me is the difference in the shade of gold. The M75 Aristocrat is actually closer to the Gibson goldtop, but where the color looks darker, it simply cannot compare to the Gibson finish’s luster. Again, the Gibson was a top-of-the-line instrument from a custom shop and while the Guilds aren’t slouches by any stretch, they were both made for very different demographics — namely people who want gold tops and don’t want to spend more on a guitar than they would on a car.

Fretboard and Neck

This is a 24 3/4″ scale length guitar and the neck is a very comfortable 1 11/16″ wide at the neck and .83″ deep moving up gradually to .90″ around the 12th fret.

One of the things that I like about the Newark St. guitars I’ve reviewed is the fact that they chose to put taller frets on them when compared with the low wide frets used on many vintage Guilds. The frets on this guitar measured .06″ high and .09″ wide making them in the Extra High for Rock and Roll category on the Dunlop Fret Chart. If you’re used to those old low frets, sliding a barre chord up the neck on this guitar can feel a bit strange, but I love the playability of tall frets. Playing jumbo frets on my Jackson guitars cured me of the monkey grip that I had previously used after years playing a vintage Guild. Speaking of monkeys and grips, if you grip the guitar like a monkey, you’re gonna pull this one out of tune unless you string it up with bridge cables. On my 10-46 strings I can squeeze the plain strings 20-30 cents sharp, and I’m far from super-human.

The fretboard is bound rosewood and the inlays are quite nice pearloid blocks. I’ve seen import guitars with terrible looking plastic inlays but these look great. They don’t quite have the depth of real mother of pearl, but unless you put them side by side with a vintage guitar you’d probably not look twice.

I had some difficulty measuring the radius because the specs on the Guild website say that it’s 9.5″ and my gauges measured a pretty solid 12″, but then I did some further testing and came to the conclusion that the frets may be 9.5″ over a 12″ fretboard. I’m not a big stickler over a guitar’s fretboard radius so long as it’s flatter than 7.5″ which I actively dislike, and measuring the difference between 9.5″ and 12″ can be rough after a couple of cocktails early in the morning.

All in all the neck and frets on this guitar feel great and the fretwork is outstanding.

Build Quality

This guitar initially feels insubstantial because of its weight. Weighing in at a scant 5.5 pounds (2.5 kilos), it perceived lack of substance was almost jarring when I first picked it up.

It’s tempting to think that the guitar feels cheap, but that’s not because it’s poorly made — it’s because the guitar is hollow. This guitar is ridiculously light and when compared to one of my Les Pauls that weighs almost twice as much, the Aristocrat is a featherweight. Can it compete with the Les Paul? Well, it’s not really the same kind of guitar.

While my heavyweight Les Paul has P90s (a Historic R4 in this case), the Les Paul is solid mahogany with a solid maple top and this Aristocrat is a very hollow mahogany with a spruce top. That design gives the M75 a very airy quality to its tone that is just not a thing that a solid Les Paul is capable of.

While the guitar is hollow, there is a fairly substantial chunk of wood under the fretboard. This is not a sound block that dampens vibrations so much as (I assume) support for the neck. Looking at that picture more closely, it almost looks like that block is part of the top, but the top is a laminate and that block is solid.

Looking at the ends of the pickup route, you can see additional wood that’s been routed to take the pickup installation screws. These are braces that run under the top along the length of the body much like the braces you would find in a Starfire II or III.

Speaking of pickup routes, I found it kind of fun to discover a Newark St. ghost label on the inside of the guitar underneath the bridge pickup route. Here you can see that the serial number starts with KSG14 which indicates that the guitar was made in the Korean SPG factory in 2014. I love finding labels like this inside a guitar where a player may never see them.

Pickups

The pickups in the M75 Aristocrat are Guild Franz P90 Soapbars and are referenced as SB1F (bridge and neck), my assumption being that SB stands for SoapBar and 1F for Franz. I base this assumption on the fact that the dog-ear versions have the part number DE1F. The pickups are the same models used in the Newark St. T-Bird ST P90 that I reviewed here, though this guitar has a very different sound than that solid-body T-Bird because, as mentioned, this guitar is completely hollow.

The pickup height in either position is not easily changed, and the differences in pickup height on this guitar are due to the different route depths with the neck pickup having a significantly deeper hole than the bridge. In fact, the neck pickup is mounted mostly to the braces under the top while the bridge pickup screws have a millimeter or so of top to bite before hitting the braces. Further adjustments to either pickup’s height would need to be accomplished with spacer rings.

I didn’t see a need to asdust the height of either pickup and unlike the Lil’ Bucker equipped guitars like the T-Bird, T-Bird ST, and Starfire III which are all terribly unbalanced due to a poor design decision by Guild, this guitar sounds perfectly fine and well-balanced. As you can see from the pictures, the difference in height provided by the different route depths is substantial, but if you do feel the need to adjust something, the pole pieces are ready for your screwdriver.

Electronics

I was hoping that the harness was the same as the one I bought for my Newark St. Starfire III so that I wouldn’t have to do any actual work but, alas, it is not. Since I needed to examine the wiring, I bought another harness from Guild, tore the shrink wrap open, and discovered that the only real difference is the capacitor values which are .047μF vs .022μF on the Starfire. The wire lengths may be different I suppose, but now I have two spare Newark St. harnesses that I don’t need. Such are the pains I endure to provide you detailed reviews.

Hardware

The hardware is pretty much the same on every Newark St. Guild which I imagine is a way of lowering cost through economies of scale. While I certainly have no problem with that, I’m not much of a fan of some of the hardware so I tend to gripe about the same things in each Newark St. review.

The tuners are Grover Sta-Tites which function fine. I’m just not a fan of the look of them or the tiny peg heads, but that’s clearly a personal gripe since many people are fine with them and they look more or less accurate when compared with the vintage guitars these models are based upon.

The bridge is generic and functions well, and the harp, while a Guild icon, is not quite as nice as those found on older Guilds. The knobs are translucent G-shield knobs that are sized to fit the import pots.

I’m not a big fan of the pick guards on these guitars, again, from a cosmetic standpoint, but they don’t get in my way and function as they should, so once again I’m whining about the looks of the thing which is dumb because it looks very similar to the vintage guitar that inspired it. Sometimes it’s hard to get my head out of the ’80s which is where most of the guitars I review seem to have come from.

Sound

This guitar has a light airy sound due to its hollow build, and combined with the P90ish pickups is capable of delivering some very nice tones. While there will certainly be those that are drawn to the guitar’s jazzier side, I was immediately drawn to the rock side, and let me tell you the bridge pickup though and amp with some gain is absolutely fabulous.

ODS100 Clean

Open Chords #1

Open Chords #2

7th Chords

D-Shape

JCM-800

A Barre Chords

D-Shape

Recto Red

Misc Nonsense

As usual, for these recordings I used my normal Axe-FX III 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 Thick and Chunky which is a replication of Mesa three-channel Dual  Rectifier on the Red channel. I like it. I like it a lot.

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. The only deviation from this rule in the recordings is the final RV50 sample which was recorded with the bridge pickup because I just couldn’t get enough of that high gain tone.

I was floored by the capabilities of the guitar through a rectifier-type amp, but it really screams through any high-gain rig. While the but it’s a hollow-body purists might rebel against me using such a pretty guitar resplendent with its jazz-like harp tailpiece through a high gain amp, that doesn’t bother me much because they probably wouldn’t come to a high-gain show anyway.

Still, what kind of impressed me about the guitar was its versatility. The fact that it can produce a nice mellow clean sound while also just screaming with that P90 bite and snarl all with that extra something that the hollow body and spruce top provide was just inspiring, and I enjoyed the guitar immensely while searching through my virtual amp collection.

Playability

This guitar plays the way you would expect it to based on the way it looks, but it’s got some great aspects to it that are not obvious from the pictures.

First, this guitar has some pretty great sustain. That surprised me a little bit because I tend to equate sustain with solid blocks of heavy wood, but that’s another “get your head out of the ’80s” problem for me.

Since this guitar is so darn light, it’s a joy to play for extended periods of time both seated and standing, and I have to mention that it’s also a joy to play in any position while unplugged! The hollow nature of the guitar gives it a natural acoustic projection that’s really a lot of fun.

The guitar does like to amplify hum and does not appear to be quieting in the middle position. The guitar also seemed to be a bit of a feedback demon at volume, though it was hardly as tough to wrangle as my Starfire IIIs. Of course if you’re doing more jazz than you are drop-C Djent thumping, this may not be a concern for you.

Conclusion

This guitar surprised me. My experiences with Newark St. Guilds has been sort of hit and miss, but this one is a clear winner with nothing for me to really complain about. In fact, I’d go so far as to recommend it, especially if you can find one for a good price used.

These Newark St. guitars are really only a fair value new, but they’re a fabulous value used. That’s sort of a double-edged sword because it means that they don’t keep their value well, but for a value-hunting musician who wants a great guitar for not a lot of money (and who doesn’t want that?), the M75 Aristocrat Newark St. Guild is a great choice. Just remember that the goldtop will set you back more than the others — if you can find one.

When I was a kid, the vast majority of import guitars were crap. That has changed in a big way and I would have killed for a guitar like this when I was learning how to play. Is this guitar as good as a 1958 vintage Guild M75 Aristocrat? No, but I paid about 1/7th what one of those would have cost me.

All in all I liked this guitar a lot more than I thought I would.

 

2 thoughts on “Guild Newark St. M75 Aristocrat

  1. Gary,

    Wonderful review, I love this guitar. I especially agree with your assessment of contemporary import guitars. Technology has advanced so much in recent years that Guild, and others, can offer professional, road worthy instruments at this price point. The Newark Street line is light years ahead of the brand new late 1990s Epiphone Emperor Regent I started my giggling career with.

    That guitar was boomy and unbalanced at even a moderate volume. The fretwork was rough and inconsistent and the stock pickup was an embarrassment. If I had access to the Newark Street guitars at that time I would have saved trading up three guitars in the years leading up to my acquisition of the M75.

    I play a 2014 sunburst Aristocrat. Here is an example of her in action, leading a full band with organ and three horns. It’s Rock Me, Baby from my BB King tribute CD from a couple of years ago:

    https://m.soundcloud.com/apicella/rock-me-baby-alt-tk-1-guild-aristocrat-guitar

    1. Gary,

      I forgot to mention the most important detail in the tone and playability of my Aristocrat.

      When I ordered it from Guild in 2015 I had them scrap the stock tuneomatic style bridge in favor of the rosewood jazz bridge which comes standard on the Newark Street Manhattan and Savoy guitars.

      This is possible because the Aristocrat is set up with a floating bridge assembly of two floating feet (which Guild calls “cups”) and a bridge which sits on the guitar’s top and are held in place by the string tension, in the same way any hollow body guitar’s bridge is.

      This was my special request, it is not an option they offer but for me it transforms the guitar from unplayable to an awesome jazz machine.

      The string radius of the wood bridge is more rounded, which is better for chords, the strings are spaced farther apart, and the action and resonance of the guitars is tighter and more focused. I don’t play metal adjustable bridges because they produce a squishy, wobbly, loose feel. This spongy feel doesn’t work for me, I need the strings to put up a bit of a fight since I play on very low action and I pick hard.

      I play .13 Tomastic Infeld flatwound jazz strings. And in taking a cue from BB King’s guitar Lucille, my guitar is named Delia.

      So far, the example in my previous reply post is the only record I used her on, but there may be another in the future.

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