Guild S300AD

Behold the beauty that is the sunburst Guild S300AD guitar. I have bought and sold far too many Guild S300AD guitars with varying degrees of success in my quest to recapture the glorious days of my youth when the S300AD was all I needed in a guitar, but this one is special.

Read along while I regale you with everything I know about these great guitars including why it still may just be everything I need in a guitar along with the reason for me now owning a fifth sixth seventh copy.

I may have a problem.

Introduction

The guitar of my youth, bought in about 1980 at the sadly defunct Mike’s Music in Stirling, NJ was the model shown here, that being the blonde-finished variety of the S300AD. The guitar to the right is one of two that I currently have in-hand, the sunburst example being the one that I recorded for the sound section below. They are mostly identical except for the finish which is further proof of the amazing consistency of vintage Guild guitars. I’ve owned too many of these S300A-Ds ranging in condition from mint to well-played, and every one of them has been a stellar instrument.

As mentioned in my article about the Guild S300, the models in this series are the S300, the S300A, the S300D, and the S300AD.  In short, S300 is the model, the “A” suffix means ash, and the “D” suffix means Dimarizio pickups. The S, I believe, stands for Solid-body guitar.

The S300 and corresponding B301 bass were the first of the New Generation of Solid Bodies by Guild, and they produced instruments in this shape for probably 4-5 years or so, expanding the line to the S60, S65D, S70, and others after the first year. The later S275s and such have different shapes to them and are not of the same series. These guitars also do not have a name associated with the model number like many other Guilds.

The shape of these guitars is considered quite odd and downright ugly by many people, but to those of us that love them, they have a very iconic look to them that just screams Guild. Guild quite clearly thought that the new shape was going to be a huge hit because they threw a whole lot of marketing behind it, with one of the most famous examples being the lucite S300 seen in this blue ad. Many of us have wondered where we could find that lucite S300, only to be gently reminded that if you look closely you can see that the guitar has no wires whatsoever and thus would not function. That doesn’t matter: we still want it. That same picture graced the cover of the catalog that the ad is pushing, though the actual catalog in my possession is in black and white. It’s a shame that so many people don’t like the shape because it really is a joy to play.

And I still want that Lucite S300 from the ad.

Some people liken the S300 to the body shape of a Rickenbacker bass but the shape was actually inspired from a relatively unknown (In the US, anyway) Hoyer 50603 guitar, this pic of the Hoyer having been grabbed from Gretsch Talk. It’s quite possible that the Hoyer from Germany may have been inspired the Rickenbacker, but that’s way outside the lengths I was willing to go in the name of research. It’s hard to find hard evidence of stuff like this, but in my talks with a former Westerly Guild employee, he reports that the Hoyer was the start of the new Guild shape. I can certanly see the similarities in the body shapes with the most noticeable difference being the lack of the upper cutaway that forms the sort of horn on the S300.

Guild-S300-Ad2
While the Guild S300 and S300A models came with Guild HB1 pickups, the S300D and S300AD came with Dimarizo pickups, namely a PAF in the neck and a Super-Distortion in the bridge. As much as I love HB1 pickups, there’s just something about the open creme coils of the Dimarzios that look right on the ash-bodied S300ADs, though that may have something to do with the fact that an S300AD was my only guitar for over 20 years.

The S300AD was pretty much the flagship electric guitar for Guild in the late ’70s and early ’80s and ads of the time described it as the best-selling guitar that Guild had ever made. I don’t have the ability to validate that statement but given the popularity of the Guild S-100 and various Bluesbirds that were made for periods spanning decades, I have my suspicions that this may be marketing hyperbole. Regardless, they are fantastic guitars as anyone who has owned one will likely tell you.

The S300AD premiered in the September 1977 price list with a price of $550, over a year after the introduction of the base S300. The March 1979 price guide shows the Guild S300AD listing at $600 with the simple description of Ash body and maple neck as addition to the previous model S300D which was described as Dimarzio PAF pick-up in rhythm position, Dimarzio Super Distortion pick-up (SDHP) in treble position. This was an increase of $25 over the September 1978 and January 1979 price lists.  By March 1980 the price was up to $660 and by 1981 the S300AD was no longer included in the price list at all, though the S300A was still around until September 1981 which is where my price lists end until 1985, long after the entire new generation body shape line had been discontinued. The deluxe blue-lined hard case was an additional $95-114 depending on year.

Vintage examples of the S300AD in use can be hard to come by, which is likely why the guitar and its oddly shaped brethren never became more popular, however a commenter on my Guild S300 review mentioned the inside of the Queen Jazz album, so I found my copy and did some looking which lead to a wonderful surprise!

Under the gong on the left side of the picture, and a little bit to the right, there is a Guild S300AD on a stand! I can’t believe that after all these years I never noticed that. The picture is hard to resolve, but it looks like perhaps the bridge has been swapped out, but regardless, one of my favorite bands seems to have used my favorite model guitar! I can’t say if the S300AD made it to the recordings for Jazz, so here’s hoping that someone with the inside scoop might comment.

Also, if you’re looking for famous artist from the grunge era who have played an S300AD, look no further than Kim Thayil of Soundgarden. As a well-known lover of Guild S100s, it should come as no surprise that he’s also shown some love for the S300, but to see him rockin’ a blonde S300AD? Well, that’s just beautiful. In fact, here’s another pic from the same event.

Speaking of Kim Thayil’s blonde S300AD, I just about had a heart attack when I first saw this picture because at first glance I thought he might have my old guitar that I sold in one of the most foolish decisions of my entire life.

Allow me to pine for a lost love.

A Brief Lament

In very early 2005, I sold my first good guitar which was this Guild S300AD that I bought new sometime around 1980. I met a guy in a NJ mall parking lot after he had contacted me asking if I was willing to sell the guitar he saw on my webpage.  The guy seemed nice — a dentist as I recall — and I felt like the guitar was going to a good home after he told me the story of losing his after a traffic incident many years prior. It seemed like a good idea at the time because I hadn’t played in years and it was sitting in the case unplayed.

It was not a good idea.

That guitar was serial number 205109 and it was the first thing that I’d ever bought with my own money at the age of 16 after working summer jobs in high school. It was my only guitar for 25 years and I lament its sale almost daily some 15 years after making the foolish mistake of selling it. I bought it at Mike’s Music in Stirling, NJ which you can read about briefly in my 2000 Guild Starfire IV review. I can remember the guitar hanging on the wall before I bought it, and I can remember every detail of the transaction. Sadly, Mike Tor (the owner) is no longer with us.

I serenaded girls with this guitar, played countless gigs with this guitar, won talent shows with this guitar, and learned how to play serious music on this guitar. The wear you see on the pickup bobbins in the photos is 100% from me since I was the original owner. I played it so much I had to have the frets redone, and they were redone by Mike’s Music. This guitar was a part of my life in a way that few other things were. It was the guitar that made me love Guilds, and it’s the guitar that started a love for the instrument and the brand that would one day cause me to write all of these reviews.

This was not a perfect guitar, but it was my guitar. It was part of me in a way that only musicians can understand. These pics were taken by me show the buyer the condition  and then to document the guitar because I had a feeling I’d want pictures. As you can see, this was long before I started taking pictures of guitars with a more professional setup.

I actually called the guy a couple of years after the sale asking to buy the guitar back, but he said, “no”, offering to help me buy another. I don’t need another; I’ve got plenty. I want mine back.

In my never-ending quest to collect and review Guilds, I am forever on the lookout for this guitar but it has never shown up for sale. Please, if you have this guitar, contact me so I can get it back. I’ll happily trade you for a better one. Maybe two. I’m happy to to pay too much for it or otherwise lose money on the deal. I don’t care; I just want it back.

Finish

The finish on these guitars is lacquer and most of them that I see for sale have some lacquer checking on them ranging from mild to severe.

The finish itself is usually quite well done and I’ve never played one that felt tacky. I have seen more than one with subtle finish blemishes where the fretboard meets the top, but those have never affected play and I’ve never seen the issue spread. My original S-300A-D had such a blemish which is why I tend to notice it on others.

_B0Z6451_1600

The ash-bodied S300s have beautiful grain and I think most of them I see are finished in blonde so that the nice grain can shine through. The sunburst models are more uncommon but still manage to show off that great grain, and though I may be biased from having such a beautiful example, I daresay that the sunburst model is more beautiful than the blonde. That’s saying something, too, because I *loved* my blonde S300AD!

Fretboard and Neck

The fretboards on all S300s are unbound jet-black ebony with dot inlays and 24 wide frets. The width at the nut is almost exactly 1 5/8″ at the nut on every example I’ve had (which is six seven, now) and while I generally dislike this smaller nut size, the necks tend to be deep enough to make playing them enjoyable. The necks are not huge, but they’re not pencils, either.

To give some clarity to what I mean by this, I once bought a 1973 Starfire and absolutely hated the neck, only to discover that the neck width was identical to my beloved 1979 S300AD: 1 5/8″ at the nut. After some measuring, I came to the conclusion that my problem with the neck was the depth, and what really blew me away was the fact that my S300AD was .84″ at the nut while the Starfire was .79″ at the same spot. That difference of 5/100th of an inch or 1.27mm made all the difference in the world to me. What’s even crazier is that my old S300AD was apparently on the small side, at least going by the limited data set of the three I’ve measured.

The necks on the two S300ADs currently in my possession are almost .9″ deep, though they’re still on the narrow side at just a touch over 1 5/8″.

Guild-S300AD-Fretboard
The frets on all of the S300s I’ve ever played are low and wide in the area of .03-.04″ high and .105″ wide making them jumbos, but not of the huge shredder variety. The fretboard radius on both is 9.5″

On the S300AD I owned for 20 years I never once had to adjust the truss rod, and thinking back I’ve never had to adjust the truss rod on any S300 I’ve owned. Hell, I think i’ve adjusted maybe two Guilds in all the years (decades) I’ve been playing them, and as memory serves those guitars had one-piece necks.

Build Quality

The build quality on these guitars is impeccable as it is on just about every US-made Guild electric I’ve owned. The neck joint is flawless and the guitar is solid as can be.

The bodies on these guitars are pretty simple aside from the shape in that they are a slab of ash where the S300’s body is a slab of mahogany. On some of the guitars the body is made of two pieces of ash glued together while on others its three. I’m sure it’s possible that there are one or four-piece bodies out there but I’ve never personally seen them.

Guild-S300AD-1997-WoodJoint

As I’ve mentioned this in my article about my S300, the seams where the pieces of body wood were joined are often all but invisible. My original S300AD was a two-piece body, as is my current sunburst version, but the picture to the right shows one of my previous S300ADs focusing on the seam between body planks which is at the base of the cutaway. Having seen some ugly wood matching in my time (even on some very expensive custom shop guitars), I think these wood joints are just masterful given the way the seam almost disappears.

The two S300ADs that are currently in my possession are almost identical in weight with the blonde one weighing 8 lbs 4 oz (3.74 kilos) and the sunburst example weighing essentially the same at 8 lbs 3.9oz (3.739 kilos). There is no binding to be found anywhere on these guitars, and as much as I love binding on a guitar (especially on the neck), the understated elegance of these guitar speaks for itself without any additional bling. Sure, I’m biased towards this model so you’re welcome to your differing opinion, even if it’s wrong.

Pickups

As stated earlier, the D in the S300AD designation stands for DiMarzio, and the neck pickup is a Dimarzio PAF while the bridge pickup is a Dimarzio Super Distortion. Both of the pickups on every S300AD I’ve seen are in the now hotly contested double-creme color. Why is it hotly contested? Because DiMarzio trademarked the double-cream bobbin which many other pickup manufacturers (and customers) feel is a gross overstep and abuse of trademark law. Is it? That’s not for me to say, but yes — yes it is.

Trademark and color issues aside, these pickups were damn near the most desirable upgrade you could get for an electric guitar in 1980, which is why this model was kind of a big deal. Hell, those bare coils just looked so freaking modern back then in a world where every pickup was covered from the factory, and I’ll admit to being drawn to the S300AD originally because it looked so different from every other Strat and Les Paul out there.

I will say that on my original S300AD, the bridge pickup developed a hellacious scream at volume which occurred after abusing it for probably 10 years straight. A quick wax potting fixed it right up, but I’ll confess to not knowing what sorcery my guitar shop (again, Mike’s Music in Stirling, NJ) laid upon my only axe at the time.

While the PAF has a nice PAFish medium-wind behavior, generally measuring around 8k Ω, the Super Distortion is a take-no-prisoners monster lead pickup that generally measures around 13k Ω. Indeed, this is a very different guitar than the HB1-equipped S300.

Electronics

Guild-S300AD-Electronics

The electronics in an S300AD are fairly straightforward and as you can see, completely contained within some serious shielding. The obvious standout difference from the norm is the addition of the phase switch which takes the bridge pickup and reverses the direction of the signal in order to put it in direct opposition to the neck pickup in order to deliver a very nasally sound when both pickups are selected. There are some common discussions online about the usefulness of that tone, but it’s definitely got its uses as I’ll try to point out later on in this article.

The sunburst S300AD in my possession had a pot replaced at some point, and whoever did that work left a bit of a cold solder joint which I repaired. When doing that work and afterwards taking pictures, I noticed that the label on the inside of the cover plate does not match the model number of the guitar, and neither does the serial number! This is not the first time I’ve seen the wrong cover on a Guild, but I know it’s not my fault because I’ve never owned an S300D. At least not that I recall.

The pots in mine are all CTS and whoever swapped out the tone pot on the sunburst guitar used a 250K Ω pot where it should have been 200k Ω. The wiring is different from the S300 mostly in that the capacitor values are different, likely as a result of the pickups being quite different from the other guitar’s HB1s. The capacitors are green mylar off the shelf parts typical of Guild electric guitars from the early ’80s.

Hardware

The pick guard on these models is small and lays flat on the top, secured there with six pick guard screws. I love this type of guard because it doesn’t get in my way at all, and over the years I’ve come to like the look of certain guitars with pick guards. Note that some of the later examples came without pick guards such as this one from this reverb ad and this one from this reverb ad.

Guild-S300AD-1979-Tuners
The tuners on the S300s I’ve seen are made by Schaller and may have the Guild logo of one type or another on them. I love these tuners in no small part due to the large pegs that are easy to grip and give plenty of leverage while tuning. I also think they add a bit more style than the later standard Grover Rotomatics that would appear on just about every Guild electric in the mid 1990s.

Guild-S300AD-1979-StrapPeg
When I had my original S300AD for years, my only complaint with it was the dumb press-fit strap peg on the bottom of the guitar. It fell out so many times on me that I learned about strap locks, and though I sold off that guitar, I still have my strap from the ’80s with those original Dunlop strap locks on it, waiting in vain for the return of the matching guitar.

Sigh… now I’m sad again.

The bridge on every S300 I’ve seen is a Mueller bridge that has great adjustability, though it is hampered by the practical impossibility of finding replacement parts should it break. I’ve seen S300s with Home Depot machine screws in them after someone broke their bridge and needed to “fix” it.  Pro tip: If you need Guild parts, contact Hans Moust, author of The Guild Guitar Book. He’s got so many rare Guild parts that he makes the modern Guild company look bad. There is also an Ebay seller in Germany by the username of zoundhouse who sells replacement parts for this bridge. If he has them, search for “Goeldo HWG6N”

The knobs are typical black G-shield knobs of the type used on Guilds from this era, though I should point out that very early examples of S300s can come with some odd-looking top-hat knobs with plain metal caps on them (example). The knobs are a bit more close together than you might expect, which is another visual design that I like a lot, though I can see how someone used to other guitars might find the controls to be a bit cramped. Note the tiny dot indicators by the knobs which are actually metal and appear to be little rounded decorative nail heads of some type.

Sound

These guitars are rock machines. The sustain is crazy good and the guitar has a nice bright snappy attack, which made it hard for me to appreciate many other guitars for years since I had grown so accustomed to mine.

As noted in the pickup section, the bridge pickup is crazy hot and it easily pushed my normally quiet clean amp into distortion. Remember, that was kind of a design goal for the time. Van Halen was a new band, and the hair band thing was just taking off so more power was the order of the day.

There is a noticeable loss of volume in inverse phase position which is to be expected, but it somehow seemed more pronounced on this guitar to me. You can see it in the waveform for the Open2 recording below shown here in Audacity. The center two waveforms are with both pickups engaged, the first with them in phase and the second one with the the smaller amplitude is with both pickups out of phase.

ODS-100

Open Chords #1

Open Chords #2

7th Chords

D-Shape

JCM-800

A Barre Chords

D-Shape

As usual, for these recordings I used my normal Axe-FX Ultra setup through the QSC K12 speaker recorded into my Mac Pro using Audacity. The amp models used are the ODS-100, the JCM-800, and to allow that hot bridge pickup to show its stuff I added recordings through an SLO-100, 1959SLP Treble, and a Jumped Plexi model.

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.

This is an aggressive, snappy, in-your-face kind of guitar that just begs for gain. This guitar was clearly built with the intent of pushing a cranked amp hard. Hell, they didn’t name it the Super Distortion because it was meant for covering Simon and Garfunkle tunes. No, this guitar was made to rock, and holy hell does it ever rock.

The bridge pickup is a high-output monster that pushed my clean amp way harder than I expected. Coupled with the solid ash body, maple neck, and ebony fretboard, this guitar delivers all the upper midrange you could want into that Marshall full-stack in your bedroom. Who needs a treble booster? This guitar with that Super Distortion in the bridge IS the treble booster!

SLO-100

It’s Not Love

1959SLP Treble

Still Blues

Jumped Plexi

Rock You Hurricane

This guitar just begs for not only gain, but outright distortion. No matter what I threw at it from a Tweed Deluxe to an EVH 5150 to a Soldano SLO-100, this guitar just begged for more. Bogner Uberschall? You bet. Engl Powerball? Loved it. I even liked it on more sedate amps like the JM45 (who would have ever called a JM45 sedate?), but I’ll be honest and say that I wasn’t blown away by the guitar on clean. Sure I could roll back the volume, but this would not be the guitar I would grab for a solo gig at the local coffee shop.

To balance out that bridge pickup, the lower-wind PAF does a great job in the neck, and though it doesn’t kick the amp quite as hard, it does deliver those creamy neck pickup tones that I love, especially when soloing up high on the fretboard. Hence, my Still Got the Blues for You impression played through the default patch of the same name on the AxeFX III which uses a 1959 SLP Treble amp. Even that recording sounds a bit trebly to me and I’d probably roll off the highs a bit with the tone knob on the guitar if playing live. Given the fact that I love bright guitars, the fact that I’d roll off the tone is quite telling, but remember that this guitar has a 250k tone pot where it originally came with a 200k.

When I was a kid I had no use for the phase switch, and probably couldn’t have told you what it did, but after putting the guitar through its paces I was immediately struck by the out of phase tone with some gain, so I recorded the intro chords to Rock You Like a Hurricane in the middle position, out of phase, into a jumped 50-watt Plexi, This is guitar into the amp with a bit of delay and reverb that’s actually after the cabinet in the chain. I think it sounds killer.

GAD-S300AD-1988-Apartment_1600
Oh yeah, and that pic with the awful carpet? That’s my Guild S300AD sitting in my apartment circa 1987 with my Westbury 100-Watt solid state amp, Digitech programmable distortion, and digital delay. Yeah, it sounded epic. No, I did not choose that carpet. Also, given the age I was at the time I took that picture, use of the word epic may have been appropriate in the context of describing my bitchin’ rig.  The only think I have left from that photo is the strap on the guitar, and believe it or not, the bike. Even the CDs are gone after I ripped them all into Flac files.

Words cannot describe how much I want that guitar back.

Playability

I know a lot of people don’t like the body shape on these guitars, but I’ve obviously got some history with them and love the look. Looks aside, though, I think the guitar is amazingly ergonomic, and I usually don’t bond well with guitars without forearm cuts or arched tops. There’s just something about the shape that absolutely works for me, probably due to a combination of the relative thinness coupled with the nicely smoothed edges.

Upper fret access is ridiculously good due to both the body shape and the low-profile set neck. In fact, playing an S300AD for so many years absolutely ruined me for other less-accessible guitars and it took me years before I could play a regular Strat comfortably. The only actual Strat I ever bought was an American Deluxe back in 2008 because they shaved off that heel corner that bugs me so much. Plus it was ash and I’ve clearly got a thing for ash guitars.

It was the extreme high-fret access coupled with the fact that these are 24-fret guitars that made me fall in love with Jackson Soloists because they solved the neck joint problem even better than Guild did, and the upper fret access is just as good, if not better. Plus, you know, I needed to get my wheedle-wheedle on with a proper Floyd Rose.

Speaking of Floyd Rose, back around 1988 or so I brought my beloved blonde S300AD to a music store in Flemington, NJ after buying a Floyd Rose bridge and told the guy to mill it out and bolt it on. Thankfully, he refused saying, “I will not cut into this beautiful piece of wood.”  Thanks Mr. Anonymous music store guy. The world needs more people like you.

Conclusion

I discovered something while making these recordings, or I should say I rediscovered something, and that is that I absolutely freaking love playing these guitars. Sure, I’m biased, but I’m biased because An S300AD was my only guitar for decades, and you know what? For me it functioned perfectly well as an only guitar, though to be fair that’s likely due to my musical tastes.

Guild-S300AD-1979-top-full

Is this oddly shaped guitar for everyone? Clearly not, and maybe that’s part of what I was drawn to it in the first place. I’ve never been one to feel the need to fit in, and in a world of Strats and Les Pauls this guitar stood out to me as it hung on the wall of Mike’s Music so many years ago.

Guild-S300AD-1979-BackFull

Let me put my love for these guitars into perspective. I have owned over 100 different model guitars including ridiculously expensive custom shop models and the S300AD is my favorite over all of them. Sure, I have guitars that are better at Jazz or Rockabilly, guitars that are better at clean tones, and guitars that are more useful for ’80s shred because they have double locking tremolos. Those guitars all inspire me in different ways, but this guitar… this guitar makes me feel like a kid sitting down to learn a song in order to impress a girl.

I asked myself if my love for this model purely nostalgia, and the answer I came up with is no. These are rock solid instruments that perform like crazy. All of the hardware is solid, the build is solid, they sound great and they play great. The people I’ve talked to who don’t like them seem to be put off by their looks which is a shame, but for them the S100 probably fits better. Those didn’t come in ash and they didn’t come with Dimarzio pickups, either, and from 1978-1994 Guild didn’t even have an S100 in the price lists, so back then you had to choose something else, anyway.

I’ve always maintained that these guitars weren’t ridiculously famous because the world never saw Jimmy Page playing one. Sadly that seems to be due to the shape as detailed by the user DrumBob, a former Westerly Guild employee who’s job it was to try and get artists to play them. That’s really too bad because they’re amazing guitars. Then again, lack of any real celebrity endorsement means that I can still buy them for a reasonable price.

If it’s not clear by now, I highly recommend the Guild S300AD. That is, if you can manage to find one that I haven’t already bought.

Good luck with that.

 

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5 thoughts on “Guild S300AD

  1. Nice guitar, indeed.
    Thank you Gary for this comprehensive study.
    Sound samples links seem to fail. Can you update / reload them, please ?
    Musically,
    — Denis.

  2. Do you, by any chance, have a PDF of the user manual for this guitar? Or know where one might be obtained?

    Thanks,
    Michael

  3. Ran across this (and the Gretsch-Talk article) when I searched for more info on my Hoyer 50603.

    Multiple people told me before, that my Hoyer was a copy of the Guild S300… it’s CRAZY to find out it was the other way around, and the Hoyer was first and inspired the Guild!!

    I bought mine used in Germany, with all hardware missing, but still paid $800 at the time, because I fell in love at first sight. Couldn’t find the original bridge so I had a Tune-o-matic installed.

    When I first heard it “dry”, I was so amazed with the sound, that I hunted for a pickup that can translate that to an amp, and that was an Ultrasonic humbucker.

    Still one of my favorite guitars, if not THE favorite (I go back and forth).

    It’s really uplifting to read, that it inspired such a classic as the Guild S300! Now I think that I should look for a “copy” as well and try it 😉

    Great article – thanks for the shoutout to the Hoyer 50603!

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