Guild Nightbird DX (Deluxe)

Today’s Guild rarity is the über-rare Guild Nightbird DX, and when I say über-rare, I mean it! They made only 20 of these guitars which means that I currently own a significant percentage of the global supply of Guild Nightbird DX guitars.

Is it worth the hype? What’s it like owning such a rare guitar? Did it cost one million US dollars? I’ll answer these questions and more in this, the only detailed review of a a Guild Nightbird DX that you’re ever likely to find. Let’s take a look at this rare guitar and see if it lives up to the Guild Nightbird name. 

Introduction

There are a few variations of the Guild guitar line with the name Nightbird, but most of them are very high-end guitars with things like 7-layer binding, fancy tops and finishes, and killer price tags. This guitar is nothing like those.

Around 1990 Guild decided to change up the whole Nightbird thing they had going on and split the Nightbird into three different models: The Nightbird ST (Standard), the Nightbird DX (Deluxe), and the Nightbird CU (Custom). I guess the previous incarnation of the Nightbird having only two models (the cleverly named I and II) wasn’t complicated enough. For reasons unknown to me, Guild only made a scant 20 of the ST and DX models, and roughly 100 or so of the Nightbird Customs. You can read more about such production details in my Guide to Nightbird Guitars, but keep in mind that the serial number chart I used is often incorrect.

I found an old post on the LetsTalkGuild forum where Hans explains, This (the Nightbird ST and DX)  is something Guild tried with leftover pieces from regular Nightbirds and hardware they had laying around from discontinued models, just to see if there was a market for it. That post was in reference to this blue Nightbird DX which sports serial number CL000001. 

The Nightbird Custom was more like the Nightbirds you may be used to seeing, while the Nightbird ST and DX were actually more like Les Paul Studio guitars than anything else. Though I’ve never laid hands on a Nightbird ST, the difference between the ST and the DX appears to be the addition of a carved maple top on the DX model. You can see the carved top in this pic which I shot specifically to accentuate the sexy curve of the top since the carve can be hard to discern in many of the photos.

I’ve only ever seen one Nightbird ST and that’s the one that Iron Mike Norton shows in this video. If you’ve got a Nightbird ST and would like to sell it to me or just let me borrow it to review, please leave a comment, and please note that I’m a nutty collector that desperately needs to complete his collection and will likely absolutely not pay you one million dollars for your guitar.

This guitar happens to be serial number LC000020, so it’s the last one ever made! Holy hyperbole! While it’s fun to say that this is the last one ever made, it’s more likely that they were made in a batch (five were made in 1991 according to the often incorrect Guild serial number chart) and that this is just the last one that got stamped. That’s not very fun or hype-inducing, though, so I’d expect to see an ad for this guitar include all sorts of things like , “OMG – RARE – LAST ONE MADE” nonsense. Actually, I guess it worked since I bought the guitar, but I didn’t do it because “OMG RARE!” (maybe a little). Actually, the seller was very upfront about what the guitar is without any hyperbole whatsoever. Just watch out if I ever sell it, ’cause I can sling the hoopla like nobody’s business, what with me being a smith of words and all.

The term wordsmith has always bothered me. I mean, I’m not inventing words; I’m assembling sentences. I guess sentencesmith or paragraphsmith just doesn’t roll off the tongue like wordsmith does.

Interestingly enough, when I started researching this guitar I found this thread over on LetsTalkGuild which made me laugh since the first reply is me begging for pics of this very guitar a couple of years before I ended up purchasing it. In a thread over on the now defunct Fender forum (screen capture of this thread), I found an informative old post (2006) by Hans Moust about the Nightbird Deluxe which dates back to before there was a LetsTalkGuild forum.

This is a great playing and looking guitar, but it’s not quite the same as any other Nightbird (except, of course, for the flat-top ST). It’s not hollow, it’s not covered in bling, and it doesn’t even have any binding. It’s more like a Bluesbird than a Nightbird, but that’s not right either because Bluesbirds from the ’80s were nothing like this and Bluesbirds from the late ’90s, though shaped similarly (as in kind of like a Les Paul), are hollow while this is solid.

There are no ads that I could find for these guitars which makes sense since there were so few made. I did find a bit about them in the Beesly book, but that page is kind of a mess and shows what appears to be a Nightbird DX, perhaps even this blue one that I never got to buy, and lists it as a Nighbird Special after never identifying such a model.

There is a mention of the Standard and Deluxe models in the 1990 catalog, and while there is no picture, the description reads, Solid carved poplar body, mahogany set-in neck, rosewood fingerboard with dots, black tuning keys, stop tailpiece, height and intonation adjustments. Two humbucking pick-ups, three way toggle switch, volume and tone controls, and my favorite “I don’t want to do any real work” catalog copy of all time: Available in various colors.

The catalog copy would lead me to believe that there are non-maple versions out there but the only Nightbird DX I’ve seen without an obvious maple top is Hans’ black DX which can be seen in that same thread from 2006 on the Fender FDP forum. That’s a small sample size, but considering that I’ve referenced four different DXs (mine, Hans’, and two blue DXs), that’s one fifth of all of the Nightbird DXs in existence! Using similar math I can say that I own 5% of the world’s supply, so that’s fun. I’ll make sure to add that to my list of ad hyperbole should I ever decide to sell.

Finish

If I had to guess I’d say that the finish is lacquer, but I’ve been wrong before. It is a high quality finish as are all Westerly Guilds I’ve ever handled, with the only flaw I can find being a chunk taken out of the top which you can see in some of the photos.

With the ever helpful Available in various colors statement in the catalog, I can’t tell you what colors they were produced in, but I can tell you that I’ve seen them in red (this one), blue, and black (the one Hans links to in that defunct Fender forum).

A pox on all vendors who just wipe out years of great information by closing forums and not archiving the data. I could see if Fender was no more, but c’mon.

If you’ve got a Nightbird DX and you’d like to show it to the world, add a comment below. If you have that blue one I keep linking to, please just sell it to me. We wants it. We needs it. My precious…

Fretboard and Neck

This is a 24 ¾” scale length guitar (like a Les Paul) and the fretboard is unbound rosewood. As stated before, this guitar reminds me of a Les Paul studio with its carved top and unbound rosewood board, though most Studios have trapezoidal inlays and a layout that’s more like a Les Paul.

The rosewood fretboard is very nice especially when compared with some of the stuff I see on modern guitars, but it’s pretty typical of Guild electrics from the late-80s and early ’90s, and that’s a good thing because I don’t recall ever being disappointed by a Guild electric’s fretboard.

There is no binding anywhere on the guitar. The neck is nice and wide while being pretty comfortable without being big like an Historic Les Paul. The fretboard radius measures a very flat 20″ on my gauges which kind of surprised me on such a traditionally shaped guitar (Les Pauls are 12″). 1991 was the end of the shredder era with Slash bringing the Les Paul back into favor, so who knows what sort of mixed signals the designers were trying to cope with while putting the design of the DX together?

The frets measured .027″ high by .08″ wide which doesn’t match anything I could find, but puts them in the medium or regular range I suppose. They’re certainly not jumbos.

The headstock veneer on this guitar is the same rich brown of other Nightbirds I’ve owned, which, along with the truss rod cover and general shape of the guitar, are one of the few callbacks to the guitars most people associate with the Nightbird name. The headstock sports the Chesterfield inlay which is another sign of it being a lower model since high-end Guilds tended to get the G-shield inlay. The high-end Nightbirds all have G-shield inlays while the Nightbird I, ST, and DX all have the Chesterfield.

Build Quality

This is a tremendously solid guitar and it feels like a quality instrument. When I first inquired about it, I believe the answer I got was, “It’s solid, and it’s heavy as hell”. It’s 8 lbs 4 oz (3.74 kilos) on my scale which, while heavy compared to a hollow guitar, isn’t all that bad in the world of Les Pauls which is where it’s situated. This guitar feels thinner than a Les Paul which may account for the feeling of weight: it’s not so much heavy as it is dense.

The neck joint is wonderful and so low-profile that I don’t even notice that it’s there. That makes high fret access a breeze and makes the guitar easy to hold since the center of gravity is just a little bit on the body side of the neck joint.

Pickups

The pickups in this guitar are dual-black bobbin Dimarzios, but they are not labeled as anything besides the tremendously unhelpful stamp, Dimarzio Pickups – Made in USA. One coil has slugs and one has adjustable pole pieces which makes them look like PAFs, but I couldn’t be sure so I had to do some digging.

I emailed the guitar’s information along with the pics shown here to Dimarzio (they are always super-helpful) in an effort to identify the pickups. The response I got back from them was, The pickups we made for Guild were slightly hotter versions of our first-generation PAF. They did not have a specific model number, and they were not available individually (via email: May 24 2018). I can’t say if that was actually in reference to these pickups or if that means that these pickups are actually XR7s (most XR7s I’ve seen have bobbins that aren’t so black). The pickups sound great and measure 7.92k Ω at the neck and 7.96k Ω in the bridge which is another argument against them being XR7s since the XR7s I’ve owned have been in the 8-8.5k Ω range.

A fun thing to notice is the adapter that lets this standard sized pickup with only two adjustment screws work in the Guild ring that has three adjustment screws. I can’t tell you how many vintage Guild rings I’ve seen that were ruined by someone drilling a third hole on the two-screw side so that they could put in a pickup like this. I love those little adapters. They’re a very niche requirement, though, so I don’t see being able to buy them at StewMac anytime soon. Sadly, when I did an Internet search for guitar pickup adjustment screw adapter and saw a promising image, that image led me right back to one of my own articles about Guild Pickups. I have seen similar adapters from TV Jones, though, so if you need some I’d start there.

Electronics

The electronics in this guitar almost couldn’t be simpler. I say almost because you could have a guitar with only a volume pot, or heck, no pots at all. This guitar has a master volume and a master tone along with a 3-way pickup selector switch. That’s it.

Having master controls means no fine-tuning of the middle position, so if that’s your thing you might feel constrained by this design, but as a guy who usually leaves all knobs on 10, this doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I like the simplicity of the 2-knob setup.

The volume pot is 500k Ω while the tone is 200k Ω with both having 137 codes identifying the manufacturer as CTS. The tone capacitor is a simple orange ceramic disc labeled 203 which makes it .020 μF.

The wiring is quite simple as you’d expect from a master volume/tone setup, so there is really nothing much to elaborate on when it comes to the electronics. Sometimes simple is good, and in this case it certainly works for me.

Hardware

The tuners look like Klusons to me but I’m not sure that they are. They’re very similar to the tuners on my Nightbird GG, but seeing as how Hans has said these were made with leftover hardware and also seeing as how I’ve seen pics of Nighbird DXs with Grover Rotomatics, I don’t think there is really a standard build at work here. In fact, even though there are only 20 of these guitars known to exist, I’ve seen different pickups, different tuners, and even a different bridge/tailpiece layouts out there. That’s a lot of variation for such a small sample size.

The knobs are some of my favorites from Guild which are pretty common on their electrics from the 1980s, though they can be pretty darn hard to replace these days if you happen to lose one and want an exact replacement. You can get very similar looking models on Amazon but a true Guild collector will be able to tell the difference. Also that switch-tip in the picture is pure Guild and they can be very hard to find so if you’ve got one, don’t lose it! They’re another sign of originality on older Guilds.

The tailpiece is a Schaller two-piece bridge/tailpiece combination of a very unique design which incorporates a pretty cool wraparound tailpiece with an adjustable bridge that combines into a single unit when the guitar is strung up. I’d never seen this bridge used elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean much. I’m not usually a fan of wraparound tailpieces, but I like the way this one plays and more importantly, I like the way it feels while I’m playing. It’s tight, it doesn’t rattle, it offers sufficient intonation and hight adjustment, and just seems to work.

The bridge is a Schaller 455 bridge/tailpiece that was used on the Gibson Spirit guitar in the 1980s. The bridges do pop up on eBay and Reverb from time to time, but they don’t seem to be in current production from what I could see. I therefore don’t recommend breaking it.

The benefit of this bridge design is that it gives the improved resonance and simplicity of a wraptail bridge while also allowing for intonation adjustment which most wraptail bridges don’t allow. The downside of the bridge is that it’s freaking ugly. Nightbirds aren’t supposed to be ugly, have ugly parts, or have ugly words spoken about them, so this bridge is kind of an odd choice for a Nightbird guitar, but then this is really a Nightbird guitar in name only.

Sound

This is a very simple guitar aside from the carved maple top, but it is an absolute monster in the tone department. I think Dimarzio nailed it when they described the pickups as slightly hotter PAFs, because that’s really the vibe I get when playing. The guitar will give that slight bit of chime on the high end while delivering hard classic rock tones without even trying. Put the bridge pickup into some high-gain and you’ve got the good stuff before the world was overrun with 22k super-hot pickups that traded power for character.

ODS100 Clean

Open Chords #1

Open Chords #2

7th Chords

JCM-800

A Barre Chords

D-Shape Chords

Orange RV50

Stuff

As usual, for these recordings I used my normal Axe-FX III  setup through the QSC K12 speaker recorded direct into my Mac Pro using Audacity. I recorded using the ODS100 Clean patch, as well as the JCM-800 and one through an Orange RV50 which is so very gratifying with this guitar. For each recording I cycle through the neck pickup, both pickups, and finally the bridge pickup. Both knobs on the guitar are on 10 at all times.

This guitar has crazy good sustain on chords for which I have to at least partially acknowledge that wacky wraparound tailpiece. Between the sustain and the responsiveness of the guitar I found myself wanting to really dig into the strings or strum just a bit harder in order to get the last hairy bit of dynamics out of the guitar. It reminded me of playing a really good Tele where you are basically the boost control.

With neck pickup absolutely sings with high gain on the upper frets, and the bridge pickup has all the biting tone you’d ever want while the middle position gives you the in-between tone we all love. I have to admit that I kind of wished for more control, and while I’d be reticent to change such a great sounding and playing guitar, I think the addition of a push/pull single coil control or maybe even just a phase switch might open this guitar up to more possibilities. That might have changed the desired price point for the design, though, and with so few of these guitars in existence I guess we’ll never know. Then again, like the “killer tele” I mentioned earlier, a simple guitar makes the player work for the tone and I think that’s the vibe I got from this guitar.

Playability

This Nightbird DX guitar plays great, but then that’s not much of a surprise considering its shape, though it is thinner than a Les Paul. Honestly, I think that adds a bit of playability since it feels more nimble than my Gibson Historics.

The bridge does its job without getting in the way, the tuners work even though I think the buttons are too small, and the controls are simple and easy to adjust while playing. Since there is a master volume and tone you lose a bit of tonal variety compared with a 4-knob Les Paul, but that doesn’t bother me much.

I love arched-top guitars so I enjoy playing this one. With it’s wide flat neck it plays nicely while not having the very beefy necks found on some Les Pauls. I tend to prefer neck binding on my guitars, but the lack of it only bothers me cosmetically since it plays so well. Really, this is a very simple guitar so there’s not much to complain or rave about so long as the quality is there, and being a Guild, the quality is definitely there, even if it isn’t necessarily deserving of the Nightbird name.

Conclusion

I think these guitars are really cool even if they’re nothing like the other instruments bearing Guild Nightbird name. While perhaps it would have been better named as some kind of Bluesbird, the fact remains that it’s an arch-top solidbody US-made Guild that plays and sounds great.

The fact that there are few of them is a shame because they’re really quite well made, though I’m not sure I’d go crazy looking for one unless you were a collector or a Guild nut like me.

The reason I say that is because as cool as I think this rare Nightbird DX is, I’m not sure that there’s anything terribly special about it aside from the fact that it’s a rare Guild. It’s an extremely well-made Guild curiosity that, though it has great tone and is a lot of fun to play, doesn’t knock my socks off like the more upscale hollow Nightbirds that I love. Even that’s not fair, though. I mean, It’s a great guitar but shouldn’t be called a Nightbird is my biggest complaint about it.

Don’t get me wrong here – this is a great well-made guitar and I love it, but due to its rarity you’ll likely wait years to find one and as such it’s just that it’s not something I’d seek out unless I had an emotional attachment to the model or the brand (which is my curse, I suppose). Still, while I don’t recommend trying to find one, if you happen to come across one I would absolutely recommend it. It will certainly hold its value since they don’t sell for all that much and it’s definitely a great guitar.

Now, if you have the blue one with the Guild HB1 pickups in it, then we need to talk, after which you need to sell it to me because I’ve somehow developed an emotional attachment to that guitar having only seen pictures of it on the Internet. Oh, and if you have a Nightbird Standard (ST) then PLEASE sell it to me. I’m not above begging.

 

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4 thoughts on “Guild Nightbird DX (Deluxe)

  1. I haven’t had a chance yet to closely read all the info you have here, but I own LC000006. It was a gift from my father, not sure where he found it. It is a solid (ie not transparent) electric blue color, it appears to be the same as yours in all other ways (pickups, tuners, etc).

      1. I will get some pictures together for you soon. I just spoke to my father about it, and upon close inspection and discussion, I’ve come to the realization of a major difference in my #6 compared to the others…

        (Ready for this?)

        The carved top does NOT appear to be maple on mine.

        While I would grant that a solid color finish on maple would be kind of a waste of beautiful wood, the texture of the grain on my guitar is very clear even through the solid finish, and it appears to be something more coniferous – Possibly spruce? This kind of fits with the “leftover parts” idea, no?

        Woods aside, it’s still a very nice guitar and appears to have never really been played regularly by anyone (myself included, although I’m rediscovering my music hobby and expect to be playing it a lot more, as it’s probably the nicest guitar I own!)

        Sadly, it appears there is a problem with the glue on the original case lining breaking down that has been causing awful stickiness and corrosion on the frets! I just had to do some serious work on some frets (the ones sitting directly over/under the neck support in the Guild case) to make them presentable/functional. I actually found this site in a search for a replacement case, as the Nightbird body shape is too wide for any case I own!

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