Guild 1997 X700 Stuart

The Guild X700 is a guitar that was pretty difficult for me to come by while also being high on my list of guitars that I wanted to review. Once I got one did its high-end nature make me a better player? Could I rip George Benson licks without thinking about it? Did the very quality of this fine instrument make me a virtuoso? Hardly, but this late-90s model X700 was the top of the line production two-pickup archtop Guild of its time, so let’s take a look and see how it fares under my critical review microscope.

Introduction

When it comes to big ol’ Guild jazzbox guitars, the X500 was the top of the line for years with the exception of the coveted Artist Award (AA), though I could argue that the AA wasn’t really a production guitar because of the care and attention to detail put into that model, especially with so few made each year. Additionally, the Artist Award was a true archtop with a floating pickup so it was not really the same kind of instrument. But this isn’t an article about the Artist Award, it’s about the Guild X700 which came along in the mid 1990s as the new king of the Guilds reigning in the lineup of dual-humbucker arched-top guitars.

My 1992 and 1994 catalogs show the X500 Stuart as the highest model Jazz guitar beneath the coveted Artist Award. There is a gap in my collection until 1996 where that year’s catalog shows a blonde X700 Stuart with text stating that it now includes the same graduated carved spruce top as the Artist Award, leading me to believe that the X700 had been released some time around 1994, but without the Artist Award’s top. I don’t have enough information to nail that down any further, though. There is also a noticeable lack of the X500 model in that year’s catalog.

I did manage to score a very rare January 1994 price list while writing this review and in that document I found the X700 Stuart listed as New with a price of $3299 with the case an extra $175, and yes, Guitar companies were playing the “your new $3000 guitar doesn’t come with a case” game back then, too.

If you’ve got a catalog from 1993 or 1995 (or any other missing entries in my collection), please comment or contact me as I’d love to see it and possibly purchase it for my archives.

The 1997 electric guitar catalog shows a sunburst model that aside from the finish, is the very same model in this review. According to the spec sheet on page 10 of the same catalog, the back and sides are maple, and since it doesn’t say solid maple (which would be a big selling point), that means laminate. That same sheet also states that X700 Stuart has a solid carved spruce top which seems to be a common theme for all versions of the X700. The carve of the top seems to be what changed according to the catalog copy, though I have no proof of that.

While I couldn’t find any reason for the name Stuart, I found it interesting that the X500 was also named Stuart and that the X700 took that name which may be explained by the X700 replacing the X500 as the king of the dual-pickup archtops.

One of the visible differences between the guitar in the 1996 catalog and the one in the 1997 catalog (along with the guitar in this review) is the way the end of the fretboard is shaped. In the 1996 guitar, the end of the fretboard is rounded, while in the 1997 and later examples the end of the fretboard is squared off. The guitar in my possession is confirmed to be a 1997 though it has the rounded fretboard, so don’t take that visual clue as hard evidence of anything. As always, if you really want to know what year your Guild was made, Hans Moust, author of The Guild Guitar Book is the only point of truth.

The 1997-1998 Guild Gallery magazine shows a blonde version of the X700 Stuart and includes the text stating that it boasts the same graduated carved solid spruce top as the Artist Award. By 1999 the catalog copy had been updated to state that the solid spruce top was sourced from AAA spruce, though the picture had remained the same blonde example shown in the previous catalogs.

In the 2000 Guild catalogs, both the Artist Award and X700 Stuarts had been redesigned by Bob Benedetto and were very different and much more expensive guitars. From the internal bracing to the inclusion of Benedetto A6 pickups, there’s a reason these later Benedetto X700s command the premium prices seen with them on the rare occasion that they show up for sale. To be clear, this is not a Benedetto X700.

Finish

There is nothing definitive regarding the finish type in any of the catalogs listed above so I can’t say for certain if this guitar is finished in Lacquer. It feels like it to me, but that means next to nothing. Under UV light the guitar barely fluoresces which leads me to think that it’s Poly, a notion that is reinforced by the fact that the finish is still flawless after almost 25 years.

The X700 was only available in Blonde and Sunburst, but given how many one-off guitars I’ve seen over the years from Guild, it wouldn’t surprise me to see one in a different color. I have not seen any other color, but then these guitars don’t come up for sale very often.

Fretboard and Neck

The headstock on this guitar is adorned with the G-shield Guild logo which is common on higher-end Guilds. The headstock veneer looks to be ebony but whatever it is it’s a rich dark black that looks great contrasted with the gold tuners. Although the shape of the headstock is not different than the one on my 1997 Guild Starfire III, the X700’s headstock sports a three-layer binding that also contrasts beautifully with the black veneer.

The neck is 5-piece with two thin strips of mahogany joining the three layers of maple. The maple flame on high-end Guild guitars is often glorious, and this guitar is no exception with beautiful contrasting flame evident all the way up to the wings on the headstock. Although I could find a way to complain about the fact that the flame stripes aren’t even along the entire length of the neck, I think that’s too nit-picky even for me.

This is a 24 3/4″ scale guitar and the fretboard is very nice and utterly black bound ebony. The inlays are the typical high-end Guild V-blocks that are abalone and mother-of-pearl, and on this guitar they are absolutely beautiful with a lot of visual complexity in both of the materials which makes for a striking impression.

The 1997 catalog lists the X700 as having a 12″ radius, and though I measured 14″, I could easily attribute the discrepancy to user error since the difference between 12″ and 14″ is slight.

The catalogs list the X700 as having a 1 11/16″ width neck at the nut, but mine measured an easy 1 3/4″ with a .87″ depth that make the guitar a joy to play unless you don’t like huge necks. The frets are .04″ high by .085″ wide which is typical of most Guild electric guitars from the mid-late ’90s.

The frets on my sample have some sharp ends, but as of this writing (January 2021) the guitar is 24 years old so I’m going to attribute that more to humidity variation in the wood than I am to the original fretwork. The fretboard was very dry when I got it, so I expect some slight change over time as it soaks up the bore oil and humidity in its new environment.

Build Quality

As stated in the introduction the X700 Stuart has laminated back and sides and a carved solid spruce top. The neck joint is typical of this type of Guild and the body is bound both on the front and back with a luxurious nine-layer binding. I’d go so far as to say that the binding on this guitar is one of its hallmarks and it adds an air of luxury to the entire instrument, especially where most visible such as on the headstock and the guitar’s top.

Speaking of binding, another one of the hallmarks of the higher-end Guild archtops is the addition of binding on the rim of the f-holes. Though not a luthier by any stretch of the imagination, I have to imagine that putting 3-layer binding on the f-holes must be a laborious task. I also happen to think that it looks great and adds to the exclusivity of the model.

If you play enough Guild guitars you start to see and feel the similarities between them, and sometimes it feels like many of them are just variations on a theme. So it was with the X700 for me and I couldn’t really discern what the big deal was with this guitar over the X500 at first. When it comes down to it, I’d say that the big deal is the top.

As noted in the introduction, the top on the X700 is solid carved spruce where on the X500 and every other 2-humbucker Guild archtop from the late ’90s, the top is a spruce laminate. That top was immediately evident when I pulled the pickups and started taking pictures, and you can see in this photo that the grain goes all the way through that top and you can see the joint where the top is bookmatched. You can also see what appears to be some sort of sealant or what is perhaps just the clear coat extending to the first few millimeters inside those holes. My guess is that this is to help seal moisture in (or out) of the top in order to stabilize it which is something the builder would not need to worry about as much with a laminate top.

There are no sound posts nor a sound block in this guitar, making it a true hollowbody. Like the Aritist Award, there are two braces that go from the neck of the upper bout to the bottom of the lower bout running parallel on either side of the pickups along the underside of the top.

The solid top on this guitar is thicker than on the laminate X500s or the X175 I’ve owned (this pic is of my ’80s X175 top), but there’s no doubt that a laminated top would be more structurally stable and thus be able to be thinner.

The marketing material for the X700 makes a point of saying that the top is the same as the one used on the Artist Award. I have an Artist Award (AA) from roughly the same era, but there is no easy way for me to tell if they’re similar in construction because the AA does not have gigantic holes cut into it for pickups. That’s kind of the AA’s defining feature, though, so there’s no way for me to tell if it’s made with the same thickness as the X700. I could argue that the AA wouldn’t need to be as thick without the holes in the top, but again there’s no way for me to tell without sawing my AA in half. I love a good experiment, but even I have my limits.

The question in my mind is if the tradeoff between the thick solid X700 top is worth the price of admission over the thinner laminate top of the X175 or X500 in order to get a solid-topped guitar. I honestly don’t know the answer to that, but I will say that my first impression when playing this guitar was that it wasn’t worth the hype. More on that later, though.

Pickups

The pickups in this X700 are Seymour Duncan SD1s which were introduced by Guild around 1994 as replacements for the coveted Guild HB1s. I tend to really like SD1 pickups in my solid body electric guitars and even in my Starfire IV semi-hollows, but how do they fare in the much larger X700 that’s clearly designed to be a jazz guitar?

The vintage Guild HB1s had a chime to them that is hard to recreate and is a huge part of their magic. While I like the SD1s a lot, they don’t have that same sparkle and I think that’s part of what I find to be lacking in this guitar. While my older X175 and X500s were the same depth and had laminated tops, they had a magic quality to them that I don’t hear in this guitar and I think that’s in large part due to the pickups.

Don’t get me wrong – the pickups sound great, and the guitar sounds great when used as likely intended which is with the treble rolled off as you might while comping chords in a jazz quartet, but I can’t help but compare this to other guitars I own, and the vintage X175 beats it to my ears. By the way, that vintage X175 cost me almost 1/3 what I paid for this X700 which is what makes me wonder if the X700 was worth the difference in price.

Electronics

The impression I get when looking at this guitar is that it’s a slightly higher-end guitar that has all the same parts as most of the other Guilds from the same era. To test that theory, I pulled the wiring harness. As I suspected, at first glance there’s nothing terribly exciting to be found inside. The guitar has Seymour Duncan SD1 pickups as previously mentioned, and the harness looks just like a bunch of other Guilds that I’ve reviewed from the late ’90s.

The wiring is mostly all grey and is bundled tightly together like on other Guilds I’ve seen. The pots are all CTS pots and all four of them are 200kΩ.

Wait… what?

That’s not a typo. After looking at the picture for far too long, it’s clear to me that three of the four pots are stamped with 5033 which is the Guild code for a 200k logarithmic taper pot. At first I thought I had to be wrong, but it actually explains some things that I’ll cover down in the Sound section, and I measured the tone pots with my Fluke multimeter. In a nutshell the use of 200k pots means that much of the treble is being filtered out of the tone.

I should note that I could not see the stamping on the bridge volume pot, and I couldn’t measure it without removing it. Similarly, I did not remove the master volume pot, so those two values are assumed. I hate assuming things, but I wasn’t about to further disassemble the guitar just to measure the pots.

The tone capacitors are 203M-marked orange ceramic disc caps which translates to .02μF with a ±20% tolerance.

Hardware

The hardware on this guitar is all typical of a Guild high-end guitar from the late ’90s, with Guild coating all of the metal bits with gold. The harp tail piece is glorious as it is on all of the similarly adorned Guilds, and this one has little to no wear on it so it still looks great. The pickups, though, are another matter.

Since the pickups tend to encounter contact with the player’s hand or at least their sweat, they tend to wear in a way that looks unfortunate, especially when compared withe the beautiful tailpiece. Gold really adds to the perceived elegance of the instrument when new, but Guild’s plating technique has always seemed to wear even faster than competing brands.

The bridge is solid ebony and looks fabulous. I love ebony both as fretboard and bridge material on guitars like this. Its density really adds a specific flavor to the guitar that’s very different than metal and even different than rosewood, though it can be tough to discern the difference from the lighter colored wood if you haven’t played a lot of examples.

As with most of the arched top Guilds from this period, the pick guard drives me nuts because it sits on top of the pickup rings and is thus (in my opinion anyway) far too close to the strings. This causes it to be in my way when playing. That might not be the case for you if you play with a lighter touch, but apparently I play like a gorilla on a caffeine bender, so the guard would have to go.

The tuners are Grover Rotomatics, and while I am normally a fan of these tuners, I think they’re too pedestrian for this guitar. Sure, they look good enough, but a guitar at this level should come with Grover Imperials. I know there are people who don’t like Imperials and it’s not like these tuners are problematic, but the Rotomatics on this guitar once again make it seem like this is another guitar off of the same assembly line as the lesser models, which I suppose is what it is.

Sound

I will say outright two things that will likely color my opinions here: 1) I’m not a jazz player, and 2) I’m spoiled for choices when it comes to Guilds. Why the disclaimers? Because I wasn’t thrilled with the tone of this guitar at first.

Is this too much guitar for me? Maybe, but I don’t think that’s what’s colored my opinion, because as I noted in #2 above, I’ve had the pleasure of playing a lot of Guilds, and compared to some of those guitars, this one does not measure up. Honestly, my gut impression is that this was a failed experiment where they put a nicer top on an X500 and tried to upsell it as something special but lost the magic by using SD1 pickups.

In 1997 Fender was still only a couple of years into owning Guild, so there may have been some growing pain issues, but I have to wonder if the performance of this guitar is what led Fender to bring in Robert Benedetto to redesign it.

ODS100 (round)

7th Chords

Open 7th Chords

Open Chords #1

Open Chords #2

RC120 (round)

12th Fret Noodle 1

12th Fret Noodle 2

As usual, for these recordings I used my normal Axe-FX III through the QSC K12 speaker recorded direct into my Mac Pro using Audacity. I recorded using the ODS100 Clean patch, and then a couple of me noodling on a Roland RC120 patch called “Smokey Jazz”.

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. Both of the Noodling recordings were done with only the neck pickup.

This guitar is a feedback machine with a special penchant for the open A string, and I mean sitting alone in a room with an amp at what I’d call “bedroom level” (I hate that term), the guitar will start to wail when I let go of the strings. It’s really bad. Still, it’s a hollowbody, and feedback is one of those things you have to learn to live with when playing hollowbodies.

The guitar is more lively unplugged than my X175, likely due to the solid spruce top and lack of a sound block. That makes me think that the guitar might do well with different pickups because though it outperforms my X175 unplugged, I much prefer the X175 plugged in. While I really like the SD1 pickups in a solidbody, I’m not sure they’d be my first choice for a jazz guitar.

After being disappointed with the recording, I went back and pulled the harness as shown in the Electronics section above, and then it all made sense. 200k pots on a humbucker-equipped guitar is a bit odd, though I’ve seen Guild use them on tone pots from time to time. Still, on this big jazz box of a guitar, putting 200k pots in it makes it even woofier than normal and that’s why I don’t like the sound.

I will say that after letting this review sit for some months and coming back fresh, I rather liked the tone in the two noodle clips. That caused me to pull the guitar out again to see if I was wrong in my written assessment above. I was not, and I’ll talk more about that in the conclusion.

Playability

This is a big jazz box of a guitar and it plays like a big jazz box of a guitar. If you’re used to a big ol’ beast like this then you’ll feel right at home. If you’re not, then there can be a fair bit of adjustment in your future, but really it plays a lot like a jumbo acoustic, so it’s not like the shape should be a complete challenge unless you’ve only ever played Strats.

My biggest beef from a playability standpoint is the pick guard, but that’s an easy thing to fix with two minutes and a screwdriver. Just make sure you remember where you stashed it and for the love all that’s holy, tape the screws to the back of the thing because you’ll never find those again when you go to sell it in the future.

I like guitars with master volumes, and I love the look of the Guild master volume but I hate how small that knob is in practice. I wish they had moved the toggle switch to the upper bout like it is on Starfire IIIs then had the master volume on the bottom, but whining about design choices from 25 years ago is a waste of time.

Really, though, this is a very nice high-end guitar and it plays like a dream with it’s perfectly shaped 1 3/4″ neck. Almost any of my complaints about tone can be dialed in with a good amp and for its intended purpose I think it’s a great guitar. Not the best, but still pretty great.

Conclusion

I wanted to love this guitar, and I didn’t, but to be fair I’m an absolutely spoiled collector with some amazing guitars so my opinion may not be that of a normal person. Still, these guitars are not inexpensive, so I think for the price it should be amazing. It’s really, very nice; maybe even great, but I didn’t think it was amazing.

This is also not a guitar that was made for someone like me. What does that mean? I’m not a jazz player. I’d love to be, but I’m just not. I’ve gone to events with 4-piece jazz quartets and I always watch enthralled by the guitarist’s skill and I love the tones they pull from these guitars. Then I go home and crank up my Super Strat with whatever ridiculous ’80s patch I’m favoring that day and I work on peeling the paint from the walls with my sonic power. I’m just not a jazz guy. I took lessons from a jazz guy for years but it just didn’t take.

However…

When I got my Artist Award I was blown away by it because that guitar is amazing. I only bring that up because it shows that I can appreciate a great jazz guitar, but perhaps comparing anything to an Artist Award is unfair. Still, I like my ’80s X175 better, too. And my ’90s X170. I think you get the idea.

Is this a beautiful well made Westerly Guild jazz guitar? Absolutely. Does it play like a dream? Yes. If I played jazz more would I be happy with it? Probably.

It’s a stunningly beautiful guitar that is a joy to play but the simple truth is that I like the sound from my X175 better, though to be fair they have quite different pickups and the X700 has a noticably more lively sound unplugged no doubt due to the solid top and lack of a sound post.

At the very least I think the guitar would be vastly improved with 500k pots, and I would absolutely recommend that as a change before swapping out the pickups. Actually, I’d probably just sell it and play the Guilds in my collection that inspire me, and in the end that’s my review: It’s a beautiful guitar that just didn’t inspire me, likely because of the high expectations created by my corral of even greater Guilds.

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