This gorgeous piece of red-hot goodness is a 2020 Guild Newark St. X350 Stratford guitar. It is the pinnacle of the current 2021 hollow-body offerings from Guild along with X175 Manhattan Special that I reviewed here. While clearly built to resemble the vintage Guild X350 from the 1950s, this guitar has no push-buttons like that iconic guitar, so follow along as I dig into this beautiful instrument and learn how it manages to control three pickups with only a 3-way toggle and four knobs.
In January of 2020, Guild (owned by Cordoba Music Group or CMG) released a couple of new guitars in their import Newark St. line of electrics, one of which being the flagship hollow-body guitar shown here, namely the X350 Stratford. This Korean-made guitar with its red finish and three Franz pickups was, like many of the Newark St. guitars, inspired by a vintage US-made Guild model. That vintage Guild model was, as you might have guessed, also called the X350 Stratford.
One of the very first guitars that Guild produced back in the early 1950s was the Stratford 350, shown here in this page from my vintage 1954 Targ & Dinner “Jobber” catalog. The guitar stayed in the catalogs for years, often described with prose such, A marvel of electronics… a masterpiece of the guitar maker’s art… an instrument for the swinging soloist and technician (1961). The first price list in my collection without the X350 is October 1964. At some point in the 1950s Guild changed the designation in the pricelist from 350 to X350.
You may notice a couple of differences from this 1954 catalog page when compared to the modern Newark St. model with the same name. First, the pickup covers are black and change to white in the 1957 catalog, though in Hans Moust‘s excellent The Guild Guitar Book he states that the change to white pickups happened in 1954 (Guild catalogs often used pictures from previous years). There is also a harp tailpiece instead of a Bigsby and, though you can’t see it in the picture, the listed finishes were Golden Sunburst and Satin Blonde with no mention of Scarlet Red to be found. If you’d like more information on these fabulous old original Guilds, I highly recommend that you find a copy of Hans‘ excellent book.
I don’t see red as an available color for the X350 back then, but there is an interesting guitar that shows up on the back page of the 1960 catalog called the Stratford Starfire. I’ve never seen one of these in person, but I have to assume that it’s a thinner bodied version of the X350 Stratford, and it came in Cherry Red. According to Hans’ book, very few of the Stratford Starfires were made, so of course now I want one.
The original X350 Stratford had a complex 6-button apparatus under the top that functioned much like an old car radio where if you push any button that action releases whatever other button had previously been pushed. That assembly also had about 615 capacitors soldered to it which made it not only difficult to replace, but difficult to troubleshoot if you weren’t familiar with it. A New Old Stock (NOS) example of the button assembly is shown here front and back with a guitar pick for scale. It was fairly simple to use once you figured out what all the buttons did since they were labeled B, M, T, MB, TB, and TM. As someone who has played guitar since about 1979, I must confess that, based on the button labels alone, I could not figure out what those buttons did.
The buttons, in the same order as listed above were: Bass, Middle, Treble, Middle+Bass, Treble+Bass, and Treble+Middle. Note that there is no BMT/TMB button for having all three pickups active, though through a quirk of the design I believe you could have more than one button pushed at once. I should point out that my experience with these buttons is limited to the NOS button apparatus shown above, so I have no idea if my multi-button theory is accurate. If you’ve got a vintage X350 please leave a comment and let me know!
Edit: The original catalog card from the 1953 catalog has this in the description: By depressing the last two buttons, all three pickups are activated.
That’s a lot of buttons for a guitar, but it was the ’50s and in the ’50s and ’60s there were even cars with push-button transmissions. This was the push-button age (an actual term slung around at the time), and if there was something without push-buttons on it, then dammit, that thing needed upgrading so it could support push-buttons! Think of push-buttons in the ’50s as the you might think of blue LEDs from the 2000s: everything got them whether they needed them or not.
If you hadn’t yet noticed, this guitar is almost identical to the X175 Manhattan Special and aside from the pickup routes, wiring, and the finish color, they’re the same guitar superstructure. Since wiring and finish work happens after the guitar is made, the only things that are different (at least visibly) are the pickup routes. That’s not really a secret since Guild describes the guitar as having an X175 body. That’s not to say that two models sharing the same superstructure is a bad thing! If it helps to keep production costs down so the guitars in question don’t cost twice as much, then I’m all for it.
With a retail price of $2100 and a street price around $1500 in May 2021, this guitar and its X175 Manhattan Special cousin are the highest priced hollow-body guitars in the Guild Newark St. line. Is it worth the price? Let’s find out.
The case included with the guitar is the Guild Deluxe Electric Guitar Wood Case in the size Guild X-175 Manhattan and retails for $150 here in early 2021 when sold individually. This is a large arched top hard shell model with blue plush lining. The latches appear to not be brass, but are nicer than some of the super-cheap latches I’ve seen out there. I see no trademarks on the case anywhere except for the Guild badge and a tag inside that says Made in China.
The finish is simply beautiful on this guitar, and reminds me a bit of the Gretsch Setzer Hot Rod guitars that I used to own, though the Guild is a little less flashy. There is even a bit of sparkle in the finish that makes the finish pop under bright lights. Since the current Guild company likes to assign models to color choices, the Newark St. X350 Stratford comes in only one color: Scarlet Red
While the X350 Stratford is very similar to the X175 Manhattan Special that I reviewed, on that guitar I wrote about being worried that the finish might flake off due to its texture and spots where that seemed to be happening. I have no such complaints on this guitar, likely due to its more traditional glossy coating, and with this being a modern Korean-made guitar, that top coat is poly. The finish is beautiful and I found no flaws anywhere on the guitar.
Like the aforementioned X175 Manhattan Special, there is what I could best describe as psuedo-binding on the f-holes. I can’t say for certain how this is done, but it looks to me like the white is an undercoat and they’ve somehow managed to put the red finish almost up to the edge of the f-hole thus making the ivory undercoat look like traditional binding. I have no idea if my assessment is correct, but the effect looks great and adds an overall elegance to the guitar. I have to imagine this is some sort of cost-cutting measure since I also imagine putting binding on an f-hole to be an expensive and laborious task. If so, I think it’s a very clever way to accentuate the f-holes.
Fretboard and Neck
The neck has a very nice feel to it similar to some of my favorite Les Pauls, with the first fret being about .86″ deep and the neck remaining at about .90″ deep for most of the first octave. The guitar doesn’t have the super-thin “fast” necks of the ’70s while also not having the super thick necks found on some of the baseball-bat monsters out there.
The inlays are beautiful if simple rectangles, and their fit and finish is as good as it should be in a world where guitars are made mostly by CNC machines.
The neck is mahogany with a center maple strip and the Guild webpage indicates that the bound fretboard material is ebony.
I’m admittedly terrible at identifying wood, and it was (and remains) very common for ebony fretboards to have been dyed black in order to cover up grain patterns, thus making the ebony appear more like the good stuff from the past that has become very hard to come by. It may also just be a different species of ebony than we used to see in the ’70s. At first glance I’d have said that the fretboard was rosewood, especially since I’m used to looking at vintage guitars with jet-black ebony fretboards, but the pores are very small on this fretboard which is indicative of ebony.
The neck is set just like it is on every other Guild Newark St. hollow-body guitar of the same or similar design, and it feels rock solid to me while playing.
As best I can tell the top is somewhere between 4-4.5mm thick and is laminated spruce, the grain of which can be seen in the top thanks to a well-applied and seemingly thin finish.
The nut fell off when I removed the strings, and while 10 years ago I might have demanded a refund, here in my enlightened years it didn’t bother me at all because it just takes a spot of wood glue to stick it back into place. Hell, the pull of the strings will even keep it in place if you’re afraid of glue.
I bought this guitar as a return and so got it for a great price, and if you consider that this guitar was built in Korea, shipped to California, then shipped to New York, back and forth to a customer who returned it and then finally to me in New Jersey, who knows what it’s been through? You can clearly see the glue in the slot, so it’s not like they forgot a step, so I include it only for the sake of completeness and not as a knock on quality. As should be obvious if you’ve read any of my other reviews, I don’t get paid by Guild (or anyone else), and I’m not afraid to call out an issue if I find one. While it may look bad, it’s not. Plus it shows off how the fret board is a solid piece of wood and not just a veneer!
The first time this happened to me was on a rare and expensive US-made Starfire III-90, so my assumption now is that if you handle enough guitars you’ll eventually see this happen; just do an Internet search and you’ll see plenty of examples. Anyway, I’m not taking any marks off of the guitar for this, and the nut popped right back in and works great.
The neck block in my guitar is at least three pieces of wood glued together. I saw something similar in the X175 Manhattan Special so I imagine this to be a standard practice on the X175 bodies. Although I did review a Newark St. X175B back in 2016, my review process was still in its infancy and I had not yet standardized on taking internal photos like I do today, so I can’t say if that guitar had a similar block. The photo of the neck block here isn’t great because I used a bore scope due to the fact my normal trick of cramming my iPhone into the pickup routes didn’t work since the routes are not wide enough to allow it.
My Newark St. X350 Stratford Weighs 7lbs 8oz (3.4 kg) which is lighter than I’d expected. This is a large guitar, and I’m sure the Guidsby adds some weight to it, but it is hollow after all.
The pickups are Guild Dog-Ear Franz P90s with creme covers. The pickups are labeled as three distinct versions: Neck, Middle, and Bridge, though as of this writing (May 2021) Guild only lists the Bridge and Neck models on their spare parts website. I did not notice anything obviously different about the middle pickup aside from the fact that it’s quick-connector equipped lead is yellow to contrast the red (neck) and blue (bridge) on the other two pickups.
Guild only lists the Neck+Bridge and Middle+Bridge combinations as being hum-cancelling (more on that in the next section), which would tell me that the neck and middle pickups are wound the same while the bridge pickup is wound in the reverse direction. The Guild website indicates that all three of the pickups are 6.9k Ω DC resistance with Alnico 5 magnets being used.
The pickup covers are slanted to accomodate the guitar’s shape, and the bridge cover is taller than the other two. In order to facilitate the mounting of the cover for the bridge pickup the cover mounting screws are longer than they are for the neck and middle pickups. I point this out because should you ever feel the need to remove all three pickups you’ll end up with a pile of 18 screws, all of which are the same except for those two longer ones. Since the pickups are not height adjustable the neck and middle pickups sit inside two shallow routes while the bridge pickup is mounted directly to the top which can be seen in the previous photo of the pickups without their covers.
I do need to point out that the pickups are spaced a little bit oddly as first noticed by some eagle-eye members of the LetsTalkGuild forum. On a vintage Guild like this, the bridge pickup would be closer to the bridge which would allow it to get a more biting tone, but it seems that on all of the X175 derivative Newark St. guitars, the bridge pickup (and thus the middle pickup on this guitar) are farther from the bridge then they are on the vintage examples. Thus, while the guitar sounds great, many feel that it could sound better, and we have no idea why Guild made this change.
Before we get started, I have to give Guild credit for trying something different here because guitar players are notoriously bad about accepting new ideas. Unfortunately, in their effort to make the guitar easier to understand I think they glossed over some important details. Now, I don’t write that as a criticism aside from my general disdain for most marketing material, my rantings for which I will spare you from reading at this time. Remember, this is a modern take on a guitar that had six push-buttons and no other controls, so let’s see how they manage three pickups with what appears to be a standard two-pickup control layout.
The control instructions from Guild’s page were a bit confounding to me, and as I explain the controls I think you’ll see why. For example, according to Guild’s chart (shown here) there is no way to select only the middle pickup. There is absolutely a way to do that, but it’s not what I’d call intuitive. In fact, a lot of the ways the controls operate are not how I’d expect them to work, and that led me to figure out why my preconceived notions were wrong. Allow me to explain.
The Guild description on this page states that, while the 3-way toggle controls only the bridge and neck pickups, the middle pickup volume acts as a blend knob in any toggle position, thus giving the player six tonal options mirroring the original X-350.
I thought this statement to be inaccurate, the biggest flaw being that there are actually seven unique combinations. I don’t think the inaccuracy is from malice, but rather from trying to explain a complex system in the simplest way possible. Then again, the original X350 Stratford had six buttons, so there may have been a desire to match that system, thus leading the Marketing department to sell six positions when there are really seven.
At first I thought that statement was wrong because going through the logical permutations of switch positions accompanied by active knob twiddling (using the volume knobs as on/off switches), there would be 13 positions with 7 of them being unique, but then I set out to prove that and discovered that there is no way to actually get a middle pickup only sound in the middle position. Additionally, where I would have expected to be able to middle+bridge tone in the middle position, that also was not possible. Hmm…
The middle switch position does not work at all unless the neck pickup is on which really threw me, but that also means that the middle position is not like the middle position on a Bluesbird or Les Paul where you can dial in a combination of neck and bridge to taste. Well, it’s sort of like that if you had coupled wiring (more on that in a minute), but then why isn’t the reverse true? Why can I dial in a bridge-only setting in the middle position? That’s more like uncoupled wiring!
In the neck and middle positions, the neck pickup must be on for the middle position to work at all, but that’s not the whole story since with the pickup selector in the down position, the bridge pickup does not need to be on for the middle pickup to be active. It seemed maddeningly inconsistent and it just confused the hell out of me. Out of the 13 possible combinations only nine work, and of those only seven are unique. Again, not six: seven.
I could argue that the up toggle position is useless because the two combinations that work there also work in the middle position, but that’s not really the whole story, because the bridge pickup is ignored on the up position. If you have all three pickups on, then the up position will have a different sound (neck+middle) than the middle position (neck+middle+bridge), so you could theoretically use this for different tones within a song. At this point in my discovery process I had determined that I would never use most of the combinations that this guitar is capable of.
And then I discovered something wonderful.
After all my complaining and frustration while recording the guitar, I discovered that if you just keep the middle pickup dialed out (on zero), then the toggle switch behaves exactly like you’d expect it to on a similarly laid out guitar! Huzzah! My aging dad-rock brain could finally use the guitar without having a cheat-sheet taped to the top!
The way I finally accepted the controls on the guitar was essentially to only use the middle pickup as a sort of power/humbucker/fat boost for the bridge pickup. The key to doing so is to always have the middle pickup on zero and than dial it up when you want that fat humbucker tone on the bridge. If you leave the middle pickup dialed up, then you lose that sweet “both pickups” tone in the middle position since that now becomes “all three on” which (to my ears at least) has substantially less character.
So why is it like this?
To find out, I needed to remove the wiring harness in order to get a good look at it, and that turned out to be more complicated than I’d expected. While the pickups are connected with quick-release connectors, all three of them are bundled together with a wire-tie between the pickups and the connectors so there’s no real easy way to get a pickup removed from the harness without removing the harness from the guitar, or at least pulling all the pots out through the pickup routes. Oh, and the bridge pickup route is too small to do any of that.
Once i had the harness in my hands, actually tracing the wires was complicated because there is little consistency with regard to wire colors. The blue cable from the neck pickup actually contains black and white wires that connect to a junction that has a red and black wires coming out of it on the other side. Green and red wires both connect to white wires in different places, and white wires are used all over the place. It’s madness, and it’s complicated by the wiring being non-traditional. Part of the wire color madness can be blamed on the cable that runs to the toggle switch having red, green, and white wires (plus shield), but when you go through all the trouble of color coding the wires from the pickups (which is brilliant!), continuing that scheme in a way that makes sense seems like it would have been a no-brainer to me.
Anyway, my goal was not only to document the wiring, but to figure out why the neck pickup muted the middle pickup in the up position while the bridge pickup did not in the down position. With two-pickup guitar wiring we sometimes talk about coupled (or dependent) vs. uncoupled (or independent) wiring. Coupled wiring ties the two pickups together by wiring them each to their respective pot’s center lug, while uncoupled wiring keeps them separate by wiring the pickups to the pot’s outside lug. This only has an effect when in the middle position, and the main thing that people notice is that with coupled wiring turning the volume to zero on one pickup actually silences both pickups in the middle position, while in uncoupled wiring you can turn one pickup to zero and still hear the other one.
The reason these wiring methods work differently has to do with the way that potentiometers work. That’s an article for another time (lest this one become 10,000 words long), but suffice to say that it really matters how you wire the pickups to the pots, and the neck and bridge pickups on this guitar are each wired differently.
At first I was kind of baffled as to why the neck pickup had to be active for the middle pickup to work with the selector switch up while the bridge pickup does not need to be active in the down position for the middle pickup to work. The reason is due to the wiring, which is sort of half coupled and half not.
If you look at the schematic, you can see that both the middle and bridge pickups are wired to the center lugs of their pots, but the neck pickup is wired to the outside leg of its pot. That means that with the selector switch in the up position, the output of the middle pickup will be shunted to ground when you turn the neck pickup’s volume to zero (and vise-versa).
That is not the case with the switch in the down position. Since the bridge pickup is connected to the center lug of its volume pot, when that pot is turned to zero only the bridge pickup is shunted to ground while the middle pickup continues to work. Again, the reverse is true as well: You can have the middle dialed out while still using the bridge pickup in the down position.
Here’s another important bit: the middle pickup is wired to the output of the toggle switch! It’s after the toggle switch in the circuit in parallel with the master tone control. That’s why describes the middle pickup as a blend, though its blending behavior is dependent on the 3-way switch’s position.
I might have laid the knobs out differently since it can be confusing on the fly using a very standard layout that’s wired in a drastically different way, but then Guild wouldn’t have been able to use the same superstructure between models, and complaints about the intricacies of the circuit aside, it’s a pretty innovative solution to the three pickup problem.
The tuners are the same Grover Sta-Tites seen on every other Newark St. Guild, and I’ll spare you my rant about why I hate them aside from the the fact that I think the buttons are too small, there’s no way to replace the buttons, I generally dislike open gear tuners, and I think they look cheap. OK, so I guess I was going to tell you why I don’t like them.
I was kind of surprised to discover ½” nuts on the Korean pots, and though the pots kind of look like Alphas they are stamped Jin Sung Made in Korea, so they’re not. The three volume controls are 500Ω A500K audio-taper pots and the single master tone pot is a 500Ω B500K linear-taper pot.
The knobs are Guild’s modern recreation of the vintage ’60s knobs with numbers 0-9 and the words Volume or Tone on the knobs. True to the design of the guitar there are three volume knobs and one tone knob, and while my eyesight isn’t what it used to be, I must confess that I could not read the numbers or the words on the knobs until I removed them from the guitar.
The bridge is a generic tune-o-matic and it’s not only pinned – it’s pinned and glued to the top. I can pick up the guitar from the bridge with no strings on (don’t try this at home), so it’s on there nice and tight.
The tailpiece is a Guildsby, which is fun term for an aluminum Bigsby (licensed, I’m sure) with the Guild logo on it. From what I’ve read the import Bigsbys are sand-cast vs. the US-made ones being die-cast, but I’m not a metallurgist so I’ll just shut up and play my guitar. I like the look of these tailpieces, and this one functions smoothly enough without binding and has a nice feel to it while playing. It doesn’t feel quite as nice as my vintage examples, but I don’t really see anything to complain about, with one possible exception.
The Guildsby is different on this guitar than it is on other Newark St. Guildsby-equipped guitars I’ve owned. The arm actually spins all the way around on this bridge, which depending on your point of view may be a feature or a problem. The blue guitar pictured is my Guild Newark St. X175 Manhattan Special and you can see a small metal block that prevents the arm from being turned up over the strings, so this is either an X350 specific thing, or Guild has changed the Guildsby. This is a standard Bigsby feature going back as far as the originals from 1951 so I was kind of surprised to see it missing.
The pick guard looks like those on all the other Newark St. hollow body guitars, but it is cut for three pickups and sits low enough that it doesn’t bother me in the least while playing.
This guitar has a nice open jangly sound to it, and the single coil Franz copy pickups do it justice, and I mean that sincerely. This guitar sounds freaking great.
As I’ve repeated, at first I wasn’t sure I had much use for the middle pickup, but holy cow was I ever wrong. At first I was annoyed that I couldn’t get a Strat 2/4 in-between tone out of it, but I was kind of wrong there, too.
As I sat down to record the guitar I became more and more frustrated with the controls. I’m sure many people will think I’m just dumb, but I found the control layout to be frustrating at best, and after an hour with the guitar and about 130 failed recordings [number may be a result of frustration madness] I was ready to throw the guitar against the wall. Maybe a younger person with a more plastic brain could adapt to the controls more easily, but I felt like I had to do calculus every time I changed between pickup combinations.
For each recording I cycled through the seven combinations as follows: Neck, Neck+Middle, Neck+Bridge, Neck+Middle+Bridge, Middle, Bridge, Middle+Bridge. All volume knobs are either on 10 (on) or zero (off) depending on the position. The tone knob is on 10 at all times. It was maddening, but totally worth it. Also, you’re probably not going to be on stage cycling through all seven pickup combinations in a precise order so it’s not probably something you’ll worry about once you get comfortable with the guitar.
At first I was disappointed that I couldn’t get any sort of quacky Strat position 2/4 sounds out of the guitar, but as I listened to my own recordings something struck me: I loved the tone in every position. I didn’t enjoy the knob-dance needed to get to them in the precise order every time, but I really did love every tone I got from it.
The neck pickup has a wonderful hollow-body jazzy tone to it, and the bridge has all the bright snarl I could ask for. Some of the in-between positions also added wonderful nuances or color that would have been otherwise impossible in a 2-pickup guitar, and the Franz pickups, import copies though they may be, delivered the goods in a very satisfying way. Honestly, I am kind of blown away by how good this guitar sounds.
Those last three Setzer song-bits are all recorded with the same amp (’65 Fender Deluxe Reverb), and while I did change the “scene” (Axe-FX-speak for a patch variation) to change the delay time, it’s the same amp with the same drive settings. The only difference is that the Stray Cat Strut outro is with the bridge+neck pickup, while the ’49 Mercury Blues and Sleepwalk bits are both on the bridge pickup. The drive you hear in the former is just from my pick attack. The sweeter tone on Sleepwalk is just from picking dynamics.
One of the things I did find interesting was the fact that I was not bothered by the middle pickup while playing. On a Strat I hate the middle pickup and end up lowering all three to be almost level with the guitar’s top so that the middle pickup is out of my way while playing. On this guitar I never felt like the pickups were a problem, and I attribute that to the geometry of the guitar.
As expected, this fully hollow guitar is a feedback machine, especially at volume and especially with any appreciable amount of gain in the mix. Anyone who’s got some stage time with such a guitar will manage it just fine, though I did miss having a master volume to slam shut at the end of a song.
At first I really liked this guitar. It’s great to look at, it’s fun to play, and it sounds great. At first I also thought the three-pickup thing was a bit gimmicky because I didn’t immediately find much use for that middle pickup, but with some time invested in the guitars capability I can absolutely admit that I was wrong. There’s no denying that those three pickups really make the guitar stand alone in the looks department, but it’s the tonal variations that knocked me out the most.
Aside from my normal “I hate the tuners” complaint with all Newark St. guitars (along with the ugly yellow switch tip), the only thing I don’t like is the complexity of the controls, and once I figured out a way to make it simpler for me, that complaint pretty much went away. Once I realized that some of the more complex tones were worth pursuing, then I realized that the guitar is worth the effort.
I could argue that this guitar doesn’t have the (for lack of a better word) mojo of a high-end 60-year old guitar, but that’s because it’s not a high-end 60-year old guitar. The Newark St. X350 Stratford a modern rendition of a vintage guitar made with modern materials in a modern plant in a modern world where guitars made outside the US are the norm.
So what’s my final verdict? As I wrote above, at first I really liked this guitar, but after playing it for a week I freaking love it. Except for the tuners; I still hate those tuners.