Today’s guitar is a relatively uncommon Guild S65D that I sought after for years. While only seen rarely, sometimes with a ridiculous price and almost always with a fair bit of hyperbole, these guitars are beloved by those who own them and misunderstood by those who don’t (and some who do).
I’ve finally got my hands on one so hang on tight while I give this guitar the complete tear-down and review treatment.
The Guild S65D guitar is part of the New Guitar Shape line of Guilds that appeared in the late-70s that includes the S60, S70, and S300.
Unlike the very popular S100 Polara, these guitars do not have a model name like “Polara” associated with them which is a bit of a departure for Guild, especially since they would quickly start naming new electric guitars after aviation terms in a few short years.
The S60 was the entry-level model for the New Generation of Solid Bodies, but there is often a fair bit of confusion about some of the models, so allow me to try and clarify it all since the model numbers aren’t necessarily intuitive. All guitars in this list have a mahogany body unless noted otherwise:
S300AD: Two Dimarzio humbucker pickups w/ash body [Review]
Note that there are no such models as the S65 and S70 (without the D suffix) since those guitars only came with Dimarzio pickups, and why the S70A isn’t called the S70AD is anyone’s guess. If you’d like to learn more about the origin of the guitar’s shape, check out my article on the S300AD.
The S65D was only made for a very short time by Guild in the Westerly, Rhode Island factory. It does not appear in my March 1979 price list, but does show up in March 1980 described as, Same as S60, with one DiMarzio Dual-Sound Pickup along with a price of $359. The S65D is also in the September 1980 price list with a price of $379. The March 1981 price list has the same description and a price of $398, but by the September 1981 price list the guitar is no longer listed. Going by the price lists in my possession, that makes the guitar only available from March 1980 to March 1981, which isn’t very long even for Guild. Of course the next question is invariably, but how many were made? As it turns out I don’t have a simple answer to that question.
The often incorrect Guild Serial Number Chart shows that the S60 and S65 shared the same serial number prefix (ED100xxx), and that the last number for them is ED100500, so that alone makes it hard to determine how many of each models were made. But that’s not the only problem.
Knowing that the number listed in each column of the serial number chart is the last number used in that year, we can deduce that between 1980 and 1981 there were 449 of both models made, but that isn’t very helpful since the vast majority of the serial numbers fall within that range.
But wait, there’s more!
My S65D has a serial number that predates the prefix format and places it in 1979 where all Guilds were numbered without regard to model. That means that not only were there more than 499 of both models (combined) made, but also that there were clearly S65Ds made before March 1980 which is the first price list that shows the S65D. That’s not terribly surprising since it stands to reason that models would be made before being shown in the price list, but it makes it very difficult to ascertain how many S65Ds were made.
So, how many S65Ds exist? I have no way of knowing because of the limitations outlined above. According to this post by renowned Guild expert Hans Moust, the S65 replaced the S60 in 1980 and if they were available in March of that year I’d expect to have seen a lot more of them for sale than I have, especially given the serial number chart. The Beesly book is no help because it lumps all the S60/65/70/300 models together and the History of Cool Guitars doesn’t even mention the S65D, instead stating that they made 500 S60s which, as I’ve shown above, does not appear to be accurate.
Still, the serial number charts are known to be unreliable, so until I hear otherwise from Hans, the simple truth is that I don’t know how many were made. Could there be 500 Guild S65Ds out there? Maybe the vast majority of people who own them love them so much that they rarely come up for sale.
A more plausible thought is that many of them were lost or destroyed. Many of the S60s I’ve encountered have been very well played to the point of some of them being absolute wrecks. So maybe they were so well loved that a bunch of them simply got played to death.
A quick note on price is in order. While hunting for an S65D, I found one that got snatched up by someone who I assume must have confused it with the über-rare Guild D65S acoustic because they immediately relisted it for $3500. Either they found someone who thought the same or I’m way out of touch with guitar values (I’m not) because it appears to have later sold for $2500 (plus tax and shipping). I’ve since been contacted by a brick-and-mortar store asking me about the value of the guitar because someone was trying to sell the same one on consignment and didn’t believe the store when told that it wasn’t worth $3000. Here in December of 2021 you should probably be paying closer to $1000 for a Guild S65D, and that’s in mint condition with a period correct Guild hard-shell rectangular case. The vintage guitar market is crazy, though, and as always a guitar is worth what someone is willing to pay for it.
There were two case options for this guitar in the price lists, and they were the same for every guitar in the series since they all shared the same shape and dimensions. These were the nice 4529 rectangular hard-shell case and the 29-S economy chipboard case. As you may have deduced from the price difference, the economy case was not great, a fact that I can attest to having stored my original S60 in one for years. The S65D in my possession came to me in a PRS gig bag which is infinitely more protective than those old economy cases, and a bit more maneuverable than the big rectangular cases, though the PRS logo offends my Guild collector sensibilities to no end.
This guitar is definitely finished in lacquer as evidenced by the numerous lacquer cracks all over the body that show up in some of the pictures. Plus, it glows a disgusting green under UV light. The finish is very even and well done as it is on every other Guild I’ve played.
The 1980 price lists says that all solid body electric guitars were available in Sunburst, Cherry, Black, Walnut, Natural Mahogany, or White. Ash S300 models and the rare ash S70A (of course Grot’s got one!) were only available in Sunburst and Blonde.
I’ve personally seen them all except probably white, so if you’ve got one I’d love to see it! White Guilds from this era are often mostly yellow now due to the clear coat aging, so if you’ve seen a “rare yellow” one it’s actually white, or at least it used to be. I’d still love to see it, though!
Fretboard and Neck
The neck is glorious on this guitar. It’s a bit over 1 5/8″ at the nut but widens nicely to two inches at the 12th fret, though it’s the depth that makes it special. This guitar measure .86″ deep at the first fret and gets up to almost an inch by the 12th fret. That’s just about the same depth as my 2000 Blues-90 and on par with some of the nicer Les Pauls I’ve owned! If the neck were just a bit wider at 1 11/16″ I daresay it would be the best neck ever, at least for me.
The fretboard radius is a curvy 7.25″ like all the other guitars in the series, and while I’d prefer a flatter 12″, the vintage Strat-like curve of this one doesn’t bother me at all, especially when playing on the lower frets. As a prolific G-string bender I can get it to fret out on the higher frets, but the magic on this guitar is really in the power chords down low.
The 24 frets measure at .035″ high by .105″ wide which makes them the same low and wide frets used on most of the Guild electrics from the late ’70s and early ’80s. I would have expected the frets to measure more around .04″ high so I imagine that at some point the frets were leveled since they look suspiciously new on this 42 year old guitar.
There is no binding anywhere on this guitar and the inlays are simple mother-of-pearl dots as you’d expect on an entry level instrument. The fretboard is a lighter piece of beautiful rosewood that matches the color of the one-piece mahogany neck so closely that I originally wondered if the fretboard was just part of the neck like on a maple-necked Telecaster.
This guitar’s body is a single piece of mahogany that even has a knot visible in the back. At 7lbs 3oz (3.26 kilos) the guitar is not a heavyweight but since it’s essentially two pieces (body and neck) of solid mahogany glued together it feels a bit heavier than the numbers would suggest.
The neck joint is a set-neck and it feels as smooth and solid as every other solid-body Guild I’ve played, which is to say it’s rock-solid.
This was sold as an entry-level guitar, but it’s built to the same standards as its high-end cousins. There’s a certain magic to a mahogany slab guitar (like an SG or Les Paul Jr.) and those types of guitars seem to do really well with midrange-heavy pickups like the veritable P90. Of course as countless SG owners will attest, they rock pretty hard with humbuckers, too.
Pickup and Electronics
The pickup in the Guild S65D is a Dimarzio Dual-Sound. According to Dimarzio, the Dual-Sound pickup is the same as a Super-Distortion, but where the vintage Super-Distortion had a single lead with a shield in 1979, the vintage Dual-Sound had three wires and a shield for more wiring options. Modern versions of both pickups are identical and both now have four wires and a shield. I find this statement from Dimarzio interesting since the pickup in this guitar has four wires and a shield and it certainly looks like original 1979 solder joints to me, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the webpage information is a result of somewhat fuzzy oral history.
Like many owners, I initially thought the mini-toggle was a coil-split switch, but with the mini toggle switch in the up position the DC resistance of the pickup measures 13.26k Ω and with the switch in the down position the DC resistance is only 3.39k Ω. If the switch was a coil split I’d expect a change from 13.26k Ω to 6.63k Ω (half), so why the strange readings? Because that little switch is a series/parallel switch!
To understand what the serial/parallel switch does, first let’s look at the pickup when it’s not hooked up to anything. There are two coils, called the north and the south coils, and each has two wires coming from it. This is the same on every humbucker pickup, though two of the four wires are hidden internally when you look at a 2-wire pickup. On Dimarzio pickups, the north coil starts with the red wire and finishes with the black wire, while the south coil starts with the green wire and finishes with the white. The arrows show how the signal would normally flow if each coil was wired individually, though this is rarely done with the exception of one coil being shunted to ground for coil-split.
The traditional wiring for a humbucker is series wiring where the finish of the north coil is wired to the finish of the south coil. This has the effect of doubling the resistance of the pickup since both coils are engaged while summing the signal and cancelling the noise thanks to the coils being wound in opposite directions. This is one of the main reasons why humbuckers sound “fatter” than single coils, and why they lose a lot of the chime and highs people like so much from single coil pickups.
An alternative to series wiring is to wire the two coils in parallel. Here, the start of north coil is wired to the finish of the south coil and vise-versa. Doing this halves the total resistance of both coils, and since the coils are still wound in reverse orientation to each other the humbucking feature is retained. The downside is that there is less output, but the upside is that there is more chime of the type associated with single coil pickups.
Series/Parallel switching is a woefully underutilized feature on humbucker-equipped guitars, so kudos to Guild for including it as a standard option on an entry-level guitar!
The volume control is a 500K pot and the tone control is 200K, which is a fairly common arrangement on certain Guild guitars from this era. While I can only see part of the date code on one of the pots, it dates to the 32nd week of 1978. The tone capacitor is a simple green off-the-shelf part that is labeled to be .047 μF. Aside from the serial/parallel switch, the wiring is pretty unremarkable, which stands to reason since there is only one pickup. That switch is where the magic is, though.
There are at least three different control layouts that I’ve seen on Guild S65Ds. One has the mini-toggle closest to the pickup with the two knobs close together (like mine), one has the two knobs separated by the mini-toggle in the middle, like this one, and finally there is a similar layout to the previous one but with the knobs closer together like this one. You can see the difference between the last two variations very clearly from this photo by the user hearth_man over on the LetsTalkGuild forum.
I love everything about this guitar except the tuners. Why? Because the tuners suck. Now, I’ve taken some heat for saying that about these tuners in the past, but I don’t care what anyone else thinks because these tuners just suck. Are there worse tuners out there? Sure, but that just means that these aren’t the absolute worst, and that’s not something to be proud of.
Everything on this guitar is the same build and quality as the higher-end guitars in the line, though the nice S300s have ebony fretboards. The main difference is the tuners. While the S300s got nice Schallers, these low-end S60s and S65Ds got crappy 3-inline stamped metal import crapjunk tuners. Hans Moust’s excellent Guild Guitar Book simply lists them as Japanese Heads.
I should note that later examples of the S65D have better enclosed machine heads like these from this 1981 example on Reverb, and thanks to Hans for pointing out that they are original to the guitar.
The bridge was made by Mueller as was the tailpiece, both of which are the same as those found on the S300s. By the way that tailpiece is solid piece of brass, if memory serves, so it’s not lightweight by any means. The new-old-stock spare in my collection weighs 4.5oz (127.6g).
The knobs are the typical Westerly G-shield plastic knobs, and while they’re not the best-feeling knobs around, they’re part of what makes a Guild a Guild.
The upper strap peg is on the upper horn and is screwed in securely, while the lower strap peg is press-fit. I’ve had many of those lower strap pegs simply fall out over the years, so if you plan on gigging with any of these guitars I’d recommend that you remove the lower pin, drill and plug the hole, then install strap locks.
One pickup guitars can kind of be one-trick ponies, but they can also make you focus more on your skill as a player in order to learn to coax more tones from the limited options available. Ask any Fender Esquire or Les Paul Jr. player how much tonal variation they can get from their one-pickup guitars and you’ll hear about how they’re the best guitars ever.
Open Chords #1
Open Chords #2
This guitar is no exception, and I’m here to tell you that it is an absolute tone machine! It’s got a twangy nature that I did not expect given my experience with Super Distortion pickups, and strumming or picking in different positions on the strings really brings out additional flavors of tone, just like you’d find on the aforementioned Esquires or Les Paul Jrs.
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, as well as the JCM-800 and one through a setting that’s a simulation of a Blackface Twin. For each recording I play first with the switch in the up position (serial), and then in the down position (parallel). All knobs on the guitar are on 10 at all times.
I chose the Blackface Twin because I wanted to really show up just how jangly this guitar could be with that Dual Sound pickup. I just couldn’t get over how what is essentially a Super Distortion could sound much more complex and interesting with the mere flick of a switch. Honestly? I think I might like it better than the S60 that I raved about, and that’s saying something because I love my HB1s. This guitar is just more versatile and the tone is surprisingly great.
While many people dislike the looks of these guitars, I love them. Sure, that’s no doubt tied to some youthful nostalgia since a Guild S60 was my first name-brand guitar and the S300 that replaced it remained my only guitar for 20 years, but I think they look great while also looking unique. More importantly, though, I find them to be amazingly comfortable to play, both seated and standing.
I freaking love this thing. That’s my review.
I probably could have saved a couple thousand words, but I find it gratifying when my initial gut reaction is held up by me stripping the guitar to its composite parts and examining what makes it tick.
I love the looks, I love the playability, and I love the sound, so what’s not to like? I’ll tell you what’s not to like:
The tuners. The tuners suck.
Replacing the tuners is not a big job, and it does kill the vintage vibe and collectability a bit, but if I were to gig regularly with this guitar the tuners would be gone unless I had the later model with the sealed-gear tuners. Still, this guitar is so much fun that I forget about the tuners entirely when I play it.
The tuners being the one small caveat, I cannot recommend the Guild S65D enough. The problem is usually finding one, and here in late 2021 the prices of everything — especially vintage guitars — are on the rise,
If you happen to stumble across one of these Guild S65Ds for anything resembling a reasonable price, buy it while you still can.