NGD - Guild

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TanninTannin Frets: 519
After many, many happy months and hours looking for my next guitar true love, I snuck in for a quickie today. No, not one of the several long-desired high-end instruments I'm always struggling to choose between, just a good, practical everyday guitar to put some solid hours into.

Lately I've been playing the Cole Clark Angel a lot. I always play it a fair bit - all things considered it is my best guitar - but I don't want to hammer the poor little thing into the ground just practicing and noodling around. It's less than two years old and I can see the first signs of play wear on it. Yep, sure, they are made to be played, but the Angel would cost close to $6000 to replace and it is made from very rare timbers it would be sinful to waste. Instead, I tend to play the little Maton Dreadnought. It's a much cheaper guitar, but arguably still a bit good to hammer every day as much as I do. And the other Maton is a Messiah 808 - i.e., another one better not sacrificed to the daily grind. 

Only one thing for it. Buy another guitar!

(Logic like the above is what helps me stay married.)

Now the guitars I've been looking at all year - yes, I have gone the whole of this calendar year without buying a guitar, not even one, not since December 2020! - have been fairly high end models: a custom shop Maton is top of the list at present, and I've been considering others in that broad category. One that I reluctantly rejected a few weeks ago was a late 1980s Guild GF-60 R - a truly lovely small jumbo with more top end than most jumbos and a remarkably balanced sound. Sadly, it was getting a bit close to neck reset time and if I'm spending $3500 (£1900) on a guitar, I don't want to be dropping another thousand on it sometime in the next few years. 

But last night I noticed this nice little Guild advertised by my local used guitar shop. It is a 2007 CO-2, Red Spruce over mahogany and they were asking just under $1500 (about £800). That is a crazy low price for a proper made-in-America Guild. So I did my research - more on this in another post - and then drove into Hobart and tried it out. 

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  • TanninTannin Frets: 519

    Now the Guild CO-2 has an interesting history. Recall that Fender has the habit of buying out good acoustic guitar makers, running them into the ground, and then shutting them down or flogging off the remains to a new, more competent owner. They did it to Tacoma, to Guild, and to Ovation as well. Tacoma they shut down (which was a downright crime), the other two they eventually sold off. Both are now enjoying success under new owners.

    When Fender bought out Guild, at first they shifted production from New York to Fender's electric guitar facility in Corona, California. That was a very bad idea: the skills and procedures Fender used for making Strats and Teles didn't translate into good acoustic guitars. Fender by now also owned Tacoma and Tacoma was good at making acoustic instruments, so sensibly enough Fender shifted Guild production again, this time to the Tacoma plant in Washington State. They built Guild and Tacoma guitars there side-by-side. Before long, Fender perpetrated yet another corporate buyout, Ovation this time, and decided it would be cheaper to shut down the Tacoma plant and centralise all acoustic production at Ovation's plant in Connecticut. So Guild suffered through yet another move, losing nearly all their skilled workers yet again, and Tacoma guitars disappeared completely. A few years later Fender sold the remains of Guild off to Cordoba, and sold the remains of Ovation as well. Cordoba restarted Guild production at a purpose-built new factory in California, and that is where matters rest today: Guild is owned by Cordoba and Guild guitars are made in California. 

    (All of this is to ignore the "Guild Westerly" instruments, which are cheap made-in-China things, not bad so far as cheap Chinese stuff goes but not of any present interest.)

    I have owned a 2005 Tacoma Thunderhawk baritone for some time. Although Fender had bought the company by the time my Thunderhawk was built, it is nevertheless an excellent instrument. Similarly, Guild's build quality standards somehow remained high right through the Fender years. Tacoma-built and New Hartford-built (Ovation plant) Guild guitars are just as highly regarded as those from Guild's previous and current factories. 

    Now (at last!) we get to the CO-2. This was a short-lived model introduced during Guild's time at the Tacoma factory. It was a little bit cheaper than most US-made Guilds and had a radical design feature: a bolt-on neck fastened using a high-tech carbon fibre heel block. This made a lot of sense: the traditional dovetail neck joint is expensive and time consuming to manufacture, prone to early failure, and difficult to repair. Tacoma had already been making excellent bolt-on necks for years. By making a precisely repeatable block and neck fitting, every one exactly the same, a great deal of expensive and error-prone hand-fitting of necks to bodies could be avoided. Lower cost, greater reliability, and much easier to reset if that was ever needed: it was a perfect answer. 

    In practice it worked well but there were teething troubles. When Fender shut the Tacoma plant down, there were a lot of CO-2s on hand: unsold regular stock, B stock, warranty returns which had been replaced to the customer but not yet repaired, and stock which had failed quality control. As part of the move, Fender stamped "USED" on the back of every headstock and sold the whole lot off cheaply to shonky third-party retailers (not regular Guild dealers). The "USED" stamp made it clear that these were not regular Guild guitars with a Guild new guitar warranty.  Apparently, most of the CO-2s sold this way were perfectly OK. But inevitably, some were not, and these were enough to give the whole model a bad name which continues to this day. 

    From my reading I understand that there were two main issues. Neck angle troubles were the most reported, with "USED" customers having to pay for their own neck resets, if needed. Fortunately, a neck reset on a CO-2 is a simple, cheap procedure, almost as easy as it is on a Taylor. The other issue, apparently much less common, was warped necks. These are much harder to fix. Rumours flew around that the factory had used a batch of improperly seasoned timber. (That sounds unlikely to me, but in the chaos of a factory shutdown and all those workers about to lose their jobs because of a management decision, who knows what goes on?) 

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  • TanninTannin Frets: 519
    Anyway, I soon discovered that nobody ever complained about the sound of the CO-2, only the neck troubles. And those troubles were nearly 15 years ago: anything that was going to go wrong with any given guitar has already have gone wrong long since. 

    I liked the sound straight away - I always like the way Guild guitars sound, so no surprise there. I looked carefully at the neck: it is fine. No twist, everything is the shape it ought to be. However the saddle has been shaved about as far as it will go. In other words, if the neck moves up any further, there is not much saddle adjustment left and it will need to be reset - but being a bolt on, that will be a fairly cheap, straightforward procedure. Given the $1500 asking price, that's a risk I can happily accept in view of the fact that most second-hand Guilds are in the $3000 price range and up from there. 

    The action is slightly too high right now because it has a little bit too much neck relief (though perfectly playable as-is). I'll try easing off the truss rod just a touch if I can find a tool which fits. I'll wait a few days though in case it wants to move around a bit after it acclimatises to the temperature and humidity here.

    The vendor put a fresh set of D'Addario EJ16s on it for me - I think those will be a good choice for it, though I will naturally do my usual experimentation with different types and brands.

    The CO-2 has a 45mm nut (which I like), and the mahogany neck is slightly chunkier than my usual Cole Clarks and Matons (this is something I'm not so keen on, but it's no big deal - I've never been one to fuss about neck shapes, only width). It is amazing how much difference going from a 44mm to a 45mm nut makes - you wouldn't think one lousy millimetre could give your fingers so much extra room! 

    Unlike most Guilds, the CO-2 has a plain, unbound headstock, but - astonishingly for a "budget" model - a bound ebony fretboard. Where is the logic in that? Oh well, my gain. I cannot think of a single practical, real-world advantage to a bound fretboard but for some reason I have always preferred them. 

    The sound is a whole new departure for me: Red Spruce over mahogany in a light, shallow body broadly similar to (say) a Martin 000. It sounds a bit like a Martin 000-18 or a CEO-7 too: not quite as big in the bass, more detailed and responsive in the treble, still very much a Guild, but distinctly Martin-ish. (Good! I nearly dropped $4000 on a 000-18 in February, now I'm innoculated against that particular form of GAS.) Like many guitars built in the American style, it feels alarmingly light and flimsy. 

    Mahogany is always mahogany but some people call Red Spruce "Adirondack Spruce", A good 'ol bluegrass boy will call it "adi over hawg". I have never owned a guitar made from either timber before. I have guitars with Sitka Spruce tops, and one with a Queensland Maple back (a timber some people say "is like mahogany" but it isn't, not very). In any case, the Queensland Maple one has a cedar top, so it is really a very different animal. In combination, the two timbers produce a distinctive snap, a sharp, clean attack. The full-length scale helps too - that was probably the one big sticking point with the 000-18 I didn't buy: I have never really liked short scales. 

    Anyway, the CO-2 is a nice little player: cheap enough that I don't mind thrashing it a bit, good enough that I will be happy to play it every day, different enough from the Cole Clark and the Matons to make a change of pace. It's not perfect by any means, but I think it will do what I want it to do very nicely.

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  • GandalphGandalph Frets: 591
    edited July 27
    Gotta love a Guild, nice snag looks the business. 
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  • prlgmnrprlgmnr Frets: 2363
    That's set the standard for future NGD posts
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  • grayngrayn Frets: 553
    Nice guitar and write up.
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  • Tone71Tone71 Frets: 494
    That's very nice, congrats
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