For several decades, Guild crafted some of the finest classical guitars available, and the company earned its place among the great American guitar manufacturers. Although Guild no longer makes classical guitars, many of its famous Mark series models are still sold in vintage outlets, a testament to its rich and varied history in classical guitar production.
Timeline of the History of Guild Guitars
The '40s and '50s were exciting times for the history of the guitar. Along with many other legendary guitar companies, Guild Guitars began in the mid-twentieth century just as some of America's most famous music genres--jazz, blues, country and rock music-were emerging and refining themselves into sounds that would sweep the world.
- 1945: Guitarist and jazz lover Alfred Dronge opens a music store in New York City with a business partner and calls it Sagman & Dronge. Dronge eventually buys his partner out and changes the name to Alfred Dronge Music.
- 1952: Dronge partners with George Mann, the ex-vice president of Epiphone Company, and changes the name to Guild Guitars. The 1950s are a busy time for the jazz scene in New York, and Guild mostly serves jazz guitarists in the area.
- 1956: The company adds key people, including master luthier Carlo Greco, and they move their factory to a larger location in Hoboken, New Jersey. Operations expand.
- Early 1960s: Guild enters the classical guitar market in the early 1960s with their Mark line of guitars, named after Alfred Dronge's son Mark and designed by Carlo Greco. It features five models: Mark I through Mark V. Different wood options and inlay options delineate the different models.
- 1960s: Business booms through the 1960s as rock music drives the guitar market to all-time highs. The Woodstock Festival is opened by a singer who plays a Guild guitar. Guild moves out of the Hoboken factory in 1967 and takes up residence in a larger warehouse in Westerly, Rhode Island.
- 1971: Founder Alfred Dronge dies in a plane crash, and this tragedy concludes the Dronge era for Guild Guitars. Leon Tell takes over the presidency for Guild in 1973.
- 1980s: The Mark line of classical guitars are produced into the late 1980s, and to this day these guitars remain highly regarded for their excellent craftsmanship, playability, tone, and affordable price.
- Early 1990s: Guild stops making classical guitars and production on the Mark line ceases.
- 1995: Fender Musical Instruments Corporation purchases the Guild Company. Guild drops out of the classical market for a number of years after the Mark line ceases production. The company's purchase by Fender punctuates a lengthy period for Guild in which the company produces no new classical guitars.
- 2001: Guild guitars continue to be built at the Westerly plant until 2001 when Fender shuts down the facility and moves production to Corona, California.
- 2007: Guild resumes making classical guitars. This causes a stir in guitar circles as devotees of the old Mark line of nylon string instruments hope Guild has returned to their classical glory days. The new "Guild Acoustic Design Series Classical" guitars are available in a variety of GAD models. They are intended to combine the same level of craftsmanship and excellent value that Guild first introduced back in 1961.
- 2011: Guild ceases manufacturing its GAD classical guitar line with official manufacturing dates of 2007 to 2011, according to the Blue Book of Acoustic Guitar Values.
Although Guild's classical guitars are no longer available new, you can find many of them in the used market, including the following Guild classical guitar models. In general, most of them range from about $400 to $1,100. In the descriptions below, estimated ranges are provided that give you a feel of the current market, but these ranges can shift up or down unpredictably.
The Mark I, released in 1965, is beloved by musicians for its bright, robust baritone and clarity in the lows that even many high-end classical guitar makers cannot match. They have all-mahogany bodies, rosewood fingerboards and bridges, nickel tuners, and an elegant natural satin finish to complement the dark color of the mahogany.
Guild changed the Mark line's wood with Mark II and gave it a lighter colored spruce top with mahogany for the back and sides. The model has a round sound hole with decorated colors of red, black, and white encircling it. It has a tortoiseshell celluloid top and back binding, a three-piece mahogany neck, rosewood fingerboard and bridge, with a natural satin finish.
The Mark II can range from about $400 or higher if it's in excellent condition.
A few features were tweaked for the Mark III, including the addition of a floral pattern ring around the sound hole, a three-ply tortoiseshell, three-piece and a rosewood headstock overlay. All other features remained the same as the Mark II with a spruce top and mahogany back and sides.
The Mark III shown below was the recipient of a custom paint job, but the video allows you to hear the remarkably clear tone quality of the Mark III as the singer performs a song. The musician confirmed the guitar to be a 1965 Guild Mark III in a different video.
The Mark IV has the same basic features as the previous Marks except for a few changes including a greater diversity of wood types and appearance. Its back and sides came in either figured pearwood, flamed maple, or rosewood. Its tortoiseshell celluloid top is 4-ply instead of 3-ply, its tuners are gold instead of nickel, and its bridge is ebony.
The Mark V is almost a duplicate of the Mark IV, except it has some minor variations, such as an ebony headstock overlay and engraved gold tuners, and it no longer offered the figured pearwood as an option for the top wood.
GAD Classical Era
Guild's resurrection of its classical line in 2007 brought the GAD series of classical guitars. Most of them have red cedar tops, mahogany back and sides, bone saddle, a mahogany neck, an ebony fingerboard, wood purfling (i.e. ornamental bordering) and binding, and a rosewood bridge. They also have a 650 mm scale length and the nut width is 52 mm.
This guitar player performs music from the Final Fantasy video game series on his Guild GAD-C3 classical guitar.
Artists Who Have Played Guild Guitars
Guild does not publish old artist endorsement information specifically for their classical guitar lines because the model is long out of production. However, the Guild site does have an archive of past Guild artists who endorsed the brand and used many of their models. Many them were musicians who were known to play nylon guitars occasionally and might have used a Guild classical at one point. Clapton's Tears In Heaven, which uses a classical guitar, is an example. Guild would have likely been used for the song if not in the recording itself then possibly in live settings.
- Richie Havens
- Eric Clapton
- John Denver
- Paul Simon
- Tom Petty
Guild has always received high acclaim for any of the guitars they made. You will notice in the videos above and in many other videos online about Guild classical guitars that the players give rave reviews to the unique sound quality of Guild nylon guitars, especially its first classical guitar the Mark I.
The High Standards of Guild
Unlike other manufacturers whose guitar lines vary greatly from low end to high end, the Guild classical guitars were all very respectable instruments. If you're able to find one on the used market, you will gain a high quality treasure that will last you the rest of your classical guitar playing days.