Kim Thayil on how the Guild S-100 defined Soundgarden, and why he’s teamed up with the brand to bring it back
Thayil’s instrument of choice is getting two new signature versions this year – this is why its most famous user wanted to help Guild bring the guitar back.
Kim Thayil. Image: Guild Guitars
Brought to you in partnership with Guild Guitars
Many guitarists have been irrevocably linked with their instrument of choice over the years. A musician’s main instrument eventually becomes the proverbial backbone of any music the artist produces during their career. Such is the case of Kim Thayil and the Guild S-100. Their link was made all the more concrete by the fact that the original run of the S-100 ceased production in 1978 making them somewhat obscure during Soundgarden’s rise to fame in the early 1990s. Thayil bought his first S-100 in 1978 with money he earned working at a restaurant in his home state of Illinois. That guitar joined him on the long drive to the west coast where he would go on to form Soundgarden in 1984.
From the very beginning, the S-100 became a cornerstone of the band’s unique sound, which walked the line between heavy and trippy. This was perhaps most evident in the first song that made major labels take notice of the band, Nothing to Say. The tones on that song would come to define the sonic palate of Soundgarden in the decades to come, and they would not have been possible without the S-100’s unique design.
As Thayil explained, “Everything on that song was written and played on the S-100, in fact there are parts in that song I wouldn’t have been able to play on another guitar. Part of the riff is played behind the bridge and there’s feedback all throughout the song. That sound really typifies Soundgarden and it typifies my relationship I would have with the Guild.” The S-100 features a longer span between the bridge and tailpiece than most stoptail guitar designs. This, coupled with microphonic pickups, allowed Thayil to play behind the bridge and get those intriguing sounds that fit so seamlessly between the heavy riffs within the song.
When Soundgarden gained popularity in the 1990s, and the S-100 started being seen alongside Thayil on the covers of guitar magazines, demand for the model skyrocketed. This is a guitar model that was specifically resurrected because of Soundgarden, in fact the reissues are based off the specs of Thayil’s personal S-100 because the blueprints for the original had been lost to the sands of time.
Unfortunately, the signature model never came to fruition because of the company changing hands to Fender in 1995, then Soundgarden breaking up in 1997. Soundgarden got back together in 2010 and again attempts were made to bring a Kim Thayil signature S-100 guitar to the masses. Some prototypes were made, but in 2014, the Fender-owned Guild facility closed its doors, and the company was sold once again – this time, to Cordoba Music Group. In 2017, Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell tragically passed away, bringing the band to a final and sad end.
It’s a lot for any project to overcome, but thankfully now a project decades in the making has seen fruit and a the Kim Thayil Signature S-100 Polara is now finally being released unto the world – and it’s not just one guitar either. The release will see a limited run of 30 USA master-built S-100 Polara models, which are formally named the “USA Artist Edition S-100 Polara Kim Thayil” in white. Those guitars will launch simultaneously with the import version in black, which is called the “Polara Kim Thayil” at a more budget-friendly price point. The USA Master-built models come with hand-wound humbucker pickups by Jason Lollar. They also come with a Certificate of Authenticity Hand-Signed by Kim Thayil.
Speaking on the long-awaited signature model, Thayil said, “It was kind of funny. I had the same guitar I had been playing in the band since 1984 – I’ve been playing it since 1978 – I’m the lead guitarist and I don’t have an endorsement deal [even though Chris Cornell had one]. We sent a couple of my guitars to the factory, and they spec’d it out and they came out perfect.”
When Chris Cornell was offered his first endorsement deal with Gibson in the early 90s, Thayil offered a deal as well, but he opted out in favor of his trusty S-100. As he explained, “I stuck by the Guild because it has a personality and characteristics that work with how I play and how my playing style developed.”
Thayil explains just how integral the Guild S-100 has been to Soundgarden’s sound over the years, “On Superunknown, we had a producer who was really pushing me to use other guitars and other tones and it took a long time for me to have to very sternly explain to him, you worry about the tone, I’m going to worry about how my fingers feel on the neck. So I’m not going to change my guitar to accommodate what your mics are going to put down on tape. We’ll dial in the guitar differently or change pickups or do something at the board to change the sound but I’m not going to play a guitar that doesn’t feel right to accommodate the engineering. I would track for the sake of the performance with the Guild and then I’d add layered colors to augment or arpeggiate certain guitar parts that we might call a ‘color part’. But even on Superunknown, the basis for those guitar tracks is the Guild. The solos are almost exclusively the Guild.”
Kim Thayil continues to make phenomenal music with his S-100 and a Seattle supergroup called 3rd Secret which features Krist Novoselic and Matt Cameron. They released their second full length album in June of 2023. The final recordings of Soundgarden will likely come out at some point in the future as Thayil stated, “There is no timeline for that, but it is obviously something that we were very enthusiastic to do six years ago, and we would still be very happy and proud to complete it, and we know the fans will love it.”
The legacy of Thayil’s guitar playing takes another massive step forward with the introduction of his very first signature instrument – the Guild S-100 Polara. Each guitar is spec’d to Kim Thayil’s personal guitars with incredible detail – the same guitars that can be heard on every Soundgarden album.
For more information on how to order yours, check out https://guildguitars.com.