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Guild players through the decades: how music legends have championed the brand since the 50s

Guild has been pushed to the forefront by everyone from Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil to blues legend Muddy Waters.

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Born out of his New York music store, Guild Guitars was founded by Alfred Dronge – alongside ex-Epiphone president George Mann – in 1952. Ever since then, its guitars have been played by everyone from jazz virtuosos to alternative legends. Countless players have kept Guild at the forefront. Let’s explore just some of the names that have championed the brand since the get-go.

1950s

It wasn’t long after its founding that the first signature Guild guitar appeared. Designed in collaboration with jazz virtuoso Johnny Smith, the Johnny Smith Award model was produced from 1956 to 1960. The single-pickup electric hollowbody helped set the stage for Guild’s upcoming expansion, being among the guitars it produced after moving production from New York out to Hoboken, New Jersey.

1960s

Muddy Waters
Image: David Redfern / Getty

The 1960s would see notable players continue to champion Guild guitars: Buddy Guy became synonymous with the Starfire IV. Muddy Waters championed the Thunderbird. Bonnie Raitt picked up her first Navarre F-50. Guild also laid the groundwork for a broad spectrum of signature artists, releasing guitars for George Barnes, Duane Eddy and Bert Weedon.

1970s

Bryter Layter cover art

The 70s was when Guild really started to make waves outside of the worlds of jazz, blues and country. In 1971, Nick Drake posed on the cover of his groundbreaking album Bryter Layter with a Guild M-20. Not only a brilliant album, its cover featuring the M-20 would become one of the most recognisable of all time.

In the next few years, Bob Marley would pick up a Guild Madeira A-20 – this became his at-home writing guitar of one of the 20th century’s most revered musicians. This instrument would later be paid tribute to with the A-20 Marley acoustic model from Guild, made with approval of Marley’s estate in 2021 – and re-issued very recently!

1980s

The 1980s sees a new signature acoustic model for Hank Williams, Jr, as well as the DE-500 – a reissue of Duane Eddy’s semi-hollow guitar. However, given the continued popularity of rock, punk and heavy metal, Guild also releases plenty of solid-body electric guitars. One of these can be seen being played by David Byrne in Talking Heads’ legendary concert film Stop Making Sense.

1990s

Kim Thayil
Image: Jim Steinfeldt / Getty

For Guild, the 1990s are perhaps best defined by Kim Thayil of Soundgarden, who was inseparable from his Guild S-100. This guitar would help forge the sound of Seattle Grunge, and can be heard on bona-fide classic records Badmotorfinger and Superunknown.

But it wasn’t just grunge: plenty of other rock legends picked up and played Guild guitars across the decade, including Jeff Buckley, Billie Joe Armstrong, Johnny Rzeznik, Bryan Adams and Jerry Cantrell.

2000s and beyond

Beabadoobee

In 2002, Norah Jones released her acclaimed debut record Come Away With Me. With a collection of vintage Guild Starfire guitars, her most-used is a DeArmond-equipped ’64 Starfire III, which she played during her Live In Amsterdam film from 2007.

In 2011, Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys bought a 1964 S-200 T-Bird and would tour it extensively. This revived interest in the unique-looking and versatile offset electric, and luckily for fans of the guitar, it was reissued in 2016.

In 2017, Beabadoobee broke into the indie scene with her track Coffee, written on a Guild M-20 acoustic. Nicknamed ‘Aubrey’ by the singer-songwriter, it’s her main acoustic guitar till this day.

Countless musical legends have used Guild guitars over the years: from jazz greats to folk heroes. And we’re just seeing the beginning of the next generation of Guild players. With the versatile and vibey Surfliner having arrived last year – and having recently received a deluxe version featuring an offset vibrato – who knows how many more we’ll see?

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