REVIEW: Guild S-100 Polara

I was lucky enough to pinch a dream guitar of mine recently, thanks to a bit of luck with the ghastly Black Friday sales, which we all know are generally used for clearing dead stock under the guise of a rare bargain. Regardless of whether that’s completely true or not, someone saw fit to put this lovely Guild on sale and I snapped it up, clearly no better than everyone else who doesn’t practice what they preach. Anyway…

The S-100 has been in my mind for quite a while, ever since I saw this video, where Kim Thayil from Soundgarden details his love of the S-100, Guild’s South Korean-made, offset adaption of the Gibson SG frame. I’d been meaning to get my hands on an SG since I first started playing, but having tried out a few different Epiphone models, I’d never really found one that seemed right, so after becoming aware of Guild’s contribution, I thought this might be a solution in the future. Sadly, you don’t seem to find many Guild dealers in the UK, so I forgot about it until one popped up in the Black Friday sales, which brings us around to the present.

The Look

The most striking difference between the typical SG and the S-100 is that Guild have decided to go for an everso slightly offset body, possibly to avoid Gibson’s trigger-happy lawyers. The second thing that jumps out is the slanted tailpiece, which gives you a nice couple of inches of string before you reach the nut. If you’ve watched the aforementioned video, Kim mentions that he likes using this area for manipulating the string (bending behind the bridge, etc), which I was keen to try out too. I’m a big fan of unique tailpieces, so little changes to details like this mean a lot to me.

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Guild’s HB-1 pickups are pretty standard covered humbuckers, albeit with slightly raised rails that run along the length of the case. These seem to be an aesthetic choice more than anything, as I’ve not seen anything to say the pickup inside benefits from the detail on the case. The switches and knobs are all what you’d come to expect from this type of guitar, but with the much nicer Guild-branded witch hat-styled knobs. I’m a big fan of how Guild have added tiny studs into the body to mark where your knobs are set, and I wish other companies would pick up on adding similar markers, even if it’s just a lip on the washer underneath. A Guild star logo provides some nice details on the pickguard, and there’s no chance of the logo being chipped away as you strum, thanks to how the pickguard is constructed. Two vintage style (aka mushroom-shaped rather than ‘modern’ tapered) strap buttons complete the body.

Pearloid blocks are used on the rosewood fretboard, which I think really set off the black body, and again shows Guild’s superb attention to detail in not opting for dot markers, which you might find on similar guitars in the price range. The ivory-coloured binding on the neck is a nice detail too, although mine seems to suffer from a few stray paint strokes here and there, but it’s no worse than anything I’ve seen on similarly priced models. The headstock has a lovely pink-ish pearloid inlay for the Guild logo and headstock design, with a leaf-shaped truss rod cover finishing the headstock off.

The Tech

Simple things go a long way with me, and one of the main reasons I keep reaching for this guitar over and over again is that it stays in tune tremendously well. It makes my heart skip a beat when I plug it in and see the strings are still in tune from the day before, which doesn’t happen very often with the Fenders I usually go for. Grover tuners and bone nut should be standard on all guitars in my opinion, so I’m glad to see them here. The Grovers are very responsive thanks to the 18:1 ratio, and none of the pegs wobble about or feel stiff to turn, again something that seems to be continuously rare to me.

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The neck and body shape of the S-100 felt very natural to me, the body having a rear contour to accommodate my tummy protrusion, and the thin body giving a nice angle to attack from. I’d not tried a “U”-shaped neck before the S-100, or at least not in recent memory, but to me and my massive hands, this felt perfect. The neck sat nicely in my hand, and I didn’t struggle to reach for any notes, the S-100 retaining the excellent upper fret reach that SG is known for. This was one of the better poly finishes I’ve handled, and I didn’t feel my hand sticking to the neck. All this was in the comfort of my own home, but it might be a different case the more sweaty conditions

This probably has more to do with where I bought it than with Guild themselves, but I was pleased to see how well set up the S-100 was when I got it out the box. No fret buzz and a very good intonation meant that I only had to restring it before I could make some noise. Moving back to the switch and the pots, they all seem to be of high quality, except for a tiny bit of crackle when turning the knobs, which should be easily solveable in the future, and is only a minor distraction to me at the moment. The switch is exceptionally smooth when moving between the pickups, with no crackle or sudden boom in volume, and another thing I won’t have to sort myself.

As I didn’t have to adjust the intonation out of the box with this guitar, I haven’t really had chance to test the saddles for stiffness, but the string slots are nicely cut and the rest of the bridge seems to be completely functional. One thing I did take minor issue with is that the bridge will come off completely when the strings are removed, leaving the rollers used for adjusting the action a little bit exposed, making it easy to knock them and knock your action off too.

The Sound

It’s difficult to talk about sound in accurate terms for me, so I’ve recorded some clean/dirty samples through a neutral (everything set in the middle) amp for you to judge for yourself, if you scroll down to the end. However, my initial impression of the S-100 plugged in was that it had been sent to 2016 from 1973 as an ambassador of hard rock. If you’re looking for something to play nothing but Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult and Deep Purple, then this might be the guitar for you. I found my hands reaching for power chords and those pentatonic licks every time I picked it up.

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Having done my research before pressing ‘checkout’, I’d seen a few people describing the S-100 as comparable to a turbo-charged Tele Deluxe, which I think is a fair comparison. The HB-1 Dual Coils in the S-100 seem to sit closer to the wide range humbuckers that Fender favour than the typical Gibson humbucker. What that means to me is that you can expect a brighter sound from the S-100 than a similarly spec’d SG. Unlike some of the wide range humbuckers I’ve tried, the HB-1 don’t have a wild top end to my ears, but remain bright and puncy, and it wouldn’t seem strange to see this guitar in a noisy indie/grunge/garage band. The HB-1’s seem to be very responsive to my playing, and I was pleased to see how much clarity the neck pickup had, having seen Guild bragging that it could do jazz as well as hard rock. I was surprised to see that any -maj7 chords I threw out came across smooth and defined, which I really didn’t expect from something that I would’ve labelled as a rock guitar without playing it.

The versatility of the S-100 keeps me from going back to any other guitars any time soon, and the HB-1’s versatility stops me from pinning it down as a genre-orientated guitar. Sometimes versatility comes at the cost of character, but the S-100 seems to have a voice of its own, even if it’s not as distinct as its main competitors. Both pickups respond well to every pedal I’ve used so far, and they both seem to handle a more vintage-styled distortion well, not to mention that they clean up nicely by rolling off the volume. The crisp pots are the icing on a well-rounded cake with the S-100, as Guild have avoided the all-or-nothing pots that seem to come standard with a lot of Asian-imported guitars.

The Verdict

When I was reading up on the S-100 before buying, a lot of forums seemed to throw up the same responses; “SG clone”, “don’t Guild only build acoustics”, “didn’t know Guild were still around”, etc. But thankfully, I went with my gut instinct, and not the USA-made-or-go-away attitude that seems rampant on most guitar-based internet interactions, and I was rewarded with what now appears to be my new go-to guitar. The major thing for me is to see an attention to detail that is often missed by the larger brands, who are to be a bit too content with their tried-and-tested method, which is understandable, considering how conservative a lot of guitar buyers are (in my experience, of course).

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I wouldn’t recommend the S-100 to everyone, as I can see a lot of things that I like about Guild’s offering would deter people who were after something a little more classic, and it’d be wrong to say this is outperforms a true SG in every way. On the other hand, I’d like to think that people will consider Guild as a solid alternative and hopefully, the brand will carry on with their reissue line and make a success of it. Like the SG, there’s a very flexible chassis in the S-100, and hopefully we’ll see a Bigsby-equipped S-100 and other ‘deluxe’ models in the future.

My final thought, and what seems to be only criticism, is that I hope someone at Guild sees sense and ditches the 2-1 screw arrangement for adjusting the pickup, as this seems to be obvious step in the wrong direction when it comes to customisation. Alternatively, if someone can ease my cynical mind and explain why Guild have gone for this weird screw setup, then that would be fine too. But all in all, I deem the S-100…

DECENT.

 

 

Guild S-100 Polara

  • Body: Mahogany
  • Neck: Mahogany
  • Scale length: 24 3/4″
  • Neck shape: Vintage soft “U”
  • Finish: Gloss Polyurethane
  • Nut: Bone
  • Frets: 22
  • Fretboard: Rosewood
  • Fretboard radius: 12″
  • Fret size: Narrow Jumbo
  • Tuners: Grover Sta-Tite Die-Cast
  • Pickups:
    Guild HB-1 Dual Coil (Neck)
    Guild HB-1 Dual Coil (Bridge)
  • Controls: 2 Volume, 2 Tone
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