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For folk fans, the original Guild M-20 will always be synonymous with Nick Drake. But where a lot of iconic artist-guitar associations are in large part visual, the all-mahogany M-20 was arguably an indispensible part of Drake’s understated, intimate, and mysterious musical reveries. Warm, just a little dark, but with a definition and articulation that makes it the perfect vehicle for fingerstyle melodies, the M-20 remains one of the most underrated guitars among Guild’s many legendary instruments. The good news is that the new, affordable, imported version—the M-120—is a worthy alternative that captures much of the original model’s subtle magic.
With its glossy, deep-chocolate finish and subtly fancy mother-of-pearl rosette, the M-120 paradoxically feels like the most luxurious guitar in our small-body bunch. Back in the day, all-mahogany guitars were typically affordable, entry-level instruments—the guitar you got if that spruce top was just out of reach. But for a lot of players, few guitars are lovelier than an all-mahogany orchestra or auditorium model, and the M-120 is a shining example of how a mahogany flattop can look breathtakingly beautiful.
In a group of very easy-to-handle and comfortable guitars, the M-120 was extraordinarily so. It feels perfectly proportioned—compact, superbly balanced, and not that different in feel from a typical electric with a similar girth. The 20-fret neck feels fairly thin in cross section, and with a 24 3/4" scale and a nut width just a hair bigger than 1 11/16", the whole neck feels a little intimate, but not at all cramped. Instead, it seems to invite a lot of fast hammer-ons and complex chords, and it’s a near ideal guitar for a player with smaller hands.
Sonically speaking, the M-120 has about the best balance of the bunch. It feels a little less soft in its response than most mahogany guitars this size and delivers lots of low-end output when you least expect it. Sustain in the low end is surprising too, as is the headroom. This is a guitar that will record much bigger than it actually is, provided you don’t assault it like one of Pete Townshend’s J-200s.
That said, the Guild responds to aggressive flatpicked strums with surprising headroom and elasticity, and you get a rich and dense harmonic cocktail that’s just right for recording rhythm guitar. Heavy single-note picking is rewarding on the M-120 too. Hammer-ons sound clear and defined, you can get delicious sustain out of bends, and the slinky playability over the 14-fret neck makes finger vibrato, jazz chording, and even triads at the 12th fret a breeze.
But as Nick Drake discovered, this little Guild is arguably best as a fingerstyle machine. The compact body means the bass is never too bossy—in spite of the surprising low-end resonance and sustain. And the high-mid content is so gorgeously clear and well defined that note-to-note balance borders on perfect. As a result, the guitar responds to a light touch and the kind of dynamics that turn a chord melody from ordinary to magical. If you’re a solo performer who specializes in more nuanced and intimate expressions—either as an instrumentalist or singer-songwriter—it’s hard to imagine a guitar delivering more bang for the buck than the M-120.
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