Premier Guitar

Guild JF-55

May 18, 2010
Hello, Zach.

I have a great Guild 12-string jumbo here, and this thing sounds huge! Everything is original except for the electronics. The serial number is AJ520145. I researched the guitar a little bit, and I think it is from the 1990s, but I’d like to know what year it was built and what it is worth today. I’m also wondering what happened to Guild?

Syracuse, New York

Hi, Tom.

There is no question that Guild’s jumbo acoustics are some of the loudest guitars out there! Your guitar appears to be a model JF-55 12-string, which is no doubt a loud guitar. Unfortunately, Guild guitars aren’t what they once were, and most of this is due to several ownership changes and manufacturing relocation over the years. Let’s discuss Guild’s glory years first.

Jewish emigrant Avram “Alfred” Dronge founded Guild in 1952 in New York City. In the early 1950s, the union labor force was very prevalent in New York, and it forced many guitar builders out of the city. Epiphone finally had enough of the union and relocated to Philadelphia in the early 1950s. Many Epiphone employees didn’t want to move, so Dronge recruited several of them to work for the new Guild guitar company. The first Guild guitars appeared in 1953, and in 1956 manufacturing moved to Hoboken, New Jersey. By the late 1950s, production was rolling and Guild was offering a full line of acoustic and electric guitars.

In 1966, electric parts producer and supplier Avnet Inc. purchased Guild, but Dronge remained president. In 1967, Guild relocated to what would become its home for the next 35 years in Westerly, Rhode Island. Becoming a corporate entity didn’t seem to affect Guild negatively like it had Fender and Gibson, and in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Guild was blossoming. But tragedy struck in 1972, when Dronge was killed in a plane crash. Guild’s vice president, Leon Tell, then became president until 1983.

In 1986, Avnet sold Guild to an investment group, but that was just the first of what would be many sales of the company in the next 10 years. In 1989, the Fass Corporation (later renamed U.S. Musical Corporation) became the new owners. Electric production was suspended for much of the early 1990s as the company focused on acoustic production. In 1995, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation purchased Guild, and it continues to own them today. Guild was FMIC’s first big purchase in the music industry, and during the late 1990s the company prospered with the reintroduction of its electric line. In 1997, a Guild custom shop opened in Nashville, Tennessee, and in 1999 luthier Robert Benedetto signed an agreement to build a few high-end Guilds.

As FMIC grew, it acquired more brands and seemed to focus on bottom-line profits. It closed the Westerly factory in 2001 and moved all production to an existing manufacturing facility in Corona, California. Many Guild enthusiasts consider this to be the unofficial end of Guild. Guild production moved again to Tacoma, Washington, in 2004 after FMIC purchased Tacoma Guitars. And in 2008 it was moved once again to New Hartford, Connecticut, when FMIC bought Kaman Music Corporation. Guild has strictly produced acoustic guitars since 2005, and many of their models are now produced overseas. However, the Westerly factory is still in use by a new guitar company called Campbell American Guitars, which employs several former Guild workers.

According to the serial number on your guitar, it was produced in 1995—a time when ownership was being transitioned from U.S. Musical Corporation to FMIC. But the guitar was indeed built in Westerly. Your JF-55 features Guild’s revered jumbo body style in 12-string configuration, a solid spruce top, solid rosewood back and sides, scalloped bracing, abalone rosette, ebony fretboard with pearl block/abalone wedge inlays, gold tuners, and an ebony bridge. The electronics are more than likely aftermarket, and as long as the guitar hasn’t been altered, it won’t affect the value negatively. It appears to be in excellent condition, so today your guitar would be valued between $1500 and $1800. The JF-55 12-string was introduced in 1991, and the regular six-string was introduced two years earlier. Both models were discontinued when the Westerly factory closed in 2001.

Today, Guild is considered FMIC’s high-end acoustic line. A few Guilds are still produced in the US, but they aren’t nearly the same as what came out of the Westerly factory. This is disappointing for many Guild enthusiasts, and it has driven the value of Westerly-produced instruments higher, because no more Guilds will come from that location. Most collectors wouldn’t even consider this guitar vintage, but it already has vintage-style value based on its history, and I would certainly consider that a treasure!

For more information on Guild guitars, read The Guild Guitar Book: The Company and the Instruments, 1952–1977 by Hans Moust.

Zachary R. Fjestad
Zachary is the author of the Blue Book of Acoustic Guitars, Blue Book of Electric Guitars, and the Blue Book of Guitar Amplifiers. Questions can be submitted to:
Blue Book Publications
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