Wild looks. Feels great. Excellent tones. Excellent build quality.
Looks could be polarizing.
Guild has always been something of an underdog among American guitar marques. And while many of the company’s electric guitars—particularly archtops from Guild’s New York and New Jersey years—are justly considered classics, the builder’s history is also populated with maverick designs that sidestepped de rigueur electric guitar appearances to great effect. One need only to look to the Guild S-200 Thunderbird of the ’60s to see how radical Guild could get.
Guild is now part of the Cordoba Guitars family, and it’s revisiting some of the more fantastic electric guitar designs from its past as part of the Korea-built Newark St. Collection. The guitars are beautifully built and faithful to the style and spirit of their vintage counterparts. They’re also extremely reasonable in price. And the new Jetstar, which joins its quirky cousin, the T-Bird, in the Newark St. line, is impressive at just under 600 bucks.
Back to the Retro Future
Something that’s immediately apparent when strapping on Guild’s Jetstar is that the build quality is excellent—bettering many imported solidbodies I’ve seen in this price class. It’s sturdy, substantial, surprisingly resonant, and finished beautifully—lending the air of a far more costly guitar.
As outfitted, the two-pickup Jetstar is configured more like the original, early-’60s S-100 Polara, which shared a body with the entry-level, single-pickup S-50 Jetstar that gives this version its name. (To further confuse matters, the S-100 Polara ultimately evolved into a more Gibson SG-like guitar in the late ’60s).
Our demo model came in black with a coat of sleek, glossy poly finish. The black contrasts nicely with the massive tortoise pickguard that eats up most of the Jetstar’s treble side. While the funky body shape and graceful 6-in-line-tuners headstock retain the profile and dimensions of its vintage predecessor, Guild made some fundamental changes to the Jetstar recipe so it’s more universally appealing and modern. These updates include a 25 ½" scale length in place of the original’s 24 ½" scale, and a Tune-o-matic bridge and stop tailpiece replace the Hagstrom-style vibrato unit on the original S-100 Polara and the funky fixed-bridge assemblies of the S-50 Jetstar. The Jetstar’s control set is simple and functional: volume and tone, plus a three-way selector switch. However, as a player that keeps his picking hand close to the bridge, I found the pickup selector located a bit far away for my liking.
The current Jetstar sports a pair of Guild’s new LB-1 “Little Bucker” mini-humbuckers, while the original had single-coils. The LB-1s feature the handsome stamped-nickel covers that are a signature of Guild’s cult-favorite ’buckers. The LB-1s are lively and articulate, striking a sweet balance between delivering the output to really sting and retaining a smooth top end. The brightness is likely tamed somewhat by the Jetstar’s sizable mahogany body. But the basic pickup tones still cut nicely through a dirty, overdriven signal and are bouncy and warm through a clean amp.
C-Planes and Narrow Jumbo Jets
The new Jetstar’s mahogany neck is a very comfortable shallow-C shape, with just enough meat to be an agreeable middle ground between chunky ’50s and ’60s profiles and slimmer necks. While the neck shape probably won’t thrill players closely aligned with either camp, it is certainly not distracting either. The pau ferro fretboard’s 10" radius is also a comfortable medium between vintage Gibson and Fender radii, and enables easy bends and athletic fretwork without sacrificing the guitar’s vintage vibe and feel. The fretwork, by the way, is truly exceptional for a guitar in this price range and adds significantly to the instrument’s excellent value. The 22 “narrow-jumbo” frets are nicely crowned and expertly rolled into the edges of the guitar’s fretboard. Big bends on the Jetstar are easy and smooth, and chords ring out bold and full. The excellent craftsmanship is also apparent at the neck joint, which is mated to the body with a joint so flush that I initially wondered if the guitar featured neck-thru construction. Between the airtight neck joint, sturdy bridge setup, and serious body mass, the Jetstar is an exceptionally lively and resonant guitar.
At an onstage blues session, the Jetstar came alive through a dimed Fender Champ. The sounds were stinging and snappy, combining the swat of a Telecaster with mass and authority not unlike a Gibson Firebird. Strung with .010s, the Jetstar was very balanced—slinky enough to really rip on, yet stiff enough to feel great for percussive rhythm work, for which the mid-centric LB-1s are a perfect fit. The Jetstar was happy with a nice fuzz—particularly Fuzz Face-derived circuits. (I used an EarthQuaker Devices Dream Crusher.) The articulate, almost single-coil-like sounds lent clarity to the fuzz with the guitar volume knob rolled back, and at full volume, the combination didn’t get muddy like many mahogany-bodied instruments with humbuckers will.
The Jetstar is a wildly styled throwback with a fantastic balance of modern appointments and retro charm. While it pays careful homage to its vintage predecessors in many details, this contemporary version of the Jetstar is superior to any vintage example that I’ve played. The Jetstar is refined and versatile enough to be a primary guitar. And the high-quality build and super-accessible price make it an absolutely screaming deal. At a little less than $600 with a gig bag, you can’t go wrong!