Characterful Dynasonic pickups. Lively top end. Surprisingly versatile. Well put together.
Expensive for a Korea-made instrument.
Guild X-175 Manhattan Special
Ease of Use:
Solidbodies rule the electric guitar market. So it’s easy to forget what a presence hollowbody electrics once were, and how profoundly different they are as instruments. Hollowbodies feel, resonate, and sustain differently. They also invite different techniques and playing approaches—particularly when you add the mechanical miracle that is a Bigsby vibrato to the mix.
Guild’s X-175 Manhattan Special is a 3"-thick, true hollowbody based on a design that Guild released in 1954. But with its single-coil Dynasonic pickups and satin Malibu blue paint, it’s a Manhattan that, stylistically and sonically, spans the breadth of Guild’s guitar-making history. It’s also very inspiring to play—especially if you’ve spent most of your 6-string life in the solidbody sphere of influence.
From Manhattan to Malibu
Calling the Manhattan Special striking is an understatement. With a body that measures 17" across at the lower bout, that blue finish, and chrome aplenty, it has the presence of a ’55 Chrysler sent to the custom shop for a matte-paint makeover. The satin Malibu blue paint job is the only finish available for the Manhattan Special, which is distinguished by Dynasonic pickups. It’s too bad the sunburst and natural finishes that appear on other Manhattan models aren’t options (or a gloss version of this lovely blue, for that matter). That said, the Special wears this more au courant finish with undeniable grace, and the blue flatters the instrument’s curves and ample size, while looking stunning under lights.
Hollowbodies have a reputation as delicate among solidbody players. And while you wouldn’t want to get too reckless with the Manhattan onstage, it’s anything but frail. Consider this: Thanks to a major package courier that shall remain nameless, the X-175 went on an unplanned two-week tour through a heat wave before I got it. When I finally received the package, I feared the worst. But the Guild was not just intact; it was also nearly in tune.
Give the guitar just a cursory once-over and you can see that Guild’s Korean factory is sweating the details. The fretwork, binding, and shaping of the soft U-profile neck are especially nice. And the only small flaw I could find was a little accumulation of the satin paint at the neck joint. Otherwise, the build is super clean.
Dynamic Duo Takes Metropolis
The Manhattan Special is special, in part, for its Dynasonic pickups, an evolution of a DeArmond design that was common on Guild’s ’60s thinline offerings like the Starfire. It was also a common sight in Gretsch hollowbodies of the era, which makes the Manhattan a cool alternative for players that want a touch of ’60s Gretsch tone magic in a guitar with less iconic baggage.
The Dynasonics and the big Guild hollowbody are a great match. The combination also highlights what a unique and versatile pickup the Dynasonic can be. To my ear, they inhabit a sweet spot between a Rickenbacker Hi-Gain’s concise, ringing punch, a PAF’s meaty growl, and a Telecaster’s twang and zing. There’s a lot of balance in the tone profile, and a lot of practical upside, too. It can drive a Marshall or a wide-open Bassman to crunchy Malcom Young/Billy Duffy riff zones, where the hollowbody’s low-end resonance and coloration add ballast to the hot, round, and crystalline top end. The Dynasonics also give a lot of weight and presence to output from the first and second strings, making the Manhattan a natural for fat, ringing jangle tones and snarly early Neil Young-style solos. (The first incarnation of Young’s Les Paul, "Old Black," had a Dynasonic in the bridge position before he switched to its more famous Firebird pickup. Young also loved the sound of big, hollowbody Gretsches.)
From Uptown, Down to the Bowery
Ironically, the Manhattan’s ability to deliver so many bright and present tones means it handles some classically hollowbody tasks less well. Some aspiring Grant Greens might find the tone-attenuated neck pickup a touch too plonky for the sultriest, smokiest jazz settings. Still, even if it doesn’t have a ES-175’s buttery, wooly humbucker mass, the neck-position Dynasonic can still generate sweet, muted jazz textures, tight country swing sounds, and scads of thick, funky Jimmy Reed and J.J. Cale tones.
Though any hollowbody can feel like an armful if you’ve spent your whole life playing a Stratocaster, the Manhattan is invitingly, addictively playable, and will coax you along many unexpected creative vectors. The narrow jumbo frets make slinky bends a breeze. Dynamic fingerstyle and hybrid picking techniques both sound fantastic on the Manhattan—which can simultaneously generate piano-like resonant low tones from the bass strings and biting top end from the high strings in the way only a hollow body with well-balanced pickups can. But the Manhattan also feels great and sounds wrecking-ball huge in straight-ahead punk settings, and it’s a thrill to plug into a tape delay and a Marshall and chug in Johnny Thunders style, while hollowbody overtones dance at the edge of feedback.
Hollowbodies aren’t for everyone. But the X-175 Manhattan Special is a welcoming, inviting instrument whether you’re new to the type or a seasoned hollowbody pro. You can lose yourself in a lovely wash of hollowbody and Bigsby-quavered overtones in clean, jangly settings, unleash barrages of feral, high-calorie punk riffs, or meander through smoky, fingerpicked chord melodies … and always feel at home. The Dynasonic pickups compound this versatility—exhibiting great range, balance, and sensitivity. At almost $1.5K, the Manhattan Special is expensive for a satin-finished, Korea-made instrument. But given the excellent build quality and real musical versatility of this Guild, the price will be fair for players whose bottom line is feel and sound.