This vintage Guild Aristocrat M-75 borrows design elements from both upscale archtops and Gibson Les Pauls.
Music store owner and accordion distributor Alfred Dronge founded the Guild company in 1952. He’d been approached by former Epiphone sales manager George Mann to start a guitar company using the ex-Epiphone workers who had stayed in New York when Epiphone moved its manufacturing facilities to a factory in Philadelphia. A small second-floor loft in Manhattan became the original Guild factory.
Guild’s early guitars consisted of large acoustic and electric archtops with a distinct Epiphone lineage. Dronge had made many professional jazz contacts during his time as a professional guitarist and music store owner, so he was able to draw luminary supporters from the jazz scene (one early endorsee was Johnny Smith).
By 1956 Guild moved to a bigger building in Hoboken, New Jersey. The new factory took up a 6,000 square-foot space on the sixth floor of the Neumann Leather Building. The new location was still an easy commute for the employees living in Manhattan’s “Little Italy.”
The guitar we’re spotlighting here was the first model in the Guild line that was not the progeny of an earlier Epiphone model. The Aristocrat M-75 was Guild’s version of the compact Gibson Les Paul, but with hollowbody-inspired construction.
The Aristocrat’s single-coil pickups were made by Franz, a company based in Astoria, New York.
Here’s how the 1954 Guild catalog described the M-75: “The use of an exclusively developed lighter semi-solid body construction gives the Guild Aristocrat a magnificence of tone never before achieved in a guitar this size.”
The characteristics of this 1958 Aristocrat are typical of others made that year. These consist of a spruce top, mahogany back and sides, a 24 3/4"-scale, two-piece mahogany neck with maple center, rosewood fretboard with block inlays, “lip top” headstock (changed to “center raised” by 1962) with pearloid Guild logo and “Chesterfield” inlay. In keeping with its name, the Aristocrat sported gold hardware, including its Kluson tuners and harp tailpiece. While resembling Gibson P-90s, the single-coil pickups were made by a company called Franz, based in Astoria, New York.
At this point in the Aristocrat’s evolution, the headstock (left) had a “lip top” design. The pearloid Guild logo and “Chesterfield” inlay are certainly familiar to fans of classic Guild guitars. Like all the hardware on the Aristocrat,
the graceful tailpiece (right) was gold plated.
The 1958 list price was $265. The current value for an Aristocrat M-75 in excellent all-original condition is $3,500.
Sources for this article include The Guild Guitar Book by Hans Moust and American Guitars: An Illustrated History by Tom Wheeler.
Original price: $265 in 1958
Current estimated market value: $3,500