An extroverted hollowbody that deftly spans styles—and the ages.
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.
A vintage-styling mash-up—and a versatile rock ’n’ roll machine.
Sacrilegious as it may sound to some, not everyone loves the iconic, ubiquitous electric guitar designs of the 1950s. And while vintage guitars that subvert those norms look killer and cut through the visual clutter, they can also be quirky in less-desirable ways: feedback-prone pickups, neck relief like a ski jump, and non-existent tuning stability, to name a few.
PureSalem Guitars isn’t the only company mining the eccentric side of vintage guitar design these days. But the two-years-young company has consistently delivered quality alongside the quirkiness. El Gordo, a buxom semi-hollow, is a recent addition to PureSalem’s roster of misfits. It’s well built, genuinely versatile, and chock-full of tones from jangly clean to rowdy and raucous.
A Sumo of Its Parts
The Gordo is a creative bit of Franken-design that manages to be different without being simply weird. The mahogany body profile borrows from ’60s-era Kents. The classy flame- maple veneer and two-tone sunburst finish add rich visual texture without being ostentatious. A pair of sharp-looking bound eyeholes is a nod to Rickenbacker and Gretsch, while the binding evokes 335 and Les Paul Custom designs. The mahogany neck has a comfortable, modern C-shape. It’s capped by a bound rosewood fingerboard with fancy pearloid block markers and a sculpted headstock design inspired by the Fender Starcaster. The neck is reinforced with a double truss rod for stability and setup flexibility.
On paper, that sounds like an odd hodgepodge of design elements. But somehow the juxtaposition of upscale details, cross-brand homage, and quirky retro shapes works, resulting in a unique but approachable instrument.
El Gordo generally feels sturdy and substantial. It’s free of the blemishes and paint blotches often seen on guitars in this price range. And while the factory setup wasn’t exceptional, a few easy adjustments made El Gordo feel friendlier under the fingers.
With its bend-friendly 24¾" scale length, satin neck finish, and 12" fretboard radius, El Gordo feels much more athletic and nimble than most of the vintage instruments that inspired it. The roller bridge, expertly cut graphite nut, and mini-Grover tuners maintain tuning stability, even when you cut loose on the Bigsby. (And man, it’s fun to use a Bigsby that stays in tune.)
El Gordo features a Gibson-style 3-way pickup selector and independent volume and tone controls for each pickup. That adds up to many tone options if you like to play with pickup balance or color songs with extreme tone shifts (which can be especially interesting given the sonic differences between the two pickups). The cloth wiring visible through the soundhole is a nice retro touch. But the knobs would be easier to manipulate if they were just a bit closer to the player—fast volume adjustment can feel like a serious reach.
Gordo Means Fat
The bridge humbucker and Telecaster-style neck single-coil (angled, unusually, toward the bridge’s bass side) provide everything from percussive rock crunch to fluty blues leads. The articulate humbucker has just a tad more power than your typical PAF, but it’s never muddy, honky, or flat-sounding. Likewise, the neck pickup seems hotter than your average T-Style pickup, but the result is excellent balance between the two pickups.
El Gordo’s semi-hollow, center-block construction lends thwacking immediacy and chunky mass to chords, but also gives clean tones resonance and a pretty, sparkling airiness. With a loud, dirty amp, El Gordo’s easily generates controllable feedback, especially if you ride the volume and tone knobs.
While El Gordo can be jangly and clean, it specializes in burly rock ’n’ roll sounds. Josh Homme fans will love the humbucker’s thick stoner heaviness at low tone settings. It’s also great at mimicking the powerful kerrang of Malcolm Young’s Gretsch, or sustained, fuzzy lead textures.
El Gordo is a playable, and yes, fat-sounding way to skirt the status quo. It looks vintage in a unique way without seeming silly. Best of all, it’s a genuine player’s instrument. The interestingly matched pickups, effective tone and volume controls, and stable Bigsby vibrato conspire to make this a very expressive instrument. Quirky has rarely felt this rock-solid, or been capable of so many tasty sounds.
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Only 14 of each color will be produced.
Livonia, MI (November 18, 2014) -- Each Fall, Reverend Guitars takes one of their well-loved models and turns up the volume a bit to make a limited-edition model. This year, the company chose the Charger 290. The model will be released in three special colors: Metallic Alpine Green, Metallic Red, and Lakeshore Gold, all with cream pickguards and cream pickup covers. Each has a Bigsby B-50 that’s been loaded with Reverend’s own soft-touch spring. Every Charger 290 LE comes with an exclusive Souldier Strap that matches each color with each company’s logo on the ends. There are only 14 of each color available, in honor of 2014.
The Reverend Charger 290 has a great vintage tone that’s better than you remember. Loaded with Reverend’s CP90s, this model is fantastic for both clean and distorted tones – twangy enough for country, but thick enough for rock. Like all Reverends, the Charger 290 has a Korina body and three-piece neck, a graphite nut and locking tuners, Reverend’s Bass Contour Control, and a dual-action truss rod – all for maximum performance.
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