Jazz Guitar Beauties: 1969 Guild Artist Award – Steve Hoffman

Jazz Guitar Life would like to thank LA Guitarist Steve Hoffman for sharing his beautiful arch-top with us all! Enjoy 🙂

I played some guitar in oldies bands back in the 1980’s, and always had a love of electrics, Strats (like Buddy Holly), Teles, etc.  I love a good archtop though. Totally NOT practical for almost anything, feedback, fragile build, expensive, intonation problems, etc. but I love them and had a big collection in the 2000’s. When I decided to sell off my electric guitar collection two years ago I kept just one archtop jazzer. It wasn’t the rarest but it meant the most to me. I kept my 1969 Guild “Artist Award” model. It is a true “Closet Queen” in the fact that this baby was never, I mean NEVER played in 50 years. I know that it was kept in tune and strummed, but that’s all. Owned as a second guitar by a gigging jazz musician, it still has the original factory set of Guild E210 strings on it with back up sets in the case along with a Guild polishing cloth and hang tag, neck adjusting tool, decals and other neat stuff that came with the guitar in 1969. All of this along with a mint Guild plush case, the cleanest 52 year old case I’ve ever seen.

The Guild Artist Award: Solid carved spruce top, of course, maple neck, book matched maple back and sides, ebony fret-board with mother of pearl/abalone split-block fingerboard, “pitcher and star” abalone/pearl peg-head inlay, 7-ply body and head-stock binding, bound f-holes and the famous Guild gold-plated harp tailpiece. Of course Grover Imperial tuners add an extra touch of class.

The Artist Award – designed by Carlo Greco – was a hand carved archtop “jazz guitar” that evolved from the Guild “Johnny Smith Artist” in the late 1950’s. When Johnny moved to Gibson, his namesake guitar was renamed the Artist Award. It’s a beautiful jazz box with a quite comfortable thin neck, great for jazz riffing, not so great for guys with big fingers. Nonetheless, it has a special DeArmond 1100 Rhythm Chief pickup, quite sought after today. The thing is 17” at the lower bout with a scale length of 25 ½” and nut width of 1 10/16 inches. Slightly thinner than a Gibson L-5, this was Johnny Smith’s (Walk Don’t Run) idea to get a little arm relief.

The idea of the “floating pickup” originated with Johnny Smith. He HATED the way the pickups in the Gibson jazz guitars cut right into the wood for mounting. He made sure that the pickup floated above the wood and that the electronics AND volume control also remained free of the top wood of the guitar. That DeArmond pickup really sings. It’s really musical, different from the more plodding (IMO) sound of the Gibson Humbucker.

Despite constant low sales, the Guild Artist Award of the late 1960’s continued to be made, they must have lost money on each and every one.

The beauty of owing a Guild from that era is that one can find out so much about their personal vintage guitar. The Artist Award was very expensive back then, the most costly Guild in their catalog. This guitar cost $975.00 in 1969 dollars plus another $85.00 for the case! So $1,060.00 in 1969 comes to around $8,000.00 in modern money. No wonder that they made so few of these. They made only 7 of them that year.

My guitar was made in Hoboken, NJ at the old Guild factory. It was hand carved by the late Portuguese Guild craftsman Julio Costa and the neck was shaped by the legendary Michael Martinelli. How’s that for details?

The big 17″ guitars designed by Lloyd Loar in the late 1920’s were designed to simply replace banjos in dance orchestras of the era and they did. They were meant to be loud and trebly. But when a pickup was added, all bets were off.. That’s when the individual instruments came into their own with distinct personalities.. The Guild Johnny Smith Artist was designed to be an affordable D’Angelico, simple as that.  I owned a super rare 1957 Guild “Johnny Smith” that I paid a great deal of money for. This Guild Artist Award simply plays better, feels better and sounds better.  That’s why I kept only it when I sold off my collection.

I paid a full $6,000.00 for this thing.  Some say I overpaid (“it’s only a Guild, dude,” they said). Well yes, but this one spoke to me. It plays like butter and it’s the only chance I’ll have of ever owning and playing a factory fresh time machine hand-carved arch-top from the Golden Era. If this was a Gibson Super 400 or L-5 it would have cost at least triple that with today’s silly inflated prices. I wanted one old arch-top that was never gigged, never had wine spilled on it, never scratched, worn out, used as an ash-tray, spit on, drooled on, climaxed on, sat on.

So call me crazy but I love this old baby girl.

Steve Hoffman

Steve Hoffman is an audiophile mastering engineer. His music forum is world famous with millions of hits a week! Visit it at www.stevehoffman.tv.

Please consider spreading the word about this beauty and Jazz Guitar Life by sharing this review amongst your social media pals and please feel free to leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you 🙂

2 Comments

  1. I own a 1969 Guild AA exactly like the one you describe. It is in original and good shape except for some scratches on the side. Unfortunately I do not play it as often as I play my nylon string classical guitar. I may consider selling the Guild one of these days.

    • Hi Svante and thanks for dropping by and adding a comment. Greatly appreciated! 🙂

      Sounds like you have a Jazz Beauty as well! Maybe one day – if you don’t end up selling it – you might play it again with more regularity? If you do sell it, I hope you get a good price for it…which you should!

      Thanks again for dropping by and take care.

      Lyle – Jazz Guitar Life

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