Those lucky enough to own or play a 1960s or ’70s-era Guild acoustic flattop remember them as solid workhorses that sounded great and got the job done. Fast forward to the present and the recently relaunched Guild is revisiting the past by reissuing the M-20, the guitar that was the first off the assembly line nearly 50 years ago when the model was introduced in 1967 at the company’s Westerly, Rhode Island, plant. With its concert-sized body and sleek design, the new M-20—some call this short-scale model the Nick Drake guitar since it was featured on the cover of that late folk artist’s Bryter Layter album—seems more a work of finesse than a workhorse.
In 2014, Cordoba Music Group acquired the Guild brand from Fender Musical Instrument Corp. and decided to set up shop in Oxnard, California. Ren Ferguson, former Gibson custom-shop luthier, is the man responsible for getting the new Guild factory up and running. The company bought the old Guild factory equipment and shipped it from Hartford, Connecticut, on 13 45-foot flat-bed trucks to the current California site.
With the M-20, this attention to detail has paid off.
Opening the archtop humidifier-equipped case, I am greeted with that “new guitar” smell: wood with a faint hint of satin finish. The concert size is small, comparable to a Martin 0-18. The workmanship is meticulous. Even though the M-20 is relatively unadorned—no binding, nor abalone nor mother-of-pearl inlays except in the “Guild” insignia on the head stock—its build is apparent in the quality of the woods, fret dressing, bone nut and saddle, and set up. From its tobacco-burst finish to vintage-style tuners and no binding, the M-20 presents a simple, yet elegant, visual package. The M-20 is also available in a natural finish—the same color as the guitar pictured on the Nick Drake album—and with optional electronics.
Fast & Easy to Play
The guitar is solid, but not chunky like my ’70s-era Guild F212 12-string. The M-20’s mahogany top, back, and sides produce a warm and balanced sound. The neck’s slim profile makes it easy to navigate the fretboard from nut to the 14th fret, where the neck joins the body. The mid-focused-bass tones work well for fingerpicked songs like “In Christ There Is No East or West,” where the warmth and clarity allow the alternating bass-driven uptempo part to drive without getting muddy, and the slower tempo part to ring clear and inviting. The mahogany top gives this guitar a more subdued treble—if you’re used to a sparkling high-end that might disappoint. But this tonal palette can also be an asset if you like to dig in to the strings, since guitars with sparkly highs tend to compress when played hard and loud.
The M-20 responds well to both hard picking and a more subtle attack.
I record myself playing the rhythm part of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home,” and practice soloing over it. The shorter 24 ¾-inch scale and C-shaped neck make it fairly easy to bend strings and get expressive on the M-20. The guitar is set up with light gauge strings and the action is fairly low, so combined with the smooth satin finish I have no problem working my way around the neck.
As a strummer, the M-20 provides a nice midrange punch. I throw some Pete Townsend “Pinball Wizard”-like strums at it (minus the windmills!) and it comes back with even volume through all strings and exhibits a dark clarity. The M-20 also works well for fingerpicked blues with a darker, moodier timbre. I play some Lightning Hopkins and Big Bill Broonzy-style monotonic blues and the effect is woody as opposed to stark and in your face.
In addition to the vintage sunburst or natural option, you can order an M-20 with an LR Baggs Element VTC pickup, which our review guitar did not have. Still, the playability of this guitar makes it fast and easy to play like an electric, yet it has the warm sound of a well-made acoustic going for it.
For those looking for a smaller box, the M-20 should fit the bill. If you’re looking for a good all-around guitar, as both a fingerpicker and strummer, the M-20 is a great choice.
At a Glance: Guild M-20
Satin vintage-burst finish
Vintage-style open gear tuners
(20:1 gear ratio)
24.75-inch scale length
1.75-inch bone nut
Ivory bridge pins
Available in vintage burst or natural finish
LR Baggs Element VTC pickup (optional)
Guild humidified archtop wood case
M-20 Vintage Burst: $1,960 MSRP, $1,379 street (also available in a
natural finish and with electronics)
Made in the USA
This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.