In the early 1970s, Guild Guitars introduced Madeira, a line of instruments manufactured in Japan. The series was modeled after existing Guild designs and made to be both high-quality and affordable, and one particular Madeira ended up being the at-home songwriting partner of reggae legend Bob Marley. Last fall, Guild introduced the A-20 Marley, a guitar designed to match the instrument Marley owned and played in the ’70s. In order to create a modernized replica of the guitar, Guild tracked down vintage Madeira models, seeking to copy most of the original details, while improving on certain aspects. I put the A-20 Marley through its paces and found it to be not just a cool collectible but an excellent guitar for the price.
A Tasteful Homage
A strictly acoustic dreadnought, the A-20 Marley has a solid Sitka spruce top and mahogany back and sides with a matte finish, a pau ferro fretboard and bridge, and bone nut and saddle. In homage to the artist, MARLEY is spelled out at the 12th fret with pearloid inlays. The guitar also features a vintage-correct rounded headstock shape, traditional bridge and rosette, and a black pickguard decorated with Marley’s signature in gold.
Rounding out the package are some customized accessories: a gig bag decorated with a lion insignia and made from recycled nylon, a nod to Marley’s environmentalist values; a small black-and-white poster of Marley; three guitar picks emblazoned with the Marley logo; and a booklet that tells the story behind the guitar and offers a chord chart for the classic Marley song “Three Little Birds.” Also in line with the late Marley’s green ideals is Guild’s partnership with the charity One Tree Planted, which has committed to planting a tree for every guitar that’s made.
As soon as you pick up the A-20 Marley, you can immediately feel how resonant it is. Thanks to its size, it’s booming, but it’s not just loud—that volume comes paired with a deep warmth that permeates each tone. There’s a richness to open chords, especially those played in the middle of the neck, and individually picked lines sound bold and assertive. This is great for when you’re trying to produce a lot of sonic color in a single strum or looking to deliver some punch behind a picked melody.
The powerful low end creates a strong bass palette that doesn’t ovewhelm the high end. This is the type of guitar that enunciates everything you play with clarity. There are hotspots between the fifth and ninth frets on the high and middle strings, where natural reverberation is audible, but no matter where you are on the neck, notes ring out with golden overtones. That works well for someone like me, primarily a fingerpicker, but is in fact beneficial for all players—the A-20 Marley boasts a versatility in tonal range and seems to respond well to any style. One thing that’s also fun about fingerpicking on this guitar is that that its bass voice sounds with force right under your thumb.
The review Marley came set up with a comfortable medium action—around 3/32-inch on the bass side and 2/32-inch on the treble at the 12th fret. That, along with the C-shaped neck, 24-3/4-inch scale length, and satin finish, make for smooth playability. One of the modernized aspects of the guitar is that its C-shaped neck is a modification of the original’s V-shaped profile. While some guitarists might prefer a big old-fashioned V-shaped neck, the more streamlined modern profile will definitely be a plus for many players.
When reviewing instruments, it’s important to note any drawbacks, but in this case, I couldn’t really find any, especially considering the price point. I was impressed by the guitar’s sound and playability and appreciated its simple, straightforward build. Plus, the Bob Marley–inspired flourishes, not to mention the case candy, make it a great collector’s item for the devoted Marley fan. At $399 street, it’s an extremely affordable instrument that can compete with others outside of its price range, and as a dreadnought that manages to be both roaring and bright, it’s bound to fit into the hands and style of most guitarists.
BODY Dreadnought shape; solid Sitka spruce top with scalloped X-bracing; mahogany back and sides; bone saddle with 2-1/8″ string spacing; pau ferro bridge; satin polyurethane finish
NECK Mahogany C-shape; pau ferro fretboard; 1-3/4″ bone nut; 16″ fretboard radius; open-back nickel tuners (16:1 gear ratio); satin polyurethane finish
OTHER Recycled nylon gig bag; D’Addario EXP16 Coated Phosphor Bronze Light (.012–.053)
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MADE IN China
PRICE $399 street
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.