I like a guitar that packs a punch. And the newly relaunched Guild D-40 fits the bill. With a solid Sitka top, Sitka spruce bracing, and solid mahogany back and sides, this surprisingly light (4.5 lbs.), US-made dreadnought has the sonic punch of a cannon—strumming with a heavy pick while palm muting in drop-D is a revelatory experience. Seldom have I connected with an instrument on such a visceral level as when I first picked up this D-40.
An Iconic Sound
Of course, the Guild D-40 has a long history of producing an iconic sound. Much of the desirable tone heard on 1960s folk-revival recordings is compliments of a Guild D-40, which was introduced in 1963—ironically, some players striving to replicate that sound go elsewhere and overlook the obvious choice. Most famously, Richie Havens performed on a D-40, tuned to an open-D, during the opening set of 1969’s groundbreaking Woodstock Festival, filling Max Yasgur’s hippie-packed cow pasture with his trademark percussive strumming and chiming melodies. It was one of the most notable acoustic folk-rock performances of the modern era.
While it packs a punch, and produces the volume bluegrass and rock players covet, the D-40 also has a sweet, clear, resonant voice that is well-suited to folk music.
Over the years, the D-40 has remained a bedrock of the Guild acoustic guitar line (in the early 1970s, the model became the foundation for the D-40C, the first dreadnought with a cutaway body). Bluegrass players embraced it—the 1970s, pre-Fender Bluegrass Jubilee model built in Westerly, Rhode Island, boasted an Adirondack spruce top that was highly sought-after by bluegrass players. Those 1960s- and ’70s-vintage models are still revered (Guild plans to offer a D-40 Traditional model based on those classic ’60s models with nitro-cellulose gloss finish and a dovetail neck joint).
Word that Guild was back in production brought anticipation over the release of new US-built D-40s—Guild was relaunched last year after Cordoba Music Group purchased the company from Fender, following several years of turmoil for the brand. The new D-40 is one of Guild’s three initial offerings: A D-20 dread and an M-20 Nick Drake small-body, all-mahogany model reviewed in the November 2016 issue.
Guild fans won’t be disappointed.
A Thoughtful Build
The new D-40 boasts a full-bodied, robust tone. While it packs a punch, and produces the volume bluegrass and rock players covet, the D-40 also has a sweet, clear, resonant voice that is well-suited to folk music. I’ve taken it for a prolonged test drive. It handles the bluegrass chestnut “Man of Constant Sorrow” (Soggy Bottom Boys version), the Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping,” Blind Faith’s fingerstyle “Can’t Find My Way Home,” and Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice (It’s All Right)” with equal aplomb. Tuning the D-40 to DADGAD opened endless avenues of fretboard possibilities during hours of couch-friendly noodling—the mark of a truly great guitar.
Indeed, the D-40 has much to offer.
As a fingerpicker, and one with a bum left-hand that reacts poorly to chunky necks, I found the slim neck profile comfortable. Still, some fingerstylists may find the classic 1 11/16-inch-wide nut a tad tight. The satin-natural finish (antique sunburst is also an option); simple, but striking vintage-style rosette; and lack of bling overall belie such thoughtful appointments as a hand-cut bone nut and saddle; East Indian rosewood bridge and fingerboard; scalloped Sitka spruce bracing; white ABS binding; and 20:1 open-geared tuners with cream buttons. Power, punch, clarity, and playability, the D-40 checks all the boxes for an impressive dreadnought.
At a Glance: Guild D-40
Solid Sitka spruce top
Solid mahogany back and sides
Scalloped Sitka spruce bracing
Hand-cut bone nut
1 11/16-inch nut width
12-inch radius (305 mm)
25.625-inch (65.09 cm) scale length
Compensated bone saddle
Ivoroid bridge pins
Dual-action truss rod
L.R. Baggs Element VTC Pickup (optional)
Strings: D’Addario Exp 16 Coated Phosphor Bronze (.012–.053 gauges)
Deluxe archtop hardshell case (with built-in humidification system)
$2,000 list ($2,250 with pickup system); street $1,699
Made in the USA
This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.