Traditional, Temporary

Guild Basses in the Early 1980s
Guild Basses in the Early 1980s
Guild SB-201: Rick Malkin.

The early ’80s were a unique time in the history of American electric guitars. Fender and Gibson were both owned by corporate interests – the former CBS, the latter the Norlin conglomerate – and both suffered product offerings that had quality issues and/or uninspiring designs.

Guild, on the other hand, was still battling the (unfair) “Gibson copy” stereotype it had been combating since the late ’70s with its S series and B-300 basses. As interest in its line began to wane, the company introduced the SB-200 in 1982, with a silhouette that was more “traditional” – a.k.a. Fender-like.

The SB-200 differed thanks to Guild’s center-hump/two-tuners-per-side headstock, with pearloid logo and the company’s “Chesterfield” inlay (nicknamed because of its resemblance to a logo of the cigarette brand). Moreover, the neck of the SB-200 was set, as compared to Fender’s bolt-on style. The unbound rosewood fretboard had dot inlays and 20 frets on a 34″ scale. At the neck, its width was 1⅝”.

The series had bodies measuring 13⅞” wide, and while the cutaway horns were offset, they joined the neck within a half-fret’s distance from each other – just past the 17th fret on the bass side, 18th on the treble side.

When introduced in ’82, the one-pickup SB-201 and two-pickup 202 were shown in catalogs with the same soapbar-type Guild pickups found on the B-300/400 models. Controls were Volume and Tone for the one-pickup, and two Volume/master Tone for the two-pickup. The 202 also had a phase switch.

The latter series sported Guild’s BT-4 brass bridge from the 300/400 series. The pickguard debuted in a single-layer white configuration with an uninspiring oval shape, but with a notched angle at the bridge, which meant the BT-4 was attached directly to the body. The pickups had a generic layout on the pickguards of each.

By ’83, two more models joined the 200 series, and the catalog hyped the quartet by proclaiming, “Over the last few years, every guitar company has made an issue of the fact that contemporary bass players have more visibility in a band than at any time since the late ’60s. We agree with this. More importantly, we did something about it.”

The catalog displayed an SB-201 and two 202s with black pickguards with slightly different silhouettes coinciding with different pickup configurations – the 201’s was an offset split unit, while the 202 had what would become known as a “P/J” layout (both referred to as split in the catalog).

Guild Basses in the Early 1980s
From the 1983 Guild catalog; The 502-E and X-702 (left), along with the The SB-201, 202, and 203. Catalog images courtesy of Steve Brown.

The three-pickup 203 had two offset P-style pickups with a third soapbar between them (examples are known to exist with three soapbars).

The ’83 catalog also proclaimed the three pickups were, “…an industry first for bass guitars. This offers the bassist 13 different tonal combinations.” For whatever reason, Guild apparently chose to ignore Fender’s three-pickup Bass VI, released in 1961, and Gibson’s G-3 from ’75.

The ultimate example from the series was the SB-502E, which had active circuitry the company had begun exploring earlier, with models such as the B-401A (VG, March ’10). The 502 lacked a pickguard, perhaps due to the number and/or placement of controls and switches. The catalog noted that the bass’ capabilities as “…Bass EQ: +/- 13 dB, Treble EQ: + 15 dB/-20 dB.” Both tone knobs had center detent.

In their brief history, the SB-200 series and SB-502E were offered in Sunburst, Purple, White, Black, Candy Apple Red, Black Sparkle, and Metallic Blue finishes. Interestingly, while numerous sunburst examples had a dark brown/orange/yellow finish (a la Fender), the SB-201 shown here has a black-to-red sunburst.

All Guild basses with this silhouette were gone by ’84, with the exception of the SB-502E, which lasted one more year. Being so short-lived, they are relatively rare. Unique variants exist, as well, exemplified by the Candy Apple Red 202 with five-layer (black/white/black/white/black) pickguard. It most likely dates from early ’83, and its body is routed for three pickups; at one point, it would appear the same body was used on SB-201s, 202s, and 203s, and this example has soapbar pickups in the middle and bridge positions instead of the original/standard middle and neck locations.

A previous owner of this 202 noted that the bass sounded “…a lot like a (Music Man) Sting Ray, only a little bit darker, because of the mahogany body.”

Like almost all Guild basses, these were well-made and durable, and are probably undervalued in the vintage market.

Guild Basses in the Early 1980s
A Guild SB-202 with transitional pickup placement. Guild SB-202: Mike Ramos.

This article originally appeared in VG October 2015 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.