Guild’s Orpheum Slope Shoulder 14-Fret Rosewood Dreadnought
Price: $4,999 (list); $3,799 (street)
Compared to Martin’s longstanding factory location in Pennsylvania, Guild’s acoustic guitar factory has been a gypsy. The company first produced guitars in Hoboken, New Jersey, before moving to Waverly, Rhode Island, then to Corona, California, followed by Tacoma, Washington. Today, New Hartford, Connecticut, is home base for the Guild’s Custom Shop acoustic factory, and to celebrate their 60-year anniversary, Guild has introduced a new line of acoustics from the Custom Shop called the Guild Orpheum series. Currently there are 10 guitars in the Orpheum line, from a limited-edition Koa-bodied anniversary model to a jumbo to orchestra models to dreadnoughts, including the Slope Shoulder 14-Fret Rosewood model.
Ren Ferguson, who was the head luthier at the Gibson Montana acoustic division for many years, was responsible for all the Orpheum flat-top designs as Guild’s “Chief Engineer Acoustics Research and Development.” The original idea for the Orpheum series, however, came from Larry Thomas, Fender’s chief executive officer. According to Ferguson, “Larry Thomas wanted a ‘compelling’ series of guitars that would hearken back to the 1930s era, with all the traditional appointments of that period.”
Unlike at Gibson, where he had not been permitted to stray far from existing and historical models, Ferguson was “liberated” from any historical design restraints for the Guild project. After drawing the preliminary designs and taking the recipe from the ’30s era, he took them from his home in Montana to the plant in New Hartford, where they hand-built the prototypes. Ferguson then spent most of 2012 traveling every two weeks to New Hartford.
Because Guild didn’t exist in the 1930s, much of the inspiration for the Slope Shoulder 14-Fret Rosewood Dreadnought came from other manufacturers’ vintage models. The Gibson influence is obvious – both in the Guild’s physical dimensions and its overall harmonic character, though the Guild Orpheum is not merely a clone of any existing Gibson guitar’s feel or sound.
The Orpheum Slope Shoulder 14-Fret Rosewood has a solid Adirondack red spruce top, solid Indian rosewood back and sides, a three-piece rosewood and mahogany neck, ebony fretboard, ebony pyramid-style bridge with a compensated bone saddle, bone nut and bridge pins, red spruce bracing, hide glue, an artificial tortoiseshell pickguard, Gotoh vintage-style gold-plated tuners with the Guild logo engraved on their buttons, and a bound fingerboard. It is finished in a gloss nitrocellulose lacquer. The guitar has a 25.5″ scale length and a unique neck profile that recalls a 1960 ES-335 – a bit wide with an oval profile.
The overall fit and finish on the Orpheum is excellent. The unique colored marquetry used on the backstripe, top binding, and rosette are intricate yet understated, as are the dot inlays. The headstock is intentionally smaller than most contemporary designs and the newly created vintage-style Guild logo on the headstock is also intended to recapture an older vintage vibe. The Orpheum’s overall build quality rivals the best factory guitars from Gibson, Martin, and Taylor. The setup as it came from the factory was fine-tuned to the point where further adjustment would have been superfluous.
Some large-bodied guitars sound muddy when pushed with a more aggressive right-hand attack, but not so for the Orpheum. Anyone looking for that vintage Martin “cannon shot” bass, as the late Charles Sawtelle called it, will find the modern equivalent in the Orpheum. On the other end of the dynamic spectrum, the Orpheum responds to a light right-hand touch with a cornucopia of subtle overtones and upper harmonics.
In the last 20 years, there have been “vintage reissues” from every major guitar manufacturer, and some, such as the Gibson Advanced Jumbo, come strikingly close to the original. But few manufacturers have attempted to build a vintage-style instrument from scratch based not on an existing design but on a blank slate inspired by “best practices” of ’30s luthierie. The Guild Orpheum Slope Shoulder 14-Fret Rosewood Dreadnought is a bold and successful new direction – not just for Guild, but flat-tops, in general.
This article originally appeared in VG June 2014 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.