Guild Guitars History

Guild Guitars

The Guild® Guitar Story

A New Voice

In the April 1953 issue of Musical Merchandise Magazine, a brief ad appeared marking the debut of a brand-new company.

A new corporation, known as Guild Guitars Inc., with headquarters at 220 Fourth Ave., New York, N.Y., has been formed to manufacture high-quality guitars, including Spanish and Hawaiian electric - solid wood body electrics, amplifiers, cases and strings.

With this announcement, the Guild® company began its rise from a small Manhattan guitar workshop to one of the world's premier makers of high-quality acoustic (and several popular electric) guitars. Registered in October 1952, the fledgling Guild Guitars company set up a 1,500-square-foot manufacturing facility on the second floor of a factory at 536 Pearl St., not far from where Al Dronge's Park Row music store used to be in the 1930s and '40s.

The Al Dronge Era

Avram "Alfred" Dronge-"Al" to many-was born in Warsaw, Poland, on Aug. 16, 1911. His family left Warsaw for Paris in 1914, and left Paris for New York City in 1916. He practically grew up in Manhattan's Park Row music stores, becoming an accomplished banjo player and guitarist along the way. Dronge gave guitar lessons and played professionally in New York clubs and cruise ships, and opened his own successful Park Row music store in the mid-1930s. An astute, hard-working and well-liked businessman, he sold the store in 1948 and amassed a small fortune in the late '40s and early '50s importing and distributing accordions.

In 1952, Dronge's friend George Mann suggested that the two men start a new guitar company with former employees of another guitar company that had recently left Manhattan for Philadelphia in the wake of labor problems. Another friend of Dronge's, Gene Detgen, suggested the name "Guild." And so, Guild was officially in business, with Mann and Dronge as president and vice president, respectively.

The first catalog and pricelist, from April 1954, referred to Guild as "The Stradivari of Guitars," with a small selection of arch-top electric and flat-top acoustic guitars. Arch-top acoustics were added to the line in 1955, by which time Mann had left and Dronge had taken the company's helm.

Healthy sales, vigorous growth and Dronge's vehement opposition to what he called "inappropriate union interference" meant Guild needed more production space; the factory was consequently moved to several thousand square feet on the sixth floor of the Neumann Leathers building, across the Hudson River in nearby Hoboken, N.J.

Guild flourished in the rest of the '50s and in particular throughout the '60s. Although they had started out as a line of mainly jazz guitars, Guild's popularity and solid reputation spread quickly, and over the years its instruments found their way into the hands of high-profile rock, pop, blues and jazz guitar heroes including Johnny Smith, Duane Eddy, Roy Orbison, John Lee Hooker, Merle Travis, Paul Simon, Keith Richards, Dave Davies, George Benson, Buddy Guy, Howlin' Wolf, Richie Havens, Bonnie Raitt, Steve Miller, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Doc Watson, Ry Cooder, George Strait and so many other acclaimed artists.

In 1966, the Guild Musical Instruments Corporation was bought by electronics giant Avnet Inc., and, having once again outgrown its factory, was moved to a new plant in Westerly, R.I., where operations remained for almost three decades. Sadly, Dronge perished in May 1972 when the small aircraft he was piloting-on the way to Guild's Westerly plant-crashed in Connecticut. Even with such a tragic loss, Guild guitars continued on as popular, distinctive and highly regarded instruments.

Acoustic Excellence

Guild's signature excellence in acoustic flat-top guitar design has made its name synonymous with fine acoustic quality and craftsmanship.

From three models introduced in 1954-the F-30 Aragon, F-40 Valencia and F-50 Navarre-Guild founded an acoustic empire. The famous D-40 Bluegrass Jubilee and D-50 Bluegrass Special dreadnoughts were introduced in 1963 (at the insistence of Guild veteran Mark Dronge, Al's son), and Guild's flagship dreadnought, the D-55, first appeared in 1968. These guitars and many other Guild six- and 12-string acoustic flat-tops enjoyed widespread use and acclaim from artists and amateurs alike well into the ensuing decades.

In those heady late '60s days, perhaps the foremost exponent of Guild acoustic guitars was the great Richie Havens, a thoughtful interpreter of songs and a soulful, electrifying performer who opened rock's legendary 1969 Woodstock festival by mesmerizing the audience of 400,000 with his powerful voice and a Guild D-40, on which he displayed his trademark breathtaking rhythmic force.

After almost 30 years in Rhode Island, Guild moved west. Facilities were transplanted to sunny Corona, Calif., in 1995 on the company's acquisition by the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, thus beginning a new chapter in Guild history. Through the '90s and well into the new millennium, a diverse new generation of gifted, spirited players recognized the excellence of a truly fine Guild guitar, and recording studios and concert halls continued to reverberate with the full, pure sound of Guild guitars.

Guild continued to be everywhere at once, be it the sultry jazz and blues of Cassandra Wilson, the scorching hellbilly pickin' of Hank Williams III, the solo acoustic magic of Willy Porter or, of course, the continuing legend that is Richie Havens. And as always, it was the solid build and great sound of a Guild acoustic model that was so prized.

In 2005, with a renewed dedication to excellence in craftsmanship and a newly invigorated devotion to "getting it right" Guild began building all of its acclaimed Traditional and Contemporary Series guitars in Tacoma, Wash. Further, the Guild Acoustic Design (GAD) Series instruments built in Guild's China factory feature the same premium level of quality and craftsmanship that players worldwide have come to revere and expect from Guild.

Guild Today

Production of U.S.-made Guild Traditional Series guitars once again moved back east in 2008, near the place the brand was born; to a newly acquired production facility in New Hartford, Conn.

Whether it's a jumbo, dreadnought or small-body acoustic guitar; a six-string or a 12-string; or one of the new GAD Nylon/Classical Series acoustics, Guild continues to champion its timeless history and heritage of old-world craftsmanship, modern design innovation and solid value. Guild guitars remain among the most sought-after instruments for discerning musicians.

From the Guild® Website