If you like to rock like stink (and let's face it many of us do) this ultra-stylish axe is for you, but it's also capable of everything from dark, jazzy stylings to crisp (or dirty) rhythms
A great-looking guitar that plays well and has kickass rock attitude
Pickup switch tended to pop out of position on the bridge setting
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Guild's latest edition of the S-100 Polara — a model originally introduced in 1963 sporting a “kickstand” body shape and a distinctive spear point on the headstock — is the offset-batwing version that Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil has been playing since 1978.
The model on review here — a production (read “offshore made”) version of the USA-built flagship model that features premium old-growth woods and Jason Lollar pickups — has a gloss-black mahogany body and a glued-in mahogany neck with a comfortable soft-U carve. Sitting atop is a 24 ¾–inch-scale rosewood fingerboard that looks suitably upscale, with pearloid blocks and ivory binding, and carries 22 polished narrow-jumbo frets.
The strings travel across a chunky composite nut before fanning outward to a set of gold-plated Grover Rotomatic tuning machines on a classic Guild headstock that has MoP inlays and a Soundgarden King Animal logo on the truss-rod cover.
Hardware consists of a gold-plated Tune-o-matic bridge and a compensated Guild stop tailpiece, along with a pair of Guild HB-1 pickups with Alnico II magnets and gold-plated covers. They feed a three-way toggle and dual sets of volume and tone controls, and there’s a mini toggle switch that puts the pickups out of phase when set to the down position. Thayil’s signature and Badmotorfinger scimitar are also given a gold treatment on the control cover plate.
A sweet player thanks to its slim neck and wide-ish, 12 ½–inch radius fretboard, the Polara also benefits from a good factory setup that provided low, buzz-free action and tuneful intonation all the way up the neck.
A solid-feeling guitar that clocks in at nearly eight pounds, it sustains well and displays good vibrational qualities when played acoustically, characteristics that came through when it was amped-up with a Fender ’48 Dual Professional and a Deluxe Reverb. The signal chain included a UAFX 1176 Studio Compressor and Orion Tape Echo, a TWA SH9 and TWA’s new Krytical Mass reactive octave fuzz.
The Polara proved a flexible guitar that even sounded great played cleanly, and the independent volume and tone controls allowed for texturing the tones to the nth degree, making it capable of everything from dark, jazzy sounds on the neck pickup to crisp rhythm textures with both pickups on and cool dirty-rhythm sounds on the back ’bucker, with some pedal grind added or the Dual Pro cranked up.
The phase switch is also handy for summoning funky/snarky tones when both volumes are all the way up, though it has no effect when using the pickups individually.
With distortion slathered on, the Polara went into its lead zone so naturally, it seemed purpose-built to dish out crushing grind. In situations where I could turn up, it was easy to get controlled feedback and to groove on the sustain and how chords and lines bloomed under the fingers.
My only issue was the toggle switch, which on my review guitar tended to slip out of the rear position and had to be notched back to the zone. Otherwise, the guitar’s tone circuit easily steered the bridge humbucker in browner or brighter directions to suit the amp/pedals and room.
The Polara’s affinity for heavy rock is surely why it’s been Thayil’s main squeeze for so long. Kudos to Guild for making the Polara Kim Thayil Signature an affordable proposition, one that’s sure to please a lot of players.
- NUT WIDTH 1.692”, composite
- NECK Mahogany, vintage soft-U profile
- FRETBOARD Rosewood, 24.75” scale, 12.5” radius
- FRETS 22 narrow-jumbo
- TUNERS Grover Rotomatic, gold plated
- BODY Chambered mahogany with solid maple top
- BRIDGE Tune-o-matic with Guild compensated stopbar
- PICKUPS Two Guild HB-1 humbuckers with Alnico II magnets
- CONTROLS Dual volume and tone controls, with three-way selector toggle and mini phase switch
- EXTRAS Available in gloss Black or White
- FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario EXL110, .010-.046
- WEIGHT 7.8 lbs (as tested)
- BUILT China
Art Thompson is Senior Editor of Guitar Player magazine. He has authored stories with numerous guitar greats including B.B. King, Prince and Scotty Moore and interviewed gear innovators such as Paul Reed Smith, Randall Smith and Gary Kramer. He also wrote the first book on vintage effects pedals, Stompbox. Art's busy performance schedule with three stylistically diverse groups provides ample opportunity to test-drive new guitars, amps and effects, many of which are featured in the pages of GP.