Guild Guitar Factory

As with many iconic brands, the story of Guild is intrinsically tied to the places where these instruments come to life: the factories.

1. The Manhattan (1952)

Manhattan, often regarded as the heart of New York City, is not only a hub for global finance, arts, and culture but has also played a significant role in the history of musical innovation. It is within this vibrant borough that Guild Guitars began its journey.

The 1950s were a booming period for music in Manhattan. Jazz, bebop, and the nascent sounds of rock ‘n’ roll filled the clubs and bars of the city. Guitarists sought quality instruments, which presented a ripe opportunity for craftsmen and entrepreneurs.

Guild was established in 1952 by Alfred Dronge, a guitarist and music store owner, and George Mann, a former executive of the Epiphone Guitar Company. Both had a deep passion for music and an understanding of what musicians sought in their instruments.

Guild’s first “factory” was far from the large-scale manufacturing units we imagine today. It was situated in an apartment on the West Side of Manhattan. Much of the original workforce consisted of former Epiphone employees who had lost their jobs following the 1951 strike and the company’s subsequent move from Queens to Philadelphia.

The emphasis was purely on craftsmanship. Each guitar produced during this period was handcrafted with a focus on quality. This dedication to craftsmanship would become a cornerstone of the Guild’s reputation.

As word spread about the quality of Guild guitars, demand started to outgrow supply. The small apartment setup in Manhattan was no longer feasible to meet the increasing orders. This pressure eventually prompted the move to a larger facility.

2. Hoboken, New Jersey (1956 – 1966)

Hoboken, New Jersey, a city with its own rich tapestry of musical history, became the next step in Guild’s journey.

The move to Hoboken was primarily motivated by the need for more space. Just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, Hoboken provided proximity to the bustling New York City music scene while offering the advantages of larger spaces and potentially lower operational costs.

Guild’s new home in Hoboken was an old Neumann Leathers building. This building, with its expansive spaces, provided the much-needed room for Guild to ramp up its production.

By this time, Guild was producing 100 to 120 guitars per month with its 15 employees. But gradually the staff grew, and production volumes increased.

With more space at its disposal, Guild was now able to produce guitars on a much larger scale.

During this time, the company began producing a line of acoustic folk and blues guitars, including a series of dreadnoughts (D-40, D-50 and, later, D-55), which competed successfully with Martin’s D-18 and D-28 guitars.

In 1965, a fire ravaged parts of the Hoboken factory. However, the Guild’s resilience shone through as they recovered and even considered expanding further.

The Hoboken period saw the Guild diversifying its offerings. While it continued to produce acoustic guitars, the company ventured into electric guitars and basses. Some of Guild’s iconic models trace their origins back to this era.

In 1966, the company was sold to Avnet Corporation, which moved production to Westerly, Rhode Island. Alfred Dronge remained in charge of production.

3. Westerly, Rhode Island (1966 – 2001)

The move to Westerly marked a significant evolution for Guild Guitars, both in terms of production capability and the company’s continued commitment to quality.

The town of Westerly, located in southwestern Rhode Island, became the backdrop for some of Guild’s most iconic creations and important developments.

The Westerly factory began production in 1966, and remained at this location for 35 years until 2001.

The Westerly factory was significantly larger than the Hoboken location, allowing for more streamlined production processes and an increase in output without compromising on the brand’s hallmark quality.

The Westerly period witnessed an expansion in Guild’s product range. Alongside its revered acoustics, the company continued to refine its electric guitars, experimenting with various designs and materials.

Some of Guild’s most iconic and enduring models, especially acoustics, came from the Westerly factory.

During the 1960s, Guild successfully marketed the Starfire line of semi-acoustic (Starfire I, II and III) and semi-solid (Starfire IV, V and VI) guitars and basses.

On May 3, 1972, Alfred Dronge, the founder of the Guild, died in a plane crash. The company was taken over by Leon Tell.

In 1972, under new president Leon Tell, Guild produced the first dreadnought acoustic guitar with a “cutaway” in the lower shoulder to allow better access to the upper frets, the D40-C.

The late 1970s and 1980s presented economic challenges for many American guitar manufacturers, including Guild. The brand had to navigate shifts in musical tastes, economic downturns, and increased competition, especially from overseas manufacturers.

In 1995 Fender Musical Instruments Corporation acquired Guild.

By the late 1990s, Fender had made the decision to move the production to Corona, California, citing difficulties with climate control and the production process at the plant as primary motivations.

4. Corona, California (2001 – 2005)

The move to Corona, California, represented yet another significant chapter in Guild’s story.

Acquired by Fender in 1995, Guild benefited from Fender’s extensive experience in guitar manufacturing and its established infrastructure. By the time the move to Corona was decided upon, the goal was clear: to revive and elevate the Guild brand.

Fender’s Corona plant, already producing Fender’s top-tier instruments, boasted state-of-the-art equipment. This provided the Guild with the tools and environment to maintain the high standards set during its Westerly days.

While the Corona era saw the introduction of new models, efforts were made to retain the essence of Guild’s signature sound and feel. Most of the classic designs that had gained popularity in the Westerly era were carried forward with enhancements.

Guild’s stay in Corona was relatively brief. In 2008, Fender decided to move Guild’s manufacturing to Tacoma, Washington. The decision was driven by a variety of factors, including logistical considerations and the desire to give Guild its own dedicated space once more.

5. Tacoma, Washington (2005 – 2008)

After Fender acquired the assets of Tacoma Guitar Company in 2004, it moved all production of American Guild acoustic guitars to Tacoma, Washington, and ceased production of American-made Guild electric guitars entirely.

The transition to Tacoma provided the brand with a unique environment, and this period in the brand’s history, while relatively brief, was significant for various reasons.

In Tacoma, Guild was housed in a state-of-the-art facility designed specifically for acoustic guitar manufacturing. This allowed for a more streamlined and efficient production process.

The Tacoma factory made use of modern technology without losing sight of Guild’s legacy of handcrafted quality. The aim was to produce guitars that were consistent, high quality and still retained the signature Guild characteristics.

Guild’s stay in Tacoma was relatively short-lived. By the end of the 2000s, Guild began transitioning its production to New Hartford, Connecticut. However, the Tacoma era is remembered for the brand’s commitment to quality and its efforts to modernize and innovate.

6. New Hartford, Connecticut (2008 – 2014)

In 2008, Fender bought Kaman Music Corporation and and its production facility. Then Fender moved Guild’s production from Tacoma to Hartford, Connecticut, where it resumed handcrafting all US-made Guilds.

The New Hartford era of Guild Guitars holds a distinct and significant place in the brand’s history.

The decision to shift from Corona was influenced by multiple factors. Fender wanted to give the brand a dedicated production space separate from the main Fender production lines.

The New Hartford Guild plant began production in early 2009, starting with the top-of-the-line D-55 and F-50 models. Production quickly expanded to include most of the popular traditional series acoustic guitar models. Acousto-electric versions of these models were also available. Electro-acoustic versions of these models were also produced there.

The New Hartford factory also created a new line of limited edition special guitars called the GSR Series. The “GSR” stands for “Guild Special Run.” These models were a unique twist on the classic Guild Traditional Series models. GSR models include the F-20, F-30R, F-40, F-50, D-50, and Guild’s electric guitar GSR Starfire VI. Each of these instruments has a unique design, wood choice, ornamentation, and has extremely limited production quantities.

In New Hartford, Guild doubled down on its commitment to premium quality, with a particular focus on producing high-end acoustic guitars. This location is where the revered Guild USA line was crafted.

The craftsmen in New Hartford were known for creating specialized, custom instruments.

By the summer of 2014, New Hartford facility was closed as Fender (FMIC) was looking to sell the Guild brand.

7. Oxnard, California (Present)

In 2014, Guild was acquired by the Cordoba Music Group, known for its craftsmanship in classical guitars. Under their ownership, the decision was made in 2015 to move the Guild production from New Hartford, Connecticut to Oxnard, California, with Gibson alum Ren Ferguson as vice president of production and research and development.

Cordoba began production in late 2015, releasing its first models (M-20 and D-20) in early 2016. Higher end models such as the D-55 were released in late 2017.

The move aimed to provide the brand with new energy, streamlined production capabilities, and expanded resources.

The Oxnard facility boasted modern machinery paired with skilled craftsmanship. This blending of tradition and technology resulted in a consistent production of superior instruments.

8. Guild Korean Factory

The Newark St. electric guitar models are produced in South Korea by the Samick factory, also known as SPG. Guild has been associated with this factory since at least 2013. The Starfire II and III models, part of the Newark St. collection, are mostly made here.

9. Guild Chinese Factory

The GREE factory, located in Hui Yang City, Guang Dong province, is where the Westerly Collection acoustic models and some Guild GAD models are produced.

It is a 120,000 sq. ft. facility where about 900 employees handcraft 13,000 instruments monthly.

GREE not only produces for OEMs but also promotes its own brand, Farida.

The guitars produced here are designed to reflect the quality and standards of the original Guild guitars from the 1960s to the 1990s. These models are made with quality wood and solid tops, ensuring high standards.

10. Guild Indonesian Factory

The Starfire I models have been produced in Indonesia at PT Samick in East Java starting from 2020. Guild’s Indonesian guitar models are well-regarded for their quality, which many believe closely matches that of Western-made instruments. This factory has been part of the Guild production line for their Indonesian models and continues to contribute to the brand’s offerings​.