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 rather modest 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.
Guild's genesis was simple. In 1952, Dronge's friend George Mann suggested that the two men start a new guitar company. Another friend of Dronge's, Gene Detgen, suggested the name "Guild." And that was that. Guild was in business, with Mann and Dronge as president 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 new digs with more room; 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 the Guild's Westerly plant - crashed in Connecticut. Even with such a tragic loss, Guild guitars continued on as popular, distinctive and highly regarded instruments.
Guild's signature excellence in acoustic flat-top guitar design has made its name synonymous with fine 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 single-handedly mesmerizing the audience of 400,000 with his powerful voice and a Guild D-40, on which he displayed his trademark breathtaking rhythmic force. It was a shining moment for Havens and for Guild, and he continues to entrance audiences to this day with Guild guitars.
After almost 30 years in Rhode Island, Guild moved west. Operations were moved to sunny Corona, California shortly after Guild was acquired by the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation in 1995. This was the beginning of 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. From the sultry Jazz and Blues of Cassandra Wilson, to the scorching 'hellbilly' pickin' of Hank Williams III, or the solo acoustic magic of Willy Porter; it was a Guild acoustic guitar that became the vehicle for their expression. Recording studios and concert halls everywhere continued to reverberate with the full, pure sound of Guild guitars.
Today's Guild is as dynamic and prolific as ever! We continue to champion the timeless history and heritage of old-world craftsmanship, modern design innovation and solid value that has become synonymous with the Guild name.
In a continuing quest for operational excellence, Guild has move again in recent times; from Corona, California to Tacoma, Washington in 2005, and most recently from Tacoma, Washington to a newly acquired facility in New Hartford, Connecticut in 2008 - all in an effort to provide musicians with the best Guild guitars ever!
Whether it's a 12-string jumbo, a dreadnought, a small-body acoustic or one of our new GAD Nylon/Classical Series acoustics, Guild guitars remain among the most sought after instruments in the world.
There's really nothing quite like the strong, balanced, crystal-clear sound of a finely crafted Guild acoustic guitar. Today's Guild guitars are better than ever, and we can't wait for you to hear them!