1992 was twenty-five years ago this year. Janine Garofalo was the funniest person in America; MTV ruled the airwaves and those were truly halcyon days for guitar bands, as we all know. Now, with kids in their late teens aping almost every fashion miss-step, it seems enough time has past for that whole thing to be cool again. Aside from having to pretend we like the PVC hibiscus on our friends’ tube-tops this means the welcome return of some of the vehement, angst-addled rock music that so tempered the decade that broke punk.
One of the more notable players of the era was Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil; whose collection of vintage Guild axes became almost as iconic as his wah drenched wailing. Skip forward to today and Soundgarden are back on the road and Guild has teamed up with one of the company’s biggest champions to reintroduce the S100 Polara to the world.
Modeled faithfully on the original designs from the mid 70s, the Polara’s solid mahogany body has that familiar, slightly offset swagger with the devilish, SG-style horns that Thayil fell in love with in the first place. The neck is heavy duty with its almost tree trunk thick ‘C’ profile and luxurious 24-¾ scale length. The balance of weight across the body is much more even here than in most SG’s I’ve played, i.e. it doesn’t collapse towards the headstock every time your hands come clear, and it’s light enough that you can throw it around at will without losing it like a child’s balloon. The Art Deco appeal of the stop-bar tailpiece, 10-gallon hat style knobs, ivoroid binding and glossy, jet-black finish combine to make it as classy an affair to look at as it is to hold. Basically it’s everything that kept the originals competing with Gibson’s iconic design for so long reignited for a new generation of riff-lords.
The thing that really sets the S100 apart from other dual humbucker, dual cutaway guitars is the extraordinary sensitivity and versatility in the Guild designed HB1 pickups. They’ve always been an interesting angle on the P90 style pick-up in that they seem to have headroom of their own. One rail of pole pieces atop an Alnico II magnet in each pick up catches all the attack and heft of your playing but also allows you to pull back a long way to squeeze out some delicate, chiming tonality. Few other guitars can handle as broad a sweep in voicing as the Polara meaning you can switch between the muscularity of SRV sweating through and hacking away at 13 gauge strings and Jeff Buckley swooning a lullaby simply by rolling off the volume knob a touch.
I’m not going to lie, the first thing I did when I pulled the S100 Polara out of its case was drop the low E down a step, slop on some dirt tone and play as many sludgy 90s riffs as I could remember. As satisfying as that was though I got the distinct feeling like the guitar wanted more from me, like it had more than just sheer riffage that it needed to say. Sure, it is every bit the rock machine but for every bit of might it dishes out there is an equal portion of tenderness. After all, a tonne of bricks weight the same as a tonne of feathers; just one is harder to carry.
Hits and Misses
Incredibly versatile tone
Classic look and unquestionably playable
Not a one trick pony
Chunky neck profile