Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil Reveals Why He Chose Guild Guitars Over Fender and Gibson

Soundgarden axeman Kim Thayil looked back on his early days of guitar playing and how he ended up using Guild guitars.

Being one of the grunge-era heroes, it might feel odd that Kim didn’t entirely join Gibson or Fender camps. Sure, he did play guitars by these old legendary brands, but his most common companion is the SG-styled Guild S-100 Polara.

As he told Pete Thorn in a new interview, the choice kind of came by accident. He was a kid without a guitar for a while and was looking for something that he could afford.

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“I remember a period of time when I sold some albums and some books just to get some cash,” Kim said when he was asked about deciding to go with Guild in the first place (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs). “And I may have sold my guitar because I wasn’t in a band. And I just figured I’d get another one at some point.”

“I can’t believe that I would have sold my guitar and not had one for a period,” the guitarist added. Nonetheless, he decided to go with a used one. This was back in the 1970s, so he must have been a teenager at the time. Kim was pretty much in his early guitar-playing phases, so it’s obvious that he was mostly focused on simpler power-chord-based stuff. He continued:

“But I went to a used store and looked around at various guitars, and my experience was limited. I could play Ramones and Sex Pistols songs.”

Polara Kim Thayil Featurette

This might have been a bit unconventional, considering the fact that he grew up in Chicago.

“I wasn’t versed in blues riffs,” Kim added. “And I wasn’t versed in Southern rock riffs. Believe it or not, those are the two things that were kind of huge in the suburbs of Chicago. Everyone was schooled on blues and Southern rock and boogie.”

“It was the ’70s, it was the Midwest. I couldn’t play like that. I was in the punk rock and then some straightforward power chord metal.”

When he got into the store, the salesmen immediately recommended the obvious stuff:

“So the guys directed me towards Les Pauls and Strats, and I’m thinking, ‘Okay, how much is that? That’s what the guitarist of Aerosmith plays, that’s what Ace Frehley plays. That’s way too expensive.'”

Guild S-100 Polara • SN: KSG1200937

Prices aside, Thayil adds that the usual Les Pauls and Strats just weren’t his kind of thing anyway. As he added:

“And part of me thought, ‘I’m not that guy anyway. Even if I could afford it, it’s like this professional thing someone’s going to take to Kingston Mines [Chicago blues nightclub] and play Blind Arvella Gray and Howlin’ Wolf riffs, and I just need something that sounds good with the fuzz box.”

“So he said, ‘Well, here’s some used guitars.’ And he showed me this Guild. I think it was like $320 or $230, one of the two. It was definitely more affordable.”

Guild Guitars x Kim Thayil at Guitar Center Seattle

Guild Guitar Company wasn’t the biggest brand at the time. After all, it was incredibly difficult to compete with Fender and Gibson, as well as Japanese brands that started making high-quality replicas at a much lower cost. But although smaller and focused on acoustic or hollow-body guitars, they still had some conventional solid-body guitars, like the S-100.

As Kim adds, he wasn’t that familiar with Guild. However, after trying this instrument, it seems that it didn’t take long for him to get into the brand.

“And I knew very little about Guild,” Kim admitted. “I’d heard the name. And the guy explained to me that they’re definitely comparable to Gibson. He goes, ‘There’s a difference: Guild doesn’t do endorsements, Gibson and Fender do endorsements. They’re endorsing guitarists, so you see their names all over the guitar magazines and the rock magazines, and people use them on tour.'”

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“Guild is better known for their acoustic line, but their electric line is not as developed and not as broad as Gibson or Fender, but the sales guy tried to convince me that they’re of similar quality, that they’re both regarded guitar manufacturers, that the difference was in the price range and their relationship with branding.”

“So I took that chance and bought the guitar,” the Soundgarden guitarist added. And it certainly paid off. Not only did Kim like how they felt, but he also ended up becoming their endorsed artist with his high-end signature version of the S-100.

“It was incredibly easy to play,” he said. “I was used to a knockoff Strat copy, and I could play those Ramones power chords quickly and easily, and what little leads I knew how to play.”

A message from Kim Thayil (May 2022)

“It just felt really comfortable. The neck seemed accessible and fast. And I remember the pickups were somewhat hot, so when I went to go jam with people, they were suitably loud, and it kind of got that screamy sort of feedbacking thing going, which [was] just teetering on the edge of falling apart. I love that. That’s kind of a component of the music I liked listening to.”

Photo: Frank Schwichtenberg (Kim Thayil – Fabrik Hamburg 2018 10)

Author

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.