Guild M-120 – Is This The Best Concert Sized Guitar?

By Alizabeth Swain | Acoustic Guitars

Last Updated on

Guild has always had a good name when it comes to acoustic guitars.

Although they make some wild electrics – yeah, we’re looking at you, Thunderbird – some might be surprised by how traditional Guild are in their non-electrified instruments. Among such traditional instruments, is the M-120.

The M-120 is a concert guitar, which isn’t a super-popular or obvious size or shape, but we can talk about that in a bit. The current version of the M-120 is part of Guild’s Westerly range that was launched in 2015. Westerly was the Rhode Island home of Guild acoustics from the 60s until the 90s, and the guitars from that factory are especially well-regarded. So why would they not want to acknowledge that era of their history?

Core features and specs

Body Shape

Concert

Top material

Solid African mahogany

Side and back material

Solid African mahogany

Neck material

Solid African mahogany

Fingerboard material

Pau Ferro – earlier models have rosewood

Electronics?

An electro-acoustic model is available with Guild/Fishman AP1 with Sonicore pickup, Volume and Tone controls

In case you didn’t know, there’s an international thing called CITES, which massively regulates rosewood, as it has been classed as an endangered species of wood. This means guitar manufacturers are looking at alternatives.

This will work well for…

People interested in having a solid, traditional style acoustic in their guitar arsenal, without breaking the bank completely.

You can pick up an M-120 for around $700, give or take. You might think that’s a relatively hefty amount for an instrument that’s made in China, and… well… you’d be absolutely right!

But, it’s important to be mindful that this is a concert guitar, so it’s not as widespread as the $50 dreadnoughts that you see. And yes, you can assume that some of the price goes towards having the Guild logo on the headstock. But, let’s see what else we can determine about the M-120.

Does it do what it should?

Based on the specs list above, the M-120 doesn’t come across as anything spectacular. The parts are relatively standard for acoustic guitars. Out of the box, it certainly has that new acoustic guitar smell. Mmm… And, hey, there’s no denying that it’s certainly a quality looking instrument. But based on the specs above, and even looking a little closer at the parts, it puts a bit of a question mark over the price tag.

None of the parts jump out as being exceptional. Obviously, compared to an electric guitar, there aren’t as many elements that could be outsourced, but even the machine heads are Guild’s own. At this price, would a set of Grovers be too much?

See, the accepted thing with Chinese – or indeed most guitars coming from the east – is that they use generic, unbranded parts. There are other factors – a $50 Strat is probably made of plywood; a $300 is made of solid wood – but the unbranded parts are understood to be a cost-cutter. When a new instrument is $700, you’re getting a bit close to intermediate guitars, rather than budget ones. And I’m not sure I can see enough of a distinction here.

Construction

OK, so I might not have been wowed by the parts that went into the M-120. Maybe its construction will help to win me over?

As always, the first place I start in evaluating a guitar’s construction is the neck joint. First impression: a very clean looking joint. There are no scratches or glue residue, and the neck looks comfortably attached to the body. By “comfortable,” I mean that it doesn’t look like it was wedged in, there are no questionable gaps, and blocks of glue holding it in place.

Moving to the headstock, the machine heads look cleanly and sturdily attached. Giving them a gentle poke, there was no give at all, which is what you want.

The frets look cleanly attached to the fingerboard. There are no nicks or dings along the top of the body. I’m a fan of the polyurethane finish. It’s described as “natural gloss” which I like. I don’t like heavily lacquered instruments. I like wood to look like wood. As with the other parts on this guitar, the scratchplate has been carefully placed, and the bridge shows no sign of residue or scratches.

I think I’m warming a bit more to the M-120. But how does it sound?

Tones

I like assessing the tones of acoustic guitars. With electric guitars, there are so many factors that affect tones, like amps and pickups. With acoustics, it either sounds good, or it doesn’t!

Em and G in the open position are my go-to chords: Hi, I’m a product of the Wonderwall generation of bedroom guitarists. Letting them ring, there’s a brightness and mellowness that appeals. It’s the sort of sound that makes you nod your head with an approving upside-down smile.

I’m a rocker at heart, so I like my power chords. Running through a few riffs on the lower strings and the middles strings, adding in some open treble strings for some flavor, and I’m quite impressed.

It’s not perhaps as loud as a more standard dreadnought shaped guitar. I’m not convinced the volume would do for a full unplugged show – you’d definitely want the electrified model for that. But, I feel these tones would lend itself well to a living room guitar, and definitely some studio work.

I would ultimately describe it as a friendly guitar. Between its size and sound, it would make for a good family guitar. It’s the sort of thing that adults or teenagers could equally just pick up and play.

Playability

The family-friendly nature of the guitar means that this is a very playable instrument.

Not just in terms of the size and sound, but also the feel when it’s played. The fretwork that was noted as being clean and tidy is also very comfortable. Sometimes, cheaper instruments might not have the nicest fret edges, that you won’t notice until you play. Luckily, the M-120 presents no such discomfort. It’s all very smooth, and easy to fly up and down the neck.

The strings aren’t too high off the fingerboard, giving the M-120 a nice action. If you play electric guitar more regularly, you won’t find it too uncomfortable switching to this. If you think about the cheaper dreadnoughts that come from the east where it’s a massive fight to press down on the strings, this is great!

The neck is a lovely thickness, and shouldn’t present too much of a challenge to anybody, even those with slightly smaller hands. It would be fine for teenagers and older, but smaller children might still struggle with it. The finish of the neck is also important. The polyurethane finish is nice and smooth. I don’t like the aesthetics of an over-finished guitar, and I don’t like the feel of it either!

All in all, the M-120 is a very playable instrument.

Pros

Cons

A well-constructed instrument

Plays beautifully

An ideal family guitar – its small body and inoffensive sound should keep most players happy

Despite how well it plays, I still feel like it’s expensive for a Chinese-made guitar – I still feel you could get a similar model for a lower price

Alternatives

There are a few ideas for alternatives to the M-120. If you’re looking to spend $700 or so on a guitar of this size, there are a few options open to you. Let’s start with the name in acoustic guitars: Martin. They have a couple of concert-size guitars in their X series.

As Martin guitars go, these are at the lower end of the range. The cost to you is absorbed by the fact that they’re made in Mexico. The specs are relatively similar to the M-120, but you’ll be in possession of a Martin. If you’re looking for a decent instrument, but don’t quite want to drop this amount of cash on it, you can’t do any worse than taking a look at Yamaha. They have several concert-size models coming it at around $500.

Better known as a budget brand, and more associated with beginners, their instruments are still held in particularly high esteem. Check out the CSF3M for a super-traditional guitar, with a lovely old school vibe.

Or, if you need to be a bit louder, take a look at the Yamaha AC1M. It comes as an electro-acoustic with a cutaway, so if you’re looking to perform live, this could be a good choice.

If you have a little bit more money to spend, the Takamine Concert Classic Acoustic Guitar comes at just under $1,000. It’s made in Japan and comes with a cedar top and rosewood back and sides. So, if you’re somebody who’s particular about rosewood, and annoyed by CITES, here’s the extra money you pay to get a guitar with rosewood now.

The concert classic is a little more ornate than the other guitars we looked at. The machine heads are gold, and it features a rosette made of a three-wood mosaic. Fancy. I feel like you’d need to be very committed to a concert guitar to drop this kind of cash on it.

Conclusion

There’s no denying that the Guild M-120 is a fine guitar. As acoustic guitars go, it’s pretty versatile from a playability perspective. Mellow-but-warm guitars are essentially well-balanced in terms of tone, so they can be used for anything. But with a concert guitar like this, it’s got the added versatility of being physically comfortable for most players.

In saying that, I still struggle with this price tag on a Chinese-guitar. But, as ever, head to your local guitar store, play with it and others and see how you feel.

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