“It’s hard to look at a Polara and not think of Kim”: Guild salutes Soundgarden legend Kim Thayil with a pair of long-awaited S-100 Polara signature guitars

Guild has unveiled a signature guitar collaboration with Kim Thayil, offering two takes on his go-to S-100 Polara – one super high-end, the other more affordable, both super cool and instantly recognisable as a Thayil’s guitar.

It is not as though Thayil has been the only player to play the S-100 Polara but by some distance he is the most famous. Both quite brilliant, perennially underrated, Thayil and the Polara were made for each other.

The Polara is the quintessential Thayil guitar. If there is a whiff of the Gibson SG about it, then it is to the SG what Soundgarden were to metal in that you can recognise the influence, and yet the angles were all different. They are operating on a different plane. There is an asymmetry to the Polara design; the same could be said of Soundgarden.

When Thayil chose the Polara, there was a degree of fiscal prudence involved in the decision. But speaking to Total Guitar in 2021, he said the mahogany-bodied double-cut was fundamental to finding his sound. 

By learning on that guitar, my style developed. It was how it made me play and what it allowed me to do

Kim Thayil

“The S-100 is the guitar I bought when I was 18, and ultimately was the one I could afford to buy,” said Thayil. “It only cost me $250, which was way less than a Les Paul or Strat. I think friends would have directed me to those other guitars, but this one looked good – it was black – and it was in good condition with great action. When I picked it up, I found that it was easy to play and had a fast neck. By learning on that guitar, my style developed. It was how it made me play and what it allowed me to do.” 

Thayil would play around with the strings below the bridge, and find weird sounds from the microphonic quality of the original's pickups.

Guild Kim Thayil S-100 Polara

Guild USA Kim Thayil S-100 Polara (Image credit: Guild)

After over 45 years with the Polara, Thayil finally has his name on the instrument. The timing could scarcely have been better. It was Thayil’s birthday yesterday, and it is surely no coincidence that Guild announced that it had something special incoming for the Soundgarden guitarist and legend of the so-called Seattle Sound. That said, these signature models had been in the works for some time. 

Speaking to MusicRadar in 2019, Thayil revealed there had been three different attempts to make a signature Polara. The big stumbling block? Guild kept on being sold to different companies. 

“I was on the cover of Guitar Player with an S-100 in the early-’90s, and Guild said they got more letters and phone calls about that guitar in that picture than they’d ever received before,” said Thayil. “They decided, ‘Let’s talk to Kim and find out what he likes about these guitars.’ And they started the production line again; they made four or five for me, and they started producing them. Guild sold to Fender, and this was in the early ’90s.

“Then, in 2010, the band gets back together and Fender sends some reps up, and they want to start a Guild line again, and design a Kim Thayil model. I do the signature and everything, I approve the specs, and they take all the measurements. And then, in 2011 or 12, Fender sells the Guild line. So, yes, there were three different attempts to make a signature model Guild S-100, thwarted by the fact that the company would keep getting sold.”

Guild Kim Thayil S-100 Polara

Guild Kim Thayil S-100 Polara (Image credit: Guild)

Thayil did say there were further talks. People were excited about the prospect of a signature model before it petered out. Finally, it's here, and Jonathan Thomas, president of Guild, sounds delighted to have got it over the line.

“We’ve been talking about doing this together for many years and are excited to finally bring these guitars to life,” said Thomas. “It’s hard to look at a Polara and not think of Kim, his influence in music, and long connection to his Guilds.”

The question as to which of these Kim Thayil S-100 Polaras to go for is no doubt determined by the price. The USA Artist Edition S-100 Polara Kim Thayil is master-built in California and has a $6,999 street price. The other comes in at a reasonable $899, in line with its siblings in Guild’s superlative Newart St Collection.

Kim Thayil

(Image credit: Kevin Nixon / Future)

Let’s window shop with the USA model first. Limited to 30 instruments worldwide, it has a neck and body carved from old-growth Honduran mahogany. The over-sized headstock speaks to Guild’s design sensibility in the ‘70s – when everyone seemed to be making headstocks bigger – and the slim neck checks out with Thayil’s formative experiences with the instrument.

Features include a pair of custom-wound Guild USA HB-1 humbuckers, for which Guild had pickup guru Jason Lollar wind by hand. A phase switch allows you to access some off-road tones. There is also a reproduction Guild/Mueller-style bridge and compensated stop-bar tailpiece, gold hardware, an Indian rosewood fingerboard with MOP block inlays, and Grover Rotomatics. 

Signature touches can be found on the King Animal truss rod cover and a back-cover that has a Badmotorfinger design and Kim Thayil’s actual signature on it. He has also signed the COA, and it comes in custom guitar case. The whole thing is finished off in white and a lick of gloss nitro. Very nice. But it will cost you.

At $899 street, the Newark St Kim Thayil S-100 is way more accessible but still retains that vintage high-end look, and a lot of the spec. It, too, has the large headstock, with Chesterfield inlay. 

There are a pair of vintage-correct Alnico II HB-1 Humbuckers, and the all-important phase switch for adventures in the Seattle Sound. The King Animal and Badmotorfinger signature details are here too – though not signed. The body and set-neck are mahogany.

The rosewood fingerboard is bound and inlaid with pearloid blocks. There’s a multi-ply pickguard, a tune-o-matic bridge and compensated stop-bar tailpiece. And it is black, as per Thayil’s original S-100. 

Both Kim Thayil S-100 Polara models are available now. See Guild for more details.

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.