1998 Guild Starfire IV

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One of my favorite guitars is the 2000 Guild Starfire IV that I reviewed here. I bought the guitar in this review because it’s from 1998 which means that it has the Seymour Duncan made SD-1 pickups in it and I get a fair number of questions about them. Since I didn’t have a guitar in the current collection that sported these fine pickups, I decided to buy this guitar so that I could do things like A/B it against my other Starfire and swap the pickups in order to do some pickup comparisons for an article I’m working on.

While this guitar is very similar to the 2000 Starfire IV mentioned above, it is also different in some ways that may not be obvious at first glance. Is it good enough to replace one of my favorite Guilds? Let’s find out. 

Introduction

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Guild Starfires have been around since 1960 when the I, II, and III models were introduced. The Starfire IV, however, didn’t come about until 1963 when the double-cutaway center-block guitar hit the market.

The Starfire IV has gone through some changes over the years and I won’t get into all of them here. Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you to go buy Hans Moust’s book on the subject of Guild guitars which is where I got the introductory dates shown above. You can get Hans’ book through Amazon here, though at the time of this writing it looks to be out of print again.

Most guitarists I’ve met consider the Starfire IV to be a copy of the Gibson ES-335 because they’re superficially similar (double cutaway semi-hollow guitars), but having played both I personally prefer the Starfire. One of the things I dislike about the Gibson is the fact that the output jack is on the top whereas the jack on a Starfire is on the side and if you read my review of the 1981 S300, you’ll know that I have an irrational dislike of right-angle guitar cords.

Guild1990sStarfireAd
The Starfire IV originally came with an elegant harp tailpiece which was changed in the early ’80s to a stop bar. Although I like the look of the harp tailpiece, I generally like playing the stop tailpiece versions better which has more to do with what I’m used to than any preference for playability, looks, or tone.

In the ’60s the Starfire IV had mini-humbuckers that many people go crazy for because of their amazing chime and tone. In the ’70s Guild moved to the larger HB-1 pickups which became the staple for this guitar until the early ’80s when the Starfire IV sported Guild XR-7 pickups made by Dimarzio. The fretboards on Starfire IVs were rosewood with dot inlays until the ’70s when they upgraded the inlays to blocks and added a master volume. In the ’80s the Starfire IV got an ebony fretboard and saw the return of the dot inlays. In the ’90s the HB-1s came back for a very limited time after which they were replaced by the SD-1 pickups as seen in this guitar. By 1997 the fretboard was back to rosewood which is also evident on this guitar.

I would be further remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that during the ’70s when the quality of damn-near everything in America was declining, Guild guitars maintained a high level of quality control which makes the Starfires from this era especially great. My only beef with Starfires from the 1970s is the fact that they tend to have really small necks. They sound absolutely killer, though, so if you like small necks on your semi-hollow guitars, find yourself a nice ’70s Starfire.

Finish

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The finish on this guitar is impeccable, as it is on almost every Guild I’ve ever played. If I had to guess I’d say that this guitar is finished with lacquer, but then I turn right around and think it’s poly. As I’ve stated in other reviews, I’m past the point of caring. If the finish doesn’t get in my way or look ugly over time, then to me it’s all good.

This blonde finish is my favorite for a Starfire IV because it really lets the nice flame shine through in just about any light though the flame does come and go with the angle of light, so it can be hard to capture the 3D effect given the fact that I insist on shooting from certain angles. Rest assured, though, that the Starfires of all models from this era usually have killer flame.

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Between this one and my 2000 Starfire IV, this one is lighter in color whereas my 2000 seems to have aged a bit with a sort of patina look to it that this guitar (which is two years older) doesn’t have. I don’t display my guitars and they live the majority of their lives in their cases, so I’m not sure why the difference exists, though to be fair they’ve spent their lives in to completely different environments aside from being cased.

The perceived differences proved especially hard to photograph since I don’t have a real studio and don’t have the room or lighting to properly shoot them side by side. Normally I would bring them outside and shoot them in the grass but there was still snow on the ground here when I took these pictures so that wasn’t happening. As a result I ended up stitching two photos together which raises more questions than it answers since the colors look similar in the pics and thanks to slightly different angles, the bodies look different as well. Rest assured that aside from the difference in depth, the two guitars are identically shaped which i proved to myself by stacking them on top of one another (with a hidden soft cloth separating them, of course).

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I find it especially amusing that I spent hours trying to photograph the differences in the finishes and finally gave up, moving on to taking pictures of the two guitars together in order to highlight the difference in thickness between them. That’s when I took this shot which not only shows the thickness and the different output jack position, but also perfectly represents the actual difference in the finishes between the two guitars. The lighter colored (and thinner) 1998 Starfire is on top while the darker (and deeper) 2000 Starfire is on the bottom. Note also that the output jack is in a different position. We’ll talk more about that later.

Fretboard and Neck

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The fretboard is a luxurious dark rosewood that just looks and feels great. The inlays are called pearl dots in the catalogs, and while I think the block inlays on the vintage Starfires (and later Starfire Vs) have more style, I don’t mind the dots at all.

The frets measure a typical .08″ wide x about .02″ high (though frets can be a pain to measure) which roughly correlates to the medium jumbo fret size normally found on Guild electric guitars from the late 1990s. The fretboard is bound and there are no binding issues on this guitar.

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Much like my 2000 Starfire IV, the neck’s width at the nut is 1/64″ wider than 1 11/16″ making it one of the best playing guitars I own. If I had to guess I’d say that the 2000 Starfire’s neck may be *just* a bit deeper, but the thought only occurs to me if I play them back to back. Suffice to say that I love this neck and as a result, I really like this guitar.

I measured the fretboard radius at 12″ which is fairly flat but not crazy-flat like some of those ’80s shred-machines. The neck is a three-piece mahogany affair which is kind of cool because the body of the guitar is maple. This is the same design as found on my 2000 Starfire IV and I really dig the combination of the bright maple body with the darker-sounding mahogany of the neck. As a result I think these guitars have a great balanced tone compared with some of the all-maple Starfires that I’ve owned.

Build Quality

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The build quality on these late-90s Guilds is second to none, and it’s one of the many reasons that this is my favorite era of Guild electric guitars. The neck joint is perfect as is the action. There are no binding issues of the type often found on ’70s Guilds, and there are no finish cracks or even dings on this guitar. The guitars weighs in at 8lbs 10oz (3.91 kilos) and the body measures 16 3/8″ (41.59 cm) wide by 1 1/2″ (3.81 cm) deep. Having owned a thicker Starfire for years, at first I didn’t like the thinner models, but that’s changed while I’ve owned this one.

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One of the differences in Starfires over the years has to do with the thickness of the body. This pic shows the body of my 2000 Starfire IV (left) next to a 1973 Starfire IV (right). As you can see, the 1973 Starfire is a bit thicker than the 2000.

The 1998 Starfire that is the subject of this review is even thinner than the 2000 model, and I’d swear that the 1994 Starfire I stupidly sold was thinner still, though that may just be the perceptions of someone who is still annoyed that they let such a great guitar be sold. To summarize, here are three guitars measured by my over the years, two of which I still have in my possession:

Measured Starfire IV Differences 

Year Depth(in) Depth(cm) Nut Pickups
1973 1 7/8" 4.76 cm 1 5/8" Guild HB-1
1998 1 1/2" 3.81 cm 1 11/16+" SD SD-1
2000 1 13/16" 4.60 cm 1 11/16+" Fender HB-1

I’ve owned a few Starfire IVs from the ’70s and from what I can recall they all had very similar measurements with some having an extra millimeter or so of neck depth (not shown on the table) that made them more comfortable for my large hands.

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The picture of the two Starfires spooning on the couch are of my 2000 Starfire IV (left) and this 1998 Starfire IV (right). You can plainly see that the 1998 model is thinner. If I still had the 1973 Starfire IV I could have lined all three of them up, but I clearly have too many guitars as it is and I’ve already gotten into trouble talking about taking pictures of two blondes on my couch so three would be just too much to even ask about.

The output jack on the 1998 Starfire is about one inch (2.54 cm for those of you in countries with logical measuring systems) closer to the bottom strap peg than it is on the 2000 Starfire. This drove me nuts every time I went to plug it in because I’m so used to my 2000. Of course, this would not be a problem for a normal person who doesn’t have too many Guilds, but I found it interesting that the output jacks were not in the same location on the two guitars.

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The difference in thickness is really not all that noticeable from a playing and comfort standpoint, though the thinner guitar is a bit lighter than the deeper one. I imagine that there must be a tonal difference between them but with completely different pickups and wiring there’s no way I could prove that short of putting the same pickups and harness in both guitars, and that is just not happening.

Pickups

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The pickups on this 1998 Starfire IV are Seymour Duncan SD-1s. These were made by Seymour Duncan for Guild for a few years during the beginning of Fender’s ownership of the company. Sadly, Fender eventually replaced them with their own version which is what I had on my 2000 Starfire. As mentioned in the review of that guitar, I did not care for the Fender pickups and so had them rewound by a well-known pickup winder.

I really like the SD-1 pickups and I actually bought this guitar because of them, largely in part because I’m writing a long article where I compare all the different pickups covered in my verbosely named Guild Full-Sized HB1 and SD1 Pickup Variations article and needed a guitar with them for my late-night mad scientist experiments.

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The pickups were designed to try and be as close to the original HB-1s as possible, according to Evan Skopp on the Seymour Duncan Forum, who had this to say about them: “What we wound under the covers to capture as much of the original sound as possible, was very close to our SH-1 ’59 Model.” He also goes on to say that since they were so similar to the SH-1 ’59s, that they were made with Alnico-5 magnets.

Measuring the pair in my 1998 Starfire IV, I get readings of 7.48k Ω (neck) and 8.0k Ω (bridge). This is a bit different than Guild HB-1s which usually measure about 7k Ω to 7.5k Ω territory. Of course, DC resistance is not the best way to measure pickups, but that’s a rant for another time. Suffice to say that while I really like the SD-1 pickups, they’re not quite HB-1s, though they are *way* better than the Fender-made HB-1s that would soon replace them.

Electronics

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If you’ve ever had the pleasure of working on a semi-hollow guitar’s electronics, then you can no doubt feel the pain incurred in order to take this photo. Actually, getting all the pots out of the guitar is the easy part. It’s getting the pots back in that’s the challenge. Sure, I could have tied dental floss to the pots, but then the photos wouldn’t look as good. Such are the tribulations I endure for the furtherance of my art.

When I bought this guitar, the bridge volume pot was scratchy and would actually cut in and out when pressure was applied to the volume control. This guitar, though in excellent cosmetic condition, seems to have sat somewhere that allowed certain parts to corrode.

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The pots were all corroded to the point that it was almost impossible to read the pot codes and my increasing need to use reading glasses or huge magnifying glasses had nothing to do with my inability to read the code; it was all the corrosion. After getting them all out I took pictures which allowed me to zoom in and see that all four pots were labeled 48 WD500 indicating that they are WD Music 500K Ω audio-taper pots. Having never heard of WD Music, I did some research and discovered that they are a parts distributer that’s been around since 1978 with a number of large clients including Fender who, if you’ll recall, owned Guild at the time of this guitar’s creation.

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After removing the pots I went to my coveted stash of Radio Shack Contact Cleaner and Lubricant and after carefully insulating the guitar from any such chemicals, proceeded to spray the living gunk out of the pots and selector switch. After a judicious application of chemical goo (scientific stuff, that) the pots were cleaner and much easier to read. Of course the real test wouldn’t occur until I put them back into the guitar, fired up the amp, and assaulted my family with various songs, riffs, and progressions from a time when men were men that wore their hair like women and dressed in spandex and leg warmers.

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My initial gut reaction to these pots was not favorable because at least one of them is a scratchy intermittent mess and all four of them were quite corroded. I’m not sure that that was a fair judgement to make, though, since I have many other Guilds from this era with similar pots that have had no issues to date, not to mention the fact that these cleaned up fine and have been perfectly functional ever since.

The capacitors are .02 μF ceramic disc capacitor which is the polar opposite of the gigantic bumblebee snake oil caps the $8000 Les Paul guys lust after. Aside from my snake-oil snub, I’ll leave the cap arguments for another time.

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The wiring on this guitar is fairly typical, but I should point out that it is different than my 2000 Starfire in that the 2000 has decoupled wiring while this one does not. Coupled wiring means that the volume of one pickup being turned down to zero mutes the guitar while the pickup selector is in the middle position. Guitars with decoupled wiring can have one volume at zero in the middle position and still produce output.

The pickups in this guitar are Seymour Duncan SD-1s and as such have four wires. The red/white wires are soldered together thus making the pickups functionally equivalent to two-wire models. The black wire is soldered to ground, as is the shielding from the wire used to connect the pickup to the volume pot. As with most Guild electrics from this era, the wiring is all grey which makes it a bit challenging to trace the wires when troubleshooting, but it’s a guitar not lunar lander, so it’s really not that big of a deal.

Hardware

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As with most Guild electrics from the late 1990s, the tuners are Grovers and the bridge and tailpiece are both made by Gotoh. The strap pegs on this guitar are Fender strap locks which I don’t believe came standard on the guitar, especially considering that they’re gold and don’t match the rest of the hardware.

As mentioned, the bridge and the tailpiece are both made by Gotoh and work perfectly well. Though they don’t have the very Guildish panache of the ’70s Mueller-made bridge and cool harp tailpieces used back then, they work and they work well. I especially like that I can use a flat-head screwdriver to turn the adjustment screws because turning those knurled thumb rings gets old quick for this aging rock and roll rebel.

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The pick guard sits over the pickup rings which is something that I very much dislike. A lot. On the 2000 Starfire the pick guard sits flush with the pickup rings and surrounds them as opposed to sitting on top of them. The easy solution for this guitar is to just remove the guard, which is why you can see it’s not included in many of the pictures, which is a shame because I really like the look of these guards on the Starfire IVs. I’ll cover this a bit more in the playability section.

Sound

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I like this guitar a lot and part of the reason for that is the sounds it produces. While I think it’s sad that the Guild HB-1s were no longer an option, the Seymour Duncan SD-1s hold their own, though they don’t quite deliver the chime that the HB-1s are famous for.

Of the three pickups settings, it’s hard to pick a favorite because they’re all so different. The neck pickup delivers a great jazzy tone without being too woofy, the middle position delivers a nice balanced tone while allowing for a bit of variety by rolling the volume and tone off of each pickup, and the bridge pickup just flat-out rocks.

Tiny Tweed

7th Chords

Open Chords #1

Open Chords #2

JCM-800

Barre Chords #1

Barre Chords #2

12th Fret Riff

BackLine

D-Shape Chords

As usual, for these recordings I used my normal Axe-FX Ultra setup through the QSC K12 speaker recorded into my trusty Olympus LS-10. As usual, I recorded using the Tiny Tweed patch, as well as the JCM-800 and one through a setting called Backline which is the “I wish it was still the ’80s” setting I like so much.

For each recording I cycle through the neck pickup, both pickups, and finally the bridge pickup. All knobs on the guitar are on 10 at all times.

One of the things I kind of which this guitar had was the ability to split the pickups since the SD-1s are both 4-wire models. Having played a great number of Guilds that come with some cool tone options, I miss the ability to change the phase in the middle position, but that’s not really a deal breaker for me. I do think that a coil-split would be a nice addition to this guitar, though, and if I keep it I may just go that route by swapping out one of the tone pots for a push/pull.

A guitar like this is really about that semi-hollow sound, and it delivers that in every position and on every fret, though that sort of hollow timbre can obviously get lost when the gain is up high and the effects are set to overwhelming.

If you listen carefully to the 12th Fret Riff in the JCM-800 section you can hear a bit of a flubb on the first iteration. That’s me playing too aggressively and using my super-human vibrato technique to slide the low-E string right off the side of the fretboard. What can I say? I’m an animal when I get going. I also like to keep the clams in the recording so that you can see that they’re all real and all different between articles. Also I’m too lazy to re-record it.

Playability

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I love playing these late-90s Guilds, mostly because they have great necks and they’re just so damn well-made. This one had some electronics issues, though they were all cleaned up with a liberal application of contact cleaner and now it sounds stellar.

These later Starfires are a bit thinner than the vintage ’70s models which makes them a bit lighter and easier to manage. The roughly half inch between this and my fatter 2000 Starfire is even noticeable and while the deeper 2000 Starfire is by no means uncomfortable, the thinner 1998 is perhaps a tad more easy to play for long gigs. At times it almost seems too thin to me, though that’s probably because I’ve spent so much quality time with my beefier 2000 model. I will say that I flat-out prefer the SD-1 pickups over the original Fender HB-1s that came in my 2000, so if it comes down to tone above all else and your deciding between a 1998 and a 2000, I’d go for the 1998.

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My one and only complaint with this guitar is the pick guard, and my complaint is that I hate it. Actually, I don’t hate the way it looks, but I hate the way it’s designed.

If you look at the picture to the right you can see that the pick guard sits on top of the pickup rings. To put it scientifically, that sucks. Why? Because it raises the pick guard into the area where my meaty hand is swinging the pick and I end up smacking the pick onto the pick guard all the time. No sir, I don’t like it.

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Now look at the pick guard on my 2000 Starfire. On this guitar, the pick guard goes around the pickup rings, thus removing the guard from the plane of my maniacal pick-weilding, and therefor making the entire guitar playing experience more enjoyable for everyone involved where the variable everyone involved equals values of me.

Seriously, this is something that Fender-owned Guild got right and I greatly prefer these later pick guards over the older ones to the point that if the 1998 model was my only Starfire I would seek out a 2000-style pick guard to use instead of the icky one that gets in my way all the time. Yes, I can just take it off, but I like the way they look even if it does have a goofy logo on it. Actually, as much as I’m generally against logos anywhere other than the headstock, the logo on these doesn’t bother me much when because it matches the color of the guitar.

Conclusion

When it comes to Starfires, I’m a fan, especially of the mighty Starfire IV. I like this guitar a lot and if not for the dumb pick guard, it would be close to perfect. Compared to my 2000 Starfire, this guitar has less flame and is missing the sort of aged look to the finish. It also has an icky pick guard. The necks on both of them are too close to call. Did I mention the pick guard? I’m pretty sure I did.

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Where this 1998 Starfire IV wins hands-down over the 2000 model s the pickups. The Seymour Duncan SD-1 pickups in this guitar are much better than the Fender HB-1s which always sounded muddy and lifeless to me. While the SD-1s aren’t as delightful as the Guild HB-1s, they don’t disappoint in the tone department. Still, I’d categorize them as sounding a bit more modern than the wonderfully chimey HB-1s of yore and if you absolutely have to have HB-1s, the SD-1s are the same size so you can drop them right in. You can’t do that on a 2000 Starfire because the Fender pickups are smaller so the rings don’t work and you’d have to reroute the body of the guitar. Bummer.

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This is an absolutely great guitar to own and I recommend it whole-heartedly. The pick guard may not bother you and if it does you can just take it off. The tone is great, the playability is great, it’s an absolute knockout in the looks department while delivering the goods with stylish aplomb in every way that a semi-hollow should.

To the great surprise of absolutely no one, I love this Guild.

6 thoughts on “1998 Guild Starfire IV

  1. Hi, i really enjoyed reading this very informative. I’ve the opportunity to buy a 1990’s what est of cost would you place on a mint cherry version?

    1. That really depends on when in the ’90s it’s from. Writing this in 2017, if it’s from 1997-1998 it will have the SD1 pickups and is more desirable; I’d pay up to $1200 USD. If it’s from 1994 it may have real Guild HB1s and it’s worth more – maybe $1500. If it’s from 1999 it may have Fender HB1s and is worth a little less: I’d say $1100. None of these are set in stone, though. If it’s *exactly* the guitar you want then it may be worth more to you. Good luck!

  2. Cool summary. I have a 97 SF-4, but I took out the SD-1 and replaced them with a set of HB-1 from a 73 S-90. I don’t regret the switch at all. For sure the HB-1 neck pickup sounds better in the SF-4 than the SD-1 did. The bridge pickups were almost a dead heat, but the SD-1 neck pickup pales in comparison to an original HB-1. I am now thinking about putting the SD-1 into a late ’70s S-300D. The DiMarzio PAF/Super Distortion combo might be great if you want to sound like mid ’70s Ace Frehley, but it becomes a proverbial one trick pony rapidly. Maybe the SD-1 sound better for a solid body as I thought they sounded too woolly in the SF-4. I remember playing a 97 S100 reissue that I thought sounded exceptional. It most likely had the SD-1.

    The SF-4 I have is different from almost all of the others I have seen from the late ’90s. Mine has a highly figured maple top with a quilted maple neck. Most all of the 97-99 SF-4 are like your guitar with a mahogany neck. As a result of the maple neck, it seems to have a slightly quicker response and for sure feels stiffer. My SF-4 didn’t come with a pickguard and I now totally get why it didn’t. I won’t bother looking for another as that is a stupid design for a pickguard. I also hadn’t really thought about the thickness of the body until I read this review. Mine is exactly like yours as it is definitively thinner than almost every SF-4 I have played. Mine is an excellent guitar. It hasn’t quite replaced the aforementioned S90 as my main Guild.

  3. Hello,
    Absolutely great review and very complete! About the 1997-1998 models, is there any chance that on some of this models, the pick guard doesn’t go on top of the pickup rings? or ALL of the models made in 97-98 have this pickguard ubication. So if a model presumed to be 1998, doesn’t have the pick guard on top of the rings its not really a 1998? what other years in the 1990’s would have the pickguard “around” the pickup rings?

    1. Hey there – thanks for the comment! Your pick guard question is too detailed for my knowledge since my observations are based on what I’ve seen. Also, it’s possible that someone changed the pick guard on yours if you’re not the original owner or that the date is incorrect.

      If you want to know the exact date of manufacture for your Guild, contact Hans Moust at http://www.guitarchives.nl/guitarsgalore/. He literally wrote the book about Guild guitars and has the original ledgers from Guild. He can tell you exactly when it was made (many of the online resources for Guild serial numbers are wrong).

      HTH!

      GAD

  4. Thank you for these articles. Helped me tremendously in my search for my next baby. Appreciate all the info, especially the details of the neck and pickups. Just bought a 97 blond sf-4. Super stoked!
    Thanks again!

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