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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Fretboard and Neck
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.
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.
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
|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 3/4-"||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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.