As you may be aware, I’m a hardcore US-made Guild freak, so if you’re wondering how this Guild Newark Street Starfire III is going to hold up to this cantankerous old bastard who’s not afraid to tell it like it is, read on, ’cause it’s reviewin’ time!
The 2016 Guild catalog shows a full page of the Starfire III leaning against a tweed amp which I’d have to imagine would be a pretty sexy combination both in looks and sound. The Guild website lists the retail price for this guitar as $1,555 in early 2019, and in the same year, used prices seem to be roughly half that number or just a touch higher.
I don’t know if the Guild cameos are a product placement thing or someone in the production was a fan of Guild, but there is a thank you in the production credits to Cordoba Music Group with no specific mention of Guild.
The Guild website has a product-reviews section which linked to a review from the German Gitarre & Bass Magazine which praises the Starfire. The article is in German, but the Guild page has a translation of part of it, which is naturally full of praise.
I find it interesting that the Guild website has never linked to any of my reviews. Actually, it doesn’t surprise me since I’ve been known to tell the sometimes unflattering truth which, by the way, is not something that magazines tend to do since they’re beholden to advertisers. Ever see an ad on my page? Now you know why. Well, really it’s because I loathe ads of any kind, but the fact that no one pays for my content makes my reviews more legitimate, at least in my mind.
I have to say that the case is pretty nice! It’s arguably not as good as the Westerly-era cases or the Fender custom shop cases, but the case does the job with no real complaints from me. It’s also a hell of a lot better than the minimalistic case that my 1966 Starfire III case came in which offered very little protection.
The 2016 catalog doesn’t list color options, but the Guild Website in 2019 lists the only color options as Cherry Red or Black.
Fretboard and Neck
I should note that the two other Newark St. guitars currently in my possession (T-Bird ST and T-Bird ST-P90) do not have this opalescent logo and instead look more like a traditional inlay, though on closer inspection they are also a bit opalescent but with much cleaner edges and a much whiter appearance over all. Those two guitars are 2017 models while this Starfire III is a 2016 model, so that may have something to do with it, though it may also just be normal variation in whatever material it is they’re using.
Does that matter? Well, it adds credence to the argument that the import Guilds are not “just as good” as the vintage Guilds, though to be fair the headstock veneer is a cosmetic feature more than one that affects playability or tone. It is, however, one of the methods that can be used to discern an import Guild from a US-made Guild, should you ever doubt the veracity of a Starfire being sold as vintage.
This guitar does not have a volute where my ’66 Starfire III does, but a lot of people hate them and the volute came and went on different year Hoboken Starfires, anyway, so that’s not something that anyone should be concerned about. The neck measures almost exactly the same as two other Newark St. Guilds that I have which makes sense if they’re carving them on CNC machines. Consistency is a good thing.
The frets measured .06″ high by .09″ wide which is also par for the course with Newark St. Guilds. Guild describes the neck shape as a soft U in their spec sheet, which I disagree with as the guitar in my hands has a pretty typical C shape. To be fair, the specs may have changed between 2016 (this guitar) and 2019 (the spec sheet), but Guild isn’t really well-known for keeping their spec sheets up to date. I will say that regardless of my quibble about the shape that I love the feel of the neck. Since it’s a bit deeper than my ’66, I dare say I like it more than that vintage model. Sacrilege, I know.
The neck is the soul of the guitar when it comes to feel and playability, and the neck on this Korean Guild delivers in a pretty satisfying way.
Having three other US-made Guild Starfires to compare it to, this guitar is most closely related to the 1966 Starfire III, and the build, look, and feel is pretty similar. It doesn’t have that special something that vintage guitars have, but the target demographic of this guitar may not have ever experienced that mojo (for lack of a better word) and thus wouldn’t miss it. I have, and I really only bemoan its absence when playing them side-by-side. That’s saying something, and if you’re not good at reading into things, it’s saying that this is a remarkable guitar for the money.
The top on this hollow body guitar is 3-ply laminate and measures 3/16″ (4.75mm) thick. When measuring and photographing the top, I noticed that the parallel bracing actually traverses the pickup routes which means that they had to be cut into in order to allow for the pickups to be inserted. This is very different than my ’66 Starfire where the braces are completely to the side of the routes and thus required no alteration.
This Starfire III weighs 6 lbs 3.6 oz (2.82 kilos) and is actually lighter than my ’66, though not by much.
I have tempered my disappointment, though, because I’m comparing this guitar to a single sample from 1966 and other vintage samples may have been made similarly. Also, this wasn’t a problem until I pulled the pickups and saw it, so I may have just spent two paragraphs tilting at windmills.
I fully expected to hate the pickups given their odd resistance readings, but I must confess that at first I had no problems with this guitar like I did with the T-Bird that has the same pickups. That really surprised me because I was really annoyed by the behavior of the mismatched pickups in my T-Bird (and my other T-Bird) and that behavior didn’t seem to happen in this guitar when playing clean. I’m even more bothered by the fact that I can’t explain that, but it does help me to reconcile the fact that so many people don’t have problems with the mismatched pickups if they somehow work better in Starfire-type guitars.
I did, however, absolutely notice the mismatch when playing with some drive, because the bridge pickup just doesn’t have the magic bite of my ’66. The neck pickup responds admirably, but the bridge pickup is a bit anemic when driven hard and that sucks because driving the bridge pickup hard is a big part of what makes all my other Starfire IIIs great.
To be perfectly clear, I like the pickups; I just don’t like how the pickups are balanced.
After pulling the wiring harness from my 1966 Starfire III and knowing what a huge pain in the ass that was, I decided to just order a spare harness from Guild and examine that. This harness is the same for the Newark Street Starfire III, IV, and CE100D, has a SKU of 009-9120-049 and cost me $49.99 in 2019. I bought one and proceeded to cut away all of the shrink wrap tubing to get at the tasty capacitors within so I could draw a nice wiring diagram without taking apart another Starfire. I’m not committed (though I probably should be committed); I’m just so lazy that spending fifty bucks and waiting four days for delivery seemed like less of a burden than spending the hour it would have taken me to do any real work. And then I had to sit and trace the wires in the harness, anyway! Hey, at least now I have a spare harness that I’ll never ever need. Bonus!
The entire assembly is made in Korea as are all the components. If you look at the wiring diagram you may notice that all of the wires are white except for a couple coming from the toggle switch. This coloring is accurate and is because of some clever wiring in the harness.
On the Newark Street harness, they smartly used a 4-conductor cable from the switch to one of the volume pots. That 4-conductor wire (red, green, white, and braided ground) is then connected to individual wires that are routed to the other set of pickup controls. This makes routing and maintenance much simpler and likely lowers cost when considered over thousands of guitars. While the build it better than it needs to be part of me likes the old Westerly wiring, the build it efficiently part of me appreciates the Korean wiring.
The pickguard drives me crazy. It’s too high and it annoys me. That may be why the Guildsby has that goofy plastic bit on the end from the factory because it comes in contact with the pick guard when abused. Sure, you shouldn’t be abusing the Guildsby, but if you’ve ever met me then you know I abuse everything in order to test its limits. It’s just who I am.
I’ve read a lot of people online who have this guitar and absolutely love it, and I can see why – it’s a pretty great guitar, especially for the money. The problem with the pickup balance is well known and I’ve covered it in great detail again and again, and again, so let me explain why this guitar is crippled by the pickups while also sounding great. It all comes down to how you play it.
I’ve tried everything I can think of to give Guild the benefit of the doubt and on some of my NS Guilds I have the bridge pickup slammed up to the strings and the neck pickup way down low in an attempt to balance them out. It doesn’t work. If you’ve never experience what a guitar like this should sound like, though, you’ll never know what you’re missing, and that’s why so many of us in the Guild community are annoyed at Guild for not fixing this. These guitars sound good, but they should sound amazing.
After playing the ’66 SFIII for a week or so straight, I’m struck by the anemic nature of the bridge pickup on this guitar. Remember, this guitar has a ~5k bridge pickup with a ~7k neck pickup, and while I wasn’t bothered by that when I first picked up up this guitar, after comparing it with the guitar it’s supposed to be an homage to, this pickup imbalance really shows.
As usual, for these recordings I used my normal Axe-FX III through the QSC K12 speaker recorded direct into my Macbook Pro using Audacity. I started my normal recordings using the ODS100 Clean patch, but spent most of my time with this guitar in a preset called Rockabilly Hot Rod which is shown. The amp for that preset is based on a Brownface Vibrolux. The Stray Cat recording is using the middle position with both pickups selected, while the Sleepwalk and ’49 Mercury Blues are recorded both using just the bridge pickup. Note that these are both using the same amp setting! The only thing different is the delay which is higher for Sleepwalk. The crunch you hear in ’49 Mercury Blues is from me digging in with a heavier attack.
I also recorded a couple with the SuperTweed preset because I really dug the tone. The SuperTweed is not a real amp, but rather more of a Tweed Deluxe on steroids that exists within the realm of the Axe-FX. With the bridge pickup selected I got a real P90 into a Deluxe vibe that I just loved.
If you’re wondering why there’s a Van Halen example, it’s to match the recordings i did with the ’66 Starfire. I will also be reviewing a 1997 and 2002 Starfire and will put all four of them head to head with the same recordings.
This guitar is not as lively feeling as my ’66 or my ’97 or even my ’02 Starfire IIIs, and after taking all of the detailed photos and examining the guitar, I’m leaning toward blaming the block under the neck for that. It could just be that this is an import mass-production guitar whereas the other three were all US-made guitars with lower production numbers and dedicated factories, but the scientific part of my brain is screaming that without proof that’s nothing more than a personal bias. I should point out that the other three guitars are 17, 22, and 53 years old while this one is only three, so that may be a factor as well.
Still, that difference in liveliness isn’t a huge thing and if you’ve never played any of those older guitars you’d not have any idea of there being something better. That’s sort of an awkward way of saying that this guitar actually performs pretty well, and I’d argue that it performs better than its price would suggest.
The fretwork is excellent, but the nuts can use some love on many Newark Street Guilds. The fretboard material isn’t as nice as the other Guilds in my stable, but for the price I have no complaints. Honestly, the only time this guitar really falls down is when I compare it to US-made Guilds. Well, except for the pickups.
I’ll again be honest and state that I expected this guitar to be sub-par. It’s not. In fact, for the money I paid for it, the guitar is pretty great. Is it a hand-made American instrument from the glory days of Guild? No. Does it matter for the price? Not really, but that really depends on what you’re paying for it.
For what they charge for these new, I’d still find a Westerly or Corona Starfire III instead. The biggest caveat in the ’90s and ’00 Starfires when compared to the Newark St. model is that the Millennial Starfires have the AntiHum or LB1 pickups, so they have a very different vibe.
Since I routinely see these Newark Street Guilds sell used in mint condition for half of their retail price, they’re a steal at that price, and if you’re after that ’60s guitar vibe for not a lot of money, it’s hard to go wrong with this guitar.
Let’s be real – this is a Korean copy of an iconic guitar, but it’s a Korean copy made under the watchful eye of the company that owns the rights to that iconic guitar, and I’m going to go ahead and say that they did the original justice.
This guitar would be a slam dunk if they’d just fix the damn pickups.