Remember 1999? If you weren’t around then, we were worried that all of the computers were going to turn off at the stroke of midnight at the end of the millennium due to lousy programming where the year was stored as ’99’ and not ‘1999’. The Y2K problem, as came to be known, was largely a non-event unless you worked in the world of COBOL and mainframes, but it was definitely a thing and I spent a fair bit of time making sure that the ISP I worked at wouldn’t become a smoldering hole in the ground come New Year’s Day. Why the history lesson? Because when I wrote this paragraph I was on Percocet after an attack of kidney stones and I thought that COBOL (as in the programming language) and cobalt (as in really blue) would make a great introductory paragraph for this blue guitar. Now that I’m off the narcotics I’m too hung over to admit that it was a terrible idea even though this guitar was made in 1999. So, there you have a perfect example of what I like to call narcotic word association which, I could argue, fueled the genius that was Charles Dickens.
But I digress.
For the sake of this article, Guild Starfires come in six varieties named the Starfire I-VI. There are some offshoots and some rare exceptions, and the original Starfire wasn’t really called the Starfire I, though to make matters worse Guild announced a horribly named collection of guitars called the Starfire I in late 2019 that kind of encompasses all of the variations, but for now let’s consider that the Starfire V is essentially a Starfire IV with a Bigsby (we Guild nuts call it a Guildsby when it says Guild on it) tailpiece. As we’ll see there’s more to it than that, but that’s the essence of the difference between the IV and the V.
Guild Starfires up to the model VI (and a XII 12-string, damn… OK one more) were made in the 1960s as seen in this page from the 1967 catalog. This page shows the Starfire V in red which was a big deal because the catalogs back then only seemed to have three colors: black, white, and red, with red reserved for the models they wanted to show off that usefully also came in red finishes.
Features on Starfires sort of ebb and flow between models and years. For example, Starfire IVs from the ’70s have master volumes, but those went away when Guild reissued the Starfires in the ’90s. Additionally, ’70s Starfires have block inlays while the ’90s reissues have dots. Fretboards were usually rosewood except in the ’80s when they went to ebony with dot inlays. In fact, the number of permutations of features per model is well outside the scope of this article because we’re here to talk about a very specific Starfire V, and this particular Starfire V has block inlays on a rosewood fretboard, a master volume, and a ridiculously flamey top and back with a beautiful blue finish.
Although it’s tempting to say that the Starfire V is a Starfire IV with block inlays and a Guildsby (you know, like I did above), the structure of the Starfire V from the ’90s/00 era is different from the IV since the depth of the body is two inches which is slightly deeper than the same year’s Starfire IV.
In the 2000 catalog, the colors listed are Blonde, Antique Burst, Tennesse Orange, and Emerald Green. I don’t recall ever seeing an Orange one, but a green one is shown in a Guild advertisement later in this section. The same description is used in the 2001 Fender Frontline catalog.
For now, Guild sells a Korean version of the Starfire V which is more like the ’60s version than the guitar in this review, so if you’re here in an effort to learn about the Starfire V in order to make a decision about buying a Newark St. Starfire, I’m afraid this article will be of limited use. The Korean Starfire Vs are very different guitars though appearing very similar, at least superficially. The Newark St. Starfire V has a thinner mahogany body, LB1 pickups, and obviously is made in Korea. At least there’s a semi-hollowbody Guild available with a Guildsby again and they even sell a Starfire VI with more luxurious appointments.
I can quit any time I want.
According to the July-December 1999 Guild Gallery magazine/catalog the Starfire V came in hi-gloss urethane finish and was available in Blonde, Antique Burst, Emerald Green, and Tennesee Orange. Yup – according to the catalog, this beautiful guitar is poly and not lacquer, but not a single person who has handled it has ever noticed or complained. Of course that’s assuming that the catalog is correct which may or may not be the case.
Without chemical testing that I am unwilling to do on such a guitar, I have to go by some less definitive means to figure out the finish type, and to that I can say that the entire guitar glows a sickening green under the ultraviolet light which leads me to believe that the guitar is coated with nitrocellulose lacquer, though the catalogs say otherwise. Is that definitive? Hardly, and as I’ve said repeatedly in other articles, I’ve long ago stopped caring what finish is on my guitars so long as the finish doesn’t distract me.
Fretboard and Neck
This guitar has one of the widest neck of any Guild electric that I’ve ever measured. It is wider than my Guild X160 Rockabilly, and it almost beats out my Corona-built Bluesbird-90 from the Fender Custom Shop. Hell, this guitar’s neck is on par with most of the Les Paul Historics I’ve owned with the exception of the R8 I had that was 1.04″ deep at the nut. The neck is huge, but it doesn’t feel that way to me because I think with its gloriously wide 1 3/4″ fretboard, the depth is the perfect ratio. The scale length is 24 3/4″ and the fretboard is bound rosewood with block inlays.
The frets are .04″ high and .104″ wide making them jumbos which is another reason why this guitar plays so effortlessly, at least to this reviewer who spent most of his youth in the ’80s where jumbo frets and scalloped fretboards were a thing.
As an odd observation, when I was working on the guitar I noticed that my fingers had turned blue, which happened after I had been fishing the pots back into their respective holes. Apparently rubbing my fingers on the underside of the top had them discovering spots where there was blue finish that wasn’t sealed inside the guitar. I was glad I was home alone at the time, because my initial reaction was that I must have spilled some solvent or something on the guitar while working on it and the resulting profanity was not only loud, but profound. Thankfully, my blue fingers were just the result of sticking them where they didn’t belong which is not the first time that’s happened to me, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
If you’re wondering if vintage Guild HB1s would fit in the guitar, the answer is yes, and I thought about dropping a pair in there while I had it apart, but I have a thing about leaving beautiful guitars intact. Still, this guitar might benefit from the chimier HB1s, so the future may have back in there with the soldering iron.
Another alternative worth considering would be installing a coil-split because the SD1 pickups are 4-wire. Splitting these pickups would be very simple because of the very available white and red wires that could be hooked up to a switch or push/pull pot that would drastically increase the tonal range of the guitar in a way not possible with vintage HB1s. As you’ll see in the Sound section below, I think that the neck pickup would especially benefit from being able to have a brighter single coil option, especially when played with gain.
The pickups are independent or decoupled which means that you can turn either of the volume knobs down to zero in the middle position and it will not mute the guitar. The wiring is all well bound and there’s no rattles, though if I had a complaint it would be the same as all vintage US-made Guilds, and that’s that the wiring is all grey and therefore very difficult to trace, especially in those tightly bound bundles.
For each recording I cycled through the neck pickup, both pickups, and finally the bridge pickup. All knobs on the guitar are on 10 at all times.
I found the guitar to be a bit bassier than a solid body which is expected from most semi-hollows, but also airy and wonderful in the way that a good semi-hollow should sound. The SD pickups are great in this guitar. It’s a monster tone machine within the limits of its design, but the tones it delivers are so good that you soon forget whatever limitations you thought were there. The neck pickup can get a bit woofy when played with distortion or even crunch, but I find that to be the case with many semi-hollow guitars, and after re-listening to the recordings I think the neck pickup should probably be lowered a bit or maybe the volume rolled back. That’s only evident with chords though, and soloing with that neck pickup is divine with any amp. The pickups are a bit hot so I found that I had to dial back the gain a bit on high-gain amps. This can be heard in the Citrus Riff recording where the neck pickup is pushing the amp just a bit too hard, but again I think that could be easily resolved by lowering that pickup.
The bridge pickup with some gain is absolutely magnificent, and the both pickups setting is similarly divine. While playing this guitar I imagined that it would be the perfect instrument for a ’70s cover band where it would really shine, though it also kills for blues and harder rock, too. I had a friend in the early ’80s that played a ’70s Starfire IV in a cover band we were in together and his guitar (and certainly his skill) proved to me that a semi-hollow can be a terrific guitar for everything from jazz to metal.
I wrote in the Finish section that this guitar catches people’s attention, and you can probably guess why just by looking at the pictures. What’s not made obvious by the photos is that the guitar is an absolute joy to play. Yes, it’s heavy, but with the big wide neck and the absolutely silky action provided by the Guildsby and Schaller roller bridge, this guitar is as satisfying to play as it is to look at.
I’ve owned a lot of guitars and I have to say that this is one of the smoothest Bigsby guitars I’ve ever played, which I mostly attribute to that roller bridge.
Seated or standing, it plays like any other Starfire from the late ’90s, though it is a fair bit heavier, and since some of my other ’90s Starfires are already heavy, the weight of this blue beauty is its only downside. If you don’t like big necks then that would also be a likely turnoff, but for me the guitar is damn near perfect.
It’s no secret that I love Guild electric guitars, but even among my favorites, this one is special. It plays so well that I might be tempted to say that it plays better than any other Starfire I’ve owned, it looks absolutely stunning, and with its SD1 pickups it absolutely rocks. Sure HB1s might be better, but adding a coil-split might make this one more versatile.
This is a wonderful and inspiring guitar to play and you look great doing it. Hell, the guitar looks great on the wall, on a stand, or leaning against the wall in the corner, though you’d never catch me leaving this beauty leaning up against anything. This guitar is absolutely incredible to look at and let me tell you, in sunlight the pictures don’t do it justice.
If you’ve gotten this far and you’re ready to send a comment or email about how you’d like to buy it, forget it. This one’s a keeper, so unless you’re Brian May and you’re willing to do a private concert for my daughter (or you’re Brian Setzer and you’re willing to haul the band over to do one for me), you’ll need a big bag of large denomination bills to separate me from this guitar… a really, really big bag.