1999 Guild Starfire V in Blue

Today’s review is this beautiful 1999 Guild Starfire V in blue. Starfire Vs from this time period are relatively uncommon, but finding one in blue like this is a real rarity. A long-time fellow Guild collector had this one in his clutches forever and finally caved into to my incessant requests to sell it to me so long as I promised to give him first dibs should I ever decide to sell it. That means if you’ve already fallen in love with it from this picture alone, either prepare to offer me a lot of money, or prepare for disappointment when you offer to buy it from me. And yes — spoiler alert — it’s that good. Let’s take a look.

Introduction

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.

The Starfire V appears in the Winter/Spring 1999 Guild catalog which at the time was released as a sort of magazine called the Guild Gallery. That catalog (the one with Deana Carter on the cover) says that it has a wiring setup like an X700 with the master volume. The X700 was the top-of-the-line jazz box in the Guild lineup during the time when this guitar was made, so sharing features with that model was a nice selling point.

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.

By 2002, the Starfire V was no longer listed and would not return as a production model from a US factory. That statement made me sad, but it’s true as of early 2020, some 20 years later. I look forward to Guild changing this and making electric guitars in the US again, but so far that seems to be fairly unlikely, though I am eager to being proven wrong after which I’m sure they’ll have a $7000 price tag. Jaded? Me? Nah.

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 was unable to find any ads or catalog photos of a ’90s Starfire in this glorious blue, but I did find this ad that shows one in Emerald Green. If the green is half as stunning as the blue, I’d be hard-pressed not to buy one sight unseen should one come up for sale. If I found one in Tennessee Orange, well, it’s probably best not to get between between me and a rare guild electric in a sexy rare finish. Then again, I can’t really see having two of them and the blue one would win every time. Now having one in red, one in green, and one in blue would be pretty crazy, but if it’s not clear by reading any of my reviews, I raced past pretty crazy about 40 guitars ago. Still, there’s something to be said for having a complete set…

I can quit any time I want.

Finish

As with every Westerly Guild I’ve ever owned, the finish is impeccable on this guitar and it’s clearly been babied its entire life because it is in perfect condition some 20 years after it was made.

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.

There is no  mention of blue in the Starfire section of that catalog, though 95 – Cayman Blue is listed a generic option in the 2000 catalog. In my conversations with Hans Moust (Author of the Guild Guitar Book) about the guitar, he seemed to think it looked more like Sapphire Blue. Sadly, the label inside the f-hole simply says SF-V Blue. Regardless what kind of blue it is, the guitar is striking. I think I’ll call it Seriously Freaking Blue since I couldn’t seem to work in a clever reference to COBOL.  

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.

This is one of the most eye-catching guitars in my collection, and people are drawn to it like crazy. I brought it to a Let’s Meet Guild event and of all the guitars I brought, this blue Starfire was the one that captured everyone’s attention, and to put that into perspective, I had also brought an über-rare Guild X3000 Nightingale (shown here; review pending) in a similarly striking blue (though perhaps not quite as sapphire), but as cool as that guitar is, people still gravitated to the Starfire. Like I wrote above, it’s Seriously Freaking Blue.

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.

This is not a tremendously elegant guitar when compared to other Guild offerings of the time such as the X700 or Artist Award. The Starfire V doesn’t have an ebony fretboard, it doesn’t have v-block inlays, and it doesn’t have a lot of other fine details like those higher-end guitars, but it still radiates an aura of dazzling brilliance in part because of the obviously unique finish, but also because these Starfires from the turn of the century (never thought I’d be old enough to write that without talking about the late 1800s!) are just really well-made instruments. The simple block inlays on the Starfire V add just a hint of showiness without being over the top, especially when compared with the dot inlays of the Starfire IVs from the same period.

Build Quality

Build quality is superb as it is on every US-made Guild I’ve ever handled, and one of the first things you notice when you pick up this guitar is how heavy it is. Weighing in at 9.5 lbs (4.31 kilos), it’s not the heaviest guitar I’ve owned, but it’s no lightweight, either. Given that this model is slightly deeper than the Starfire IV of the same year, the extra weight is expected, but remember that there’s also a Bigsby tailpiece that adds even more weight.

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.

The neck joint is rock solid and the bound fretboard matches the front and rear bound body with a very nice contrast on the beautifully finished blue guitar. Internally there is a very large (and no doubt heavy) block of wood going down the center which helps to balance the guitar very well. One of the odder things I discovered, at least to my I’m not a luthier way of thinking, is that the center block does not seem to be just a block of maple, but rather multiple layers of thick wood glued together with the top layer seeming to be mahogany. I’d love to theorize that this block of mahogany (if indeed that’s what I’m seeing) could help to impart a more Les Paul type tone to the guitar, but I have no science to back that up so will just leave my observation as an interesting discovery.

Pickups

The pickups in this guitar are Seymour Duncan SD1 pickups, which is pretty exciting since this guitar was made near the tail-end of the Westerly guitar era and most of the electrics to leave Westerly during that time had Fender HB1 pickups. My 1999 X170T had Fender HB1s, so this must have been amongst the last of the Guild electrics to be fitted with the superior Seymour Duncans.

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.

Electronics

This guitar was built in 1999 when Fender had owned Guild for a few years and was just about to move them out of Westerly Rhode Island to Corona California. Fender is a big company and would have been very keen on lowering costs by making things the same wherever possible, and that can be seen in Guilds from this era. An example of that can be seen in this guitar where all four of the pots are 500k Ω which is a setup I’ve seen on many Guilds from the same time period. Contrast that with older Guilds from the ’80s which had identical controls and layouts (dual humbuckers) but with 200k tone pots and different value capacitors for each pickup. The caps on this guitar are generic ceramic disc .02μF on both pickups. That’s not to say that this guitar has bad components, because it does not. The pots are all WD500 pots which were standard for this era, and the use of generic low-cost capacitors was standard practice for Guild going back to the ’70s.

The catalogs state that the Starfire V has a unique master volume, but I’m here to tell you that there’s nothing unique about it since it’s just a 500k pot inline between the selector switch and the output jack. Perhaps they meant that it was unique in the Starfire line, which it was for 1999, but historically master volumes were standard issue on Starfire IVs in the ’70s and ’80s, so that’s a bit of marketing hyperbole if you ask me.

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.

Hardware

The hardware is pretty consistent with other Guilds of the late-’90s including the black plastic Guild G-Shield knobs, and the Grover Rotomatic tuners. The first obvious difference is the big and heavy Guild-emblazoned model 7 Bigsby which is screwed right into that beautiful top. According to the Bigsby FAQ, the model 7 is used on thin electric guitars with more downward pressure, and that makes sense on the Starfire V whereas on the hollow Starfire III, the increase in downward pressure would likely collapse the top over time.

The big difference on this guitar that’s not obvious at first glance is the Schaller Roller bridge which makes a world of difference in my opinion. In fact, after people comment on the weight of the guitar and the size of the neck, the next thing people seem to comment on is how amazingly smooth the Guildsby is, and I attribute that to this bridge. I have a lot of Bigsby-equipped guitars with bridges ranging from the Bigsby rockers to custom bridges from Compton and TruArc and I have to say that this one beats them all, at least when it comes to feel and tuning stability. I can’t say that I’ve abused it on stage for months on end, but from what I’ve seen in my testing, I really like it. 

Sound

This is a fairly versatile instrument, though it is limited a bit by its design and the fact that it has humbuckers. I would have loved to see a coil split option on this guitar because as wonderful as the darker humbucker tones are, I think a guitar like this would be fantastically versatile with the addition of single-coil tones.

ODS100 Clean

Open Chords #1

Open Chords #2

7th Chords

D-Shape

JCM-800

A Barre Chords

D-shape

Riff

Citrus

D-Shape Chords

Riff

Thee recordings were done before I got my Axe-FX III and were recorded using my Axe-FX II XL+ setup through the QSC K12 speaker recorded direct into my Macbook Pro using Audacity. I recorded using the ODS100 Clean patch, as well as the JCM-800 and one through a setting called Citrus which is an Orange RV50 amp simulation.

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.

Playability

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.

Conclusion

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.

 

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5 thoughts on “1999 Guild Starfire V in Blue

  1. Very jealous of the flamed maple – that is really stunning. I’ve got 2017 Starfire IV in blue, but it’s sparkly, not flamed. I still love it! What’s the deal with the blues not being listed in the catalogs?

  2. Hi Gary,

    Really cool blog with great info. I recently purchased a new Newark St. Starfire 4 online and quickly ran into the issue you also have with the raised pick guard sitting on top of the pickup surrounds. Other than removing it, are you aware of any remedies? Would any other Guild guards with larger pickup cutouts fit? Could the existing pick guard be cut to allow it to sit lower around the pickup surrounds? I have an inquiry in to Guild, but the customer service person said he’s unaware of the issue and didn’t think the few other current guards that fit around pickups would fit.

    Thanks,

    Jay

    1. As I was writing, Guild responded saying that none of their other pick guards would be compatible with the starfire. I get that they were trying to reproduce the vintage starfire with that guard setup, but it’s really a playability issue especially with the action set low.

    2. Not that I’m aware of. I’m sure the pick-guard could be cut but you’d need to alter (likely bend) the attachment bracket, too. I would look for a custom pick-guard solution or just remove it, which is what I usually end up doing. I love the look of the pick guard but it’s always been a lame design IMO.

      1. Thanks for the quick reply Gary. Mine came with a ding in the pick guard that Sweetwater will likely be replacing so I probably will have the dinged guard to experiment with cutting.

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