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If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, then CBS-owned Fender was infatuated with Gibson’s ES line of semi-hollow electric guitars. Gibson’s ES models had been heavily used by guitar icons like Chuck Berry (ES-350T and eventually the ES-345 and ES-355), Eric Clapton (ES-335 with Cream and Blind Faith), and B.B. King (ES-355), virtually dominating the semi-hollow world and prompting Fender to release its own semihollow creation—the Starcaster in 1976.
To differentiate itself from the popular Gibson models—which generally had a maple body, mahogany neck, and rosewood fretboard—Fender took the all-maple approach when designing the Starcaster, which features an offset double-cutaway, asymmetrical maple body, neck, and fretboard. In addition, Fender stuck with its tried-and-true, bolt-on neck construction and 25.5" scale length, which was in direct opposition to Gibson’s set-neck design and 24.75" scale length. The guitar’s controls include a 3-way pickup selector, a tone and volume knob for each pickup, and a master volume. The Starcaster shown here has a natural finish—other choices available were black, blonde, tobacco sunburst, walnut, and white. This particular Fender model was the only non-Telecaster model to feature the Seth Lover-designed Wide Range humbuckers. These pickups—originally used from ’71–’79 in Telecaster Deluxes, Thinlines, and Customs—are described as having a fat, distinctive tone with a little more detail and clarity than the famous PAF pickups Lover designed for Gibson.
While Fender didn’t lure away too many ES purists with the short-lived Starcaster— the guitar was only manufactured from 1976–1980—it did eventually find favor with indie guitarists like Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, Phish’s Trey Anastasio (who plays a custom Langeudoc designed after the Starcaster), The Killers’ Dave Keuning (who uses one in the band’s videos for “For Reasons Unknown” and “Human”), and Arctic Monkeys’ Jamie Cook (who rocks one during the video for “Crying Lightning”).
A special thanks to Jeff Sadler of Rock N Roll Vintage in Chicago, Illinois, for the opportunity to feature this fine instrument and its story.