Fans of the warm, round bass tones that powered many ’60s rock and psychedelic bands will find much to admire in this short-scale, semi-hollow 4-string.
Since setting up shop in early 1950s New York City, Guild Guitars has established itself as one of a handful of great, classic American guitar companies. Guild has seen its share of ownership swaps, direction changing, and relocations over the years, but the company has maintained its reputation amongst players as a manufacturer of solid instruments for the working musician. Attracting players from across the genre spectrum, Guild instruments have found go-to-axe status in the hands of luminaries from Mississippi John Hurt to Richie Havens to Kim Thayil, along with just too many others to mention.
While probably best known over the years for their acoustics, Guild has given us plenty of electric offerings too. And with the unveiling of the Newark St. Collection earlier this year, FMIC-owned Guild has brought back eight of their classic electric models from the ’50s and ’60s. One of them is the Starfire bass, a 4-string legend that first made its mark as the low-end-providing tool for bands like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and the Byrds. Here, we take this next-generation Starfire for a spin.
Crown of Creation
Opening up a new instrument’s case for the first time ranks up there pretty high on the scale of life’s pleasures. And popping the top of the Starfire’s deluxe TKL hardshell case didn’t disappoint by any stretch. This is an instrument that just oozes a classic vibe and begs to be held and played.
The modern-era, Korean-made Starfire bass almost looks like it was pulled out of a time capsule from 1965—the year Guild first introduced the bass version of their Starfire IV guitar. And like its ’65 inspiration, the Newark St. Starfire is a short-scale (30 3/4"), double-cutaway semi-hollow.
The slender 3-piece, U-shaped neck is constructed of mahogany and topped with a rosewood fretboard. Keeping true to its predecessor, the Starfire’s top, back, and sides are all constructed of laminated mahogany. Some of the other appointments that help feed the vintage vibe of the original include the rosewood tug bar and thumb rest, rosewood string saddles, ivory white binding for the neck and body, unbound f-holes, and the unmistakable Chesterfield inlay adorning the headstock.
Billed as “handbuilt,” the cherry red Starfire gave every initial indication that care and attention played a part in its construction. I didn’t come across any finish flaws, loose fitting hardware, or other red flags when first looking it over.
Powering the Starfire is a single, passive Bi-Sonic pickup that’s located in the bridge position. The pickup configurations of the original Starfire basses varied through the years but this solo Bi-Sonic setup in the bridge is true to the ’65 model. Also like the original, the two black control knobs for tone and volume each have position markers inset in the body next to their sides.
The original Starfires were intended to offer up an easy playing neck, and the vintage spec’d, skinny neck of this bass is no different. The fret dress was super clean and the neck felt fast and comfortable as I spent some quality time working the Starfire unplugged. And while doing so, I found this semi-hollow can resonate like there’s no tomorrow.
Once I stood up with the Starfire strapped on, it took the expected neck dive that’s typical of a semi-hollow bass. Getting used to the balancing act was a pretty quick process, however, given the Starfire’s light overall weight and short scale.
So You Want to be a Rock ’n’ Roll Star I fired up the Starfire by plugging it into a Gallien-Krueger 800RB paired with a TC Electronic RS410 cab. I started out with the amp’s EQ flat to see what I could dial in using just the bass. Not surprisingly with a single passive pickup, the one tone knob didn’t provide much in the way of variation as I rolled it back and forth, so I just ended up leaving it dimed and relied on my amp’s EQ. With a press of the amp’s mid-contour switch, pushing up the treble to about 3 o’clock, and rolling the lo-mid knob down to 10 o’clock, I got to something I liked. And that was a woody, earthy tone with lots of warmth on hand, albeit not much punch.
I detected a markedly different response depending on my right-hand placement. For me, the angle and position of the thumb rest felt a little cramped when I anchored there, so I naturally gravitated toward my normal resting spot around or on the pickup. The tone was still totally usable here, but forcing myself to ignore muscle memory, I moved back toward the neck and rested on the rosewood bar again. This shift allowed me to pull a much fuller, rounder, and dynamic tone from the strings—so much so that it almost made my pickup-resting position sound thin in comparison.
Warm, old-school bass tone is what the Starfire is all about, and it certainly leans towards the lows and mids without a ton of brightness. I suspect this low/mid emphasis would be even more pronounced with a set of flatwounds, which would probably complement this 4-string nicely.
The Verdict With the reintroduction of this storied classic, Guild is no doubt going to make a number of bassists happy—especially those who have dreamed of adding a Starfire to their clan, but couldn’t muster the coin for a vintage model. That said, this bass will still set you back more than a grand. As much as I like the fact that Guild stayed so close to the original Starfire, I found myself thinking about the dual-pickup Starfire II and the benefits of having some more sonic options on hand.
The new incarnation of the Starfire bass is a nicely constructed instrument and it’s hard to find much fault with it. It won’t appeal to slap stylists, those looking for super-modern tones, or more aggressive players who might find the dual finger rests a nuisance. (They can be removed.) The Starfire, however, could become a go-to for many players because its rich, warm, mellow tones are more than fitting for R&B, jazz, and of course, rock ’n’ roll. This bass has a little bit of history there.
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
This full-amp-stack-in-a-box pedal brings a new flavor to the Guitar Legend Tone Series of pedals, Missing Link Audio’s flagship product line.
Adding to the company’s line of premium-quality effects pedals, Missing Link Audio has unleashed the new AC/Overdrive pedal. This full-amp-stack-in-a-box pedal – the only Angus & Malcom all-in-one stompbox on the market – brings a new flavor to the Guitar Legend Tone Series of pedals, Missing Link Audio’s flagship product line.
The AC/OD layout has three knobs to control Volume, Gain and Tone. That user-friendly format is perfect for quickly getting your ideal tone, and it also offers a ton of versatility. MLA’s new AC/OD absolutely nails the Angus tone from the days of “High Voltage” to "Back in Black”. You can also easily dial inMalcom with the turn of a knob. The pedal covers a broad range of sonic terrain, from boost to hot overdrive to complete tube-like saturation. The pedal is designed to leave on all the time and is very touch responsive. You can get everything from fat rhythm tones to a perfect lead tone just by using your guitar’s volume knob and your right-hand attack.
- Three knobs to control Volume, Gain and Tone
- Die-cast aluminum cases for gig-worthy durability
- Limited lifetime warranty
- True bypass on/off switch
- 9-volt DC input
- Made in the USA
MLA Pedals AC/OD - Music & Demo by A. Barrero
Energy is in everything. Something came over me while playing historical instruments in the Martin Guitar Museum.
When I’m filming gear demo videos, I rarely know what I’m going to play. I just pick up whatever instrument I’m handed and try to feel where it wants to go. Sometimes I get no direction, but sometimes, gear is truly inspiring—like music or emotion falls right out. I find this true particularly with old guitars. You might feel some vibe attached to the instrument that affects what and how you play. I realize this sounds like a hippie/pseudo-spiritual platitude, but we’re living in amazing times. The Nobel Prize was just awarded to a trio of quantum physicists for their experiments with quantum entanglement, what Albert Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.” Mainstream science now sounds like magic, so let’s suspend our disbelief for a minute and consider that there’s more to our world than what’s on the surface.
I recently spent a day filming a factory tour of Martin Guitars in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. After we wrapped, we discovered that Martin has this amazing museum that showcases more than 170 historic instruments. We decided to meet at the museum at 7:45 a.m. the next morning to film a few choice pieces before catching our flight in not-too-near Newark, New Jersey, that afternoon.
These were not ideal conditions for a performance. Neither my brain nor my fingers work well before 10 a.m., plus I hadn’t slept well the night before. Even so, we loaded into the museum, met the curators, set up the shoot, and began rolling by 8 a.m.
The first guitar was an 1834 gut string, perhaps the oldest Martin in existence. It was beautiful but had some tuning issues and did not project very well, so playing it felt more like work than music.
Next was a prewar D-45 worth over $500k. The strings were ancient with that rusty feel, like you’ll need a tetanus shot after playing it. I’m sure it sounded great, but I was tired and thinking more about making our flight than playing guitar. Wonderful instrument but uninspired performance on my end.
Then, I played a 1953 D-18 coined “Grandpa” by Kurt Cobain. I picked up the deeply sacred D-18, and my hands went to an A minor. This sounds like hype, but honestly, I closed my eyes and connected with a deep, beautiful sadness. The feeling was palpable as soon as you picked it up. This guitar pretty much played itself, leading me to a sad version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” I don’t know if it was any good, but I know I felt something deeply. That’s why I started playing guitar in the first place. I don’t have to play well to feel moved.
I later talked to the museum director, who told me the D-18 was given to Cobain by his 1991 girlfriend Mary Lou Lord. Cobain played it on tour before and after Nirvana’s Nevermind. It was returned to her after Cobain married. Shortly after that, Mary Lou loaned the guitar to Elliott Smith, who played it until his death.
When I’m sad, I make myself play guitar to feel better, because it usually works. This 70-year-old guitar spent a lot of time literally pressed up against the hearts and chests of two artists who were so tormented by their emotions that they ended their lives. That’s heavy. You can’t explain those feelings that make the hair stand up on your arm, or when you feel like crying for no reason … but hitting that A minor made me feel it.
We had to split for the airport, so Chris Kies and Perry Bean started packing up. As they did, I saw this cute little 1880 Martin 000 that belonged to Joan Baez. In the photo next to it, Joan looks like my mom in the ’60s. I asked the curator if I could play it, and Chris grabbed his phone to do a quick Insta video. I swear there was a happy vibe coming off this tiny guitar. It felt like watching my mom dance—like a warm hug I needed after Cobain’s D-18.
In Chinese culture, there is a superstition that antiques may hold evil spirits, and chi (energy) transfer can bring this negativity into your home. Feng shui is all about objects carrying good or bad chi. Here’s how I see it: All matter is made of atoms. Atoms contain energy. Ergo, everything contains energy, or, more aptly, everything is energy. Ever walk into a room and feel powerful emotion: joy, sadness, fear, tranquility? That’s energy. We all have felt energy coming from people, places, and things. But that’s what I love about old guitars: Their atoms spent the first few hundred years as a tree in the forest connected to nature. Then, they’re turned into an instrument that makes people happy or consoles them when they are sad. That’s the kind of chi I want around me.
The Saddest Martin Ever? A 1953 D-18 Owned by Kurt Cobain & Elliott Smith
Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters are designed to offer a fat midrange and a smooth top end.
Billy Corgan was looking for something for heavier Smashing Pumpkins songs, so Joe Naylor designed the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One pickup. Sporting custom artwork etched onto the covers, the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One Humcutters have a fat midrange and a smooth top end. This pickup combines the drive and sustain of a humbucker with the percussive attack and string clarity of a P90. Get beefy P90 tone plus amp-pummeling output with the Railhammer Billy Corgan Z-One.
Patented Railhammer Pickups take passive guitar pickups to a new level with rails under the wound strings lead to tighter lows, and poles under the plain strings offer fatter heights. With increased clarity, the passive pickup’s tone is never sterile.
Railhammer Billy Corgan Signature Z-One Pickup Demo
For more information, please visit railhammer.com.