Psychedelic-Rock'n'roll: GUILD STARFIRE BASS

5 March 2009



The "Guild Starfire Bass" was one of the most respected basses of the 1960s, and gained recognition by its high profile users of the mid sixties such as "Jack Casady" of "Jefferson Airplane", and "Phil Lesh" of "The Grateful Dead".

The "Guild Starfire Bass" pickups of the 1960s (with Swedish made "Hagstrom bisonic" single coil pickup) were very highly regarded, and the "Guild Starfire Bass" stood up well against hollow-body rivals such as the "Epiphone Rivoli", "Gibson EB2" and "Fender Coranado Bass".
The Hagstrom units were replaced with "Guild humbuckers" in 1970, and although good quality pickups, instruments fitted with these are not as desired by collectors or players today.

The earliest single coil pickup Starfire basses had the pickup in the bridge position, later moving (1966) to the neck position ("1968 Guild Stafire Bass I").
"Guild Starfire Bass"' bridge was also made by Hagstrom, and consisted of a metal baseplate with rosewood saddles. It remained a feature of the Starfire throughout it's production run, with only a slight shape change in 1968.

Like many hollow-body guitars of the period, the "Guild Starfire Bass" has a maple body and short-scale (30 1/2") mahogany neck.

At this time, the price of a single-pickup "Guild Starfire-I" was $350 (Nov. 1967), which was actually less than the equivalent "Gibson EB2" at $395 (Sept. 1967).
With high-end features such as the Chesterfield inlay and front and back binding, the "Guild Starfire Bass" must have given serious competition to the better known Gibson, although by this time hollow-body basses were losing ground to solid-body models.

Jack Casady playing his first Guild Starfire

The "Guild Starfire Bass"' unique sound was a combination of a number of factors: a relatively short scale, a semi-hollow body design, and the Swedish made Hagstrom single coil pickup.

Designed to be played with flat-wounds, the "Guild Starfire Bass" has a relatively thin neck.
Its short scale gives a certain slacked string tension that makes it easy to play quick left hand runs but will probably make thumbing and popping kind of techniques feel sloppy.
The acoustic tone that blends with the plugged in sound blends well with rock and Jazz, but has a kind of inherent distortion that would not be suitable for R&B or other kinds of music where a cleaner bass sound might be preferable.

The wooden bridge saddles deliver acceptable intonation and the tuners hold pitch appreciably. A classic sound of a particular time and genre of music that is suitable for jam bands, but might be mushy sounding for music that requires a supertight drum and bass sound.

The main features of the "Guild Starfire Bass" are summarised in the table below.

Model: Starfire SF-I Starfire SF-II
Available: 1965-1975 1967-1977
Pickups: Hagstrom bisonic pickups, replaced by "Guild humbuckers" in 1970
Scale: 30 3/4"
Width at nut: 1 1/2"
Body: Bound Maple (Sunburst and Flonde finishes) or Mahogany
Width: 16 3/8", 1 7/8" thin, length 20 1/4" (1968) 18" (1975).
Overall length: 46 3/4"
Neck: Initially one-piece (later three piece) Peruvian Mahogany, rosewood
Hardware: Hagstrom bridge, Guild tuners, volume and tone control,
hand rest Hagstrom bridge, Guild tuners, 2 volume and 2 tone controls, master volume, pickup selector. Push-button bass boost.
Options: Fretless Fretless and or stereo circuitry


Anonymous said...

The Guild Starfire was also a very Respected Bass in the LATIN Field. The Famous BASSIST of the FANIA ALL STARS, BOBBY VALENTIN played a STARFIRE with Black Nylon Strings. It sounded Incredible.

Anonymous said...

I bought a brand-new Starfire II bass in the spring of '71. Pickups were different from Cassady's. Scale length was 32" (medium scale). Beautiful instrument.