You’ll Never Get Rich – 70’s Version

Fender's "335" part deux. Nice try by the CBS boys but this was about as popular as "Co-ED Fever" was on CBS in 1979. It lasted one episode.

Fender’s “335” part deux. Nice try by the CBS boys but this was about as popular as “Co-Ed Fever” was on CBS in 1979. It lasted one episode. The Starcaster lasted 5 years.

So, it’s 1975 and Gibson is still trying to emulate Fender and Fender is still trying to out-Gibson the folks at Gibson. The last time Gibson tried to compete with the ES-335, they came up with the Coronado which failed. Perhaps not spectacularly, but it did fail, lasting from 1966 to 1972. Contrast that with the ES-335 being in production from 1958 until, uh, what time is it now? The Coronado really only competed superficially anyway. The guitar was fully hollow and had single coil pickups and a bolt on neck. It was very much a Fender version of a 330 rather than a 335. And it never competed successfully with either. By 1975, the ES-335 had perhaps gotten a bit tired and with the diminished quality of 335’s of the era under the dubious auspices of the Norlin Corp (beer, concrete), perhaps the time was right for Fender to mount another assault on the once mighty ES-335. Gibson was still selling 2000 of them a year but that pales in comparison to 1967 when they sold closer to 7000. Enter the Starcaster. It didn’t look that much like a 335 with it’s very Fender like offset waist but it had two f-holes, a solid center block and humbuckers. The Starcaster still had a bolt on neck (and a three bolt at that) but from a structural and electronic standpoint, it was a lot more like a 335 than a Coronado was. There were little things that made the guitar more 335 like than its predecessor. Many came with figured maple tops and backs and the black multi-ply pickguard was very Gibson like but the guitar also retained some truly Fender-like aspects. The strings loaded through the back like a Strat or Tele, the tuners were six on a side and the fingerboards were maple. Just like a Fender. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Starcaster with a rosewood board. But nobody bought them. The prevailing wisdom was that if you wanted a semi with humbuckers, you buy a Gibson. If you want a solid body with single coils, you buy a Fender. The Starcaster was released during an arguably dark era for electric guitars. Quality at both companies suffered as a result of the rise of the bean counter. Profit trumped tone and that was that. But the Starcaster is actually a pretty well conceived and well executed guitar for the era. I think it might have benefitted from a set neck but they are quite playable and they don’t sound too bad either. They don’t sound much like a Fender, that’s for certain but they don’t really sound (or feel) like a 335 either. I’ve only played a couple of them and wasn’t terribly comfortable with the body shape, the longer scale and the somewhat headstock heavy feel (Schaller tuners don’t help that). I did like the maple board and the master volume was actually sort of useful. The three way is in the wrong place unless you’re used to a Jazzmaster. Interestingly, the humbuckers were designed by none other than Seth Lover (yes, that Seth Lover) but they weren’t much like the PAF’s he designed way back when. The Fender “wide range” humbucker had 12 separate magnets machined into poles like a fender single coil. They were wound to 6800 turns and usually read about 10K ohms. The design was, supposedly,  meant to give a single coil sound only fatter. Which I suppose meant that they sounded like a Fender hum bucker (duh). By 1980 (or so-again, it depends on who you ask), the Starcaster was history. I understand they just reissued it but I think, once again,  it will have a tough time competing with the 335. So, if you want to look at it this way, the score in years is  55 to 5. ES wins. I don’t expect the Starcaster to be a collectible of the future with prices rising to 5 figures or more but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a resurgence every now and then as some young rock star gets his hands on one and makes his statement.

Having Seth Lover design your humbuckers must be like having Frank Lloyd Wright design your garage. It's a good pickup but it's not his best design ever.

Having Seth Lover design your humbuckers must be like having Frank Lloyd Wright design your garage. It’s a good pickup but it’s not his best design ever.

Go, Jonny, go. Jonny Greenwood plays his Starcaster with Radiohead.

Go, Jonny, go. Jonny Greenwood plays his Starcaster with Radiohead.


7 Responses to “You’ll Never Get Rich – 70’s Version”

  1. RAB says:

    The only other player I’ve seen using a Starcaster is Leo Nocentelli from The Meters…I’ve never played one myself but they sure are butt-ugly!

  2. Rod says:

    The sunburst one doesn’t look too bad, previously I’ve only seen blonde ones both in the flesh and in photos. But that head, obviously inspired by a meat cleaver is truly awful.

  3. Rod says:

    Actually now I think about it I can vaguely recall seeing a black one and that looked vile as well!

  4. Tom says:

    Fender has reissued the Starcaster.

    I predict they will sell pretty well this time around.

  5. cgelber says:

    Yes, I’m aware of the reissue. It’s pretty well priced and may well sell this time.

  6. Collin says:

    The star aster has actually seen a huge jump in collectibility the past few years after a number of high-profile alternative rock bands started using them (including Radiohead, Morrissey etc). Prices have gone up significantly, hence the recent reissue.

    Not bad guitars either, they play great. Since they’re rare guitars and artist association still plays a big factor in the collector guitar world, like it always has (Clapton, anyone?), the Starcaster is a pretty safe bet to increase in value in the future.

  7. RAB says:

    EXCEPT that peghead is butt ugly!

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