The Starcaster may catch the average Fender fan off guard. That’s because it’s an odd combination of features for a Fender: large semi-hollow body with dual F holes and humbuckers, yet it has a bolt on 25.5” scale neck with an oversized Strat-like headstock. Could it be Leo Fender’s bastard child perhaps? Well no, but the Starcaster was Fender’s response to the popular Gibson ES-335 and ES-345 of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. The original Starcaster had a brief run from 1976 until about 1980 (some say 1982) but it was never a big commercial success.
While not a faithful recreation of the original, the new Starcaster is a part of the Modern Player series, and it features some new updates that make it more usable for today’s player.
The new Starcaster is a semi hollow design, unlike the original that was a full-hollow body. It features a maple laminated top and an alder block in the middle, an important update to eliminate unwanted feedback. Unlike the original, it features an Adjustomatic bridge with an anchored tailpiece to help improve the tuning stability. In addition, it features dual volume and tone controls for each pickup.
The neck is a 4 bolt design (the original Starcaster was a 3 bolt design) and it has a comfortable C shape with a 9.5” radius and medium jumbo frets. While it has a smooth poly finish on it, I didn’t find it sticky. Although the pickups resemble the original Fender Wide Range humbuckers, they have a more modern, higher output. The Starcaster features binding on the front and back, the neck, and even the F holes. My sample had an attractive aged cherry sunburst finish.
WHAT WE LIKE:
It didn’t take me long to warm up to the Starcaster, and I was admittedly a bit skeptical at first. I know, don’t judge a book by its cover. In fact, it was a real delight to play. Unlike my mainstay guitars (Les Paul, Strat, and Tele), the Starcaster had me playing (or trying to play) different material. I especially liked playing the Starcaster fairly clean, especially on the neck pickup. The tone was warm and deep sounding, yet not muddy at all. The middle position added a little more clarity with a bit less bass, as to be expected and the treble position had a nice bite to it - a bit nasally, perhaps, but clear and open.
If you’re used to playing small bodied guitars, or ones with comfortable curves like a Stratocaster, the shape of the Starcaster might take getting used to. It is a good sized guitar. I also found the position of the pickup selector awkward, preferring it to be on the upper bout or down by the volume/tone controls.
TONE: 4 out of 5 STARS
I found the tone of the Starcaster to be somewhat unique from anything I own. You will never confuse it with a Strat, Tele or Jazzmaster, which is exactly the point. Jazz enthusiasts especially will like the warm and mellow, yet articulate, tones with the easy and fast playing neck. And while it’s a good match for jazz types, with a little added overdrive or fuzz, you can make the Starcaster sound pretty mean and nasty.
The Wide Range pickups seem to be a pretty good match on the Starcaster. They get some criticism by folks who wish they were the exact Seth Lover replicas of the 1970 originals, but I still found them more than adequate, especially in the neck position.
BUILD QUALITY: 4 out of 5 STARS
I found the build quality, especially at this price point, to be excellent. It does have that durable poly finish everywhere, but I found no visible fit or finish flaws, even on the binding on the F holes. It stayed in tune very well, too. After traveling across the country in cold weather, it was very close to being in tune right out of the box. Remarkable!
VALUE: 4 out of 5 STARS
The Starcaster is a real bargain. For under $700 you get a well-made guitar, unique but charming good looks, easy playability, and good tone. It didn’t come with a case of any sort, so that might need to be factored into the budget.
OVERALL RATING: 4 out of 5 STARS
Overall, the Starcaster has a different vibe to it, both visually and tonally. It isn’t a radically different guitar, just unique enough to make you want to try different things. If you’re bored by the “popular” guitars and want something different that not everyone else will be playing, the Starcaster is actually a really fun, good playing guitar. And while it might not be the right guitar for Ozzfest, for many other occasions it could be just the ticket.