I have wanted to experience a good Starcaster for 15 years now, and have finally found a truly grouse example. This 1976 vintage Fender Starcaster has been barely played for the past few decades, and actually took a while to come back to life after I took delivery of it! The switches and jack were simply not used to conducting current after decades of slumber, so it took some determined chemical and physical coaxing to get the slumbering beast back to life.
And what a worthwhile exercise it has been! This is a very good example of the model, with very little playing time or wear. There is a nick in the headstock (a meeting with the drummer's cymbal?) and some pick marks on the scrathplate and pickup covers, plus a smidgin of buckle worming on the back, but this is a seriously tidy guitar! Definitely a 9/10. Plus the original case is in very good condition (check the detailed photographs on the 'more pictures' link below), and all the original documentation, handbook, period Fender strap and lead are all in the case. The previous owner purchased the near-new guitar in about 1980, and had played it rarely since - truly an 'under the bed' find!
The Starcaster was designed by Gene Fields to be a high quality instrument. It was an unabashed attempt by Fender to tackle Gibson's successful ES-335 model head-on. The trouble was in the timing, and to some extent the execution. Guitarists, despite their reputation in other aspects of life, are generally a very conservative lot, and I think it is not unfair to suggest that players of Gibson set-neck hollow and semi-hollow guitars were (are) probably the most conservative at all. On this basis, the notion of introducing a bolted-on neck (with a Maple fretboard no less!) on a blatant ES-335 competitor was probably as silly as the introduction of a racy offset body style! Let's face it, guitarists then (and now) associated the Gibson brand with hollow, semi-hollow and solid-body humbucker guitars, and Fender purely with solid-body single-coil guitars and amplifiers. Couple this with a CBS sales department completely out of touch with reality, and the obvious outcome for the Starcaster is oblivion.
And that's what happened.
The model struggled until 1980 (or 1982 if alternative viewpoints are correct), but either way this was an orphan. An orphan I've been fascinated with for ages.
One of my favourite guitars in the past 35 years of playing is the original twin-humbucker Telecaster Deluxe, and the truly semi-hollow Starcaster, with its bigger, laminated Maple body just like Gibson's ES-335 - ES-355 range, seemed a logical extension of that. And it is!
The "Fender Wide Range" humbucking pickups featured on the Starcaster were designed by Seth Lover and appeared first on various Telecaster Custom and Telecaster Thinline models in the early '70s. They are still available as reissues, although the construction of the reissued Pickups has significantly changed. Regardless, they are still labeled "Wide Range". Of course, Seth was also the man who designed the groundbreaking Gibson P.A.F. (Patent Applied For) humbucking pickup while working for Gibson Musical Instruments in 1955.
I have to say that in this big-bodied semi-hollow guitar, it makes even more sense that it does in the Tele. The Starcaster also has a big neck which feels just right. Much better, in my opinion, than the vast majority of 'slender' Gibson necks out there, which I constantly trip on both with my left (fretting) hand and right (fingerpicking) hand.
Another aspect in which I think this beats the Gibson is the fact that it has a 'master' volume control. Not only did Fender look to Gibson in designing this model, but also Gretsch! The lack of a 'master' is something I find constantly irritating when gigging a Gibson - you just get the mix of pickups right, but want to either clean up or dirty the tone in the amp, and it takes a distracting fumbling with two knobs on the Gibson to get the desired result without losing the pickup balance!
Do I love it? YES!! I have a couple of gigs lined up in the next few weeks where I will seriously test this guitar vs some serious contenders, and if I like it as much as I do now, and it has not yet sold, it will join the list of 'not for sale' items I am now keeping for myself. You only live once...
Sold to Steve