What is it?
The Guild Starfire I Jet 90 is one of the coolest electric guitars we have seen in some time. It's a real “what if?“ guitar. As in, “What if we took the Starfire I aesthetic, made it available in Satin White, Satin Black and Satin Gold, and then jammed a six-in-line headstock on it?“
Hey, we have all had those types of conversations, and thankfully people in the Guild R&D team are having them too. But they didn't just stop at the looks – which, as we are sure you are thinking, have something of the Trini-Lopez about them, albeit with a single-cut silhouette. No, they went further, seating a trio of Franz P-90 single-coil pickups and a vintage switching system to put the cherry on the sundae.
There's no denying the retro appeal of having a six-position rotary switch for selecting your pickups. Sure, some people are going to have difficulties knowing where they are positioned with regards to their pickup settings – we foresee a little grappling onstage and momentary panic in your future – but the switch completes the vintage look, promising a wide array of tones in the process.
In terms of build, the Jet 90 has a lightly arched body of laminate maple with f-holes, finished in satin polyurethane, and bound in ABS plastic (the f-holes remain unbound). A semi-solid design features a feedback-killing mahogany centre block that is weight-relieved to keep things light and airy.
Besides looking cool, the aforementioned six-in-line headstock, which joins the neck with a noticeable volute, maintains a straight line from the tuners to the bridge helps with keeping the tuning in order – though it should be said the vintage Kluson-style tuners seemed a little bit flakey and given that this is a guitar you would be remiss to let go of, they'd probably be deserving of an upgrade over time.
The Jet 90 is also equipped with a Guild-branded Bigsby-style vibrato cast from lightweight aluminium and an anchored tune-o-matic bridge. It's a little spongey for our liking, but nothing that a tighter spring couldn't sort. A couple of hardware tweaks is nothing when you consider the price ticket on this beauty.
The neck is mahogany, glued to the body and carved into a Modern Thin ‘U’ profile; it really is a slip of a thing. The Indian rosewood fingerboard has a radius of 12.5“ and is topped by 20 narrow-tall frets. As with the body, the fingerboard is bound by plastic.
Performance and verdict
Some grizzled ol' hepcats might be looking for a fatter neck on the Jet 90, but in today's money, this is a crowdpleaser, erring more on the side of Jailhouse Rock than Perpetual Burn as you would expect from a 50s Guild electric.
The factory setup is very impressive, too. Besides the aforementioned quibbles with hardware, this is a very amendable instrument that will be sensitive to the needs of many different kinds of players – jazz, blues, rock 'n' roll... Punk and post-punk?
In truth, the Jet 90 could do all of the above; it has a between-eras vibe, of looking retro, yet playing quick and easy, and having a sound that can be sweet and housetrained or a little rabid. It all depends on how you set your amp and, indeed, if you throw a fuzz pedal into the mix.
A lot of what you are hearing is the mahogany centre block offering a perfect ballast for the Franz P-90 pickups to do their thing. The bright and breezy open-air maple design – and there is quite a bit of wide to this body – is a factor, too, but there's no denying that the bridge P-90 has a little more warmth and depth to it than we might have expected had this centre block been spruce for instance.
Switching between pickups on that six-way rotary dial is fun, just so long you are in a well-lit room, though there are indicator pins to help you feel for what's going on, and like any instrument, it's sure to take a little getting used to before everything becomes second nature.
Position two on the dial is interesting. We go from punchy bridge pickup to a mix position of the bridge and middle pickups for a humbucking mode that's sure to be a well-used position for high-volume players looking for more meat on the bones.
Position three is the middle pickup on its own, mellowing out some of the brightness of that P-90 and offering an interesting proposition for migrating funk players who are more used to a middle pickup on Strat.
• Guild Starfire I DC and Guild Starfire I SC GVT
Both make great options for blues, jazz or rock 'n' roll but there's a nice versatility to these Starfire models' voice. Allied to the cool looks and sound materials, they make for excellent value in what is a crowded market for semi-hollow electrics.
• Guild Starfire II
Okay, it is mostly hollow, so feedback can be an issue, but get it right, hit a clean boost into the front-end of a Fender-style amp and the thing damn near takes off. Glorious.
• Guild Starfire II ST Dynasonic
A deluxe addition to Guild's Newark St series that evokes the end of the jazz era and the start of rock 'n' roll.
While position four sees the middle and neck in hum-cancelling mode and position five is the neck pickup on its own, position six joins the bridge and neck pickups together in hum-cancelling matrimony. That makes for a lot of tone options from a pickup renowned for its brightness.
Sure, keep it on the bridge or neck pickups and go for that classic hot and punch and slightly wide tone profile that is a classic P-90 voicing, but venturing to the middle P-90 opens up a more adventurous flavour, with plenty of fat and warm tones awaiting in the mix positions. The sustain is quite a selling point here too.
Put it this way: the Jet 90 is a guitar that's well worth exploring. It is expanding on the legacy builds we have seen from Guild in recent months, finding a new audience of the brand's heritage. Guild has often been overlooked. They might be made in Indonesia these days but there is still the weight of history behind the name, and guitars such as this do that name justice.
MusicRadar verdict: The Starfire I Jet 90 is a guitar that will enhance your level of cool long before you play your first chord on it, but once you do, you'll surely win friends and influence people with those feisty P-90 tones, and have a lot of fun along the way.
The web says
“Through our tweed combo, the bridge pickup is spiteful and nasal just like a great bridge P-90 should be and, digging in hard, there’s plenty to love for fans of early Kinks and prime-era Neil Young and Jack White. Compared to our late 1960s Gibson ES-330, the Guild has more output and more heft and it’s altogether more solidbody-like in tone – no surprise given that the Guild’s Franz pickups are screwed into a section of mahogany and our Gibson is fully hollow.“
“This guitar couldn’t look cooler if it were chiselled out of ice. In fact, while there are plenty of affordable semis out there, all vying for your attention and credit card details, few can match the beauty of that artfully sculpted protrusion at the end of this Starfire’s neck. Our advice? Call us complimentary nuts, but we recommend you fly Jet90. You might just find it beats the competition. By a head.“
- PRICE: $649 / £599
- ORIGIN: Indonesia
- TYPE: Single-cutaway semi-acoustic thinline electric guitar
- BODY: Laminated maple with chambered mahogany centre block, ABS binding, satin polyurethane finish
- NECK: Mahogany with satin polyurethane finish, set-in
- SCALE LENGTH: 629mm (24.75”)
- NUT/WIDTH: Composite/43mm
- FINGERBOARD: Indian rosewood with ABS binding and 5mm pearloid dot inlays, 320mm (12.5”) radius
- FRETS: 20, narrow tall
- HARDWARE: Nickel tune-o-matic anchored 6-saddle bridge and aluminium Guild Bigsby style vibrato, vintage-style inline tuners
- STRING SPACING, BRIDGE: 52mm
- ELECTRICS: 3x Guild Franz P-90 Soapbar single coils, master volume, master tone, 6-way pickup selector rotary switch
- WEIGHT (kg/lb): 3.3/7.5
- OPTIONS: None
- RANGE OPTIONS: The Starfire I SC and DC models come with or without Bigsby at £459 and £549 respectively. The more historically correct Starfires include the single-cut III at £1,090
- LEFT-HANDERS: No, but the Starfire IV ST Lefty double-cut hardtail in Black is available at £819
- FINISHES: Satin White (as reviewed), Satin Black, Satin Gold
- CONTACT: Guild