Dark Star: 2000 Guild Starfire Bass

The Guild Starfire bug really bit when I discovered Justin Meldal-Johnsen, known mainly as the bassist for Beck (and a fantastic producer to boot). Justin achieved some of my favorite bass tones ever using a 90's Guild Starfire Reissue, made in Westerly, RI. These reissue Starfire basses came stock with Guild's proprietary humbucking pickup, which Justin made great use of on recordings such as "Paper Tiger" from the Sea Change album.

This is noteworthy because the majority of folks who use or are interested in using Starfire basses are after the sound & look of the classic Hagstrom Bi-Sonic pickup, which came stock on Starfire basses from 1966-1970 (roughly). To my knowledge, Justin is one of the only Starfire players to make extensive use of these "Guildbuckers".

I was thrilled to finally have the opportunity to sit down with a 90's reissue Starfire, after having played Starfires from the 60's, 70's, and the 2013 reissue extensively. These 90's versions are really cool. One of the most striking things you notice immediately is that the body is about half as thin as an original Starfire. This makes the bass feel a lot more "familiar"; it almost has the feel of a solidbody instrument.

The particular Starfire is rather special in many ways. In fact, it has been suggested to me that it was perhaps built for a recording artist of some import. The combination of a non-standard color (black - these were available in Cherry, Sunburst, and Natural finishes) atop a non-standard wood (Mahogany, as noted on the sticker in the soundhole) certainly makes for a convincing argument.

The heart of this bass is of course the pickups, but this one does not have those Guildbuckers, like JMJ's bass -- this one has a pair of the wily & elusive Hammon Darkstar pickups.

Darkstar pickups were launched by Fred Hammon circa 2005, and despite being about a unique pickup as you can imagine, they became wildly popular. Before long, these large, gleaming beasts were being installed in Precision Basses, Jazz Basses, Rickenbackers, and even multi-laminate "coffee-table" basses. Hammon's creation was a more modern take on the classic Bi-Sonic pickup, wound about twice as hot as the originals for a completely unique, aggressive, yet classic sound that nothing made previously had truly captured.

For whatever reason, Hammon eventually quit making these pickups and dropped out of sight. Rumors abounded that he was simply overwhelmed by the demand, and the prices for used Darkstars skyrocketed. SIngle pickups have sold on eBay for upwards of $600, and still routinely sell in the $300-$400 range.

Recently, famed winder Curtis Novak picked up where Hammon left off and began producing his own high-quality variant of the famed Bi-Sonic, available in vintage or Darkstar (hotter) variations. Early reports on these are very favorable, though I have not hear or played one myself yet.

Being my first experience with Darkstars, there was a bit of a learning curve. These pickups are extremely sensitive to plucking hand placement and dynamics. With a light touch, they're fat and totally vintage; with a heavier-handed approach (as mine typically is), they are extremely aggressive -- occasionally to a fault. Listen to the variety in dynamics in the video below: