Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Guild Starfire III

Originally uploaded by DixiePistols.

These days I mostly play my acoustic guitar. In fact, I last played one of my electric guitars on a regular basis back in high school. But, I do have two electric guitars, a Les Paul Delux from the 70s and a Guild Starfire III that I bought new, circa-1997, and pictured to the right. Guild is a funny company. They're mostly known for acoustics, not electrics. They got bought by Fender in 1995 or something, and since 2005 when they were merged in with Tacoma Guitars, they haven't made any electrics. Still, I always liked the Starfire, and I remember it playing well and sounding good.

Recently though I've been a lot more excited about electric guitar. I chaulk this up to some massive Guitar Hero sessions. Unfortunately, while my guitar still looks good, it's got some, uh, serious tuning issues since returning from its prolonged vacation. For one thing, it won't stay in tune for more than a couple of songs, even after I replaced the strings. Partially I attribute this to the Bigsby tailpiece. (Seriously, why did I ever get this? Did I think I was going to be in a Rockabilly band or something? The Starfire IV is basically the same guitar but with a regular tail. That's what I should have gotten.) But mainly I attribute it to the floating bar bridge, which I am only now coming to understand. Which brings me to my next issue.

The intonation of the guitar was also totally F-ed. For those of you out of the loop, when a guitar's intonation sucks, a string could be perfectly in tune when you strike the open note, but then flat or sharp when you strike a higher note. In my case, about 1/2 a step flat (!!!) when hitting the 12th fret.

See here's the deal: Basically for a very long time I did not understand intonation. I am only just beginning to understand how it works and how to fix it. On most guitars it's not too bad. Take this Epiphone Casino for instance. It's got a Bigsby, but it's also got a bridge that's screwed into the body, and a tune-o-matic bridge. With this guitar you can easily adjust the intonation by using a screwdriver and moving the little bridge piece for each string forward or backward.

Now check out my bridge. First, and more obviously, it's not no tune-o-matic. This is called a bar brige (I think) and it means that you cannot individually adjust the intonation for each string. That's not so bad. But if you look closely you will see that my bridge is NOT screwed into the guitar's body. Only the tension of the strings keeps it in place, so to adjust the intonation you just push it back and forth, which honestly feels really wrong. I wouldn't have done it if this forum I found hadn't confirmed that this was "best practice."

Anyway, the result is that it's much better, and I'm glad I know how to fix it, but it still needs a little work. My tastes in guitars has changed over time. At this point in my life, the only thing I care about at all is whether or not the guitar stays in tune. That's it! (Okay, this is not entirely true, but it's close enough.) My Acoustic, for instance (a Taylor 814ce) basically never goes out of tune, and always sounds great. I love it. My Guild still looks cool, and is sounding better, but still needs some TLC. Kids, get yourself a guitar that will stay in tune.


  1. Man, tell me about it! Remember when I actually installed a Bigsby tailpiece on my Gibson?


  2. Yeah, I was thinking about that at the same time as I was trying to fix my guitar. It's not a bad decision in general, but whammy bars/tremolo arms do seem kind of unnecessary for the type of music that I play and enjoy. At least you've got a tune-a-matic bridge, if I recall correctly.