Many of the world’s greatest guitarists play Fenders. And while this brand is primarily known for its electric guitars, you can find plenty of decent-quality, affordable Fender acoustic guitars ideal for beginners. One of the brand’s most popular beginner guitars in recent memory is the Starcaster. But is it right for you? Our Fender Starcaster acoustic guitar review will help you make the right decision.
What is the Fender Acoustic Starcaster Acoustic Guitar?
Before jumping into our Fender Starcaster acoustic review, let’s take a second to take a closer look at this guitar. The Starcaster has a very traditional look — it’s a natural-finished, full-size dreadnaught acoustic.
The Starcaster was sold in many music and non-music stores from the early 2000s up until the later 2010s. It offered an affordable way for kids and adults to get into playing guitar. And even though the Starcaster is a full-sized instrument, some stores carried the Starcaster Colt, a 3/4-size version.
These guitars were primarily made in factories in Indonesia and China. And unlike Fender guitars or Squier guitars (Fender’s budget brand), “Starcaster by Fender” guitars weren’t really made by Fender at all. They were simply inexpensive guitars that were later marketed by Fender.
If you’ve run any searches on the Starcaster, you may have seen more semi-hollow electric guitars than acoustic guitars show up. That’s because the Starcaster shares a name with one of the rarest Fender guitars of all time. The Starcaster semi-hollow thinline electric guitar is a higher quality instrument that was only made for a few years in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Because it’s a more valuable and sought-after instrument than the acoustic Starcaster, you can commonly see it on vintage guitar sites and online used guitar stores.
Is Fender a Famous Guitar Brand?
The short answer here is yes. Even people who have never touched a guitar in their lives have likely heard of Fender. This brand has been around since the 1940s. Its founder, Leo Fender, started with manufacturing amps but quickly moved to guitars. Fender’s initial guitar and bass designs — the Telecaster and the Precision bass — took the music world by storm. It didn’t take long for famous acts and artists to start using Fender amps and guitars.
Today, Fender’s electric guitars and basses remain some of the most respected in the world. The brand’s acoustic guitars don’t enjoy quite the same reputation. But in recent years, Fender’s innovative acoustic designs (like those found in the California Series) have generated some buzz.
Fender Starcaster Acoustic Guitar Review
If you’ve spent any amount of time perusing guitar buying guides online, you know that you need to assess the full specs of any given guitar before you purchase it. Finding the exact specifications of any discontinued guitar can prove to be challenging, but we’ve gathered the features and specifications of the acoustic Starcaster.
Just as you would expect, the Starcaster is made with budget in mind. It’s made of all laminated woods — the top is spruce while the back, sides, and body are agathis. You likely already know that spruce is perhaps the most popular wood when it comes to making the tops of acoustic guitars. A laminated spruce top won’t have the same fullness of sound that a solid top has, but it does impart some of the bright sound that solid spruce brings to a guitar.
The back and sides are made of agathis. This wood isn’t known for great tone, although it sounds somewhat like a budget version of mahogany — very midrange-focused and a little punchy. Agathis does have one major advantage, though — it’s very lightweight. For kids and small adults learning guitar, a very lightweight acoustic can make the whole experience much more comfortable. The neck is also agathis. It doesn’t add as much warmth to the tone as mahogany does, but it does help keep the guitar’s weight to a minimum.
The laminated build of the Starcaster leaves something to be desired. But when you consider the very low price of the guitar, it’s still a good value. After all, you can’t take a $100 starter and compare it to a $3000 J-45.
That said, this guitar also has some features that are surprisingly good for its price. Fender has included a rosewood fretboard. Rosewood is comfortable, durable, and looks great. Often, inexpensive instruments have fretboards made of cheaper woods that are more likely to pit or otherwise wear out over time.
Sound / Tones
In just about every article aimed at new guitar players, the author advises players to choose a guitar that sounds good to them. After all, if your own playing is unpleasant to listen to, you’re probably not going to be eager to continue.
You can’t expect any tonal miracles out of an inexpensive guitar, but the Starcaster does sound decent. Its tone is surprisingly snappy and banjo-like. It’s also notable that there isn’t a whole lot of either sustain or resonance. However, it is tonally balanced, though there’s a good bit of focus on the midrange. Whether you’re strumming or playing individual notes, you get the clear sound of the note or chord you’re playing and not much else.
The plain sound of the Starcaster doesn’t offer the same warmth that even slightly more expensive acoustic guitars often do. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad choice, as it does serve its purpose. It helps adults and kids alike learn guitar, and it’s playable and decent-sounding enough to do that.
Playability / Action / Ease of Use
The sound of a beginner guitar doesn’t necessarily have to be great. But if you want to be motivated to continue playing guitar, finding one that is highly playable is very important. Luckily, the Starcaster has several features that make it one of the more playable acoustic guitars out there.
To start, it comes with a rosewood fretboard. This is a feature that you more commonly see on more expensive guitars — rosewood and ebony are the two most common high-end fretboard woods. Rosewood feels great on the fingers, and it’s also incredibly durable. Simple dot inlays make it easy to keep track of your place on the fretboard.
The feel of your hand on the neck is an important playability feature, too. Many very inexpensive beginner guitars have frets with rough edges. These can scratch or otherwise irritate your hands as you play. This guitar has smooth fret edges and a bound fretboard. The plastic binding gives the fretboard a more contained look, but it’s also easy on your hands. The neck profile is average for an acoustic guitar — it isn’t as slim as some of the slim-taper neck profiles out there, but it’s still thin enough to work for players of all hand sizes.
Now, we come to what just might be the most important part of playability for new guitarists — action. “Action” refers to how high the strings are in relation to the frets. A guitar with high action has the strings farther above the frets, so it will take more force to push the strings down. A guitar with low action has the strings closer to the frets. Many modern players prefer lower action — it causes less finger and hand fatigue, and it also makes it easier to play very quickly when need be.
Since the Starcaster isn’t an especially high-end acoustic guitar, it does not arrive with a setup. More often than not, cheaper guitars have very high action out of the box. Though it’s possible to play an acoustic guitar with high action, it’s not very comfortable. And if you’re a beginner, you’re probably dealing with sore fingertips already. You don’t need to make things harder than they are.
To make any Starcaster as playable as possible, it may be worth getting a professional setup or asking a friend who is knowledgeable about guitars to set it up for you. A setup involves adjusting the truss rod (a rod that controls the amount of “relief,” or bow, in the neck) and the action. Most players are going for the lowest action they can get without causing fret buzz.
If you’re like most players, you may be hesitant to put the money into a setup, especially for such an inexpensive instrument. But the benefits of a setup make it worth getting — your guitar will play and sound better, and you’ll be much less likely to get frustrated and ultimately give up on playing guitar. Alternatively, if you’re detail-oriented and a little brave, you may want to set up your guitar with the help of a tutorial or two. You may need to adjust your truss rod and/or file down and adjust the guitar’s nut and saddle.
Build / Reliability
What size is a Fender Starcaster? Like many of Fender’s starter guitars, this one is full-sized. And in terms of build, Fender went with the most versatile option. The dreadnaught is the most common acoustic body style in the world. Its wide lower bout helps create rich overtones, but the sound is focused enough to not become overly boomy.
Fender doesn’t specifically describe the bracing style used on the laminated spruce top, but it’s safe to say that it’s probably standard X bracing — the most common type for acoustic guitars. Standard X bracing puts slightly more value on stability than it does on resonance — a good choice for a beginner instrument that might get knocked around a bit. Its laminated top, back, and sides also help make it more durable. Laminated woods are less likely to warp or crack, and they also tend to handle being bumped around better than solid woods do.
Overall, the Starcaster is a fairly reliable guitar as long as it’s taken good care of. But like most inexpensive guitars, the tuners are its weak point. On some individual Starcaster guitars, you might find it difficult to turn the tuning pegs. But in most cases, you’ll just find that the guitar slips out of tune gradually. Usually, inexpensive tuners don’t hold the instrument in tune for very long.
If you purchase a Starcaster and find yourself having to re-tune frequently, there is an easy fix — switching out the tuners for a more reliable set. Purchasing the tuners is another investment, but in most cases, you can install them at home with a set of basic tools.
Lastly, just like other inexpensive guitars, the Starcaster will sometimes suffer from poor quality control. You can see the evidence of this if you look at many Starcaster reviews at once. One review will mention the flawless, beautiful gloss finish, but the next one might mention small cracks along the soundboard. Some buyers find that the instrument arrives with its neck in the correct position, but others get a guitar that’s in major need of a truss rod adjustment. In most cases, though, if you get a faulty guitar, you can almost always send it back for a refund or replacement.
Price / Value
You already know that the Starcaster is one of the most affordable acoustic guitars out there. But does that price also offer value? The Starcaster is usually priced between $70 and $100 for the guitar on its own. That’s less expensive than most new beginner acoustic guitars — they usually will run you about $100 to $200. Generally speaking, among beginner guitars, those with solid tops tend to be more expensive. The Starcaster’s laminated top is a good part of why it’s so affordable.
In short, the Starcaster can be had for an incredibly low price. The value it offers isn’t outstanding — it’s all laminate and doesn’t really have any features that distinguish it from competitors. But if you just need a straightforward, average-sounding acoustic to learn on, it’s a worthy buy.
Is Fender Starcaster a Good Guitar?
Almost any Fender Starcaster acoustic review will tell you the same thing — given its very low price, the Starcaster is a decent deal. You can’t expect miracles out of an inexpensive starter guitar, but the Starcaster is a solid choice of a first guitar.
However, almost any music teacher will tell you to go for a beginner acoustic with a solid top if you can afford it. Solid-top acoustic guitars sound remarkably better than those made of all laminated wood. And best of all, they “open up” to sound even better over time.
The all-laminate Starcaster does have its advantages, though. Laminated wood is much more resistant to changes in temperature and humidity than solid wood, so the Starcaster makes a great travel guitar or instrument to take camping. Laminate is also harder to crack or break than solid wood. So if you’re looking for a full-size dreadnaught for a child, this one could be a good guitar to invest in.
How Much Does a Fender Starcaster Acoustic Cost?
When they were sold brand new in stores, acoustic Starcasters ran about $90-$100. If you’re purchasing one now, they often are roughly the same price or a bit lower. If you’re shopping for acoustic Starcasters, the slightly more expensive ones are likely acoustic-electric Starcasters. These guitars are about $150 now. They include an affordable, relatively low-end pickup. Some even include an onboard tuner. And unlike the regular dreadnaught all-acoustic Starcaster, many of the acoustic-electric versions have a Venetian cutaway.
Occasionally, you might find an unopened Starcaster acoustic starter pack offered for sale. These packs tend to be slightly more expensive than the standalone guitars. But it’s important to note that, as is the case with most acoustic starter packs, the included accessories aren’t especially high quality. But if you’re just starting out and aren’t quite sure what accessories to buy, having them included is very convenient. In particular, for a new guitarist, having a starter pack of picks included makes it easier to try different thicknesses until they find one that seems to click.
If you’re shopping for an acoustic Starcaster, there are a couple of things to watch out for. One is the inflation of prices. Some sellers offer used Starcasters at a high price, hoping that someone naive will think that they’re getting a great deal on a vintage guitar. The other thing to look out for is the cost of shipping. Depending on the selling platform used, some sellers will use an artificially low product price to lure you in. They’ll then make the shipping price very, very high.
Does Fender Still Make Starcaster?
What happened to the Fender Starcaster? As is the case with many different Fender guitars, both acoustic and electric, the Starcaster has been discontinued after being on the market for several years.
Fender began marketing the Starcaster in the early 2000s. This affordable guitar was part of a line of budget instruments — there were Starcaster electric guitars, acoustic guitars, electric basses, and even drum sets. You could even find Starcaster amps and a handful of effects pedals. The Starcaster was often sold as part of a starter pack which included a strap, picks, tuner, and other accessories new guitarists needed to start playing.
The fact that the Starcaster has been discontinued doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t find it anywhere, though. Certain music stores may still have old stock they haven’t sold. Starcasters also tend to appear on used music gear sale sites.
Are Fender Starcasters Rare?
While they were still being made and marketed, Starcaster acoustics weren’t rare at all. In fact, you could find them for sale in even non-music stores like Best Buy and Sears.
Now that they are discontinued, though, Starcasters are rare in the sense that it’s hard to find them offered for sale. Since these guitars aren’t especially valuable, owners don’t always have enough incentive to go through all the hassle of preparing and then offering them for sale.
If you want to buy one, it may take some digging. Be patient, and be sure to regularly monitor every website you can think of that sells guitars.
So should you try and find a Fender Starcaster for sale? If you’re looking for an affordable beginner’s guitar, it’s not a bad choice. However, don’t be tempted to pay more than around $100 for it because it’s rare — the simple fact is that the Starcaster isn’t high quality enough to be more valuable as a vintage instrument.
If you can’t find any used Starcasters, you may be interested in one of Fender’s more contemporary beginner guitar packs featuring the successors to the Starcaster. Fender’s current beginner guitars are much higher in quality. A great example is the Fender CD-60, a starter dreadnaught with a spruce top and mahogany back and sides. Though it’s made of all laminated wood, its scalloped X bracing helps give it impressive resonance. Quality die-cast tuners help keep you in tune through even long practice sessions, too. Take your time choosing your first (or next) acoustic — you’re sure to find the Starcaster or other acoustic that’s right for you!