Epiphone has been making waves since the launch of their 2020 “Inspired By” models, and while the Epiphone Starling isn’t one of those guitars, it definitely shows the vast increase in overall quality coming from the Gibson subsidiary in recent years.
Marketed as an affordable entry point to the Epiphone acoustic family, it draws inspiration from iconic models like the Hummingbird and the Dove while keeping the cost at a point that suits all wallets. In fact, it’s one of the most inexpensive guitars that it’s currently possible to buy new from any mainstream manufacturer.
In this KillerGuitarRigs Review we went into depth on the Fantastic Epiphone Starling, which incidentally was our Best Budget choice in our roundup of the best acoustic guitars for beginners. If you’ve wanted to find out more about this great budget acoustic guitar, you won’t want to miss this!
Epiphone Starling: Who Is This For?
The Epiphone Starling is primarily aimed at new and novice players. The bargain price tag is obviously the biggest draw to this demographic, coming in at well under $150. Besides that, it offers incredibly durable construction, and even comes in a wide range of unique colors, something that’s sure to appeal to younger players in particular.
Appearance / Features / Controls
Even if you didn’t see the headstock logo, there would be no mistaking the Epiphone Starling for any other brand’s guitar. The square shouldered dreadnought body might not be the biggest clue, but the starling motif on the pickguard is a dead giveaway.
The body was made with all layered woods – layered spruce on the top, and layered mahogany on the back and sides. The use of layered woods isn’t a surprise when the tiny price tag is considered, and while it is a little limiting tonally, it does make it an incredibly durable guitar – perfect for beginners.
It had a mahogany neck, carved into a nice, slim C profile. We found it to be very comfortable, and we think the vast majority of players will find it comfortable and very forgiving, too.
Like most of the current generation of Epiphone guitars, it had a laurel fretboard. As we find with the majority of laurel boards, it was a little dry to begin with, but with a little fretboard conditioner it turned out great.
The hardware was all quite basic, but having said that, it was all of good quality. The tuners performed well, and although the nut was simple plastic, it was very well cut, so there were no issues with tuning stability or intonation relating to it.
The Epiphone Starling was a great little performer, overall. After a number of rigorous tests, we were still enjoying playing it, and found that despite the low price tag, it was still very reliable.
Being a square shoulder dreadnought, it had the typical full voice and big, booming presence. We found it to be particularly loud, although the layered wood construction did slightly hinder the resonance.
We found that it was a guitar best suited to rhythm style playing. It performed particularly well with simple cowboy chords, and it sat well within a mix. We also found it to be quite responsive to changes in touch, which again was quite surprising given the extremely low price.
Fingerstyle playing wasn’t its strongest suit, but it still held its own, and beginners who are advancing to these techniques may well be at the point at which they would want to upgrade, anyway.
It was definitely more focused in the mids and lower mids, and had a little shimmer at the top. Not quite as much as you’d find on a guitar with a solid spruce top, but it was definitely enough to provide a little balance, and to prevent muddiness in the tones.
Other Guitars to Consider
Fortunately, we live in a time when guitars in this price range are both easily accessible, and are generally quite good. The Epiphone Starling is one of the best, but obviously with so many others, we understand why you might want to check out some other models. Here are a couple of our favorite alternatives.
The Epiphone DR-100 is the most affordable model in the Epiphone lineup, and features wise, it offers a lot! It’s another square shoulder dreadnought model made with good components and with a proper QA process in place. The result is a good looking beginner guitar, with great playability, and genuinely good tone at an unbelievable low price.
It’s very similar to the Starling, but has a more simple aesthetic thanks to the plain pickguard. If you like the idea of an Epiphone dreadnought for under $150, and you’re not into ornate designs, this is a solid choice.
Washburn Vintage Series WA90CEVSB
The Washburn Vintage Series WA90CEVSB is yet another low cost dreadnought acoustic, but with a few key differences. It is a square shoulder model like the 2 Epiphones, but it does come with a cutaway for improved access to the upper frets, further adding to its playability.
Additionally, it features Barcus Berry LX4 pickups and electronics, with built in tuner. This is almost unheard of at this price point, so not only are you getting a well made acoustic, you’re getting one that can be very easily amplified.
Final Thoughts on the Epiphone Starling
The Epiphone Starling might be one of the cheapest models in the lineup, but we still think that it’s worthy of your consideration if you’re looking for an acoustic guitar under $500. It’s a handsome guitar with a lot of great attributes. We particularly liked the playability and the powerful voice.
It’s a durable guitar that will take the type of punishment often inflicted by newer players. The layered woods are more resistant to changes in temperature and humidity, which also goes a long way to improving the already good tuning stability. It’s a great guitar to start your journey on – it’s reliable, forgiving, and of course it sounds good – the trifecta all beginners should be looking for in their guitars.