First Impressions: FStar Model 1:700 Essex-Class (Short Hull/Late War Island) Super Set Upgrade

If you’re a regular reader, by now you’ve picked up on my insistence that each ship I build include as much photoetch as possible, both for accuracy and for realism’s sake.  For most modelers (myself included), one or two frets of the good stuff (usually from Gold Medal Models or Tom’s Modelworks) is usually sufficient, but lately I’ve been seeing more and more of these multi-fret “super sets” on the market.  Flyhawk and Lion Roar are two of the bigger names in this genre, but a recent build using the USS San Diego super set from FStar prompted me to double down on their product.  And boy, have they outdone themselves this time…

As always, FStar’s frets are tightly sealed in a cellophane wrapper.  Since I won’t be starting the intended build for this set for a few weeks I’ve left the wrappers on (you can see them in the following images).

Frets A and B are massive.  There’s simply no other way to put it.  They wouldn’t fit on my standard-sized flatbed scanner, so I had to take an overhead photo using a regular camera.  I hope that the detail inherent in these frets comes out using this method, because they are simply gorgeous:

Fret A – mostly made of the flight deck – is some of the thinnest brass I’ve seen that still has more durability than tin foil.  You’re going to want to be super careful with this fret, since I imagine that the smallest deformity will be visible in the finished product.  Fortunately I’ll be using this set to model USS Franklin as she burns from dozens of holes in her ruined flight deck – and I’ll be complementing this flight deck with an Artwox wood deck for Franklin‘s forward portion – so I’m not too worried about that.

These frets also contain a number of vertical bulkhead walls that run along and underneath the flight deck.  Indeed, this set calls for replacing the all of Trumpeter’s plastic in this category.  It’s a tall order, and one that you’ll want to consider carefully.  The overall stability of the carrier without its plastic flight deck will be substantially weakened, and any pieces that you then put on the deck – ahem, such as an island – will need to be placed super carefully to avoid denting or bending any of these structures.  Proceed with caution, friends.

All of that said, the detail on this fret is phenomenal.  For example, take a look at the vertical flight deck supports both fore and aft:

That raised detail is etched into the brass somehow, giving these pieces a more-than-expected realism for photoetch.  If you want your carrier to look the part, detail like this is a huge plus.

Fret C holds more superstructure sides, as well as a bevy of gun tub for both the carrier island and hull sponsons.  The correctly-angled splinter shields are something I’ve seen from FStar before but never get tired of seeing again.

Fret D is a lot of widgets and doodads (yes, those are the proper technical terms).  Seriously, FStar has dropped most of your doors, ladders, and railings onto this fret.  You’ve also got your radio masts, boat cranes, and yardarms thrown in here for good measure.

Fret E is mostly island components.  Replacement catwalks, doors, and splinter shields are teamed up with radars, fire control directors, and the port-side elevator to make this a very busy fret indeed.  But check out those funnel handrails!  I love little details like that.

But wait, there’s more!  Fret F is the arsenal of anti-aircraft weapons for the carrier.  FStar provides eighteen quad 40mm mounts and seventy-seven (gorgeous) single 20mm Oerlikon mounts.  This is a bit of overkill for me, as Franklin was equipped with fourteen quad 40mm and forty-six single 20mm weapons at the time I’ll be modeling her, but the presence of spares is reassuring.  These are also solid additions to your spares bin.  One thing that confuses me, though, are the Oerlikon shields: there are sixty included on this fret for seventy-six mounts.  I can only assume that this got overlooked somehow.

Unlike FStar’s San Diego set, this Essex superset does not include any brass barrels or resin blast bags for the carrier’s 5″/38 mounts.  This is regrettable, as these were an excellent inclusion in their earlier kit (and because brass 5″/38 barrels seem to be hard to find on the market right now).  Ah well – I guess you can’t win them all.

Now, if you’re like me you’re probably wondering just how the heck you would put this set together.  The instructions should be pretty clear, right?  Sadly, the answer to this is a resounding nope.  If their San Diego instructions were confusing, these new directions are downright unintelligible.  See for yourself:

And that’s it.  Seriously.  No color-code key or step-by-step breakdown.  Just a couple of hundred parts, a few photographs and an implied “good luck, sport!” from FStar.  I’ve had to track down every completed-assembly photograph I could find online just to maybe have a chance of putting this thing together right.  Yikes.

So, my final thoughts?  The quality of this set is great, but the price is high ($70 at FreeTime Hobbies) and the instructions are entirely inadequate, almost to the point of insult.  Still, if you’re enterprising, stubborn, and dedicated to making this work (as I like to assume that I am) it should be one heck of an experience.  If you’re considering building an Essex, I hope that this post helps you in your quest.  After months of digging, I have been unable to track down any detailed reviews for this set, let along photos of the instructions.  Maybe this will fill some of that void.

Alright, friends, lets break out the shears and get snipping.

 

 

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