There are so many boutique Fender-style guitars and basses around, it can be a little overwhelming trying to figure out what each brand has to offer.
Compared with production-line Fender guitars, boutique guitar builders like Anderson Guitarworks, Suhr, Friedman, and James Tyler all offer superior build quality and attention to detail. That’s assuming you’ve already ruled out a Fender Custom Shop instrument.
But all of these upscale guitars have one thing in common: They’re expensive. Most of the brands mentioned above start (as of 2022) between $3,000 to $4,000. A fully-custom build can cost twice that.
Then there is G&L. G&L guitars offer a balance of high quality construction, custom features, and reasonable price.
In addition to producing high-quality production line instruments, G&L also offers a long list of specs for custom orders. Everything from custom colors, woods, neck profiles, hardware, and electronics. Not to mention the starting price for an American-made G&L is roughly half the cost of a guitar from a boutique builder.
G&L offers dozens of colors and a wide range of custom options, including the following:
- Neck profiles
- Fretboard radius
- Neck wood
- Neck finish (includes options for painted headstock, neck binding, and block inlays)
- Nut material
- Locking tuners
- Body wood
- Pickguard style
- Pickup covers
Even if you can’t afford a custom instrument, it’s possible to get lucky on the used market. G&L guitars, especially those with particular custom features, don’t have the same resale value like a stock American Fender.
I bought my own G&L ASAT Special for cheap. Never in a million years did I think I could get a guitar with a custom color, quarter-sawn maple neck, stainless steel frets, and a semi-hollow body without spending a small fortune.
Granted, my taste in guitars is not typical. Most people don’t want all those features, let alone a T-style guitar that doesn’t say “Fender” on the headstock.
When I was a kid still learning to play guitar, there was a small music store in my hometown that had a couple G&L guitars. The one that stands out in my memory is a red metal-flake ASAT Special. I don’t remember what it sounded like or how it played. All I know is it looked amazing.
A Brief History of G&L
A common question about G&L is whether the company is owned by, or has any connection to the Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. It’s a valid question, given both companies were founded by Leo Fender.
The simple answer can be found in several places on the G&L website:
“G&L is not associated with Fender Musical Instruments Corporation”
Leo Fender sold the company bearing his name to CBS in 1965 due to health reasons, believing he would be unable to work. Shortly after the sale, Leo changed doctors and his health improved. He went on to finance the company that eventually became Music Man.
Leo’s consulting firm, CLF Research, designed and produced instruments for Music Man for several years. The two companies eventually had a falling out.
In 1979, Leo cofounded G&L Musical Products. The G&L name is an abbreviation for George Fullerton and Leo Fender, who cofounded the company along with longtime Fender salesman and marketer Dale Hyatt.
G&L’s flagship instruments offer classic Fender-style designs with the addition of Leo’s latest engineering innovations. Those innovations (discussed in more detail below) include the saddle-lock bridge, Magnetic Field Design pickups, and the Dual-Fulcrum Vibrato.
G&L guitars are still produced in the same Fullerton, California facility that made the early Music Man instruments. The company is now owned and operated by BBE Sound, Inc.
What Makes G&L Special?
As mentioned above, Leo Fender continued to innovate after his departure from Fender Musical Instruments. Many of these were things that fixed common complaints about classic Fender instruments. Other features were Leo’s vision of a better way to do something.
If you like guitars that were designed in the 1950s, with minimal changes in the ensuing decades, these features may seem pointless.
Here are a few of Leo’s innovations.
The Saddle-Lock Bridge incorporates a set screw on the treble side that pushes the saddles together. If you’re familiar with Fender guitars, particularly those with vintage-style saddles, the obvious advantage of the Saddle-Lock no longer dealing with the saddles moving from side to side and botching an otherwise good setup.
The design also incorporates a protrusion along the underside that extends into the body. This is supposed to increase the energy transfer from the strings into the body.
Although Strat-style vibrato systems with two pivot points are commonplace now, when G&L introduced the Dual-Fulcrum Vibrato in 1981, it was rather unusual. The Floyd Rose double-locking vibrato system was perhaps one of the few examples of a two-pivot vibrato at that time.
Using two pivot points instead of six, and grinding the vibrato plate to a thin “knife edge” where it meets the posts, is supposed to reduce friction. Less friction means the unit can move more freely and still return to its zero position.
In short, it offers a wider range and better tuning stability.
The Dual-Fulcrum system also incorporates a set screw that allows the player to lock the whammy bar into place and adjust the amount of tension required to rotate it. This prevents the bar from flopping around or falling out like some of Leo’s earlier designs.
Fender kept using its classic six-screw Synchronized Tremolo system until 1986 when the company introduced an updated “two-point” Synchronized Tremolo system.
Passive Treble Bass (PTB) system
Unlike a typical Strat-style layout, G&L guitars and basses with two tone controls offer special passive circuitry. One knob cuts treble frequencies like a standard tone control. The other knob cuts low frequencies. These options allow a player to adjust a wider range of tones without fiddling with the amp.
Magnetic Field Design (MFD) pickups
MFD pickups offer high output and a wide frequency range compared to other single-coil pickup designs. They use ceramic bar magnets and adjustable-height iron pole pieces.
The bobbin of the Jumbo MFD pickups used in the ASAT Special look like a cross between a Strat-style pickup, and the flatter, wider Jazzmaster-style bobbin.
Does Anyone Famous Play a G&L?
It’s fair to say almost no one buys a G&L because of someone famous. They’re not as widely played as Fender, Gibson, PRS, Ibanez, or any of the other big manufacturers.
Perhaps the two most high-profile players (who can still be seen playing their signature models in public) are Aerosmith bassist Tom Hamilton and Alice in Chains lead guitarist Jerry Cantrell.
G&L’s website lists dozens of other excellent players who play G&L guitars and basses. Some of them are household names. Although you’d be hard pressed to find a photo of Elliot Easton (lead guitarist for The Cars) playing an ASAT Classic.
If you’re in the market for a G&L, it’s because you want a great instrument even if it doesn’t say Fender or Gibson on the headstock. Don’t worry about who plays one.