G&L: Then and Now

I’ve owned a G&L from every major period of the firm’s existence, from the ‘Leo-era’ to my latest, a 2010 Bluesboy.  G&L has always delivered quality instruments at affordable prices but what has me most excited is that over the last five years G&L has demonstrated a steady commitment to continuously improving the quality of their guitars without wrecking my bank account.

My first G&L was a 1982 SC-1 my dad bought me as a birthday present.  This ‘Leo-era’ SC was a terrific sounding guitar with top-shelf components.  I kept that guitar for more than 20 years but I could never get along with the vintage radius and low/wide frets.  The design made sense from a student guitar orientation: playing tons of Mel Bay chords in the first few positions – it was perfect.  But for playing above the ‘money line’ it left a lot to be desired.  I should have kept the instrument and just had the neck radius altered and gotten the frets replaced. 

My next G&L was a 2001 Comanche (pre-CNC and pre-Plek).  Everything is great on this guitar except for a fret job I would describe as a ‘B minus’ or ‘C plus.’  This BBE-era Comanche has the initials of an employee in the neck pocket that was responsible for a lot of mediocre fretwork as it turns out.  Nonetheless, the guitar sounds terrific and the whole guitar exudes a tremendous vibe not to mention the fantastic neck profile.  I still play it all the time and love the way it sounds in front of a low-watt 6V6 combo. All things considered, this is still my favorite G&L guitar of all time. And the resonance and acoustic qualities (unplugged) are simply amazing. The body is extra-curvy (really deep and dramatic carves) and all the sharp edges (e.g., saddles) are all rounded off. A lot of attention to detail went into this guitar to make it as comfortable as possible. 

G&L introduced CNC technology to the shop floor in 2005 and my 25th Anniversary ASAT was built using the new machinery and procedures.  Again, the guitar is fantastic in most every way and those hum-buckers are Phat! However, the fret job, while good, fell short of the rest of the guitar.    However, the body was not quite as sculpted as my Comanche. 

Then, a couple of years later, G&L stepped up and invested in a Plek machine to rationalize their fretwork.  Bingo! Now, you don't have to have a Pleck job to have nice fretwork but this helps companies like G&L who, obviously, could not deliver in that area. Fender should consider Pleking their guitars because I've never played one that had decent fretwork from the factory. 

In the last couple of years I have bought three more G&L instruments each produced with CNC and Plek technologies and, in my opinion, these are (in some ways) the best guitars G&L has ever made.

By the way, one of my newer guitars is the reissue SC that replaces (and surpasses, to some extent) my original SC

Now, with their 30th Anniversary guitars G&L announced more improvements:

"New for 2010! The DFS Vibrato System makes its debut on the 30th Anniversary F-100 and Legacy models and is optional on other USA G&L guitars.

This upgraded version of the DF Vibrato System brings an even higher level of performance to Leo Fender's design. Careful R&D revealed that improvements could be achieved with subtle design changes and materials selection. The result is a more focused attack, enhanced harmonic complexity and improved sustain.

Bridge Block – The bridge block (on the underside of the bridge plate) is now CNC machined from solid 1018 cold-rolled steel. This block is the primary contributor to the the DFS Vibrato System's improved sustain and well as fostering greater harmonic content of both individual notes and chords. The material upgrade is capitalized on by modification to the string retention holes to allow more length of the string to be captured by the block, allowing more string energy to be harnessed and transferred into the body through the pivot posts and back to the strings through the saddles.
Bridge Saddles – The DFS Tremolo System utilizes a new bridge saddle that is based on Leo Fender’s original design. The string’s “contact point” on the saddle has been refined to improve intonation, reduce string wear, and enhance attack. CNC machined from 303 non-magnetic stainless steel billet material, these saddles enhance string energy transfer to the bridge block and back again to the strings.

The result of these upgrades is a more resonant instrument where all the design elements (neck wood, body wood, pickups and the DFS Vibrato System) work more harmoniously to bring even more life and vitality to the guitar."

Obviously, G&L is not resting on its corporate laurels one bit.  This is good news for players that want custom shop quality at proletariat prices. 

How could G&L ‘kick it up’ a notch?  My vote goes to stainless steel frets and compound radius options.  At that point, G&L would be incomparable among large and medium-sized guitar firms.

[UPDATE: G&L is now offering optional stainless frets -- nice move]   

So, any gripes? Yes.

My Comanche (from the pre-CNC and Plek era) just feels better than any of my newer models. The body contours are deeper and more comfortable for one; the saddles were hand ground to remove all the sharp edges making for a more comfortable ride -- today, there is little handwork and attention to the little details that make a guitar feel broken in; the 'satin' finish on my new Legacy is, basically, never going to 'break in' it seems. I have a satin nitro finish on my parts-Tele (from Warmoth) that has broken in perfectly in less than six months whereas the neck finish on my Legacy (a poly satin) still feels the way it did when I bought it a few years ago -- kinda bummed about that; and lastly, I think G&L ought to rethink its new marketing strategy. Not real happy with the way they're handling a couple of their new imports.

Other than this lame-brained move I think G&L is doing a good job for those of us who want a high quality guitar that doesn't wreck the bank account.

But, if I ever sell off my G&L collection (and I probably will at some time) the only instrument out of the lot I would keep would be my old Comanche because it feels and sounds like an old friend unlike super-precise, sharp-edged guitars being made today. Handwork still goes a long way in turning an instrument into something that rides smooth. I recently took stock of my favorite guitars (PRS SC-58 and Warmoth parts-Tele) and what they have in common is that both came out of factories that still rely on a lot of handwork relative to the hyper-automated nature of most shops today.

As an update, I bought a Suhr Modern and since then I've not touched one of my G&L guitars. They are either collecting dust or resting in cases in the basement. I guess it's time, aside from my Comanche, to sell them off. My Suhr cost $100 more than my Legacy but the latter is a joke compared to the Suhr. While the Suhr remained stable in the transition from the Fall through the Winter, the G&L guitars required a lot of truss rod adjustments and each (except of the Comanche) experienced a lot of fret sprout. The fretwork on the Surh is perfect and playability is ridiculously great. And it sounds better as well as stays in tune way better. The only guitar in my collection that hangs with it is my PRS SC58.