Fender or G&L?

G&L vs Fender? This subject gets tossed around quite a bit and I want to weigh in on it for a moment. I have owned a lot of Fender guitars since I bought my first Strat in 1986 (and currently have a nice EJ rosewood) and I also own five G&L guitars so I think I have a pretty good base of experience for comparison.

Which one is more "Fender" than the other? As you probably know, both companies were founded by Leo Fender but Leo had virtually nothing to do with Fender after 1965 and G&L has been owned by BBE for years now. I think it's fair to say that the 'spirit' of Leo Fender is equally present or, really, absent from both companies by this point -- I mean, really, Leo died more than 20 years ago. One thing that G&L can claim, however, is that they have preserved Leo's office just the way it was the day he died and they have access to his 'archive' of files and crystallized thought. That's pretty cool to say the least. Does it count for anything?

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Not really -- at least not any more. To illustrate my point look at two new releases from G&L: a couple of Tribute models cranked out of Cort Indonesia. Much to their discredit, the marketing folks at BBE and G&L had the poor taste to claim that the inspiration came from Leo's 'archive', i.e., they tried to connect the dots between the G-100 to a preexisting Cort model subjected to minor tweaks. (Here's the Cort M600 for comparison). Lame. I doubt there was a file in Leo's office containing ideas for oily marketing and bogus ad copy. However, this, I guess, is the name of the game when you're pushing product and marketing starts to dictate production.

In short, if you're wondering if there's anybody at Fender or G&L these days asking "What would Leo do?" I think it is safe to assume that, in both cases, Leo has truly left the building.

Anyway, we're here to hash out the pros and cons of Fender vs. G&L

Go Fender!

On the plus side, you're going to find a lot more Fender guitars in stock in your neighborhood or online. There are exponentially more Fender dealers than there are G&L shops and Fender cranks out more guitars before lunch than G&L can produce in a year. There are a lot of guitars to choose from!

Fender's American-made guitars are pretty good and the price is right. You can't really complain about the average quality or being gouged at the register. You might be right to grumble about your salary but, adjusted for inflation ("real dollars") a Strat or a Tele will cost less today than back in the 50s or the 60s. The sad fact is that your share of GDP is far lower than your dad's.

If you need factory-authorized service it's probably just a short drive to your local dealer.

When it comes to brand recognition and logo prestige Fender definitely has the upper hand, at least as far as the masses are concerned. Typically only guys 'in the know' are hip to G&L and know at least some of the history of the company. With a Fender there is no 'explanations' involved. G&L is niche; Fender is iconic.

Fender? Meh.

Fender cranks out more guitars by lunch than G&L does all year (actually, the Fender 'custom shop' cranks out more than 7000 guitars per year which is probably close to G&L's total production numbers. Not surprisingly, the average quality of a Fender may be pretty good but there's no way they can devote the kind of time and energy to each and every guitar that G&L does. Fender is just pumping this stuff out by the train, ship, and truck load as fast as they can. A guy who tries out a dozen Fender's is likely to find one that really sings; very little consistency from guitar to guitar. However, you can find a good one if you keep looking; wade through a dozen and take home the jewel.

The exceptions? Fender Custom Shop guitars tend to be outstanding instruments (but you're going to pay roughly double for a CS Fender than a comparable G&L.

Fender warranties are not as long as G&L. Fender claims to have a "limited lifetime warranty" but when you read the actual warranty it covers the instrument for life except for everything on it that could break, which is only covered for one year:
"Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (“FMIC”) warrants this Fender brand instrument to be free from defects in materials and workmanship for as long as it is owned by the original retail purchaser, except that pickups, switches, jacks, controls, all other electronic components, tuning machines, hardware, pickguards, plated surfaces, gig bags, cases and case hardware are warranted for a period of one (1) year from the date of original purchase."
So, basically, you get a one year warranty.

Fender is a huge, impersonal corporation so your access to the top brass and insiders is zilch.

By now Fender is first and foremost a marketing, lifestyle, and sales company that happens to make guitars. Even though their prices are, in my opinion, fair, you'll be paying a large proportion of your price not for dealer markup but for marketing, advertising, and hype. Then again, if you are brand-conscious, then you are also benefiting from the hype-tax. Fender is cool.

Want custom? You'll have to go 'custom shop' and be willing to shell out thousands of dollars.

Buy a Fender and you'll have the same guitar as thousands of other guys. They're pretty generic, or iconic, depending upon your perspective. You're part of the crowd or a member of the herd.

G&L? I dunno.

G and who? G&L is not the most recognized name in the guitar world but people 'in the know' certainly hold the company in high esteem. If you need to 'fit in' or are a conformist G&L might not be the right brand. Seriously, if you're going to be the odd man out in your school or band and that bugs you then just get a Fender and avoid any self-consciousness problems. This may seem ridiculous but there are people out there that are uncomfortable owning a G&L because Johnny Marr, Nels Cline, or J. Mascis, or whoever does not play G&L. Guitars are totem-like.

Dealers are few and far between so you're best sources/best inventories might be online which means that you might be buying a guitar without having actually played it in person.

G&L offers far fewer models than Fender's wide range of products.

They don't sound like Fenders. It is true that your typical G&L Legacy, for example, will not sound exactly like a Fender Strat. For some guys that's a knock. G&L guitars are for guys that like to use the volume and tone pots rather than set 'em and forget 'em. When I played Fender guitars I only liked the way they sounded with the volume and tone pots on 10. This is not the case with most G&L guitars. G&L guitars are, for the most part, vastly more flexible than your run of the mill Fender.

G&Ls have poor resale on Ebay, etc. This has long been the claim, and may have been true in the past, but I don't think this holds much water any more, at least as a general rule. I think it may be true for certain models that were touted as limited editions that didn't fly with the public or were over-produced (the 25th Anniversary model, they made 250 of them, and you can still find NOS for sale -- killer guitar but not a lot of demand relative to the supply).  Last time I checked Ebay, though, I did not find a superabundance of American-made G&L guitars for sale and those that were on the site seemed, overall, to be doing pretty well price wise. But, again, that was just one 'snapshot' in time, so I'm not claiming universality with regards to value retention.

Go G&L!

They don't sound exactly like Fenders. And that's a good thing. Let's consider the Legacy: if you actually use the full range of the instrument's controls you'll find that vintage tones are accessible, just turn down the volume pot a tiny bit and maybe roll off a little top end, etc. and, presto, there it is. I think of the G&L sound as vintage plus. There's just more of everything: top, middle, bottom. But you can dial in or dial out just about any sound you want in so far as it is possible (not going to get a Les Paul sound from a Legacy).

The G&L PTB tone circuit is far superior to the standard Fender approach. And some models take things to the next level with the expander switch (e.g., S-500 or Comanche).

The 12" neck radius on G&L is better than the tighter radius found on most Fender guitars. Here's the deal: let's say you bought a Strat new in 1962 and played it a lot. You would, by now, have been through not just a dozen trips to the shop for a grind and polish (fret leveling) but multiple re-frets as well. Every time you re-fret a guitar you flatten out the radius just a tiny bit due to sanding the fretboard. Over 40 or 50 years that tight, traditional 7.25" neck radius flattens out to, you guessed it, about 12 inches. Order your G&L with stainless frets (sorry, Fender) and you'll lock in that perfect actual vintage neck radius for life.

The G&L vibrato bridge stays in tune way better than a Fender setup.

The tone and volume pots on G&L are of a higher quality and actually work in their full range of operation.

On average, G&L makes a higher quality guitar than Fender -- better materials, better manufacturing, better attention to detail and vastly superior customer service and support. You hear it said quite often that G&L instruments are "like custom shop" but at run of the mill prices. Well, yes and no.

If you look around the overwhelming majority of guitars coming out of the Fender custom shop are just rather ordinary stuff like reproductions of vintage guitars, reissues, or stuff that's been distressed. Their claim to fame is that, at the high end, "a single guy" made this guitar (Master-built). Big deal. G&L can offer you a lot of meaningful options like neck carves and stainless steel frets, and so on. G&L can, barring any really unusual requests, make you the guitar you want in so far as you want a G&L. Remember, they are an industrial firm and not quite a boutique artisan shop where one or two guys can make any guitar you can draw on a cocktail napkin.  But check it out: if I had the Fender custom shop make this guitar for me it would have cost something like $6000. I didn't even pay close to $2000 for this one.

G&L guitars are priced lower than Fender for the most part. They just don't spend a lot on ads and marketing and hype. G&L does not have a large endorsement stable so you're not paying for some star's gear too. That's one of the things that bugs me about some of the big companies: Johnny Rock Star gets 20 free guitars and royalties passing those costs on to me. G&L sells guitars, make no mistake, but unlike a giant firm there is not the same degree of disconnect between the manufacturing and the selling and the customer support. G&L makes guitars, they care about guitars, and they don't just happen to make money in the guitar business. There's a good reason there are so many guys who own a lot of G&L guitars and plan on buying more ... a lot more.

And here's the real secret to Ebay prices on G&L. On the one hand it seems like a knock if a G&L does not 'hold its value' as reflected in used guitar sales. Maybe, in some cases, this is still the case. However, think about it like this: why buy a used G&L when you can get what you want brand new for not much more? G&L guitars are, brand new, priced really well. I think a lot of people are like me: why buy the thing used (no warranty, fret wear, dings, transaction risk, somebody else's DNA and germs all over it, etc.) when you could get the same thing new for $200 more? I'll go new most of the time -- I got my Comanche used because it is a blonde with gold hardware which is as hard as hell to find and not even an option any more. In fact, it's the only one in existence as far as I know of. So, I suggest going new for a bit more. If you can't find one in the local neighborhood look online.

You can never buy a Fender before playing it because they are so inconsistent in terms of build quality but you can buy a G&L online sans anxiety. I've bought four G&Ls from online dealers and all of them have been terrific. No problems. I have no worries when it comes to buying from the usual suspects: Wolfe Guitars, Guitar Adoptions, Buffalo Brothers. They're all good and there are a lot of other good dealers out there as well (I just don't have personal experience with them so I can't vouch for anybody else). Seldom do I hear horror stories. You can pretty much rest assured that your new G&L is going to show up in perfect order so you get to take advantage of the whole virtual market to find just what you want.

Can't find what you want? Just call up a dealer and order the exact guitar you want, the way you want it and you won't have to remortgage the house to afford it either.

The G&L warranty is for 10 years on the whole guitar and if  you need attention you're going to get it fast and you have "connections" inside the company. Hang out at the G&L online community and you can witness for yourself customers being taken care of the way a small company can take care of customers.

Anyway, go out and play a bunch of Fenders and G&Ls and see for yourself. If you're on the fence between a Fender or a G&L after having played a bunch of them (example) then my suggestion is that you're essentially not a G&L guy or gal. If the differences are not immediately self-evident and compelling to you then something other than the physical object is impeding upon your perception. End the inner dissonance and stick with the emotionally safe choice.

In short, I have not been happy with every G&L I ever owned or played but the last 4 (all bought new and since 2007) have represented pretty good revamps of classic designs. And G&L continues to modernize and rationalize their production so, literally, every year just gets better than the preceding year it seems. Generally, I think that G&L represents not just a better bargain but a better guitar. Overall, I'd stand by the claim that if you compare, say, your run of the mill Fender Strat to the G&L Legacy, the G&L will usually win in terms of physical qualities, playability, and value.