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Solid Body or Semi-Hollow for your G&L Guitar?

July 5th, 2013

With just a few exceptions — the SC-2, Invader and Rampage come to mind — just about every G&L guitar is available in solid body or semi-hollow format. On the bass side, the ASAT bass is also available in both flavors. Here is a rundown of the things to consider when selecting whether to go with a semi-hollow or solid body G&L.

Finishes – Any semi-hollow model automatically includes the premium finish option on swamp ash, and this is built into the cost. You can get a solid finish too, but the wood choice will still be swamp ash. Of course the “Deluxe” models have flame maple tops so don’t ask for a solid finish on that!

Weight – Some guitar players are obsessed with the topic of weight. For many, the tone of the guitar is often ascribed to the weight of the body. While weight and tone is a subjective discussion, from a purely comfort standpoint, a semi-hollow is definitely easier on the back. Typically, a semi-hollow G&L will tip the scales at about a pound lighter, which you will definitely feel. An ASAT semi-hollow will generally weigh between 6.8 and 7.6 pounds, while its solid body brethren will weigh from 7.6 to 8.8. Why such a wide swing on the weight? Swamp ash has more inherent variability than alder, and sometimes can get pretty hefty. Really light swamp ash is out there but it’s getting rare.  An and ASAT, solid body alder is generally within a couple tenths of 8 pounds. Body contours and belly cuts can also take a little weight off a solid body ASAT, but are not available on the semi-hollow. Note that the ASAT Deluxe semi-hollow has a mahogany back, and theses are often the lightest of the ASAT family (and the most expensive). Any other semi-hollow is all swamp ash, and alder is not available.

Cosmetics – The entire semi-hollow line is available with or without the f-hole. So if you don’t like the look of the classic violin-type sound hole, no problem. My own ASAT is a semi-hollow with no f-hole, and while I have not played enough guitars side-by-side to determine if the hole makes a big difference, I imagine the effect is subtle. Generally, make your decision on whether or not you like the look. G&L does not finish the inside of the guitar, so if the guitar has a very dark finish, the white swamp ash wood inside the f-hole may be too much of a contrast for some tastes.

Sound – So the big question, how does it affect the sound of the guitar? To my ear, the semi-hollow configuration seems to even out the sound across the spectrum, making the response a little more even and less peaky in spots. Overall the attack is a little softer, and there is slight reduction in low end response. If maximum attack/punch or low end response is of great importance then a solid body G&L is generally a better choice (hard rock or snappy country picking come to mind). It’s not a true acoustic, so feedback is a non-issue, and overall the sound is a touch richer and more dimensional that a solid body. Because of the slightly reduced low end, I’m not sure I’d recommend a Legacy semi-hollow. The conventional Alnico pickups are a little bass-starved to begin with, and a solid alder body is the best choice, just as Leo intended. In contrast, the G&L MFD pickups have plenty of attack and response, and the semi-hollow treatment works very well with them. In particular the ASAT Classic makes a great semi-hollow, and so does the relatively rare Z-3. The Z-coils are powerful critters, and the combination of saddle lock bridge and chambered construction creates a simultaneously complex and powerful sound, with the only downside being that the bridge pickup lacks a little low end.

Cost – Because the semi-hollow construction includes both the added labor of a chambered body and the premium finish upgrade, it does command a price premium. For an ASAT-style guitar, the street price up-charge is about $225. For reasons that I can only imagine relate to build complexity, the semi-hollow Legacy, Comanche and S-500 guitars are a lot more expensive. The street price up charge is close to $700. For that reason alone I really have no experience with them, and customer inquiries about them are rare.

Wrap Up – While other guitar makers offer chambered guitars — Carvin, Gibson, Fender and Godin have them as standard offerings — G&L has really made them a staple of their line and not just catalog oddments. While the additional cost of going semi-hollow is not insignificant, they do offer both sonic and comfort benefits that may “tip the scales” for many players (sorry about the pun).

To check out body styles offered at Upfront Guitars:  www.upfrontguitars.com

Playing Guitar vs. Playing in a Band

July 3rd, 2013

As guitar players we all have some sort of musical goals. Whether it be to continually improve, master a certain style, or just amuse oneself. Usually this goal is attached somehow to getting better at playing the guitar. But how many people have as their goal to play guitar well in a band? This might sound rather odd at at first, but playing your guitar well versus playing your guitar well in a band — or with people — can be two very different things.

You’ve seen them on YouTube: Bedroom shredders that can tear it up playing along to a jam track, or just soloing. You probably also know players that can pull off tons of recognizable riffs and mimic their favorite artist down to every bend. These people will get labeled by their friends as “very good guitar players.” But have you ever tried to jam with any of these people? Sometimes considerable technical skill does not translate into cohesive musical thoughts.

In reality, most of us likely spend the majority of our playing time by ourselves. Between work, chores and other obligations, most playing or practice time is generally solo. The skill building of practicing guitar is often a solitary pursuit, but the skill (and joy) of playing music is best enjoyed in the company of other like-minded musicians.

I’ve found that what I know about my playing, my tone, and even how I tweak my gear often goes out the window once I’m playing with others. The interaction of volume, other instruments, the drummer, and a host of other factors has a profound effect on how I actually play and sound. A famous Field Marshall once said that “no plan ever survives contact with the enemy.” Much the same can be said about playing guitar solo versus with a band. Until you are in the heat of battle, you’ll never know what really works and what doesn’t

Technique, and musical theory are all important and help us all become more literate at playing the guitar. And so is understanding your gear, and developing your tone. But things such as phrasing and timing — the parts of playing that turn notes into music — are learned best in the company of others. I’ve heard lots of guitar players play “through” a band, trying like mad to jam their preconceived ideas and notes into a song regardless of the outcome. But music is made when players make the most of the space made available to them, and use the band as a platform for their musical inspiration.

Another thing playing live or with a band will do is make you simplify your gear. Unless you have a roadie, lugging around a huge pedal board, outboard gear, and tons of cables is not only inconvenient, but also begging for technical difficulties. After a few gigs, you’ll be trying to figure out what not to take, and refining you setup down to the essential elements. I think part of the obsession over pedals is driven primarily by home players looking for something new and different to experiment with. I firmly believe that good gear and cables matter, but often subtle nuances get blown away by the drummer or the noise level of a crowded bar (it’s why I don’t worry about noiseless pickups. What?). As I said, I love gear, and good gear sounds better than crappy stuff.  But music is ultimately an emotional event that if done well is more than the sum of its parts. A crew chief for a racing team said something to the effect that: If I need .2 seconds per lap I work on the car, if I need 2 seconds per lap I work on the driver.

Any guitar playing is better than not playing. But unless your goal is to play solo guitar or do strictly multi-track recording, try and find a jam session or some other format that gets you out there with other players. There is nothing that can simulate playing with a living, breathing band, and making it work takes a combination of technique, patience, and most of all listening. No matter what your style of music or long term goals, it will make you a better player.

For guitars offered by Upfront Guitars:  www.upfrontguitars.com