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The G&L ASAT Classic Solamente: One pickup is enough

January 28th, 2014

In 2013, G&L surprised some ofsolamente us by coming out with the ASAT Classic Solamente. Solamente means “only” in Spanish, meaning that G&L had finally come out with their own version of a Fender Esquire type guitar. For quite a while I had been quietly pulling for a single pickup version of the ASAT Special, but this was close enough.

Historically, the Fender Esquire has been part of the Fender lineup almost as long as the Telecaster itself. The Esquire was mostly a way to sell a guitar a lower price point, and less so a recognition that many players never used the neck pickup. The original concept of the Tele neck pickup was to emulate a bass guitar, and the “true” tone of a Tele neck pickup was dark, and murky. I remember getting my first Tele in the 70’s and wondering what the heck was going on with the neck pickup. I quickly swapped it out for a Velvet Hammer Strat pickup and was much happier.

Over the years Tele neck pickups got more “normal” as players expected that a two pickup guitar should have two useable pickups. A modern Telecaster neck pickup is much more versatile than the vintage stuff, although they are still somewhat a mixed bag. The G&L MFD ASAT Classic neck pickup overcomes nearly all the shortcomings, and is a good blend of clarity, traditional tones when you need them, and more punch when you don’t.

But we are really talking about one pickup guitars, specifically the Solamente.  It’s an odd move to emulate a fairly unpopular guitar, and through the years there have not been many Guitar Heroes wielding an Esquire. Brad Paisley and Bruce Springsteen are the only ones that come to mind, and The Boss is not really a Guitar Hero. But G&L did it anyway, and should we be glad they did? Yes.

Guitar pickups by the very nature of their design create a magnetic field. In order for them to create a signal, strings need to have some proportion of iron in them to disturb the magnetic field. This also means that pickups have some amount of damping effect on the strings. This is precisely why setting your pickups lower tends to improve tone and sustain, while having them close to the strings makes them louder but can create some odd sonic artifacts (and even make them sound out of tune).

Single pickup guitars – especially those without neck pickups – dampen the strings less, and they just ring out better with a cleaner, bigger tone and more sustain. The Les Paul Junior is a great example of this, and players like Keith Urban get a huge range of tones out a little mahogany plank and a single P-90 (and he has some interesting single pickup custom Fenders). The Solamente has that same open chime, and there is more richness to the notes. It’s bright like a bridge pickup, but with more character and dimension.

You’ll also notice that there is still a pickup selector switch. There are a myriad of “Esquire” switch wiring schemes, and Fender has used a few variations over the years. The Solamente uses a fairly traditional version in which the “neck” position uses a resistor/capacitor network to emulate a neck pickup. It’s a darker treble tone and is reminiscent is a bridge humbucker. The middle position is a normal volume/tone circuit, and the bridge position bypasses the tone control. In effect, even though there is just one pickup, you can preset three different tones. Recently, Premier Guitar magazine devoted several articles to variations on Esquire wiring, and they are available online.

The Solamente is also available with either the G&L MFD design bridge pickup, or their traditionally designed Alnico pickup. In our opinion the MFD is the only way to go. Simply put you can just do more with it. It’s got the output, midrange punch, and upper end complexity to be a country pickup, a rhythm pickup, and a rock and rock pickup. It drives pedals really well, and in the “neck” position with some gain does a great rendition of a P-90 or Humbucker. I play an ASAT Classic S (modded with two large MFD’s in the neck and middle) in a cover band. When I think of it, there are about three songs all night when I’m not of the bridge pickup. With a Solamente and a little tweaking, I go could probably go all night.

There are not many players who will own just a one-pickup guitar. But I know very few players who own just own guitar. Single pickup guitars have a magic all their own, and part of their charm is their simplicity and their tone. Sometimes having less to work with makes you more creative, and you rely more on yourself than on the guitar to be creative. I’ve owned a Les Paul Junior for several years; it still surprises me on how versatile and massive it sounds. The G&L Solamente is very much the same, but with a G&L flavor. It’s a worthy addition to your collection for home or stage.

For more information on the ASAT Solamente:  www.upfrontguitars.com

 

 

 

UpFront Guitars Big 2014 NAMM Adventure

January 26th, 2014

After a couple years’ hiatus, the brain trust of UpFront guitars made to the trip out to the 2014 NAMM show in Anaheim, California. We had several goals in mind: 1) Meet with many of our biggest suppliers 2) Scout out some new opportunities to bring to UpFront Guitars 3) Meet up with old friends, and 4) Soak up a little SoCal weather.

If you’ve ever been to a trade show of any type, you know they can be crowded, noisy affairs. The NAMM show shatters all preconceptions of crowded, noisy affairs. I suppose that the CES (Consumer Electronics) and SEMA (Car accessories) shows probably rival NAMM for calamity factor, but just imagine 35,000 visitors a day, and four floors of musical instruments. Visiting the show is tiring, and it’s hard to imagine working a booth for four days. Here are some of the high points, observations, and cheap advice to consider if you plan on visiting NAMM:

G&L – After working with G&L for almost four years, finally meeting the crew – Jim, Natalie, Rob, and Larry – was like catching up long lost relatives. These folks are awesome, and it’s wonderful to have such a great working relationship with people who really put their heart and soul into a company. It’s companies like this that make the music business fun.

Godin – Godin gets their own room upstairs at the convention center, so it’s a little less chaotic. But as usual they are rolling out a lot of new products, and it’s a good place to hear an impromptu performance, often Latin in nature involving their Multiac line.  New items that we took a shine to include a P-90 version of their Montreal Premiere line (with Bigsby), gloss white versions of the Nylon ACS, and some cool affordable guitars from their Richmond line.

Vox – Interesting that their display was over in the Pro Audio section with Korg, while sister company Marshall was smack dab in Metal-Land. But Vox has done a nice job blending traditional amplifiers with technology, modeling, and their own line of unique guitars.

Percussion – Unless you are a drummer, you really want to stay away from their section. Think about it.

The Biggies: Taylor, Martin, Fender, Peavey, Gibson, PRS, etc – They mostly have their own rooms, and these tend to be very crowded affairs and are as much branding/culture exercises as they are selling to their dealers. The crowds were so heavy, that we had just walk by some of them and move on. Taylor knows brand building better than just about anyone, and their room was heavily focused on live performances and an almost museum-like approach to their displays.  They topped everyone on Saturday with an unannounced performance by Jason Mraz, which we missed getting into by mere minutes. You can see it on their website, and as usual Jason exhales more talent than most people ever have in a lifetime. In contrast, the PRS room was very low key, and basically just a room full of guitars with mood lighting. For a brand with such a fervent following, they didn’t bring the story like Taylor and others.

Breedlove – Way more impressive than was I expecting, and they have some beautiful guitars, and interesting design features that are both functional and attractive. They cover all the price points with USA, Korea and China-made models, and we may to have to take a closer look at these guys, specifically their USA line.

Metal is Not Dead – It’s in Anaheim. It’s grayer, older, several pounds heavier, but there was a whole heap of leather, tattoos, fishnet, and piercings walking the show. They must have all driven there, because there is no way they got through airport security. The artist signings were also heavily tilted towards hard rock, and any long line of black leather was typically waiting for autographs. But God Bless’em they love rock and roll and were out in force. Be nice to them.

Pedals and Effects – To paraphrase Chandler from Friends, “Can there possibly be anymore pedals?” There was just an unfathomable number of pedals on display, from the big names to the tiny cottage makers lurking in the far back corners of the hall. I have no idea when the bubble will burst, but it’s got to someday.

Band and Orchestra – We guitar heads forget how big the B&O segment is to the overall industry. Quite likely lessons, sheet music and rentals are keeping your local music store alive. If you can figure out how to start a guitar orchestra and rent them instruments, you will be very rich indeed.

Technology – In many ways, the Pro Audio and software exhibitors were some of the most fascinating. And that fact that a good deal of the stuff is right over my head is a real wake-up call. There will always (I hope) be a need for real guitars, amps and performers, but you owe it to yourself to stay abreast of even rudimentary recording and production technology. Record labels and radio stations don’t have the power they used to, and the ability to self-produce at a high level of quality has never been better. You still need talent, but you don’t need a big dollar studio to get heard. For around $500 you can get a pretty good mic-preamp/USB/Firewire interface, recording software, and an SM-57. You can do it.

Have a plan for the show – Just going to NAMM to “walk around” is like saying you left your glasses at Disneyworld and you need to go find them. It’s too big, too noisy, and too crowded to saunter. Many booths are so packed that unless you have an appointment you won’t even be able to talk to anybody. Make a plan of attack, make appointments, download the phone app, and get organized. Wandering is fruitless and unproductive. It’s great for people watching, but you can do that while outside in the nice weather, and sitting down.

Attend seminars and workshops – NAMM is after all a trade organization, and there are literally dozens of opportunities to learn about business, technology, finance, marketing…you name it. It’s free information, often taught by independent businessmen with a lot of personal experience to share. If you are in the business, or are just curious, these are well worth your time. We took a lot of notes and got some great ideas for UpFront Guitars.

China, the country and the brand – We all know that China makes about 75% of all this stuff, maybe more. But they are not just the factory anymore, and there is an emerging number of China-based brands looking to make their own name at NAMM. Much of the productive derivative and often blatant copies, but that was Japan fifty years ago.

Food – Hands down, the best food of any trade show I’ve been to. Nice weather means Food Trucks, and while the lines were long, we actually got something really good at a reasonable price.

Go early, leave early – Get your business done early in the day. Go back to your hotel, take a nap, and go back for the live performances that run late into the night. We at UpFront Guitars didn’t do that. Next time.

For more information about UpFront Guitars:  www.upfrontguitars.com

Should your next G&L guitar be Pine?

January 26th, 2014

Sometime in 2012, G&L obtained some nice figured pine and started offering guitars – mostly ASAT’s I recall – in pine. This was over and above their Pine Launch Edition of their new ASAT Alnico product. Always liking to have the latest and greatest G&L models at UpFront Guitars, we ordered a few of these for the shop.

To be charitable, the pine guitars were very slow sellers, and hung around for quite while. Anybody who bought one seemed to be very happy with their choice, but it took months and months to find customers willing to take the plunge on a pine bodied guitar.

Around Christmas time, I had a dialog with a buyer interesting in one of the remaining two Pine ASAT Classic (MFD) guitars in stock. Lacking sound clips – yes, another thing on the to-do list – he asked me to evaluate both guitars and give my honest opinion.

One was Tobacco Sunburst with a glossy maple neck, and the other a Butterscotch Blonde with tinted satin maple neck. Through this process, I became enamored with the sound of both guitars, and was on the verge of trying to figure out how keep the Butterscotch guitar. But honesty is the best policy and the Butterscotch guitar found a happy home in Nashville.  Right in time for Christmas no less.

But pine guitars continue to languish on the shelves, and we’ve got two Alnico S Launch Editions to prove it. But why?

Pine is not as dense as most other tone woods, and most pine guitars are going to be lighter in weight. If you want an ASAT that is less than eight pounds, pine is one of the most reliable ways to achieve that goal. As I’ve continuously proclaimed, weight is not synonymous with tone, but most would agree that all other things being equal, lighter is not a bad thing.

The grain of pine is not particularly exotic or bold. Like most alder, it’s straight-grained wood, and unless it’s full of knots there is not a whole lot going on. But its straight uniform grain has a pleasing, crisp symmetry. Besides, a knotty pine guitar would look more like a Middle School Woodshop project than a fine instrument. Applied to pine, the G&L transparent finishes take on a very liquid appearance, and the lack of a bold grain pattern gives them a smooth creamy look, as if the finish never quite dried. Finishes that look particularly good on pine include Butterscotch, Honey and traditional Sunburst.

Tonally, pine gives the player a lot of control. Pine has a degree of natural compression that allows the player to manipulate the attack. There is a little sag and swell – almost like a tube rectifier – that allows the tone to develop rather than just blast out of the speaker. If you want tone that is immediate and in-your-face, pine is probably not the answer. Pine probably won’t please a shredder, but much like a vintage tweed amp, it has a slightly softer, looser feel.

Pair this up with the G&L MFD pickups, and there is nice synergy between the wide- ranging, sensitive nature of these pickups and the soothing effects of pine. MFD pickups have plenty of attack and output, and the pine body allows an extra measure of control. Overdriven tones take on a slightly creamier nature, with a nice “push” after the initial attack, and a complex lingering decay.

So in many ways pine has a bad rap. Probably because it is just “pine,” a domestic wood more associated with Early American furniture and rustic wall art than fine instruments. Pine comes in many grades, and there is clear-grained high quality pine, and there are 2×4’s; and pine should not be dismissed as some sort of cheap substitute for something else. And the fact that we don’t have to clear-cut a rainforest to obtain it is a bonus. Attractive in a way that is clean and elegant, and with a tone that rewards mining deeper more complex timbres, pine is fully deserving of a place on the mantle of fine tone woods (how’s that for hyperbole?)

Sales be damned, we’ve doubled down and ordered four more pine ASAT’s, three in Butterscotch. Sometimes you just have to do the right thing.

For more information on the G&L Pine guitars:  www.upfrontguitars.com

 

Sounds Clips of Andrews A-22 Amp using our Dan Neafsey DGN Tele

January 11th, 2014

Here are some quick sound clips of the Andrews A-22 20 watt EL-34 amplifier. We demo’d this amp using our DGN (Dan Neafsey) Tele. Dan’s Tele has his own hand-wound P-90 and a Rio Grande 60’s Tallboy bridge pickup. Both the amp and Tele are really nice pieces.

Recording details. Nothing real fancy here:

  • Apple Pro Logic
  • Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 firewire interface
  • Andrews A-22 amplifier
  • DGN Tele
  • Shure SM-57
  • Evidence Audio guitar cable
  • Apple plug-in for a little reverb
  • Waves V-Comp plug-in for compression and EQ

DGN Clean Neck

DGN Dirty Neck

DGN Clean Bridge

DGN Dirty Bridge

For more sound options from Upfront Guitars:  www.upfrontguitars.com

 

What should your G&L guitar weigh?

January 3rd, 2014

Of all the questions I get asked from prospective G&L buyers, “what does the guitar weigh?” is one of the most frequent. Besides reminding me that I should just weigh every guitar as soon as it arrives, guitar weight and its purported benefits is a hotly debated topic.

How much a guitar weighs has obvious implications such as playing comfort, but it has also been ascribed with many other qualities such as tone, resonance, and sustain. There are various theories and schools of thought: Some feel that lighter guitars are more resonant, other believe that heavy guitars have better low end, and so forth. My own experience — and this will seem like a cop-out to some — is that all guitars are “different” and that the tonal qualities of any guitar is the sum of its parts. Personally, having a lighter weight guitar is nice from the viewpoint of playing a 3-hour gig, but a guitar that weighs 8.5 pounds is not onerous either. After all, bass players survive often playing instruments that weigh upwards of 9-10 pounds. And let’s not forgot the Les Paul players out there, and very few of those guitars weigh under 8.5 pounds.

After working on a couple hundred G&L guitars, I’ve got a pretty good feel as to what they are going to typically weigh. So depending on the particular model of guitar, here is a rundown of what you can expect for guitar weights.

ASAT – The ASAT (Telecaster) body style is pretty good chunk of wood, and you can expect an Alder ASAT to weigh around 7.8 to 8.4 pounds. In terms of weight Alder is quite consistent, and these guitars do not vary that much. Guitars with premium transparent finishes are usually Swamp Ash, and this can run anywhere from 7.6 to 9.0 pounds. There is quite a bit more variability in Swamp Ash, and most guitars are in the 8 – 8.4 range, with fewer of them coming in under 8 pounds. There are examples of very light Swamp Ash guitars out there, but it’s difficult to source consistently lightweight material, and a medium-volume builder like G&L does not have the luxury of being that selective. While G&L does not advertise it, you can opt to get a transparent premium finish on Alder. The grain is not as striking, but they can look very nice in their own way, and will generally weigh less.

One way to trim a little heft from your ASAT is to get the optional top and rear body contours (like the Legacy/Strat contours). These contours can increase playing comfort plus shave a few tenths off the guitar weight. The consistently lightest ASAT’s are of course the semi-hollow models. These ASAT Classic and Special semi-hollows are always swamp ash — so there is a little more variability — but they never exceed 8 pounds, and are usually in the 7 – 7.5 range. A customer recently ordered a semi hollow ASAT Special, and was quite unhappy when it turned out to weigh 8 pounds (it’s the heaviest semi-hollow I’ve come across). Chalk this up to two factors: The variability of swamp ash, and that he ordered the vibrato bridge option, also a first for me on an ASAT. Steel weighs more than wood, and weight gain of the bridge is not compensated for by the extra routing of the body.

The Mahogany Body/Maple Top ASAT Deluxe models generally tip the scales at about the same weight as an alder model. The ASAT Deluxe semi-hollow is one of their lightest ASAT models, and ranges from 6.8 to 7.5 pounds.

The limited edition chambered Savannah series are real feathers. Made from Okoume with a Korina top, they rarely exceed 7 pounds. The solid body Korina series from 2012 were quite hefty, but that sure did not hurt how they sounded.

OLS Body Option – In 2015 G&L started offering the “Original Leo Spec” body thickness as a no-cost option for the ASAT. This body is about 1/8″ thinner and can shave off about 1/3 of a pound. It’s kind of a no-brainer in terms of comfort and weight.

Legacy/S-500/Comanche – Being slightly thinner and more contoured than the ASAT, an Alder Legacy with a vibrato bridge is consistently in the 7.6 to 8.0 pound range. As with the ASAT, Swamp Ash guitars will weigh a little more, sometimes in the low 8’s. Hardtail guitars are usually a tad lighter, and we have a hardtail Legacy Special in swamp ash that tips the scales at 7.2 pounds. As we’ve said, you can get lucky with swamp ash and get a really light guitar, but there is no way to predict it. We’ve never had a semi-hollow Legacy in the shop, but you can likely expect those guitars to come in around 7 pounds. There are other Legacy permutations such as the Legacy Deluxe and Invaders, both which have mahogany bodies and maple tops. Generally speaking, these guitars tend to weigh around eight pounds, but we have not handled enough of them to have a feel for the typical weight range.

SC-2 – Those who like the ASAT but are really concerned about weight will find the SC-2 easy on the back. Although it has the same pickups as the ASAT Special, the thinner body and slightly narrower waist is just naturally lighter, and the heaviest SC-2 the we’ve seen was a 7.8 pound swamp ash guitar. We’ve also seen them as light as 6.6 pounds. The new Fallout guitar is the same body as the SC-2.

Wrap Up

Light weight is often a desirable quality, but tends to get overemphasized in the buying process. It’s generally not a highly accurate indicator of tone, although like a lot of things with guitars, the intangible “feel” of an instrument is in the hands of the beholder. How much weight matters is related to how you plan to use the guitar. If you play clubs every weekend, a lighter instrument is a considerable advantage. If you play mostly at home or do studio work, an extra pound should be lower on the list of concerns. There are a lot of great instruments out there that deserved to be played. Don’t let a few ounces stand between you and a great musical experience.

For guitar offerings from Upfront Guitars:  www.upfrontguitars.com