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Stainless Steel Fret Option for your G&L Guitar?

March 29th, 2015

Among the many possible options for a G&L guitar opting for stainless steel frets. It’s also one of the most expensive options, with a MAP price of $300. That’s considerably more than some other manufacturer’s charge for stainless steel. I’m at a loss to explain the markedly higher price, other than the hardness of stainless steel likely requires more labor and time on the Plek® machine, and that the lower volume usage of stainless raises the purchasing cost. But should you consider stainless steel frets?

Longer Life

Stainless steel frets will certainly last longer than the typical “nickel silver” fret material used for guitar frets. Most stainless steels contain both nickel and chromium, which provide corrosion resistance and durability. The inherent hardness of stainless will resist fret wear better, and the chromium gives them a brighter finish. Medium jumbo frets will also wear slower than narrow vintage frets because there is more material in contact with the string, and subsequently less pressure per square inch on the fret. Of course playing style directly affects fret wear, and how much and where you spend your time on the neck will matter. But even with conventional frets unless you keep your guitar for twenty years or gig relentlessly, you may never encounter significant fret wear.

Playing Feel

More so than longevity, the big reason for stainless may be how they feel. The harder stainless finish creates less friction with the string, resulting in easier fretting and bending. Stainless fret guitars feel fast and require lower effort. Stainless frets with a nice hard ebony fingerboard practically play themselves. If you have a need for speed, go stainless.

Sound

Hypothetically one would expect the harder stainless fret material to sound brighter than standard nickel silver. In practice I don’t notice any significant audible difference, and in the grand scheme fret material does not play a great role in determining tone.

Should You Fret About Stainless?

If you faithfully play your guitar many hours a week and/or rely on it for your profession, then the durability advantages of stainless make sense. If you fit that description and prefer the narrower vintage frets, stainless is all but a must. But most of all, stainless frets have a great silky feel that enhances the playing experience, and makes the guitar feel quicker and easier to play. If you are OK with the additional cost, they are a worthwhile upgrade no matter how much you play.

Vintage or Modern wiring for your G&L ASAT guitar?

March 25th, 2015

Emerson vintage style Tele wiring kit with treble bypass

The Internet and blogosphere is full or articles and how-to’s on the differences of the so-called “vintage” versus “modern” wiring for guitars like the Telecaster® and Les Paul. So briefly, what is it and does it matter?

In short, in a typical two-knob volume and tone arrangement, the major characteristic of “vintage” wiring is that the tone capacitor (low pass filter) is wired between (connects) the volume and tone controls. On a “modern” circuit, the tone capacitor is connected from one lug of the tone control potentiometer to ground (usually the top of the tone pot). There are several variations on this theme, but in general terms this is the biggest distinction between vintage and modern.

Why Modern?

The modern tone control circuit allows for totally independent tone control regardless of where the volume control is set. Essentially, the tone control directly shunts high frequency single to ground, the amount depending on how much the tone knob is turned. In a modern four-knob setup (such as a Les Paul) the volume and tones controls are independent from each other and each pickup. In a true vintage Les Paul circuit, turning down one pickup all the way actually turns off both pickups (this can be remedied without changing how the capacitor is wired).

The characteristic of the modern circuit is that there tends to be a high end roll-off as the volume is turned down. This can be compensated by using a “treble bleed” or tone bypass circuit, which lets through a small amount of high frequencies no matter where the volume control is set. On G&L guitars there is a .001-microfarad bypass capacitor on the volume pot of every guitar. The capacitor acts as a high pass filter, and some treble bleed circuits use a capacitor/resistor combination.

Why Vintage?

In a vintage circuit the capacitor is connecting the volume and tone controls, and the signal going to the tone control passes through the tone capacitor first (in a modern circuit the full signal passes to the tone control before the filter capacitor is applied). As a result, the signal being fed to the tone control pot is dependent on the setting of the volume control.

The characteristic of vintage wiring is that there tends to be less high-end attenuation as the volume is turned down. Even without a bypass circuit, the volume control has little effect on tone. But the and volume controls are now interactive, and the tone control works differently depending on how the volume control is set.

Is One Better Than the Other?

The modern wiring setup provides independent operation, and with the addition of a treble bypass circuit the volume control is quite functional. On some guitars a little high-end reduction via the volume control may be desirable, but on a darker sounding guitar a volume control without a treble bypass may be all but useless.

With vintage wiring the volume control is usable – and possibly better sounding – without a treble bypass. But how the tone control works depends on where the volume control is set. To some this may be annoying, but I like the range of different sounds available via the interactive nature of the two controls. I also think the volume control plain works better too, and I prefer it without the bypass. On a two pickup four-knob guitar like a Les Paul, the vintage wiring setup allows a vast array of tones just not available with the modern wiring scheme.

I’m a vintage wiring proponent, but if you can solder it’s pretty easy to switch back and forth and see what arrangement are most comfortable with. There is no right answer, just options.

 

 

 

The G&L Bluesboy: Traditional Bluesboy or Bluesboy 90?

March 23rd, 2015

Belair Green G&L Bluesboy 90

The G&L ASAT Classic Bluesboy™ has been around for many years, and is very much analogous to the Fender Telecaster Custom, which comes and goes at times the Fender lineup. The concept is simple: Create an option for players that like the idea of a Tele® style guitar but find the traditional Tele neck pickup lacking in dynamics and flexibility.

It could be said that G&L already solved this problem by creating the MFD ASAT neck pickup, which pretty effectively “fixed” the Tele neck doldrums. But there’s a market for a humbucker equipped ASAT, so why not fill it?

The original ASAT Classic Bluesboy uses a Seymour Duncan Seth Lover pickup, which emulates the construction of the early PAF pickups developed by its namesake. With a fairly low output and Alnico 2 magnets, it has a smooth top end with good clarity, but the wound strings are on the warm side and lack a strong attack. It’s a “loose” sound that has a definitive old-school vibe, and it’s always seemed to me more of a Jazz tone than a Blues tone. It’s a very good pickup, but the contrast to the ASAT bridge pickup is rather stark to the point of being a challenge to find an amp EQ that works well for both (although the sound of both pickups together is rather heavenly).

The G&L Bluesboy 90

A few years back G&L developed a great P-90 pickup that they used in some of their limited edition ASAT Junior II guitars, and even some Tributes. Originally created by Gibson in 1946, the P-90 fell out of favor with the advent of the PAF humbucker. The P-90 lived on in the Les Paul Junior and other less prestigious Les Paul models, but the PAF was clearly viewed as the “better” pickup. So G&L has this really nice pickup and no standard USA production model to stick it in. Enter the Bluesboy 90 (and the Fallout too, but that’s another post).

My totally subjective theory is that P-90 pickups are not very popular because as builders responded to the commercial desire for higher output pickups, the P-90 did not respond well to higher octane techniques. High output P-90 pickups are often dull, one-dimensional, and at the bridge take on a grating nasal bark. Somebody trying a P-90 for the first time would not be favorably impressed.

Much to their credit, G&L developed a very moderate output P-90 pickup that measures in the mid-6K range, which is a “weak” reading for a P-90. While resistance is no guarantee of tone, the G&L P-90 is a clean sounding pickup, with good note definition, even midrange response, and the wound strings have a pleasantly percussive attack. It’s not the scooped glassy sound of a Legacy, but a fatter, firmer tone that is warm, clear and expressive. The pickup handles pedals well too, taking on a slightly creamy note, but not collapsing into mush. Or just turn up your amp – always a good idea – and the G&L P-90 will create it’s own natural crunchy personality.

It’s also a great tonal match with the ASAT bridge pickup. In terms of overall response, the P-90 and ASAT Bridge are more akin to each other, and if you tend to work both pickups in equal amounts, it’s more likely you’ll find a common ground amplifier EQ.

Traditional G&L Bluesboy or Bluesboy 90?

If you delve into Jazz or smooth pop, and typically don’t rely on the bridge pickup in large amounts, the traditional Bluesboy is a very nice guitar. No denying it looks cool too. There are a wide range of tones that you can get with the Duncan pickup, but be advised that what amp EQ works for the neck may not be optimal for the bridge.

If you like to tinker with your guitar, the opportunities for replacement humbucker pickups are limitless. A quick pickup swap with possibly a moderate output Alnico 4 or 5 pickup may be all that’s needed to bring sonic harmony.

My personal opinion is that out of the box (or the case) the Bluesboy 90 is a more harmonious package. For reasons previously stated, the G&L P-90 sounds good by itself, and plays nicely with the bridge. It’s a single coil, but it doesn’t sound like a Strat®, and chances are you already have one of those. There are fewer options in terms of pickups tweaks, and yes P-90 pickups can be noisy under stage lights. Thankfully, LED stage lights are on the rise. Once the drummer starts, who can tell?

It’s not difficult to find happiness with either guitar, but if you’ve never tipped your toe into the P-90 pool, the ASAT Bluesboy 90 is a very positive introduction.