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Spalted wood tops for both Looks and Tone

July 5th, 2018

While electric guitars and basses are first and foremost musical tools, for many players looks run a close second to tone. For years guitar builders have used various types of wood tops to enhance the looks — and sometimes tone — of solid and semi-hollow electric guitars. Flamed and quilted maple tops have been a perennial option from many manufacturers including G&L, Gibson, PRS, Fender, Godin and others. But one of the more interesting materials of late has been spalted woods. These materials are not part of the regular G&L price book, but they show up depending on availability.


Spalted alder top on a G&L SB-2

Spalting is caused by fungus that attacks both live and dead trees causing unique coloration and figuring of the wood. It can lead to weight and strength loss, and also reduced density. So while you would not want to build a whole guitar out of a spalted wood, when stained and finished they are unique and eye-catching. Some guitar builders will also use dyes injected into the wood grain to accentuate the look even further.

Tone impact? – Maple tops have been used for years, and in many cases not only look good but have a beneficial impact on tone. This is especially true on set-neck, shorter scale guitars like a Gibson Les Paul, which tend to have a darker tone, and less pronounced attack and harmonics. The dense maple top brightens up the tone and is more reflective. It’s a good complement to warmer more mid-focused sound of mahogany, humbuckers, etc.

But maple as a top is not a particularly complex or rich sounding material. While this works well to “liven up” a Les Paul, the effect is different on a bolt-on, longer scale guitar with single coil pickups. Maple combined with the snappy, more focused tones of a single coil can sound a little dry and one-dimensional. We’ve had maple tops on various G&L’s, and our impression is that they have very clear emphasis on the fundamental note, but not a lot of complexity. We are not totally down on maple, but it benefits from fuller sounding pickups and more complex sounding woods for the back materials: Think humbuckers, most MFD’s (maybe not the Z-coil) and swamp ash.

The spalted woods tend to be different, and our own hypothesis is that the effect of the spalting makes them less dense and softer, even when the material is maple. We’ve found spalted top guitars to be every bit as complex and musical as a good swamp ash bodied guitar. The top may lend even more warmth and richness, but with no two guitars ever being exactly alike, we don’t want to go overboard on analysis. Suffice to say on something like a G&L or other single coil guitar, we very much like the sound of a spalted top, and feel it complements the tone.

Other Materials? – While not a spalted wood, we find Black Limba works nice on G&L-style guitars too. Limba is mahogany-like in tone — though actually not part of the mahogany species — and a Limba cap adds some warmth and mid-range emphasis to a single coil, bolt-on guitar. And it looks pretty. Something we would not do? Maple and Empress: That’s bright/focused on top of bright/focused. It might work on a bass (we like Empress for a bass) but would be as dry and crisp as James Bond’s Martini.

G&L Kiloton Black Limba top

G&L Kiloton Black Limba top

Choosing the cosmetics of your guitar is a fun part of the buying process. But choosing just on looks can have unintended consequences. Keeping in mind what works well together, it’s completely possible to combine both good looks and good tone.


G&L: What’s new for 2018?

February 10th, 2018

Doheny SH 2017 was a very active year for G&L and they’ve gained steam, rolling into 2018 with a lot of new products, features and a whole new look on their website. Let’s take a quick look at what’s new for 2018:

New Website – G&L has launched their new website, and it’s cleaner, more modern and better pictures and images. G&L is also clearly promoting their heritage, and the Leo Fender story in a more obvious fashion. Makes a lot of sense when your founder invented the modern solid body electric guitar and bass. They also have a new “CLF Research” Instagram and Facebook page.

It’s still a work in progress, and there are some guitars and options in my price book that are not on the site, and vice versa. So we are working through that, and if you have any questions, just check with us and we’ll get an answer.

NAMM – G&L had a booth at NAMM for the first time in many years. It was packed, very active, and they had some great one-off guitars on the wall (we snagged a couple). Phyllis Fender was on hand to sign copies of her new book about Leo Fender the man. It’s the story of Leo, not a history of Fender guitar. It’s a pretty quick read and quite insightful about a very unique and creative individual that did not even play guitar.

G&L Custom Shop – G&L has launched their Custom Shop concept, and there is a dedicated section on the website for custom shop guitars. There a new finishes — the nitro option is back — the availability of hand-wound and signed pickups off Leo’s original CLF pickup winder, mild aging if you want it, and in general a much higher level of attention and hands-on TLC. Considering how good the “factory” guitars currently are, this is a pretty high bar. It’s not clear how “custom” you can get, and this is a work in progress. I don’t have a enough detail to know if you can put P-90’s in a Doheny, make a single pickup Fallout with Solamente wiring, etc. It’s baby steps as they feel out the process, and if you are interested give us a shout and we’ll work through the process with you.

What’s Out – The SC-2 is gone for 2018. My feeling is that once the Fallout came along, that really took the air out the SC-2. It’s fun guitar but they still have the ASAT special and it’s the same pickups.

What’s New  – The Doheny was new for the fall of 2017 and they’ve now rolled out the Doheny Deluxe and Doheny Semi-Hollow. The Deluxe is a Flame Top guitar with wood binding and rear-mounted controls. But you don’t have to get binding, and what we also like about the Doheny is that Fixed or Vibrato bridge is the same price. Also the MAP for this guitar is $200 less than then similarly outfitted ASAT Deluxe.

The Doheny Semi-Hollow comes standard in swamp ash and also includes wood binding and rear mounted controls. Our feeling here it to opt for an Okoume back when ordering this guitar. Semi-hollow guitars tend to gain some nice harmonics, but lose a bit of low end. The Okoume back will add in a bit of roundness and warmth.

Also note there are no neck profile options on the Doheny. It’s a Modern Classic, but you can opt for a different radius. The Doheny has its own 21-fret neck, and it’s not tooled to handle all the other profiles. The “MCNK” seems to be very popular, so I think they are sticking with what most people want anyway.

Also new is the CLF Heritage L-2000. This is a throwback L-2000 with an 80’s neck profile, the cool 80’s metal control plate, glossy neck finish, and “Heritage” MFD pickups. It’s available in four colors and no options. To keep the weight down they are using Basswood on the solid colors and Okoume on the bursts. Both woods work very nice on a bass, with punchy and clear fundamental notes.

Not Sure – The Invader and Invader XL are still in my 2018 price book but not on the new website. I don’t think they are dead, but that there is a make-over in the process in terms of a more shred-friendly neck profile and other features. The Anderson/Suhr market is something G&L has yet to crack, and they’ve got their eye on it. The ASAT Fullerton Standard is on the website but also not in the price book, and I know that’s currently not in the plans.

While I’ve not scoured the prices in excruciating detail, nothing pops out, and all the base guitar MAP prices appear unchanged. Rosewood is now a $50 MAP option and “Caribbean Rosewood” (Chechen) is now the standard “brown” wood. We really like Chechen, and while it’s not as dark as Rosewood, it’s got really interesting grain and it feels nice and smooth. Due to CITES regulations Rosewood has become problematic, and the supply is erratic.

Neck Profiles – The 2018 book is not listing the V-profiles, U, the Wide C, or Heritage profile. But the website is. We’ll have to sort this out, and it could be that the wide range of profiles will be reserved for Custom Shop. I will lobby for the Soft-V though….

New Colors – Rally Red (sort of Fiesta), Galaxy Black (jet black with a subtle light metallic flake), Shell Pink, and Surf Green joins the permanent ranks. Yukon Gold Metallic is out, and they are working on a better replacement. Nobody really liked Yukon Gold, including G&L.

Overall we like what G&L has been up to, and while sometimes they run before they walk, it’s all with good intentions. They also maintain a presence on Social Media, which a lot of companies just don’t bother to do. That’s good for the brand image, brand value, and ultimately resale value. We think 2018 will be a great year for G&L, and let us know if you have any questions or comments at studio@upfrontguitars.com


Upfront Guitars – My personal rig rundown

August 12th, 2017

Players always like to see what other players are using, so just for fun here’s my current gigging and general playing setup.

Typically I bring a “Fender” style guitar with me, and for many years that’s been some type of G&L. Currently it’s a G&L ASAT Classic “S” with spalted alder top, swamp ash back, carmelized ebony fretboard, 12” radius Classic C neck and stainless frets. It did not start life an “S” but I realized that I really needed the middle combinations and modded it for the middle pickup (it did not have a middle rout). I’m a big fan of the neck-middle and middle-bridge much more than I am of the traditional Tele neck+bridge (which it does not even do…for now). It also has an Emerson wiring assembly which I put in every guitar I play.

ASAT Classic S

Prior to this I was using a Knaggs Severn which had a Strat type pickup arrangement with David Allen Strat Cat pickups. While the tone was great, I always hit the volume knob on that type of guitar, plus the fuller output and more mids of the G&L MFD pickups just “gig” better and work great with pedals.

The other guitar that has been in service for a while is a Knaggs Kenai. This is hands-down the best Les Paul style guitar I have played, and is much more open and articulate that most guitars of this ilk. And it’s very comfortable and only about 8 pounds. It also has Emerson wiring, a David Allen P-51 bridge pickup and a Sheptone Heartbreaker neck pickup. The P-51 is hands down my favorite bridge humbucker and you can do almost anything from country to heavy rock. The Alnico 5 Sheptone is a little more percussive than the P-51 neck, and sounds great with a touch of gain. Frankly, the stock Duncan SH-1 sounds very good too, and I could have easily used that.

deluxe and knaggs

For a long time I’d been playing through a Dr. Z Remedy and a Mojotone Pine 4×10 cabinet with Jensen P10R, C10Q speakers. I still love it, plus it’s light and actually not too loud for smaller venues. But after all these years I finally discovered the Fender Deluxe Reverb, and the combination of tone and portability won me over. This particular edition came with a Celestion Blue and a matched set of groove tubes. Other than a Mullard GZ-34 I have so far left it alone. I’m tempted to stick it in a Mojotone Pine Deluxe cabinet to cut the weight a bit and round out the tone a little. I plug into the “2” jack on the Vibrato channel. For tone and ease of transport, no wonder it’s a fixture on so many house backlines.

With the Deluxe I use a Radial JDX to run an XLR line into the mixer. This does a great job of capturing the amplifier’s tone and is much more consistent than using a microphone. The line out is as much for the monitors as it is for adding a little guitar to the overall house mix.

The pedalboard is pretty simple affair and starts out with a Voodoo Lab Giggity. It’s essentially a boost and mild EQ. But for me it’s always on, as everything just sounds better that way (I have it just barely boosting the normal signal level). It’s also an easy way to tweak levels between guitars.

pedal board

The Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive is my “mild” gain pedal and I’ve been using them for probably 15 years. The deal with the pedal is that you can mix in clean signal to maintain attack and dynamics. I’ve also had the Lovepedal Kalamazoo for a number of years and this is my higher gain pedal, although not high gain by popular standards. While it’s in theory a TS-inspired pedal, it has more gain and is not as midrange heavy.

The Keeley Seafoam Chorus is a recent edition. It’s easy to use and can add a nice clean sounding chorus without cluttering things up. The Catilan Bread Belle Epoch tape delay gets used on a couple numbers, and the Lee Jackson Mr. Springgy Reverb only gets used with the Dr. Z. I may try one of the Keeley Tone Stations to consolidate the Reverb and Delay functions and make a little more room on the board.

Lastly, the Solodallas TSR is another “always on” item that acts as a line buffer, and also makes everything sound a little bigger, more 3-D and tactile, especially with pedals. It’s initially subtle, but you know when it’s off. I don’t use it to boost the signal, just condition it. The Strymon Zuma power supply is expensive, but it’s built like a Mercedes and can power just about anything. The Solodallas needed 300mA at 12VDC, and the Strymon is one of the few power supplies that will do this.

The patch cables are the UpFront Evidence Monorail cables that I have made for UpFront Guitars, and the guitar cables are Evidence Audio Melody.

While there are some new pedals that I’d like to try out — such as the Keeley White Sands and some of the Tone Stations — I’m wary about using a new pedal live without getting very familiar with how a new pedal interacts with the board, guitar, and amp. Lately we’ve been playing out more than practicing, and experimentation time has been limited.


G&L – What is new for 2017?

March 6th, 2017

Back from our 2017 NAMM trip and G&L factory tour, we’d thought we’d let you in on what’s new in 2017 for G&L. Before we get rolling, there are no base price changes to the guitars or the major options. There may be a couple tweaks here and there, but nothing that has a significant effect on the price of a guitar.

Note: G&L’s website may not be entirely up to date. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us. Here’s a rundown of the more notable changes:

Basswood – Basswood is now an option on any guitar for a slight up charge. Basswood is sonically similar to Alder but lighter in weight. This is is response to the growing interest in lighter weight guitars (It’s all those Baby Boomers with back issues!) The grain on Basswood ain’t much, so if you opt for premium finish, it may be a little underwhelming.

Okoume – Also a new wood option with pricing similar to Swamp Ash. Okoume is similar tonally to Mahogany, but lighter in weight and not regulated or endangered in any sense. It has a reddish tint, so keep that in mind when going for premium finishes (Hint: Old School Tobacco or Clear Red). Okoume was used on the Savannah series of semi-hollow guitars, which we thought sounded great.

Empress Wood – Still available, but not a consistent enough supply to make it into the price book. I really like the clean forward tone of an Empress bass, but maybe a little bright on some guitar models. The shop foreman at G&L prefers the tone of a multi-piece Empress body used for solid finishes rather than the one or two-piece clear finish variety.

Carmelized Ebony – Think of this as “striped ebony” and G&L has a limited number of boards that are in guitar length only. There was a time when only purely black ebony would do. But dwindling resources and the impact of Bob Taylor (Taylor Guitars) and his quest to preserve Ebony has made streaked Ebony acceptable. More power to him. Frankly it looks great, and I love the feel of a real ebony fretboard. It’s a great surface and not a huge up charge.

Rosewood – Rosewood is now becoming a highly regulated wood. This is a result of the increased demand in China for Rosewood furniture, and when 1.2 billion people want something…well that has an impact. There are literally a couple hundred varieties of Rosewood including Cocobolo. Expect to see more manufacturers looking for alternate fretboard woods that have good tonal properties and the right feel.

No Semi-Hollow Legacy, Comanche, S-500….for now – G&L is in the midst of re-tooling a number of guitars, and the low demand of these models has taken them off the list for now. IMHO – If you think a Legacy with less low end is a good idea, have at it. But I’ll stick with a solid body. If weight is a overriding concern, Basswood, Okoume, or Empress is a better route and a lot less money.

Rear Mounted Control Guitars (RMC) – Many of the “Deluxe” guitars have given way to a no-pickguard style guitar without the requirement to purchase a flame maple top. This is a big deal, and makes an ASAT Deluxe pickup configuration much more affordable. You can still get an ASAT Deluxe, but now it’s not the only way to get two humbuckers in an ASAT.

Block Inlays – Rumored to be in the works but not in the latest price book. If you like the look of the big block inlays introduced by Fender in the mid-60’s they are on the way.

A few years back I came up with the tagline for my website, “Guitars made by craftsman, not accountants.” That really sums up G&L: A bunch or really dedicated people who love guitars. Like a lot of small manufacturers in the music business, it’s a labor of love, and when you talk to the folks as G&L you definitely get that vibe.


Flame and Quilt Maple tops for G&L Guitars

January 22nd, 2017
flame maple top on ASAT Special from UpFront Guitars

A G&L Flame Maple top on an ASAT Special

Quilt Maple Top S-500 UpFront Guitars

A very deep Quilt Maple top on a G&L S-500

One of the snazzier options for a G&L guitar — or any guitar — is the addition of a flame or quilt maple top. The grain pattern in these woods is produced by cutting specific varieties of  maple in a direction that highlights the grain or figuring of the wood. This technique has been around a long time, and violin builders have been using flame maple — especially for instruments backs — for ages.

A maple top is both cosmetic, and to some degree sonic, and guitar builders frequently employ maple to add brightness. In particular it pairs well with mahogany solid bodies, which otherwise can be a little dark or muddy. So while they look great, is this a good idea as an option for a G&L guitar?

In theory, woods that are more hard and dense tend to add brightness. I guess one way to think about it is that they are more reflective than absorptive. Maple being quite hard tends to accentuate high frequencies. Single coil guitars like a G&L probably don’t need maple for the purpose of brightness, although an exception to this might be the ASAT Deluxe which has two humbucker pickups. In this case the classic pairing of mahogany body and maple top is a natural. Or a Bluesboy, which has a warm and woody Alnico 2 neck humbucker. And while the Fallout is thought of as a “simple” guitar, from personal experience the P-90 and Humbucker pairing responds nicely to a maple top, and looks very cool. Tuxedo Punk, if you will.

But will a maple top ruin your ASAT, S-500 or Legacy? No it won’t, and in the case of the MFD pickups they have plenty of depth and body to work well with a maple top. With any Legacy or traditional ALNICO pickup it can get pretty bright, especially at the bridge. But if you like the look, don’t be shy: After all you do have tone controls. The concept that guitars sound best with all the controls up is just not so. Personally I don’t think any P-90 sounds best wide open, but I love them with a little bit of volume or tone roll off. You paid for those knobs, so use them.

In the extreme, it is possible to create a guitar that is too bright. Maple will add some brightness, certain body woods will add brightness, a vibrato bridge is brighter than a hard tail, and so on. I did have a customer order a Comanche, quilt maple on Empress wood, and vibrato bridge. Between the wood, pickups and bridge it was about as zippy as you an get. I actually thought it sounded good, but he was never quite happy and changed out the pickups. In general, the pickups are the greatest driver, with body wood and bridge type being the next biggest factors. Fretboard material in my opinion matters least.

And remember, you do have tone controls….so build something you dig looking at.

The G&L ASAT Special – Truly Special

July 21st, 2016
A fancy ASAT Special

A fancy ASAT Special

My first-ever G&L was a 3-bolt ASAT Special purchased in the mid-80’s. I really knew nothing about the brand at that time, but thought it was a very cool guitar. It was used, and as USA guitars go, at a good price at the local music store.

It’s very hard to buck tradition, but the ASAT Special is intended to be evolutionary progress relative to Leo Fender’s iconic original solid body. The most noticeable difference to the Tele® are the large MFD pickups, often mistaken for P-90 pickups. These are what drew me to the guitar both visually and sonically. The neck pickup sounded very Strat® like, a tone I’ve always loved but never really took to playing Strats. But it was also bigger, fuller sounding, and could be jazzy, or Tele-like with a couple knob tweaks.

The bridge pickup was twangy, clean, and being a Beatles fan reminded me a lot of that early sound. But it too had more guts than my old 70’s Tele and sounded a lot sweeter than the Duncan quarter-pounder that I had in my homemade Parts-Caster. It wasn’t going to cut it for heavy rock, but through the drive channel of my Peavey — few pedals in those days — it was great for the type of stuff we were playing back then like REM, Crowded House and Steely Dan.

Fast forward thirty years and the ASAT Special is still relevant, and still a very usable guitar. It has the ability to channel both Strat, Tele, and even Jazzmaster, while also being able to kick it pretty hard with a gain pedal. My band is playing more funk theses days — thank you Bruno Mars — but country is also in demand. I think it’s time to break out the ASAT Special again.

G&L Introduces Nitro Lacquer Finishes

July 6th, 2016

surf green nitro pictureIn the world of guitars, there are a number of features that separate the higher end of the spectrum from the typical electric guitar. For my own purposes, I’ll classify high end guitars as those that have a street price of greater than $2000. For some that may not be an expensive guitar, but only a few percent of the market is above $1500 dollars, so at least in dollar terms it’s high end.

Many guitars in this price range still use the traditional process of finishing their guitars in Nitrocellulose Lacquer. This type of finish chemistry has been in use since the 1920’s and for decades was the preferred method for finishing all types of musical instruments. Nitro remained the dominant process up through the early 70’s when the faster and easier polyurethane catalyzed finished grew in popularity. Today probably 99% of all guitar production is some form of a poly finish.

Like many things that have become revered as the “best,” nitrocellulose lacquer was the available chemistry at the time, and one of the first commercial processes for producing colorful finishes. Until then, it was no coincidence that many commercial products — like cars — came in just black. It was not just economical, but a practical necessity.

But there are certain advantages that make nitro finishes attractive for musical instruments. The finish is quite flexible, which is a good property to let the base materials of the instrument resonate properly. The solvent-based nature of the finish means that you can both remove it, and patch it, which makes is repairable. Lastly is can be buffed and polished to a high gloss.

The drawbacks of nitro is that it uses toxic and highly flammable solvents — xylene and toluene for starters — which means specific handling precautions and ventilation. It’s also built up of many thin coats, so it’s also a slower process as compared to poly finishes. In contrast the modern poly finish is much quicker to apply, and requires fewer handling and safety precautions. Poly finishes have come a long way, and some manufacturers have developed thin environmentally-friendly finishes for their instruments, especially for acoustics. But to many players, poly finishes just don’t “sound” the same.

G&L toyed with nitro finishes on their now-discontinued “Rustic” line of guitars. This was during the relic boom a few years back when just about every manufacturer was beating up their guitars. But the finishing process was subcontracted, and lead times were often many many months. And it was an aged process.

Quite by surprise, G&L introduced their own in-house lacquer process in the spring of 2016. The process is still gaining momentum, and G&L tends to spray a single color in batches of twenty guitars at a time. The colors are pretty traditional and run the range of vintage and 60’s-inspired colors: Sunburst, Butterscotch, Sonic Blue, Fiesta Red, Surf Green, Shell Pink, and Vintage White are all colors that we currently have in stock. The nitro process also includes the neck finish, and all guitars at this point have glossy neck finishes with rosewood or maple fretboards. At this time there are no special orders being taken for nitro guitars.

The nitro finishes have a decidedly “non-plastic” look to them, and this is especially noticeable on the necks, and transparent finishes like Butterscotch and Sunburst. The thinner nature of the finish will also show a little grain texture in the finish. We see this the most on the mahogany bodied guitars. The finish is glossy and smooth, but you can just see the texture of the mahogany in the finish. On some of the guitars there is also the occasional small sink in the finish where the filler did not totally block the pores in the grain. This is not seen as a defect, but a positive sign that the finish is thin, and that the body is not excessively encased in potentially tone-deadening fillers.

Naturally, there is a price increase for the nitrocellulose lacquer finish, but G&L has done a great job in keeping the price in check. Most MAP prices are in the $1600 range for solid bodies, and $1799 for semi-hollow models. When you figure that all models have gloss necks — around $150 MAP in poly — the up-charge is very reasonable indeed.

Does nitrocellulose lacquer sound better? It’s hard to quantify, as every guitar is different in its own respect. But nitro is what I’d like to term as “directionally correct.” In other words the benefits of a thinner, more flexible finish is in theory always beneficial to improving the acoustic properties of a guitar. Or you could ascribe to the idea that no company would apply an expensive nitro finish to a poorly assembled guitar, or one with low quality materials. Either way, there should be no sonic downside to a properly applied lacquer finish, and plenty of potential for upside.

Kudos to G&L for bringing a type of finish generally reserved for the upper stratosphere into the “everyman” range.


Little known G&L product options – Logo Delete

February 14th, 2016

asat-qmt-hsOne no-cost option that we’ve grown rather fond of is the “Logo Delete” option for G&L headstocks. Just as it implies, the Logo Delete option gives you just the G&L logo without any model designation. We think it gives the guitar a nice clean appearance, and if you are doing a model that has no specific logo — such as a Bluesboy — you might even say it makes sense. Some players have never seen this option before, and one prospective buyer asked if it was a replacement neck.

Because they don’t have decals for every possible color combination, matching painted headstocks almost always come with a logo delete.


G&L Legacy, gloss finish with standard logo

We like the look, and have ordered several guitars in this style.

New body wood options for your G&L Guitar

September 13th, 2015

For years, the standard body wood offerings from G&L have been Alder and Swamp Ash. Mahogany is available too, but is generally reserved for the ASAT Deluxe and other maple topped guitars.

For a couple years G&L has been quietly offering pine as a non-price list option, and lately Empress Wood. Here is quick rundown on the two “other” woods currently in the G&L line up.

Pine – We’re personal fans of pine, most notably for its tone, and generally good weight properties. Pine has a slightly softer top end, and a touch of compression on the attack. So while as not punchy as some woods, it’s got a little “give” and responds nicely to pick attack. The low end is also very clean and clear. It’s good for basses as well as guitars. The heaviest pine guitar we’ve seen is 7.8 pounds, but they are more typically 6.8 – 7.4, with bass guitars being proportionally heavier. The grain pattern is nothing dramatic, and tends to be straight and clear.

Empress – Looks a lot like swamp ash, and is the welterweight champion of the current G&L lineup. This fast-growing and strong wood is native to Asia, and has historically been used for both musical instruments, and furniture. Empress guitars are typically right around 7 pounds, and our experience is that there is not a great degree of weight variation between guitars. Tonally Empress is on the brighter side with a very solid and punchy attack. The sound is a little less dimensional than swamp ash, with greater emphasis on the fundamental tone. If you like a forward tone with plenty of presence, Empress is a good choice. We really like it for bass guitars, and it has very solid low end response.

So two woods, with two very different personalities. With many guitar players — especially those of a certain age — looking for lightweight and comfortable guitars, both Empress and Pine offer alternatives to traditional woods, and with their own unique tonal spin.

What fretboard material for your G&L guitar?

August 12th, 2015

With many electric guitars, the choice of fretboard material is often not an option. The manufacturer can have many reasons for choosing a particular material — cost, looks, feel — short of a custom shop model, most guitars are built with a certain fretboard material and that’s the end of it.

Any G&L guitar is available with a choice of three materials, with rosewood and maple being no-cost options, and ebony as an up-charge. In addition, there is the added option of selecting a gloss or satin finish on the maple fretboard (all fretboard materials are available with satin or gloss finish maple necks). Many players feel quite strongly about fretboard material, but in my own experience the fretboard material typically plays a small part in how much I like or love a guitar (I never hate a guitar, but I might find myself uninspired). Quite often I choose the fretboard material (and finish or tint) based on how I want the cosmetics of the guitar to come out, and the price point I am trying to hit. A satin finish neck is the least expensive and a gloss neck with ebony fretboard is the most expensive. Keeping that in mind, here is quick rundown of the options:


The original Fender guitars were solid maple necks, and this was purely a matter of cost. Maple is hard, stable and cheap. Traditional classical instruments used rosewood and ebony, but Leo Fender was first and foremost a keen businessman and manufacturer. Around 1959, Fender started offering rosewood to give his guitars a more high-end look.

A satin or gloss finish maple neck is felt to have a tighter and brighter tone than rosewood, and depending on the finish tends to feel quicker too. A satin neck has a nice dry feel that does not get sticky or sweaty, whereas gloss maple does give the guitar a more finished look. I often opt for a tinted satin neck as a good combination of looks and feel. That being said, my favorite personal ASAT guitars have had glossy maple necks. If I like a guitar, it’s a package deal.

HINT: If you are stickler for nicely polished frets, a glossy maple fretboard always had the nicest fret finish. Why? The gloss finish is sprayed on after the frets are put in, then then the finish is polished off. This extra amount of finish work results in extra-smooth shiny frets. It’s also why glossy necks cost more. Time is money.


Rosewood is likely the most common material for fretboards. It’s a traditional material that’s attractive, reasonably dense and easy to work. Depending on cost, rosewood can vary from a very light brown to a dark, almost greasy feeling brown-black. My personal preference both for looks and texture is the darker streaky rosewood, and G&L typically sources pretty nice looking stock. Less expensive guitars will often have the lighter, plainer looking rosewood. Rosewood has a little more “grip” than maple, and is a touch warmer and less percussive. I like rosewood with Legacy guitars, as it does have a tendency to round out the tone. Good rosewood is not as plentiful as it once was, and exports and harvesting are tightly controlled.


While I’ve somewhat downplayed the difference between maple and rosewood, ebony does offer a noticeably different experience. Ebony is very dense, with a hard silky feel that sets itself apart from from even a glossy maple finish. Ebony produces the most percussive tone — is great for tapping and pulls — and works well with humbuckers or darker sounding woods. I specify ebony most often with ASAT Deluxe, Legacy HSS and Legacy HH guitars, as ebony tends to fit the tone, look, and ethos of these models. I had a customer order an ASAT Classic S Alnico with ebony and I really liked it. It made the neck pickup more snappy without making the guitar brighter overall. Ebony would not have been my first pick, but the net result was very pleasing.

While pricy, an ebony fretboard on satin maple with stainless frets practically plays itself. We’ve had a couple guitars built this way, and the glassy feel made a direct impact on how we approached playing those guitars.

Ebony is quite rare and the main source is Cameroon. Jet black ebony is most prized, but constitutes only a small proportion of harvest-able wood. Out of necessity “streaky” ebony is becoming more common, and it’s attractive in its own right. Taylor guitars co-owns an ebony mill in Cameroon, and imports of non-regulation ebony is what got Gibson heavily fined a few years back. Taylor has a very good video about ebony on YouTube, and it will give you a real appreciation about why it is so important to sustainably harvest this wood.

The Wrap

Looks are important, and when it comes to maple or rosewood, go with what “speaks” to you in terms of visual appeal and playing feel. If you like glossy, get glossy and don’t fret (no pun intended) about any tonal side effects. If you desire the fastest smoothest playing surface, or are looking at a humbucker model, ebony is definitely worth consideration.