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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.

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:

Maple

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

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.

Ebony

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.

 

 

G&L 2015 Mid-Year Model Changes

June 22nd, 2015

As of July 1st 2015, G&L is making some of the more significant model specification changes in quite some time. G&L has gone through their whole lineup, and practically no guitar remains untouched in some way or another. Pricing is changing too, both in the form of some increases, and how guitars are priced relative to each other. There is a lot to take in, but here is a rundown on the more notable changes to the guitars, along with some commentary.

Neck Profiles

For years the #1 “C” profile neck with 12″ radius has been standard on most G&L guitars. On the Legacy and ASAT line this is now changing to the “Modern Classic” neck. The Modern Classic neck is 1-11/16 at the nut with less of a taper than the #1 neck (now .830 at the 1st fret to .870 at the 12th). On the ASAT and Legacy line the standard radius is 9.5″.

Also of note is that G&L has separated neck shape from radius. And in the dealer price list there are separate options for fingerboard radius (7.5, 9.5, 12) and for profiles. So pretty much you can mix and match anything for one up-charge. You don’t get dinged twice for radius and shape.

Why the new profile on their most popular guitars? One thought is that a frequent question I get is, “which profile is most like a Fender?” The Modern Classic is a pretty close fit. In addition there were occasional complaints about string fall-off with the #1 neck, and the slightly wider nut width of the Modern Classic will help this. Most of the other profiles remain (C, Wide C, U, V, etc.) with slight name tweaks. G&L still offers more options than just about anyone on a production guitar. However, a couple guitars — namely Fallout and SC-2 — do not offer neck profile options.

Here is a quick rundown of the more popular guitar and bass models and their new profiles:

  • ASAT – Modern Classic 9.5″
  • Legacy – Modern Classic 9.5″
  • Fallout – Slim C 12″
  • Invaders – Modern Classic 12″
  • S-500 – Modern Classic 9.5″
  • Comanche – Modern Classic 9.5″
  • SC-2 – Classic C 12″
  • ASAT Bass – 1.5 nut width Medium C 9.5″
  • L-1500 and 2000 – 1-5/8 Medium C 9.5″
  • M-2000 – 1-5/8 Medium C 9.5″
  • 5- String Bass – 1-3/4 Medium C 12″
  • JB – 1.5 Medium C 9.5″
  • LB – 1-5/8 Medium C 9.5″
  • SB – 1-5/8 Medium C 9.5″

Discontinued Models

G&L has thinned the herd slightly, and here is what I noticed. Nothing really earth shattering here; and from personal experience these models have either run their course, or never took off:

  • ASAT Special Deluxe
  • Legacy Deluxe (No pickguard, Flame Maple Top)
  • S-500 Deluxe (Ditto)
  • S-500 Semi-Hollow
  • Will Ray Signature
  • MJ Series bass guitars (Back in – recently amended)
  • JB-2 Bass
  • “Rustic” series products

Pickups

While there are no changes to their single coil pickups, G&L will be using Seymour Duncan pickups only in the Rampage, Bluesboy and ASAT Deluxe models. All other models – Fallout, Legacy, Invader — will use G&L’s own Alnico humbucker pickups. G&L is of course known for their pickups, and there also some cost savings involved with using their own product versus sourcing from someone else. These are the same Paul Gagon designed pickups as used in the Tribute series, and they are made in Fullerton by G&L. The Duncan pickups will be available as an extra cost option, and if you must have them, the up-charge is well below the cost of going out and buying a set.

How do the G&L Humbuckers sound? We’ve played the G&L Alnico humbucker pickups, and in most cases we are talking about the bridge pickup in the Legacy and Fallout. The resistance is in the 13K range versus 16K for the Duncan JB. The G&L pickup is a little warmer in tone, with a softer high end. It lacks some of the top end sharpness of the JB which depending on your point of view is a good thing. When gained up it’s smooth with creamy tone, and again less sharp and buzzy than the JB. We recommend giving it a try, and of course there are a zillion aftermarket options.

The potential backlash with the G&L pickups is that some will say that this just makes the USA and Tribute models more like each other. I can’t argue that point, and my feeling is that while import guitars are important to the industry, (after all imports are >90% of the total US guitar market) using the same pickups in both the USA and import lines sends a confusing message to the consumer.

Model Name Changes

  • Legacy HB is now the Legacy HSS
  • Legacy 2HB is now the Legacy HH

Pricing

Prices have gone up, but also they have shifted. The basic Legacy and ASAT guitars now have the same MAP price. Historically the ASAT was always more money. The SC-2 and Fallout are also the same MAP as the Legacy, and the S-500 is still a little more. The MAP on all these guitars is $1299 (S-500 $1399), and includes the standard burst or solid finishes, alder body, satin finish neck with maple or rosewood fingerboard, white pickguard and tolex case. It’s also of note that the Legacy HSS and HH models are now the same price as the standard Legacy, so no penalty for humbucking pickups. The Legacy Special is still a little more, and last time we looked those pickups were supplied by Kent Armstrong.

There are also minor price changes on some of the options, but nothing game-changing. And yes, stainless steel frets are still expensive. Our understanding is that they chew up the tools very quickly and of course take a lot more labor and Plek time.

The pricing relationship between List and MAP is also different, and the MAP is now about 30% off list. Without going into great detail, buyers who typically assume they can strike a deal below MAP will find dealers more reluctant to negotiate than in the past. As Fender has done, the MAP price really reflects the true street price, and the battle continues to preserve price and brand value in the cyberworld.

Wrap Up

While nobody likes to see a price increase, G&L still offers a unique value in a USA guitar that can be made to order. As far as these changes go, I think most of them make sense either commercially, or in terms of what the market really wants. And if you really want a “Pre-July” G&L you can still option a guitar to come out that way. So nobody is left out in the cold. That is unless you want an ASAT Special Deluxe.

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.