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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.

sb2-tight

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

 

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.

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:

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.

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.

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

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

G&L Neck Profiles – Suggestions – 2015 Updates

December 13th, 2011

This is an update to an earlier blog post to cover the changes G&L made to their neck offerings during their 2015 mid-year model changes.

One thing that may not be clear to buyers is that neck profile and fretboard radius are independent. Meaning that while the Modern Classic neck that comes standard on most guitars has a 9.5″ radius, it’s available in 7.5″ or 12″ radius too. Any profile is available with any radius, with the exception that you can’t get the 7.5″ radius with a Bigsby. So by decoupling the profile and radius specification, G&L has actually expanded what’s available in terms of options.

As we cover the various neck profiles, we’ll discuss them as much as possible independent of fretboard radius, and we’ll also assume the neck has the standard Jescar 57110 fret. In parenthesis will be the old neck designation where applicable.

Lastly, all neck profile tolerances are +/- .015 (1/64th) relative to their stated dimension (it is wood after all not titanium). From the upper to lower end of the tolerance, this is a difference many people can feel. If you are on the fence about a certain profile but are super sensitive to thickness for example, opt for the thinner/narrower selection.

Modern Classic – The Modern Classic is now the standard neck on all popular Legacy, S-500, Comanche and ASAT models (.820″ at the first fret and .870″ at the 12th fret). On most guitars they use a 9.5″ radius, with the exception of the Invader Models which are 12″.  Think of the Modern Classic as a Slim C with a 1-11/16″ nut width, and the same string spacing. The “MCNK” addresses the two issues of: 1) Occasional string falloff with the 1-5/8 nut width, and 2) “What feels most like a Fender?” With the thinner profile and 9.5″ radius, the additional width is hardly noticeable, whereas on C Plus (Wide C) it can start to feel a little too manly. The MCNK is a good all-things-to-all-people neck, although I find it a little lacking in palm support in the upper frets (which my son really likes, and his hands are a little smaller).

Classic C (#1) – Up until July 2015, the G&L 12″ radius #1 neck was the standard. It is the only neck available on the F-100 and SC-2.  Measuring .830″ at the first fret and .960″ at the 12th fret, it’s mildly beefy and fits most people well. Versus the MCNK, I like the extra thickness in the higher frets to anchor my palm. Every once and a while some necks do exhibit some string falloff on the high E, but it’s rare. We’ve also tried this neck with the Dunlop 6230 vintage fret option, but the combination of flat neck with skinny fret makes the frets seem undersized, and they look a little lost on the wide flat fretboard. (1-5/8″ nut width)

Slim C (#1a) – This is your MCNK neck without the nut width. This is the only neck profile available on the Fallout (yes, really). The G&L #1a is about the same size as the #1 at the first fret, but only .870″ at the 12th. There is very little taper to the neck, so it feels quite slim as you move up the frets. Good for shredders and people who like to be able to reach around the neck and hammer the notes. (1-5/8th nut width)

Heritage ’86 (#1b) – Before the MCNK, when we intentionally wanted a slim neck, this is the one we’d order. The “Heritage C” profile is great for women, people with smaller hands, or folks who like a thinner profile. Feels instantly comfortable and tapers nicely up the frets to .910″. I’ve always liked the feel of this profile more than the #1a, and it’s still a nice option. (1-5/8th nut width)

Modern U (#1c) – This is G&L’s Modern “U” shape, which at .850″ is pretty beefy in the lower frets, but tapers less than most to .910″ at the 12th fret. We’ve only had one of these, and it feels very much like a “C” neck. If you like a more generous neck proportion down low — like a 50’s Gibson — this neck will do the trick. But if you have no strong opinions on neck shape, a Classic C is probably a safer choice. (1-5/8″ nut width)

 Deep V (#1d) – This is G&L’s Modern “V” neck, which is a shape that not a lot of players have experience with, but I’m a big fan. At .890″ at the first fret, it is G&L’s thickest neck, and it tapers to .930 at the 12 fret. The V shape provides a lot of “beef” but since it tapers more rapidly to the sides than a “C” profile, it does not wind up feeling bulky. So you get depth without the drawbacks of a large “C” profile. It’s a pretty neat feel, and personally I find it very comfortable and use it on my pine ASAT Classic. Players such as Eric Clapton have been proponents of this shape, and it’s featured on some of his signature guitars. (1-5/8″ nut width)

Classic C Plus (#3) – This is the Classic C neck with a 1-11/16″ nut width. A good neck for players with larger hands, as the combination of wider nut and classic profile is something you can really feel. Conventional wisdom is that “thinner is faster” but if you like a neck that provides generous palm support, the C Plus is the ticket.

Classic C Wide (#4) – The “Shrek Neck” which is 1-3/4″ wide with additional string spacing. We have not sampled this neck yet, but if you think you need it, you probably do.

Soft V (#2a) – Another neck that we have not tried, but it sounds intriguing given our infatuation with the Deep V profile. In theory it should be the solution for players who find the Classic C a little too chunky down low but want less of a taper than a Slim C. We might have to get one of these….. (1-5/8″ nut width)

Quartersawn versus Flatsawn Necks – All standard G&L necks are flatsawn. If you were to take off the neck and look at the end of the neck you would see that the grain of the wood is parallel to the fingerboard. This makes a stable neck, and also they also get more Flatsawn necks per piece of maple stock, which keeps the cost down. Quartersawn necks have the grain perpendicular to the fingerboard, so the wood is much stiffer in the direction that the neck typically bends. But cutting this way yields fewer necks per piece of maple stock, which increases cost.  Sonically, the stiffer quartersawn neck is felt to be more percussive, with a quicker attack and less note compression than a flatsawn neck (theoretically it makes sense). While it’s not practical to A-B two necks on the same guitar, personal opinion is that guitars I’ve played with a quartersawn necks have a little more attack, but maybe a touch less complexity. Some players swear by them, and if you live in an area that varies widely in temperature and humidity, a quartersawn neck may require less tweaking. Not a bad idea either on bass guitars with their longer necks and string tension. And if you are worried about “dead spots” on a bass, my recommendation would be to opt for quartersawn.