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The CLF Research Espada is a really cool concept that offers a never before seen window to G&L's past without compromising modern day build consistency. G&L still operates in the same buildings that spanned the majority of Leo's prolific career. His office remains the same as the day he left, and making 15-20 guitars a day, the factory is no cookie-cutter operation. The G&L family is committed to Leo's vision, and they continue to build upon his legacy.
The Espada body is clearly derived from the "ASAT" family but it's slightly tighter waist and pronounced horns make it drift into the "Fallout" style as well. Overall it is sleek, refreshing and fully contoured for comfort. The curvy chrome control plate has a taste of art deco to it, and it gracefully follows the contour of the body. We dig the look of the big chrome knobs, but what we like even more is how they work. Right off the bat you'll notice that the volume, treble and bass controls "do something" as soon as you turn them, and provide excellent tone shaping regardless of pickup setting. A look inside the busy control plate shows neatly done hand wiring, full size pots, good quality film capacitors, and a small preamp circuit board. Preamp? Typical of G&L they wanted to add extra tone shaping options to fully take advantage of the new Split Coil MFD pickups. So in addition to the 3-way pickup selector you have two mini toggle switches: one for series/parallel operation and another for passive, active preamp and active preamp with high-end boost. While it may look a little daunting, each setting provides and interesting sonic option.
Speaking of new sonic territory, the Split Coil MFD pickups in the Espada are truly new. When Leo was originally developing this guitar the idea was to combine his new Magnetic Field Design technology in a setting akin to his P-Bass pickup. The G&L MFD pickups employ a fairly strong ceramic bar magnet with a low resistance coil. Typically, these pickups only measure about 5K ohms, quite low for any pickup. They possess a stronger output than a traditional design single coil but with a more even frequency response. Originally we thought these would compare closely to the Z-Coil pickups found in the Comanche but with the new buffered preamp options they are a whole new beast. There are many ways to skin the cat while playing the Espada so here's our take:
Passive mode in Parallel - This is your split pickup(s) running more like a single coil. It's the lowest level in terms of output but produces really smooth tones that are clear and percussive with a nice warmth around it. While you might have to turn your amp up a bit, we think both pickups sound fantastic for jazzy tones that can easily transfer to blues, country and rock. The bridge is pretty darn bright, but blends great with the neck.
Passive mode in Series - This is the split coils running in series, like a humbucker. You'll instantly notice a jump in volume and a healthy dose of newfound midrange content. The clean high end is not as shimmering as parallel mode, but it is a great way to get chunky rhythm and cutting rock leads with a flick of a switch. As far as MFD comparisons go, they have solid mids like a Z-coil but are less aggressive and a more compliant attack so you can really dig in. The tactile response is much like an ASAT special, but with the presence of a Z-coil. It also bears mention that the Espada bridge pickup in series is notably fuller and less bright than the Z-coil, which is a plus for us.
Active Preamp Mode - This buffered micro preamp gives your split coil pickups a sonic kick in the pants. It takes the high-fidelity nature of the Magnetic Field Design up a notch by increasing harmonic content across the board. It's like a tone conditioner that gets rid of any mud or grease in the chain. If you prefer the thinner sound of the parallel mode, the active preamp will give you a presence boost for tight, funky rhythm or pronounced single note runs. When you pair it with the series mode it helps balance the low and midrange content so they don't overshadow the high end territory. If you are already a fan of the G&L's MFD sound, you'll find the preamp to be a perfect partner in crime.
Active Preamp Mode w/ Boost - This setting might as well come with launch codes. You get the same benefits from the previous setting with an added emphasis on high end frequencies. We found that this setting was best paired with the pickups in series mode. It certainly brings the high end to life, and if you need to cut through for a solo, this will do it. The active + boost is probably a little too bright in parallel mode, but with so many options on this guitar, there is something here for everyone.
Pedal Performance - MFD pickups tend to love gain pedals, and there are a lot of great options between choice of pedal, active/passive, and series parallel. In particular we really dug the series neck, passive, with our JAM Tubedreamer 58. It had a huge, steely, SRV tone that just screamed blues jam. Big, bouncy and with great definition, it really nailed a flaming hot single coil tone. Also a lot of fun is series bridge, active. Here you get sparkly harmonic crunch with plenty of low end chug. It will go toe-to-toe with any traditional "hard rock" setup. Jump back to parallel mode in the neck or combined with a touch of gain (passive or active) for some funk extravaganza.
The G&L Espada really is different, from the pickups to the electronics, to the new body shape. It's got it's own set of sounds, and does not heavily overlap with the split coil Comanche or the ASAT Classic. Surprisingly with a some gain it uncorked great Strat/Legacy neck tones, and while it has the same sweet touch sensitivity as the ASAT Special, with all the switching options the comparison stop there. Plus the contoured body feels comfortable for both diehard Legacy and ASAT players. There is a lot going on with the Espada, and it will handily reward the adventurous player. Props to G&L for unearthing Leo's next act and bringing it to life.
We are an authorized G&L Premier dealer located in Bellingham, Massachusetts, and this is a new guitar with all tags, tools, paperwork and certificates. We have over 40 G&L’s in stock at all times, and please feel free to browse our other listings, or contact us for information on a custom order.