I enjoy covering sleeper gear in this column. During the past 11 years, we’ve looked at bargains like the Gibson L-6S, Seagull S-6+, Martin D-1 and the Peavey Bandit, to mention a few. This month’s entree, the G&L Legacy, may be one of the finest instruments we’ve profiled in a while. If you act quickly, you can find them used under $600. For a Leo Fender-designed, made-in-America solidbody guitar, it’s a steal!
We’ve profiled many Fender instruments over the years for a good reason – Leo made tools for the working musician. The Telecaster wasn’t much to look at, compared to a goldtop Les Paul or L-5CES. However, it had an unmistakable sound and perhaps that was Leo’s most underrated quality. He created fabulous sounds, over and over again. When we consider he wasn’t even a player, it makes his achievements even more remarkable! The short story is that Mr. Fender sold his namesake company in January 1965 to CBS for $13 million, recuperated from an illness he thought life-threatening and went back to work at his old job. He teamed with Forrest White and Tom Walker during the 1970s at Music Man, but ultimately began a new company with old friend and business associate George Fullerton. Leo simply wanted to design and manufacture guitars and basses his way. The Legacy was a later take on his classic Stratocaster, the best-selling electric solidbody guitar.
Most Strat players, when pushed hard, will admit there are things they wish were different. A flatter fingerboard radius would make string bending easier. Bigger frets would help, too. Twenty-one frets are adequate, but 22 would be better, especially if the scale length and pickup placement remain the same. Putting the truss rod adjustment at the peghead would be more convenient, if it didn’t make the guitar look bad(one of Leo’s problems with Music Man guitars is that they looked homely). A better tremolo, with a two-point mount, would be more stable, especially during wild whammy workouts, and a removable trem arm with a tension adjustment screw would work miracles on a half-century-old design that often feels sloppy and hard to manipulate. How about a neck tilt apparatus that really worked, so you didn’t have to shim the neck to get the action like a custom made axe? Heck, a three-bolt design would be adequate, if the neck/body pocket was tight, the way it should be.
And the sound! What if you could keep the three single-coil/five-way switch design but make it darker on demand, more like a humbucker? That would make a versatile guitar even more so.
Happily, Leo loved listening to players’ comments, and the 1995 G&L Legacy has all of these features as standard equipment. The fingerboard on my Legacy is a beefy rosewood slab joined to the classic maple neck. The basswood body is finished in a gorgeous teal blue-green metallic finish with a pearl white pick guard that looks breathtaking under stage lights. Sperzel non-locking tuners work smoothly and hold tune well. The pickups, designed by Leo, are hum canceling in positions two and four. All five positions sound clear and have excellent response.
I found my Legacy on the internet last fall and it has become a favorite instrument. This guitar works great, whether recording, teaching or doing live shows. I’ve run it through amps, direct as well as with the Digitech RP-200 and 300 and the Korg PX-3 Pandora.
Perhaps the coolest feature is the bottom tone knob. I e-mailed G&L several times, asking how it was really intedned to work. They simply said, “The Legacy is not wired like a regular Strat.”
In fact, the top knob is volume, the middle master tone roll off and the bottom knob seems to add more bass and midrange. In use, this feature lets me keep a typical Strat tone with the knob on 1, then add more bass and midrange for solos, power chords, etc. It’s not an active boost, but it adds a much-needed color when requested.
This guitar seems more “hi-fi” than Strats I’ve owned – and I mean that in a good way. The Legacy has a smooth, extended high-end that records exceptionally well. Mixed in a dense track, the Legacy’s parts are always audible without being harsh.
I do have some quibbles with G& L. I still haven’t been able to locate a description of what the bottom knob does exactly. The basswood body is quite soft and dents and scratches can occur easily. Perhaps most damning is the intonation. Prior to 2000, the factory installed .009-.042-gauge strings. That year, though, they went to .010-.046 sets. My guitar is off badly on the fifth and sixth string, with both fretting sharp above the fifth fret; I had to replace the saddle adjustment screw on them to successfully intonate my Legacy. I also have to use heavier strings (.010s) in order to play in tune all over the neck.
That said, the Legacy is still one heckuva guitar. And G&L now offers its Tribute models of the Legacy and ASAT. They’re made overseas, and reach a lower price-point player versus the U.S. made lines. New or used, this guitar offers significant improvement over the Strat design. Try one out and see if you don’t agree.
Riley Wilson is a guitar/bass/voice teacher based in Frisco, Texas. He also does voice overs as well as gigs with Sojourn and Mirror Image. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sept. ’03 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.