The people at G&L Guitars consider themselves more than simply guitar builders. Rather, they are the caretakers of Leo Fender’s legacy. Built on what started as Clarence Leo Fender (CLF) Research in 1970, G&L, according to V.P. Dave McLaren, is still Leo’s place.
“Leo is still here,” he says. “You can feel his presence everywhere, particularly in his office and laboratory, which remain just as they were on the day Leo went home for the last time. At times it can be disconcerting, even to the longtime employees who’ve somehow become accustomed to… how should I put this.. events?” he says. “But many of the people who work in the historic Fender Avenue plant today have been there since the ’70s and ’80s, and were taught by Leo himself. We’re as proud of the place, the people, and traditions as we are of the beautiful instruments handcrafted there.”
So McLaren will be the first to tell you that the company’s S-500 model is a refined, custom guitar with high-end features; it is not a “copy” guitar in any way.
We recently asked for a test unit to see if the S-500′s Deluxe variant delivered on the promise of its “high-end” accoutrements, like the birdseye maple neck, quilted maple top, wood binding, gold hardware, etc.
The 500′s body is made of Alder and has deep contours like Fender Strats from the 1950s and ’60s. Its weight is a pretty average at just under eight pounds. The 3/16″ quilted maple top on our Deluxe model had a deep cherry sunburst finish that was nicely executed and framed by the binding, and (thankfully) had no pickguard, because the top added nicely to the guitar’s high-end appeal.
The birdseye maple neck, like that on all G&L guitars, starts life as one piece of wood before getting the company’s Bi-Cut treatment for truss rod installation. Ours was capped with a 12″ radius rosewood fretboard with big, polished frets. Hardware was all gold and included G&L’s patented Dual-Fulcrum vibrato tailpiece, angled/recessed jackplate, dome knobs, and Sperzel locking tuners. Going beyond the call of duty are the gold pickup polepieces and gold truss rod nut! Quite dressy!
Electronics included three S-500 Magnetic Field Design (MFD) single-coil pickups, a five-way selector, PTB tone controls (a passive system that allows the user to cut bass and treble separately), and a push/pull volume pot that let us select between bridge and neck pickups.
Straight out of the case, the 500 played marvelously; its low/fast action and familiar C-shaped neck profile were very comfortable. The big frets made bending a breeze, and there was minimal fret buzz. The deep contours and gloss finish on the neck gave the 500 a vintage feel, which is not all that surprising considering G&L still builds guitars entirely by hand. The gloss finish on the neck may turn off some players, but the neck has such a great overall feel that you barely notice the gloss.
To test the 500′s sounds, we employed a couple of combo amps – an all-tube 2×10″ and a “modeling” 1×12″.
The 500′s pickups proffer a noticeably darker, fatter sound than traditional Alnico-magnet units. Players looking for the “bell” tone many be a little disappointed (and may want to check out the company’s Legacy guitar, with hand-wound Alnico V pickups), but the S-500 makes up for that in the overdrive department. Fatter, more focused mids give the guitar a defined, even overdrive/distortion tone. Being single-coils, the pickups can get a little noisy if one uses too much overdrive, but the out-of-phase positions were markedly quieter.
The push/pull switch in the volume pot added some very usable clean sounds. With the neck and bridge pickups on simultaneously, the guitar gave us a P-90 kind of sound, but with a twang. The PTB tone controls allowed us to manipulate the sound to some extent, but we mostly ran them wide open.
With locking tuners, a graphite string tree, and a well-machined bridge, the guitar stayed in tune even with heavy use of the tremolo.
In all, G&L’s S-500 scores high in the looks department, plays effortlessly, sounds great (especially with some overdrive), and does indeed have that unmistakable – and ultimate – Leo Fender vibe.
G&L S-500 Deluxe
Type of guitar Electric Solidbody.
Features Curly maple top, birdseye maple neck, gold hardware, low/fast action, hardshell case included.
Base Price $1,650, $2,880 as shown.
Contact www. glguitars.com.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sep. ’03 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.