If guitars are in your blood – really in your blood – you can’t walk away from them. That was certainly the case with Clarence Leonidas Fender, born August 10, 1909 (100 years ago), in Fullerton, California. There’s no point in cataloging Leo Fender’s contributions here. If guitars are in your blood, you know his story. Certainly, no brand is more recognizable than Fender. However, there are other names on the musical landscape that are not so obviously the children of Leo Fender, as represented here by this ’81 G&L F-100-I.
Even after Fender sold Fender Musical Instruments to CBS during the corporate feeding frenzy of 1965, he couldn’t walk away from the love of his life. Leo immediately founded CLF Research and was hired as a consultant to Fender until 1970. Once that relationship ended, he promptly set about laying plans with some of his old Fender buddies for throwing his hat back into the musical instrument ring. In 1971, Leo and Forrest White formed Tri-Sonics to resume manufacturing. They incorporated in ’72 and in ’73 changed the name to Musitek, which proved difficult to pronounce, so Leo came up with Music Man. Fender did not actively promote his involvement with Music Man, but it was never really a secret. The instruments mainly reflected improvements on designs created in Leo’s previous incarnation. While they got good reviews, Leo’s Music Man guitars never quite caught on, though his basses were more well-received. Leo’s interests eventually diverged from his partners.
Looking for a fresh start, Music Man was sold to Ernie Ball, the renowned Hawaiian guitarist and, later, string maven. Ernie Ball’s Music Man guitars continue to be built to this day. After the sale, Leo partnered with another longtime associate, George Fullerton, to found G&L Music Sales, Inc., named for George and Leo. G&L’s first instruments were the F-100 guitar and L-1000 bass introduced in 1980. Again, Leo never strayed far from his original creations… but the differences lie in the details.
There were quite a few variations on the F-100. The F-100-I and F-100-II (sometimes called the “first series” and “second series”) had different fingerboard radii (71/2″ or 12″), an option Leo developed at Music Man. All necks were figured maple with either an ebony or maple fingerboard. The scale was 251/2″. Yes, Martha, they only had three bolts! This actually made things easier because the necks had a neck-tilt adjustment to select the action. Natural-finished models featured ash bodies. Sunburst models had mahogany bodies. If you ordered a custom color, it came on a poplar body. All models came with either a fixed bridge or a newly patented adjustable vibrato.
The biggest distinction, however, was in the electronics, which could be passive or active. All featured new Magnetic Field Design humbucking pickups with two rows of adjustable hexagon-shaped polepieces and ceramic magnets. The passive versions gave a standard three-way select plus a phase switch that threw the pickups into a combination out-of-phase middle position. The active versions added a second “splitter” function, which was a coil tap. When selected, both pickups became single-coils. To compensate for the loss in bass response, these guitars kicked in some extra bass compensation with the active circuitry.
This is clearly a professional-grade guitar, extremely well made with a lot of thinking put into the design. However, it really doesn’t have the personality of many of its contemporaries.
The guitar shown here has serial number G003793, which does not appear to be date-encoded. Apparently, the first G&L serial number recorded in 1980 was G000530. Like older Fenders, you really have to pull it apart to ascertain dates. The pots have a date of the 40th week of 1980. The neck is dated 2/5/81 and the body is dated 2/18/81. The first serial number recorded in ’81 was G003122 and the first in ’82 was G009886, confirming this dating, although it may be optimistic to conclude that these serial numbers reflect actual production totals.
Like the Music Man instruments before them, G&Ls were well-received by critics, but not particularly well by dealers or players. They hit the market when heavy metal was becoming popular, with its taste for unusually shaped guitars, and later, offset-double-cutaway instruments. Within a few years, Kramer would be the world’s largest guitar manufacturer.
According to Richard R. Smith in Fender, The Sound Heard ‘Round the World (1995), Leo maintained a rocky relationship with his sales department. G&L was essentially his hobby shop, and Leo made the guitars he wanted to make. G&L’s single-cut guitar, the Broadcaster (later called the ASAT for the same reasons Fender had been forced to abandon the name once before), was pretty much snuck into production behind Fender’s back, though reportedly he liked the guitar when he saw it.
Leo’s involvement with G&L lasted until his death in early 1991. At that time, ownership was transferred to John C. McLaren and BBE Sound, who continue to run the company to this day. Leo never intended G&L to be a mega guitar brand, and G&L remains committed to that vision, concentrating on limited production of quality instruments.
How rare are these early G&L guitars? It’s hard to say. They don’t appear on the market all that often, and their lack of uptake among players tends to suggest the early serial number sequences include a lot of inflation. For example, it’s difficult to believe that more than 6,000 G&L guitars (let alone basses) shipped out in ’81. Later number sequences hover around 2,000 guitars per year, which is more realistic. Of the F-100s, the passive models are more rare, since all had become active by ’83. The F-100 lasted less than four years, biting the dust in ’84, replaced by the more Stratocaster-like S-500 that debuted in ’82. In some ways, the F-100′s lack of popularity makes it more attractive. In any case, this remains a cool artifact from a time when the love of guitars still flowed through Leo Fender’s veins.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s August 2009 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.
Electric Review G&L F 100 guitar by Leo Fender & Line 6 amp