At the beginning of 1983, Leo Fender was just more than three years into his last guitar-manufacturing venture when he decided to diversify the company’s bass lineup.
Until that point, G&L had marketed the one-pickup L-1000, the two-pickup L-2000, and the no-frills SB-1 and SB-2 models – all with fairly traditional, straightforward designs. The brand’s reputation was growing among professional musicians, and befittingly, the then-new El Toro wasn’t radical – a basic two-pickup instrument just slightly different (cosmetically and electronically) from the L-2000.
The first El Toro was completed in March of ’83 and the model initially listed on an August 1 price sheet. Similar to the L-2000, which was offered in active and passive versions, the El Toro was touted as a passive instrument with an optional preamp. However, like the passive L-2000, the passive version of the El Toro also didn’t pass muster and was discontinued within six months in favor of a standard active version. The example shown here is passive.
Necks on the El Toro were maple and had a 34″-scale with 21 nickle-silver frets. They joined the body at the 16th fret on the bass side, 19th on the treble side. Fretboard wood options included maple, rosewood, and ebony. The bodies were mahogany, ash, or maple, and the earliest examples have a slab-type body (without belly or forearm bevels); this one has the contours acquired a bit later. Like many natural-finished G&Ls, the ash body of this example has striking grain patterns. The control plate, bridge, and neckplate are in the black “crinkled” finish found on G&Ls of the era.
The El Toro’s body looks similar to the L series, with slight variations. Side-by-side with an L-1000 made the same year, this El Toro’s body is slightly smaller and its forearm bevel and belly cut are more pronounced.
The El Toro was the first of two G&L basses to use the smaller humbucking Magnetic Field Design (M.F.D.) pickups; they were later used on the even-rarer Interceptor Bass and have four adjustable polepieces for each string, whereas the pickups on the L series had two adjustable poles per string.
The rotary controls are for Volume, Treble, and Bass, while the black-capped three-way mini-toggle switch near the Volume selects pickups; the red two-position mini-toggle allows standard pickup switching in one position, but in the other position bypasses the pickup switch and boosts both pickups – an unusual configuration, especially for a passive instrument
Like many early G&Ls, finishes on the El Toro were all over the map; some natural-finish examples had black headstocks, an in-house designation for instruments displayed at a NAMM show.
The El Toro apparently wasn’t built after 1988, when G&L began concentrating on retro-style guitars and basses that had a reproduction of Leo Fender’s signature on the upper bout. Overall, less than 1,200 were made. It’s an interesting, rare, and nice-sounding alternative instrument.
Special thanks to Paul Bechtoldt and Steve “The Surfin’ Librarian” Soest.
This article originally appeared in VG August 2010 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.