During the “guitar boom” of the 1960s, one method of getting a band noticed was to equip it with matching instruments and maybe matching amplifiers. Better still, add matching stage clothes!
Many instrumental surf bands followed such a notion. The Astronauts, for example, were notable for their use of white Fender instruments and matching suits. Likewise, the Ventures performed and posed for photos with three sunburst Fenders and, later, white Mosrites.
Matching guitars and basses always have an extra “cool” factor, but the early-’80s G&L SB-1 bass and SC-3 guitar shown here have interesting similarities beyond their looks. Part of the S series introduced in late 1982, other models included the one-pickup SC-1 and the two-pickup SC-2; the latter essentially paved the way for G&L’s Telecaster-shaped Broadcaster and ASAT models a few years later. The two-pickup SB-2 bass was also a part of this series. All pickups in SC/SB instruments were variants of G&L’s Magnetic Field Design pickup, which have adjustable polepieces.
Some might surmise the S designation implies student, but these are professional-grade instruments with fewer frills. The bodies and necks were made from maple, and the necks had full scales of 251/2″ (with 22 frets) on the guitars, 34″ (with 21 frets) on basses. They also sported the original six-on-a-side “non-barb” G&L headstock profile, as well as slightly enlarged fretboard dots.
The low-frills elements of the series included the lack of bevel on their bodies, and basic control knobs (one Volume and one Tone, regardless of the number of pickups) mounted in a banana-shaped plate that had a powder-coated crinkle finish that was also found on the bridge plates of basses and non-vibrato guitars.
When introduced in 1982, the SC/SB series was available in plain Red, White or Blue finishes. The SC-3 and SB-1 seen here are blue, but with age their finishes have yellowed slightly, giving them a teal-like color.
The SB-1 exemplifies simplicity and playability, coupled with a potent sound. When strapped on, its traditionally-shaped double-cutaway maple body (measuring 15/8″ deep, and 121/2″ at its widest point) gives the neck an upward tilt in terms of ergonomics/balance. And though not beveled, the rounded edges are comfortable.
This SC-3 has several other unique aspects. Its body silhouette is a cross between a traditional single-cutaway Fender Telecaster shape and a double-cut such as a Fender Stratocaster. Moreover, it may appear slightly small – or perhaps the headstock appears too big. Still, it’s very balanced.
Electronics include three pickups laid out in a traditional Stratocaster configuration. They’re controlled by a five-way toggle switch and master volume and tone knobs. What’s unusual is that these are rarer white pickup covers (most were black). Accounts vary as to how many early Leo-era G&L instruments were given white pickups, but Paul Bechtoldt, author of G&L: Leo’s Legacy, claims to have a hand-written note from G&L co-founder Dale Hyatt saying only a few dozen guitars or basses had such covers.
Another curiosity is the guitar’s serial number. According to Bechtoldt, the first SC was completed on August 31, 1982, but a serial-number list in his book indicates the number embossed on the bridge plate is from 1981. Thus it seems early on, at least, G&L didn’t use sequential serial number bridges (much like Fender in the early ’50s).
The SC/SB series lasted less than two years, but the SC-3, SB-1, and SB-2 continued longer, undergoing numerous changes in cosmetics and electronics. The 1984 examples shown here are in Black, a finish option added later.
Whether or not the owners of these color-coordinated instruments ever feel compelled to dress up in matching suits and crank out “Pipeline,” their early-’80s G&Ls are interesting beyond the fact they’re cosmetic siblings.
This article originally appeared in VG’s October 2009 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.