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Hands-On Review: G&L Tribute Guitars and Basses

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The G&L feel, sound, and innovative features, moderately priced.

By Doug Turner

G&L guitars are among the highest-rated electric instruments. They are creations of the Lengendary Leo Fender and George Fullerton, whose vast knowledge and years of experience went into their design and engineering. And G&L has never cut corners. G&L instruments are hand crafted and first-rate all the way. Unfortunately, they are also expensive - beyond what most casual players feel they can afford to put out.

Now G&L has introduced a second line, Tribute by G&L, to make the G&L designs accessible to a greater number of musicians. The Tribute Series instruments offer the G&L sound, the feel, and the innovative features for well under half the price of their U.S.-made G&L counterparts. They're not budget guitars by any means, but comparable with the best production models of other leading guitar companies, and superior in quality.

Most successful guitar companies, especially those creating higher-end instruments, ultimately give into market pressures and go the low road. They create a budget line of more very affordable instruments that cosmetically look like the originals, but which are made of funkier woods, not as precisely cut and finished, and fitted with lower-grade pickups and hardware. Not G&L.

In creating the Tribute Series, G&L didn't go the "knock-off" route. They couldn't. The company has been too commited to quality over the years. It would have been too out of keeping with their good reputation to create cheap copies of their finely crafted instruments. Instead, G&L set about finding ways to manufacture quality instruments, with G&L designs, hardware, and pickups, that could be moderately priced. But they had to be instruments that retained the essential character and quality that are the hallmarks of the G&L name.

Production models, yes, but...

To make the Tribute instruments, G&L chose one of Korea's oldest and highest quality guitar manufacturing shops. With G&L luthiers overseeing production, the guitars are made precisely to G&L specifications. The completed instruments are then shipped to G&L in the U.S. where each guitar is carefully inspected and then set up, by the same people who set up the top-line U.S.-made G&L instruments. If a guitar is flawed, if it isn't an instrument that will live up to the G&L name, it simply doesn't get out the door.

G&L Tribute Legacy Electric Guitar Candy Apple Red

Good wood

Another place where second-line guitars sacrifice quality is in the woods. They use lower grade, unspecified hardwoods or even plywoods. G&L made a choice to stick with quality tonewoods, because it is so fundamental to tone. The Tribute guitar bodies are made of high-grade basswood or swamp ash. The Standard and Plus models employ basswood. The Premium models are crafted in swamp ash. Both are excellent for the rich resonance that results in vibrant guitar tone and ample sustain. Both woods have similar qualities and weight. The swamp ash in the Premium models is used for its attractive grain which looks great under transparent finishes.

The same principle has been applied to the necks of the Tribute guitars. They are made of premium hard rock maple. All that G&L has sacrificed here is the many wood options, such as the birdseye or flamed woods that are available in the American-made G&Ls. The neck profiles and the fingerboard radiuses match those of the corresponding G&L models, so the Tribute guitars have much the same playing feel.

American-made pickups

Much of what sets G&L guitars and basses apart is their pickups and electronics. Here G&L decided it couldn't budge, so the Tribute guitars and basses have the real thing, the same U.S.-made, handwound Magnetic Field Design pickups with adjustable pole pieces designed and patented by Leo and George. These pickups are key to the distinctive sound of G&L guitars, and the Tribute instruments, with these same pickups and wiring, nail that sound perfectly.

The tuners and bridges are foreign-made, but under G&L license and to their design specs, so they, too, are the real thing, not lesser-design substitutes. The vibrato-equipped Tributes have G&L's patented Dual-Fulcrum design. Tribute basses and the ASAT guitar feature the Saddle-Lock bridge, which are key to these instruments' tone and sustain. The guitars have 18:1 sealed-back tuners and the basses are equipped with G&Ls low-mass tuners.

Choice choices

Another way G&L manages to keep the price low on the Tribute guitars is simply to limit the number of models and options offered. The guitars include Legacy, ASAT Special, and S-500 designs. These are offered in three versions (Standard, Plus, and Premium), and in fewer colors, with the transparent finishes available only in the Premium models. The basses include the ASAT, the L-2000, and the L-2500 5-string. You may not get all the choices the G&L models offer, but you do get the right choices. And remember, they had to do something to keep the cost down.

G&L ASAT Electric Bass Guitar Butterscotch Blonde

Another cost-saving move was to dispense with the hardshell case. Too bad, but G&L does provide a pretty darn nice gig bag in its place. It is obviously a high-quality bag, and G&L thought it cool enough they put the logo on it in big letters. And while these guitars are really too nice for a gigbag, if it helps make them affordable to get into, O.K. You can always pick up a case later on.

Overall, I'd say that G&L has done and an excellent job with Tribute guitars. The Tributes look, feel, play, and sound just like their G&L counterparts, and their prices will open the door for a lot more players. If you've always wanted a G&L but couldn't swing the price, the Tribute series instruments may be your best way to go.

Special Tribute Features:

  • G&L designs true to the original specifications: Legacy, ASAT Special, and S-500 guitars; ASAT, L-2000, and L-2500 basses.
  • Premium basswood or swamp ash tonewood bodies. Standard and Plus models employ basswood. Premium models use the swamp ash and transparent finishes.
  • Leo Fender designed and patented, American-made, handwound Magnetic Field Resonance pickups, the same as used on the top-line U.S.-made G&L guitars and basses.
  • Each Tribute model has the same electronics as its U.S.-made G&L counterpart.
  • Bridges for Tribute guitars and basses are the same designs used in the G&L models, manufactured under license to G&L specifications.
  • Tribute basses and the ASAT guitar feature G&L's patented SaddleLock bridge design for improved string vibration transfer to the body wood.
  • Vibrato-equipped Tribute guitars feature G&L's innovative Dual-Fulcrum design.
  • All Tribute guitars and basses include a deluxe gigbag with imprinted G&L logo - a $99 value.
  • Tribute by G&L instruments are produced in Korea then shipped to G&L in Fullerton where each is individually inspected and set up by G&L guitar technicians.

Tags: Electric Guitars Electric Bass G&L

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