Which G&L: Legacy or S-500?

Hands down, the Fender Stratocaster® is the world’s most popular guitar, and has spawned probably hundreds of copies. Being also designed by Leo Fender, the G&L Legacy is what we can assume to be the evolution of the Strat: Improved floating bridge, updated tone controls, and slightly fatter pickups (compared to a vintage style Fender anyway). The Legacy looks and feels a lot like a Strat, but the tonality of the bridge, slightly beefier neck and the pickups gives it the G&L vibe. Plus you can pretty much spec out your own G&L, but that’s for another day.

The “other” Legacy — the S-500 — often gets left out of the conversation. With it’s G&L Magnetic Field Design (MFD) pickups, the S-500 has slightly different, more industrial look. And while rock ‘n roll is supposed to be the music of rebellion, guitarists can be very conservative, and things that deviate from “vintage” often get rejected. With the exposed socket head pole pieces of the S-500 pickups, the guitar looks just different enough to get passed over by some players as “not right.”

But is the S-500 a better guitar?

Possibly “better” is the wrong word choice, but the S-500 is possibly a more useful guitar in the context of playing and performing. It’s in the best commercial interests of G&L to produce something that is essentially akin to a Stratocaster. While I can’t say for certain, it’s probably G&L’s best selling model too (though I sell more ASAT’s than Legacy’s). But the G&L MFD pickup is intended to be an improvement over the conventional Alnico pickups designs, and in theory the S-500 is supposed to be an evolutionary step forward.

The basic concept behind the MFD pickup is that it’s really built more like a P-90, with a ceramic bar magnet underneath, and with six adjustable steel pole pieces. The MFD pickups also have a fairly low coil resistance, but a stronger, broader magnetic field. The low coil resistance results in a more even frequency response, but the magnetic field creates a greater signal output. The result is a fairly “hot” single coil with a full frequency response, and none of the peaks and hot spots characteristic of an over-wound conventional pickup.

Sound Comparison

The overall sound of an S-500 versus a Legacy is that it’s a little fatter and warmer. The tone is slightly darker, there is less midrange scoop, and they are not as glassy and bright on the top end. Sounds terrible doesn’t it? Well not really, especially given the fact that nearly all rock music these days is played with some amount of overdrive or distortion. The greater midrange, output and lack of icy top end of the S-500 makes it a great choice for more modern sounds. Overdrive tones with the S-500 are rich, harmonic, and much fuller than than a guitar with conventional pickups. The bridge pickup is absolutely more useable than a Strat bridge pickup, and the in-between tones of the neck + middle and middle + bridge are also punchier and less brittle. The higher output and slightly attenuated high end works great with pedals too.

In the context of playing live, the S-500 holds up very well, and can be heard in the mix without getting shrill or piercing. The extra heft of the MFD pickups and their fuller, creamier overdrive tones project very well, and fit many styles of music from classic rock to progressive. Bedroom tone and live tone are very different animals, and while the S-500 may lack some of the glassy cleans of a Legacy, it’s a great tool for covering a wide range of musical styles.

I will reference a story that has been told several times in different publications: Jimi Hendrix was known for using a long, cheap Radio Shack coil cable with his Strat. Coil cables are notorious for having a lot of electrical capacitance, which cut high frequencies, boosts the midrange, and makes the tone darker. The net effect of Strat + Coil cable is a warmer, darker Strat with less high end.

Blues legend Buddy Guy has often performed live with a Stratocaster equipped with Fender Lace pickups. These are noiseless dual coil (humbucking) designs that sound very clean but have a lot body and output. For years Clapton Strats have used active EQ and noiseless (humbucking) pickups. While I hesitate to drop names like these in this lowly blog, they are good examples of true guitar heroes that don’t always adhere to tradition and pure vintage setups.

Cheap Advice

If general jamming, low volume playing, or traditional blues, funk and rock tones are your bag, the G&L Legacy is great choice. You’ll hear the sound you hear on the records. And as there is a plethora of aftermarket pickups that will drop right in, you’ve got huge leeway to experiment. If you really like to rock and can deal with the look, go for a Legacy HB with the bridge humbucker.

If you tend to play out, use effects, and cover a wide range of music (such as a cover band) the S-500 is worth serious consideration. While it can’t cop the pure scooped glassy tone of a Strat or Legacy, it’s still single coil in nature, but can morph in many different directions with ease. You can experiment and mix MFD pickups with conventional pickups, but visually the guitar may look a little mongrel. Personally, MFD’s respond differently than conventional pickups, and I don’t mix them.

The S-500 is meant to be in some ways a “better” guitar, and depending on what your needs are, it really is.

For guitar offerings at Upfront Guitars:  www.upfrontguitars.com


What color for your G&L guitar? A few suggestions

Shopping for a guitar, or even better ordering exactly what you want, can be a lot of fun. Considering that G&L offers a myriad of potential options, there are a lot of choices to make. One of the big decisions is what color for the body. While this is a totally subjective decision, we do have the benefit of seeing a lot of guitars pass through our hands. Some colors just look good no matter what they are on, while others are an acquired tasted. So without trying to fan any particular flames of passion, here is an unofficial subjective list. You can usually find examples of all of these colors on the UpFront Guitars site:

Good looking “safe” colors that I like:

  • Gloss Black – Hard to argue with black, except for the fingerprints, and it’s propensity to highlight any scuff or scratch.
  • Cherry Burst – Very attractive, and looks super on Legacy guitars. THE color for a flame maple top.
  • Tobacco Sunburst – Classic, looks good on anything. Also super with flame maple.
  • Three color Sunburst – You’ll never get grief for having sunburst, but if you’re going to special order a guitar, why?
  • Sonic Blue – Pale blue, looks almost white at a distance. Very attractive.
  • Belair Green – Greens are the hardest to photograph accurately, so I fret about getting it right. But people love it. It’s a 50’s color but not dated or tacky looking.
  • Blonde – The later 50’s style whiter translucent creamy blonde
  • Butterscotch Blonde – Way too many out there, but a classic finish of the early 50’s telecasters. Looks out of place on anything else.
  • Fullerton Red – A nice classic medium red. Not burgundy, not pale, and their most popular red. See my comments on satin frost option.
  • Honey/Honey Burst – Tasteful light amber, or as a burst finish with a slightly darker edge fade. Shows the most grain of any burst finish. Works with tinted maple or rosewood fingerboards.

Some interesting more adventurous colors:

  • Clear orange – A great shade that highlights the grain. Lovely with creme guard and tinted maple neck
  • Spanish Copper Metallic – A deep bronze, looks good with tinted necks, and creme or tortoiseshell pickguards.
  • Black burst – When you want black, but don’t want just black. Fades to a light black “wash” in the center. Kinda cool, and not as fragile in terms of fingerprints and scuffs.
  • Tangerine Metallic – Yes, orange does work. Good with rosewood, or tinted maple, and also with their satin frost topcoat option
  • Clear blue – Very classy and really shows the swamp ash grain well
  • Midnight blue metallic – Deep blue with a subtle sparkle, good with rosewood
  • Shoreline gold – More like a pewter, with a very subtle metallic sheen.
  • Emerald Blue – A nice blue/green metallic that is kind of 60’s looking. Goes well with white pickguard, rosewood or maple.
  • Two color Sunburst – Huh? The original Fender ‘bursts were two color, and the G&L two color burst is a black – to – yellowish brown that sometimes has almost a slight greenish tint. It’s hard to photograph and get the color right. It’s a complex and interesting shade, but not what you’d might expect. It’s so “period” in look it should only be on a Legacy or SB bass.

Colors that I find less attractive:

  • Blue burstGreen burst and Red burst – The black fade covers up too much of the grain and makes the overall finish too dark. Shows fingerprints like crazy too. Clear green is not bad, but risky stocking a green guitar. These colors all look better to me as just clear finishes with no burst.
  • Yukon gold – Brash, and winds up looking a bit too Vegas.
  • Candy Apple Red – Actually not a bad color, but someone once said to me, “people don’t buy red guitars.” I have actually found that to be somewhat true, and I don’t order red guitars unless it’s a customer order. Something to consider if resale is a concern.
  • Ruby red metallic – Deep rep with a tasteful metallic sparkle. Same problem as Candy Apple. If you like it, buy it. But I do have my Red Guitar Phobia.

Satin Frost Topcoat – G&L also has a satin frost option that can be applied to any finish. It kills the shine giving a traditional finish a low-sheen look. It’s sort of “vintage” without being aged. On metallic finishes it really changes the whole character of the finish. I have a Tangerine metallic bass with a satin topcoat. It’s kind of sexy and does not show any grime. If you want a guitar to look “older” without physically abusing it, the satin frost topcoat is a good option.

Neck Tints – G&L’s light tint and vintage tint are now available in both gloss and satin finishes. This is really nice because the feel of a satin neck is very smooth and dry, but looks “naked” without some type of tint or a rosewood fingerboard on top. Many customers opt for the vintage tint, but it’s deeper hue has a little orange tint to it, and it does not work with everything. So to me, it’s a matter of getting the best match with the body color. In general the light tint is the most adaptable, but the vintage tint looks dynamite with certain shades.

Satin or Gloss Light Tint – Best with Greens, Spanish Copper, Yellows, Cherry Burst, Blacks, Blues and Blonde. A lighter alternate for Oranges and traditional bursts too.

Satin or Gloss Vintage Tint – Butterscotch, Sunburst, Tobacco Burst, Two color Burst, Reds, Honey, and Oranges. Also a good alternate with Cherry Burst, and Blues.

Plain satin or Gloss – Best on natural finishes and Blonde. If a guitar has a rosewood or ebony fingerboard, plain satin is a very good and economical playing surface. It’s a good way to keep the cost down, as gloss and tint both add cost.

To see how color plays on G&L guitars from Upfront Guitars:  www.upfrontguitars.com