In 2013, G&L surprised some of us by coming out with the ASAT Classic Solamente. Solamente means “only” in Spanish, meaning that G&L had finally come out with their own version of a Fender Esquire type guitar. For quite a while I had been quietly pulling for a single pickup version of the ASAT Special, but this was close enough.
Historically, the Fender Esquire has been part of the Fender lineup almost as long as the Telecaster itself. The Esquire was mostly a way to sell a guitar a lower price point, and less so a recognition that many players never used the neck pickup. The original concept of the Tele neck pickup was to emulate a bass guitar, and the “true” tone of a Tele neck pickup was dark, and murky. I remember getting my first Tele in the 70’s and wondering what the heck was going on with the neck pickup. I quickly swapped it out for a Velvet Hammer Strat pickup and was much happier.
Over the years Tele neck pickups got more “normal” as players expected that a two pickup guitar should have two useable pickups. A modern Telecaster neck pickup is much more versatile than the vintage stuff, although they are still somewhat a mixed bag. The G&L MFD ASAT Classic neck pickup overcomes nearly all the shortcomings, and is a good blend of clarity, traditional tones when you need them, and more punch when you don’t.
But we are really talking about one pickup guitars, specifically the Solamente. It’s an odd move to emulate a fairly unpopular guitar, and through the years there have not been many Guitar Heroes wielding an Esquire. Brad Paisley and Bruce Springsteen are the only ones that come to mind, and The Boss is not really a Guitar Hero. But G&L did it anyway, and should we be glad they did? Yes.
Guitar pickups by the very nature of their design create a magnetic field. In order for them to create a signal, strings need to have some proportion of iron in them to disturb the magnetic field. This also means that pickups have some amount of damping effect on the strings. This is precisely why setting your pickups lower tends to improve tone and sustain, while having them close to the strings makes them louder but can create some odd sonic artifacts (and even make them sound out of tune).
Single pickup guitars – especially those without neck pickups – dampen the strings less, and they just ring out better with a cleaner, bigger tone and more sustain. The Les Paul Junior is a great example of this, and players like Keith Urban get a huge range of tones out a little mahogany plank and a single P-90 (and he has some interesting single pickup custom Fenders). The Solamente has that same open chime, and there is more richness to the notes. It’s bright like a bridge pickup, but with more character and dimension.
You’ll also notice that there is still a pickup selector switch. There are a myriad of “Esquire” switch wiring schemes, and Fender has used a few variations over the years. The Solamente uses a fairly traditional version in which the “neck” position uses a resistor/capacitor network to emulate a neck pickup. It’s a darker treble tone and is reminiscent is a bridge humbucker. The middle position is a normal volume/tone circuit, and the bridge position bypasses the tone control. In effect, even though there is just one pickup, you can preset three different tones. Recently, Premier Guitar magazine devoted several articles to variations on Esquire wiring, and they are available online.
The Solamente is also available with either the G&L MFD design bridge pickup, or their traditionally designed Alnico pickup. In our opinion the MFD is the only way to go. Simply put you can just do more with it. It’s got the output, midrange punch, and upper end complexity to be a country pickup, a rhythm pickup, and a rock and rock pickup. It drives pedals really well, and in the “neck” position with some gain does a great rendition of a P-90 or Humbucker. I play an ASAT Classic S (modded with two large MFD’s in the neck and middle) in a cover band. When I think of it, there are about three songs all night when I’m not of the bridge pickup. With a Solamente and a little tweaking, I go could probably go all night.
There are not many players who will own just a one-pickup guitar. But I know very few players who own just own guitar. Single pickup guitars have a magic all their own, and part of their charm is their simplicity and their tone. Sometimes having less to work with makes you more creative, and you rely more on yourself than on the guitar to be creative. I’ve owned a Les Paul Junior for several years; it still surprises me on how versatile and massive it sounds. The G&L Solamente is very much the same, but with a G&L flavor. It’s a worthy addition to your collection for home or stage.
For more information on the ASAT Solamente: www.upfrontguitars.com