G&L USA 2023 Pricing and Options – What’s new?

For those who follow the G&L brand, 2023 brings quite a few changes to their price list and available options. The new 2023 Build-to-Order and Custom Shop option books are now uploaded and available. We’ve recently updated our BTO wish list so please check out the latest updates at http://www.upfrontguitars.com/resources . So what’s going on?

BTO (Build to Order) – The BTO has been the Hallmark for G&L and pretty much was G&L did until the Fullerton Deluxe line and the Custom Shop came along. For 2023 it’s a good news/bad news story. The good news is that it still exists as it’s very rare to have any guitar company offer a build-to-order plan without entering some type of high-end custom shop environment. And while prices have gone up again to the tune of about 15%, the cost of certain options have been built into the price, or greatly reduced. Option woods like swamp ash are now only $75 instead of $230 like last year, and other option woods are no charge. Tinted satin necks are no longer an up-charge, along with pick guard pickup options and DFV/Saddle lock selection. So while the base cost of the guitar has jumped, there are fewer cost adders. Also all finishes are now available on all woods. You want Clear Blue on Okoume? No problem, and since Okoume is no longer an up-charge the clear finish is also no additional cost. Some combos may look funky, but that’s up to your and your dealer.

The bad news? Many options are no longer available such as block inlays, graphite nut, white and black plastic binding, and vintage frets. All those are Custom Shop only. Bizarrely, body contours, scraped wood binding, and any neck profile options are also missing. It does not make much sense that you can get a rear contour on a Fullerton Deluxe but not on a BTO. This is a subject of conversation with G&L by us and I’m sure other dealers. Many of these options are the press of the button on a CNC machine. We’ll continue to lobby management, but we’ll miss those block inlays.

Note: We have been entering orders with contours, wood binding and neck profile substitutions, and G&L is not pushing back.

Other points of note is that the RMC (rear mounted control) guitars are gone, along with the M-Series bass guitars. But on the bright side the Skyhawk, Skyhawk HH and Fallout bass are now official BTO guitars.

And finally, gig bags are standard, although the price for a hard case upgrade is only $100. Other companies have gone to gig bags quite a while ago, and eliminated them entirely.

Custom Shop – The popularity of the Custom Shop continues to grow, and lead times are now running 8-12 months and frequently longer. Which just proves that in this price range somebody always has the money. This year the Custom Shop adds a list of pre-configured guitars, and G&L hopes to build up a small stock of these models for buyers who want something nifty but don’t want to wait a year. Once we get the price list uploaded you’ll get a chance to peruse those. Prices are up, and the typical guitar is going to be in the $3500-$4000 range depending on options. Naturally, many buyers for the Custom Shop ask G&L to do something not on the price list, and that’s all subject to discussion with the factory. But our experience is that the farther you stray from the price book, the longer it takes.

The whole section on custom wound pickups is gone. My guess is that they still wind them in the Custom Shop (I’ve seen the equipment there in 2022) but they are standard G&L specification, and all the year-specific flavors have been eliminated.

Much to our delight the ASAT Jr. is one of the pre-configured models. We’ve always like this guitar and while we assume it has two P-90 pickups, the typically sparse G&L price list does not say much. The Rampage is back both as an option guitar and pre-configured, complete with Kahler tremolo. There is now an Espada HH, and the pre-configured model features the slick silver-to-gold flake fade seen around the time of 2022 NAMM. And all those RMC and M-series bass guitars can still be found in the custom shop. Other fun additions are that you can get a Tone Pros bridge on an ASAT or Doheny (we’ve been asking for the ASAT for a while), there are some new neck tint offerings, and Wenge is now available as a fretboard material.

Fullerton Deluxe and CLF – These are the guitars designed to keep the factory humming, and these “SKU” guitars with UPC codes are the meat-and-potatoes of Sweetwater and the other large internet retailers. Prices are up about 10% and while they continue to tweak the available colors, the typical offerings are intact. The big news is that the Rampage is back in single, HH, and Fishman Fluence formats. There is a new color called Purpleburst which we really like a lot, and as always G&L remains lefty-friendly with a good selection of models.

In the CLF world the Espada HH and HH Active also joins the price list. The Espada is a nice looking guitar and we imagine that G&L is wagering that people turned off by the look of the split pickups will be attracted to a more conventional HH format (and the HH is available in more finishes than the original model). Other than that, no big changes to lineup, although we really wish they would stop using that bar-type string tree, whether Leo thought it was a good idea or not. We’ve put more than our share of shims under the bar to get enough string pressure.

The Wrap – After two years of hot sales, price increases material shortages the guitar market is cooling off in a big way. Not because players are abandoning the guitar, but because with stimulus money many people have bought what the needed, wanted, or thought they wanted. And with travel/leisure wide open since mid-2021 consumers have more options on where to spend their money. This is true with just about every other musical product category. Now manufacturers are cutting models, trying to save cost, and simplifying their offerings. G&L is not immune to those pressures, but much of the line remains intact. And if you’ve shopped for an American Vintage II Fender — which has no options — the BTO’s are very close in price, and the Fullerton Deluxe very competitive. Our early experience with the Custom Shop was a bit rocky, but they’ve honed their processes over the past couple years and their recent work has been stellar. Nothing ever stays the same, but G&L has done better than most to stay true to their mission.

Have Solid State Guitar Amps Finally Won?

For many, that is an incendiary question; as for some players tube amps are the only way to amplify a guitar. But solid state guitar amplifiers have been around since the mid-60’s and sooner or later they are bound to get it right. And in many ways they have.

As with many guitar-related traditions that are considered sacred, tubes were not used because they were better, they were used because they were the only available technology. As technology advanced, amp builders quickly tried to employ those advancements, mainly to save cost. For example, once silicon diodes became affordable, builders used them to replace the tube rectifier. It saved a tube, and simplified the input transformer. It was not a matter of sounding better, and in certain circumstances it changed the sound of the amp. And if you wanted more clean headroom, it actually helped.

Amplifier designers came to understand what made tube amplifiers so appealing, and the challenge was to make a solid state circuit emulate tubes. Fast forward to the last few years and this has been pretty successfully achieved both through modelling (digital signal processing) or purely analog solid state circuits. The vast majority of players today would fail a blind test between a tube amp and it’s Kemper-modeled version. And if you think about it, your pedal board is most likely entirely solid state, and your distortion is coming from a saturated transistor, op amp, or clipping diodes.

50 watts and about 22 pounds – Quilter solid state Aviator Cub

While players of means may insist on playing a tube amp, many players on a budget simply cannot afford a good tube amplifier. But that does not mean they have to settle for bad tone. Tube amps are inherently more expensive to make, and dollar-for-dollar a new $500 solid state amp is likely better and more versatile than a new $500 tube amp (if you could even find one). At lower price points there are some hybrid solid state amps with a tube or two in the preamp section. Whether that makes them better than all solid state, at minimum it’s a good marketing tactic (“it must be better, it has a tube”).

In my view, solid state amplifiers have been quite good for years at very clean tones (think Roland Jazz Chorus, Blues Cube) or high gain (Peavey, Randall, Line 6, Hughes & Kettner, etc.). When it comes to high gain there are lots of ways to do a great job (like your pedals) without tubes. Where tube amps shine is that in-between world where it sounds clean, with just a little bit of pick-induced dirt, crunch or compression: All those intangibles that make people love tube amps. But solid state continues to get closer every day, and at minimum there are many solid state amplifiers that make great pedal platforms, where you can chase the tone dragon with pedals (at more reasonable volume levels too). And frankly attempts to make tube amps “do their thing” at lower volume levels (like attenuators) have their own sonic thumbprint that does not always sound particularly natural either.

Solid state amps will probably always have a problem emulating the edge-of-meltdown sound and feel of a small tweed amp from the 50’s. Those are incredibly organic, tactile little boxes that were a happy accident of early amp technology. But most people don’t want a little tweed: They have very little headroom and don’t handle pedals well. It’s a narrow segment of players that want that, and for them maybe it’s gotta be tube.

Aside from the obvious benefits of solid state: Weight, reliability, cost….they do have some inherently useful sonic properties: 1) They are less prone to have a sweet spot for good tone. Many tube amps have a “just right” place where they sound really good (Everybody has had an amp that sounded anemic at “2.5” but was too loud at “3”). Solid state amps tend to be more linear and don’t greatly change character throughout the volume control sweep. Most solid state amps also have active EQ controls that actually boost and cut frequencies. Most tube amps are passive tone controls that only cut frequencies (10 on the dial is wide open, and from there you are removing frequencies). Active EQ controls are just plainly more effective (just ask your bass player).

I’ve been hauling tube amps to gigs for years, but my last gig was solid state for a host of reasons: It was a multi band night where we had to move gear around easily (weight, size) the room was hard and reflective, and the active EQ made dialing in a difficult room much easier. Plus any edge that a tube amp may have in certain situations is often lost in a noisy club. Or when the drummer starts.

Solid state amplification is now a choice, not a compromise. There will be players — especially professionals — who will always play specific tube amps. In many cases it’s part of their image…and they have roadies to carry them. You could give Yngwie Malmsteen a Roland Jazz Chorus and a pedal and he would still sound pretty much like Yngwie, just quieter. Much of the tone is in the hands.

Regardless of technology, quality materials, design and construction matter the most. Tubes are not a guarantee of anything, and there are as many lack luster tube amps out there as there are solid state. My philosophy is to find an amp with a really good fundamental clean tone knowing that I will likely use pedals for everything else. If an amp does not sound good by itself, no pedal will ever fix that. If technology allows me to get the tone I want from solid state, why not?

Pedal Amps for Guitar: The world at your feet

While electric guitar themselves have changed little over the past 70 years — 1950’s designs still rule — guitar amplifiers have continued to evolve, and the pace of evolution has increased greatly over the past several years. Efficient sound systems long ago obviated the need for huge amplifiers, and for most players today a 1×12 is about all they want to haul (few club owners want to see a Marshall half stack roll in). For most situations — especially high gain — solid state has really caught up with tubes, and modelling amps like the Kemper have found homes even with fussy pros and studios.

Quilter Superblock USA Pedal Amp

Besides enabling lightweight powered speakers and bass amps, Class D solid state amplification technology has also enabled a wave of affordable pedal amplifiers. These days it’s pretty easy to have 25-50 watts of usable power at your feet and in some cases ditch the amplifier all together. But why a pedal amplifier?

Output Flexibility – Most solid state pedal amps have a speaker output, direct line out, and a headphone output, and unlike most amplifiers don’t need a speaker load to operate safely. They are perfect for quiet headphone-only practice. Plus some like the Hughes & Kettner Ampman have an AUX input for feeding in a music source to play along with. The direct XLR outputs are typically switchable between full frequency response and some type of speaker emulation, facilitating both live and recording environments.

Multiple Voices – Since these are solid state devices — some with DSP-based effects — most of the pedal amps have more than one core sound. The Quilter Superblock series amps have three different voices to choose from, while the H&K Ampman amps have two completely independent channels to play with. We’ve also sampled the Thermion Zero, and while it does not have multiple voices it does have an effects loop, which is true of most other pedal amps.

Hughes and Kettner Ampman Classic

Performance Flexibility – If you are jamming with friends you can run it into a speaker cabinet, have fun, and be able to stick your amp in a backpack. For bigger venues you can still use a cabinet for stage volume and the direct out into the PA and monitors. If you want to be super portable you can go direct-out-only and listen through floor monitors or in-ears. Depending on the size of your pedal board you might be able to make space for the pedal amp and your effects for an all-in-package. As we mentioned earlier, the H&K Ampman has two independent channels plus a boost and solo switch making it a true replacement for a two channel amp (although it lacks reverb and full EQ).

Cost – Just starting out and don’t know what you need for an amp? Small inexpensive guitar amps are often less than impressive, and a pedal amp will sound way better through a set of headphones, and allow you to work on your chops in private. You can take it anywhere, and down the road get a cabinet.

Backup – Even if you are total diehard and want to see glowing glass bottles on top of your speaker cabinet, what if it goes down during a gig? One of these babies will save the show and take up very little space in the car.

Can you really gig with it? – It depends on your setup. If you are a rocking blues band with a loud drummer and don’t mic guitars, some pedal amp options are borderline on overall volume (the efficiency of your speaker cabinet will play a role in this). If you normally mic the guitars and use monitors, these will work great with or without a dedicated speaker cab (I get most of my sound through an ear monitor but still like a 1×12 to judge overall tone). In regard to sound quality, while it’s always a matter of opinion and personal taste, overall I’m impressed. Good tone is a function of the amplifier + speaker + cabinet and a pedal amp through a good quality speaker cabinet is going to sound better than a middling combo amp. Sometimes progress really is progress, and if you can get the sound you want while also reducing space and weight is that bad (Your bass player already knows the answer)? Success with a pedal amp is enjoying the experience and convenience while separating yourself from what good sound should look like.

Who makes G&L’s Humbucker pickups?

We’ve been asked a few times regarding who makes the G&L humbucker pickups, are they imported, and so on. We were not totally clear on this ourselves, but we were able to get the scoop at our trip out to NAMM this past week.

G&L does wind their own humbucking pickups in house at the factory in Fullerton. Like many pickup companies, they purchase components from the outside such as bobbins and base plates, but the actual winding and assembly is an in-house process. Besides controlling cost, it also allows them to tweak the specs more to their liking rather than purchasing a standard pickup from an outside supplier. Such was the case with the neck pickup used in the Bluesboy, which they wanted to make a little more percussive and snappy than the previously standard Seymour Duncan Seth Lover.

We also had the happy accident of running into Paul Gagon at the G&L booth at NAMM. Paul is retired from G&L, but was the electronics guy behind many of their developments, and also responsible for their P-90 pickup design. The G&L P-90 is one of our favorite P-90’s and Paul explained to us how he worked with a number of different total turns of wire before he really found something that would pop. Which is what we really like about their pickup: Cleaner, more snappy and with a less congested midrange than many P-90’s. We always learn something new at NAMM.

UpFront Guitars 2019 NAMM Wrap Up

We’re on the plane back from NAMM, and it seems like a good time to reflect on what was a very productive few days. Firstly, NAMM is so huge there is no way to take in the entirety of the show without literally running non-stop up and down every aisle. NAMM requires a game plan, and ours was mainly to meet with our current product partners, catch up on things and see what it new.

All-new G&L Espada

G&L – Prior to the show, we had already seen an sneak preview of some of the unique guitars that G&L was bringing to the show and “tagged” a couple in advance. But G&L had a lot cool news that we did not learn until getting to their booth late on Thursday. The big news is the G&L Espada, a newly released guitar that G&L reversed-engineered from a 1969 design unearthed from original Leo Fender drawings. Featuring new split coil MFD pickups, active/passive controls and a very sexy Tele/Skyhawk/Stingray mash, the Espada is really new but authentically G&L. Actual production date is TBD, so suffice to say we are in line to get some.

Also at the booth is their new Doheny HH and Skyhawk HH, and both will be available through the Fullerton Special line of fixed-option guitars. Both use their chrome-covered humbuckers, which we prefer sonically to the open-coil AW4470’s, and they also dress up both guitars nicely. There is also going to be a Fullerton Special Skyhawk with the current S-500 pickup set. We’re glad to see more Skyhawk models, as we love the shape and ergonomics of this design.

Bandlab – Bandlab has been hard at work on a number of projects, and we really dig the direction they are heading. The Bandlab folks are pretty sharp, and they while they respect the value of history and tradition, they know it needs to be backed up by innovation, quality and consistency.

Heritage is in good hands, and they continue to make improvements in the factory, and work on making each model as consistent and high quality as possible. While they’ve narrowed the range of products that dealers can purchase, it also means they are available from stock with very little wait time. Their “Custom Shop” is still getting up and going, but for those who want a truly unique creation that will be an option in the future.

harmony-guitarsWe saw the first Harmony prototype guitars at the 2018 show, and we’re glad to report that they will finally hit the streets this spring. Made at the Heritage factory, they include mahogany and alder bodies, bolt-on mahogany or maple necks, ebony fret boards, their own gold foil pickups, and nitro finishes. The finish and playing quality is right up there, the weight it good, and the foil pickups have a funky groove that is bright but full bodied. At around $1300 with a Mono Bag, these are a literal no-brainer and offer a fresh addition to any player’s lineup.

Also later in the year will be Harmony amplifiers. These will be semi-closed back, hand-wired 6V6 designs with built in attenuator and vibrato. The design is pleasantly retro, and will get you noticed in a sea of Deluxe Reverbs. The prototypes are built in Singapore, and the production models will likely come from one of the Bandlab facilities in that region. While it’s hard to judge an amp in the din of NAMM, our own experience was very encouraging, and we’ve posted internet legend Jay Leonard Jay doing some great demo work of his own.

In the fall – Harmony Amplifiers

Tiesco is another legacy brand that Bandlab was resuscitated, and this spring they will release their first three pedals; a boost, fuzz pedal, and delay. Bandlab sweats the design details, and these pedals have unique and sturdy enclosures, funky graphics and intuitive controls. The boost pedal features a 9V and 24V power setting and ranges from true boost, to medium-crunch that is harmonically rich and detailed. The fuzz stole my heart, mainly because I don’t like fuzz, and I loved this pedal. It’s big and authoritative, but does not trample the tone of your guitar. It’s more classic crunch than lo-fi fizz, and it’s got an awesome octave feature that changes register depending where you are on the neck. I need it.

Mono is another Bandlab brand, is well known for their sturdy gig and gear bags beloved by professionals on the go. We plan on bringing some of these into the shop this spring.

ESP LTD M-1000 Multi Scale Guitar

ESP – Some of the sexiest guitars on the planet are at the ESP room, and their USA and Originals lines continue to push the envelop of functional art. They just built their first left-handed USA Eclipse, and we’ll soon commission our own southpaw model. They added some great new finishes to their Japanese E-II line, and much to our delight they’ll be available on the 22-fret Eclipse model. And while we pride ourselves on being a mostly USA shop, their are certain ESP guitars that we lust after that are not available anywhere but the LTD line. This includes affordable versions of their handsome Viper (SG-ish) and a very cool multi-scale (fanned fret) guitar that just knocked us out with how easy it was to play.

double-dreamer-webJAM Pedals – Our wildly artistic friends from Greece are updating nearly all of their graphics, and while some of them are a little less whimsical in nature, they continue to offer a wide array of custom graphics. Most of the changes in the line are evolutionary, but what caught our eye is their new Double Dreamer. This is an update of our best-selling Tube Dreamer 88, and they’ve added a wet/dry mix, the high gain feature is now a footswitch for on-the-fly usage, and the high gain is assignable to either or both channels.

Keeley – Keeley is always cooking up something new, and this year they had a larger space, some of the best personal demo capabilities, and four new releases. Their new Synth-1 is the most ambitious of all of them, and while it’s not for everyone, if you are looking for the road less traveled, this is it. Also of note is their new DDR, drive, delay and reverb pedal. Essentially a small pedalboard in an enclosure no bigger than their D&M Drive, it will allow you to travel light but not lacking for tone.

Eric with the Roadhouse Nylon

Godin – Godin has been making a lot of changes lately, and one of the more notable releases is their line of Godin Branded acoustic guitars. Godin has long maintained several acoustic brands, but this is the first time we’ve seen them put the Godin headstock on an acoustic. These are upper end models, all solid wood with both gloss and satin finishes. Other items of note are the reappearance of their very attractive Denim Blue finish on the ACS and A6 models, a new high end semi-hollow Summit, and some interesting new Kingpin models like their T-Armond with TV Jones DeArmond style pickups. In the Art & Lutherie line they’ve release a new finish that we really like called Havana Brown, and a cute Roadhouse Nylon acoustic.

Yorkville Sound – Yorkville is so many different brands you could literally stock a store with it (and they do in Canada via owners Long & McQuade’s more than 80 stores). Items we plan to add include their Traynor YGL2 guitar amp, which is a 30-watt version of our favorite YGL1. A little more power and slightly bigger enclosure is just the ticket for gigging players who need a great sounding pedal-friendly amp. They also have a nice compact acoustic guitar amp that is an affordable companion to their higher end Hughes & Kettner ERA-1.

What really grabbed our attention at Yorkville is the Xvive line of wireless transmitters for guitar, bass and vocals. They have a new plug-and-play wireless microphone adapter that turns any microphone into a wireless mic. So if you like the mic you have, you can now make it wireless. And everything is ultra-compact, so no big transmitter box, power supply, etc. It will make you rethink wireless.

Yorkville is also the parent of Hughes & Kettner, and they were showing off their Black Spirit 200 amplifier head. They’ve delved even further into connectivity, and the Black Spirit is a guitar amp, redbox, audio interface…and bluetooth enabled via an app.

Lastly, Yorkville is also “prosumer” and pro audio from compact bluetooth-enabled battery powered enclosures to full line arrays. If you are planning a system from solo acoustic to fixed installation, we can help you with that.

C.B.I – And if you are building that new sound system or studio, don’t forget cables. In upstate New York, C.B.I. makes everything from patch cables to concert-sized snakes and stage boxes. We’ve always liked their products, and like every stop we made on our NAMM tour, we learned something new. Their Stagewinder pedal board snake simplifies pedalboard and effect loop setup at a reasonable price. We also learned that we can simplify our cable packaging and eliminate the use of plastics (while adding our own UpFront Graphics). C.B.I. makes practically everything cable related, and we can also quote custom jobs too. We walked away with a new appreciation of C.B.I.

NAMM is fatiguing but energizing, and a little Southern California weather in January doesn’t hurt either. We’ve made our shopping list, and we’re checking it twice. Christmas is coming again this Spring.

G&L Skyhawk HH

Godin Kingpin T-Armond

Godin A6 Denim Flame


Guitars as Investments – IMHO

lp-tightIs it a good idea in general to buy electric guitars as investments?


That’s the short answer, and generally speaking I think it’s a good idea to purchase guitars that you like and want to play. While it’s true that some brands of guitars — Fender, Gibson, Martin, Rickenbacker for example — will appreciate over time, quite often it’s a long time and of course not every model. Yes, people are now paying some silly prices for 70’s Fenders, which were not even very good guitars to begin with. And we’re also talking about waiting almost 40 years for the guitar to be worth something. Just the idea that something is old does not make it of increased value.

Even if you got a really cool guitar cheap, the rate of appreciation is generally very slow. Maybe you got a great R9 Les Paul in mint condition, but it’s not a house: You can’t sit on it for 3-4 years and flip it. While it’s certainly possible that it holds its value well, it does not mean it’s going to go up. If you want a guitar that really holds its value, buy a Rickenbacker. They have a great combination of quality, history and scarcity. Hardly the all-around rock guitar, but if you’re obsessed with resale, you’ll get a good chunk of your money back. Used guitars that really take a beating? Almost any import guitar not from Japan (sometimes Korea) and valued-priced USA guitars like PRS S2 and various ~$1000 Gibson’s.  They are not bad guitars, but they are appliances, not works of art.

Manufacturers also make it difficult for investors by making increasingly good new guitars. The idea that only old stuff is good, is just not true. In fact a lot of old instruments are highly variable in quality. The hard to define “mojo” of an old guitar is often psychosomatic, and players love the concept of old stuff, and will make themselves believe that it is special. If you spend $2000 on a 1970’s Fender with a 1/4″ thick polyester finish and a 3-bolt neck are no getting a “vintage” guitar? In name only.

Manufacturers also make it difficult for investors by making way too many versions of the same guitar. When somebody gives us a Les Paul or Strat to sell (especially Les Paul) we spend a chunk of time trying to figure out what it’s really worth. Gibson makes so many darn versions of the Les Paul (Traditional, Traditional Plus, Tribute, Studio, Awesome Maximus…) it’s truly hard to figure out what the guitar is worth. Go on Reverb.com and there will be around 300 Les Paul’s from $800 to $5000. Strats are not much better: I’m mean really, how many versions of a “Clapton” Strat can you make? Quite a few, it turns out. All this just confuses the market and makes it hard to assign value.

Lastly, then you have dealers that frequently skirt MAP pricing rules for new guitars. So what you say? Selling a guitar blatantly below MAP depresses the price of a used guitar by deflating its new value. No matter how you feel about MAP, strong MAP enforcement helps the value of used guitars. Companies that protect their brand value (Bose, Mesa for example) enjoy higher perceived value and better resale. Companies that let retailers run amok pay for it in the long run.

As a G&L dealer, I often hear the comment, “Great guitars but I wish the resale value was better.” I’ve come to realization that G&L’s fare no better or worse than most Gibson’s and Fenders. It just that Gibson and Fender owners think their guitars are worth more. In the end, the relationship between street price and used prices are not appreciably different (But the Gibson owner is disappointed and the G&L owner says, “Ok thanks for selling if or me.”). I just sold a left handed mid-2000’s ASAT Classic in nice condition for $849. The guitar probably went new for a little over $1000. Took about 10 days to sell. That’s a boatload better than I’ll do trying to sell a 3-year old Les Paul that had an original list of $3600.

Play what you like, have fun, and if you love the guitar, keep it. If you don’t like the guitar, sell it an move on. Guitars are a passion, a hobby, and for some a profession. For a precious few, they are an investment.

CITES, Rosewood, and G&L Alternatives for Fretboards

G&L Rosewood FretboardIf you are interested in buying a G&L guitar and live in the USA, you can skip over this blog (unless you are curious). However if you live outside of the USA, as of January 1st, 2017 things got a little complicated.

CITES, the international organization that protects wildlife (animals as well as plants) implemented new restrictions on the use and export of Rosewood. Essentially Rosewood became a restricted material, and products containing Rosewood are now required to have documentation to verify that they are legally harvested.

How did this happen? It’s all about demand, and mostly in China where the expanding middle class developed a particular appetite for Rosewood furniture. The spike in demand created over-harvesting and illegal harvesting. Rather than see Rosewood wiped out, regulations have been put in place. You can debate the logic and methodology, but something needed to be done. Also note that “Rosewood” is a rather generic term that includes many varieties including Cocobolo, Bubinga, etc.

What are the practical implications?

The short story is that new guitars containing Rosewood manufactured after January 1st 2017 that are going to be exported out of the USA, need documentation verifying the sourcing of the Rosewood. Manufacturers have to apply for the paperwork and permits to export guitars containing Rosewood. There is of course a lot more to it than that, but that is the quick summary.

Dealers (like me) in most cases do not have this type of documentation; it’s the manufacturer that holds the permit. So most dealers will not be able to ship a post-January 2017 guitar with rosewood out of the country. It stands the risk of being confiscated at customs, and nobody gets the guitar back.

Guitars built before January 2017 can be shipped out of the country provided they have a re-export certificate. These are obtained from the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The certificates cost money, and take time to obtain. A dealer can also apply for a “Master File” and purchase re-export certificates in advance, but it’s still a process. Suffice to say, many dealers are just not going to bother with exporting a guitar with Rosewood.

This is bad for independent dealers selling overseas but a boon for distributors. International distributors buying directly from the manufacturer will get legally documented product, and far less competition from independent dealers exporting into their home country.

Non-commercial (person-to-person) sales are technically exempt. I can imagine this becoming a loophole as some dealers will have a relative or friend be the shipper of record on a guitar going out of the country.

G&L Alternatives

Aside from the occasional fancy top or limited editions, Rosewood on a G&L guitar is limited to the fretboard. The obvious alternatives are Maple and Ebony. Those materials can be exported freely without additional documentation.

If you are not partial to those materials, G&L has also started using a material called Chechen, also known as “Caribbean Rosewood.” It’s a hard and dense Central American hardwood that looks and feels very much like Rosewood. It has a more color variation than most rosewood, but it’s attractive and a good substitute. Most important is that is not subject to any restrictions and is widely available. Dealers with international customers looking for a way around Rosewood should consider Chechen.

Have an Open Mind

Traditional tone woods are just that: Traditional. They have obvious desirable qualities, but what they also have in common was that at the the time they were first used, they were widely available. And there were a lot fewer people on the earth. Guitar builders have been exploring new materials for decades, and many alternatives have been proven to be just as good as the traditional woods. Just like it very hard to get totally black ebony these days, guitar players will have to adjust to other paradigm shifts in guitar materials. In many cases the adjustment is more mental than sonic. Conventional wisdom dies a slow death, and there will always be players that cling to whatever “old way” they hold most dear.

If you want to play it totally safe, just avoid Rosewood. There are lots of other good materials both synthetic and natural. If you have your heart set on Rosewood, the sky isn’t falling, but obtaining that Rosewood guitar may take more diligence and planning.


David Allen Humbucker pickups – Impressions

David Allen P-51 Zebra set

When we carry a line of pickups, we try to do our best to get real playing time with them, and not just write what the manufacturer says about them. With some help from our new Sales Associate Eric, we’ve been swapping a lot of pickups lately. This includes three of David Allen’s more popular humbucker sets: Alley Cat, P-51, and Dirty Cat. On a relative scale these can sort of be characterized as “light, medium, and hot” in that order. Bear in mind though that the Dirty Cats are far from hot in comparison to some of the brutally strong pickups from a number of winders out there including Seymour Duncan, Bare Knuckles and others. As we said, it’s all relative.

With all three sets we got a chance to try them in both a mid-priced (Godin Core HB) and a higher end guitar (Knaggs Kenai). We tried then both at practices, jam sessions, and some real-life gigging situations. So while we have full write-ups on our David Allen product page, here are some quick impressions on living with the pickups.

Alley Cats – Patterned after the ’57 style of PAF, these Alnico 2 humbucker pickups are super clean and articulate. In the Core the neck pickup gets very close to a single coil sound, and while the bridge pickup sounds a little light on clean settings, it’s dynamite with some gain. The lower output, softer Alnico magnetic field and general “free” nature of the pickup generates spacious and singing rock tones that have multiple layers of harmonic detail. Maybe not the ticket of you desire something tight and modern, but gigging with our Kenai it was marvelously expressive. For my taste, the neck did not have quite enough “push” for singing solo work, but compared to many Alnico 2 neck pickups it was much less flabby on the low end. Hot pickups are not the only way to rock.

P-51 – David Allen’s take on the ’59 PAF, although it’s not really built like a PAF. The P-51 uses Alnico 4 magnet material, which has a fairly low magnetic pull, but more attack than an Alnico 2. Some people describe it as a cross between Alnico 3 and 5. Compared to the Alley Cats, the P-51 set was warmer with more midrange push at the neck, and gave up a little bit of top end brightness. It works better with gain, and kicks out some good blues tones without getting mushy or smeared. At the bridge the P-51 has a little more attack and snap, and for straight clean tones is probably a little more satisfying. Distortion tones are slightly tighter and more dense than the Alley Cat, and it’s a real toss up which I like better.

Dirty Cats – While the inductance (output) of the Dirty Cats is very similar to P-51’s, the DC resistance is at a level where you do start to hear it in the clean settings. Both pickups have a little bit of a midrange bump that makes the Dirty Cats a little less open and free sounding. However, they both turn down really well, and with a little volume roll-off lose lose most of their midrange congestion. The neck pickup uses Alnico 5 magnet materials, which gives it good attack and helps tighten up the midrange. It sounded very good in the wrap-tail bridge Core, but in the brighter sounding Kenai was a little “stringy” with a slight metallic edge. The bridge pickup is an interesting hybrid of Alnico 2 magnets and an un-vintage 11K DC resistance. It manages to be reasonably open sounding while also being the most “modern” voiced pickup in this roundup; with densely packed harmonics, and tight responsive low end crunch.

The Verdict – If you are in a wide-ranging cover band or just play an eclectic mix of music, the P-51 is a good choice, and our favorite. It’s very good at most things, and bad at nothing. Or if you tastes run a little heavier, opt for the Dirty Cats, which would kill at everything from Foo Fighters to modern Stadium-style Country. If you are into jazz, blues, or earlier classic rock (not 80’s), the Alley Cats really excel. The bridge pickup is “the tone” that defines a lot of classic 60’s and 70’s tunes, and for cleans the neck pickup is the clearest and most touch sensitive of the group.

G&L 2015 Mid-Year Model Changes

As of July 1st 2015, G&L is making some of the more significant model specification changes in quite some time. G&L has gone through their whole lineup, and practically no guitar remains untouched in some way or another. Pricing is changing too, both in the form of some increases, and how guitars are priced relative to each other. There is a lot to take in, but here is a rundown on the more notable changes to the guitars, along with some commentary.

Neck Profiles

For years the #1 “C” profile neck with 12″ radius has been standard on most G&L guitars. On the Legacy and ASAT line this is now changing to the “Modern Classic” neck. The Modern Classic neck is 1-11/16 at the nut with less of a taper than the #1 neck (now .830 at the 1st fret to .870 at the 12th). On the ASAT and Legacy line the standard radius is 9.5″.

Also of note is that G&L has separated neck shape from radius. And in the dealer price list there are separate options for fingerboard radius (7.5, 9.5, 12) and for profiles. So pretty much you can mix and match anything for one up-charge. You don’t get dinged twice for radius and shape.

Why the new profile on their most popular guitars? One thought is that a frequent question I get is, “which profile is most like a Fender?” The Modern Classic is a pretty close fit. In addition there were occasional complaints about string fall-off with the #1 neck, and the slightly wider nut width of the Modern Classic will help this. Most of the other profiles remain (C, Wide C, U, V, etc.) with slight name tweaks. G&L still offers more options than just about anyone on a production guitar. However, a couple guitars — namely Fallout and SC-2 — do not offer neck profile options.

Here is a quick rundown of the more popular guitar and bass models and their new profiles:

  • ASAT – Modern Classic 9.5″
  • Legacy – Modern Classic 9.5″
  • Fallout – Slim C 12″
  • Invaders – Modern Classic 12″
  • S-500 – Modern Classic 9.5″
  • Comanche – Modern Classic 9.5″
  • SC-2 – Classic C 12″
  • ASAT Bass – 1.5 nut width Medium C 9.5″
  • L-1500 and 2000 – 1-5/8 Medium C 9.5″
  • M-2000 – 1-5/8 Medium C 9.5″
  • 5- String Bass – 1-3/4 Medium C 12″
  • JB – 1.5 Medium C 9.5″
  • LB – 1-5/8 Medium C 9.5″
  • SB – 1-5/8 Medium C 9.5″

Discontinued Models

G&L has thinned the herd slightly, and here is what I noticed. Nothing really earth shattering here; and from personal experience these models have either run their course, or never took off:

  • ASAT Special Deluxe
  • Legacy Deluxe (No pickguard, Flame Maple Top)
  • S-500 Deluxe (Ditto)
  • S-500 Semi-Hollow
  • Will Ray Signature
  • MJ Series bass guitars (Back in – recently amended)
  • JB-2 Bass
  • “Rustic” series products


While there are no changes to their single coil pickups, G&L will be using Seymour Duncan pickups only in the Rampage, Bluesboy and ASAT Deluxe models. All other models – Fallout, Legacy, Invader — will use G&L’s own Alnico humbucker pickups. G&L is of course known for their pickups, and there also some cost savings involved with using their own product versus sourcing from someone else. These are the same Paul Gagon designed pickups as used in the Tribute series, and they are made in Fullerton by G&L. The Duncan pickups will be available as an extra cost option, and if you must have them, the up-charge is well below the cost of going out and buying a set.

How do the G&L Humbuckers sound? We’ve played the G&L Alnico humbucker pickups, and in most cases we are talking about the bridge pickup in the Legacy and Fallout. The resistance is in the 13K range versus 16K for the Duncan JB. The G&L pickup is a little warmer in tone, with a softer high end. It lacks some of the top end sharpness of the JB which depending on your point of view is a good thing. When gained up it’s smooth with creamy tone, and again less sharp and buzzy than the JB. We recommend giving it a try, and of course there are a zillion aftermarket options.

The potential backlash with the G&L pickups is that some will say that this just makes the USA and Tribute models more like each other. I can’t argue that point, and my feeling is that while import guitars are important to the industry, (after all imports are >90% of the total US guitar market) using the same pickups in both the USA and import lines sends a confusing message to the consumer.

Model Name Changes

  • Legacy HB is now the Legacy HSS
  • Legacy 2HB is now the Legacy HH


Prices have gone up, but also they have shifted. The basic Legacy and ASAT guitars now have the same MAP price. Historically the ASAT was always more money. The SC-2 and Fallout are also the same MAP as the Legacy, and the S-500 is still a little more. The MAP on all these guitars is $1299 (S-500 $1399), and includes the standard burst or solid finishes, alder body, satin finish neck with maple or rosewood fingerboard, white pickguard and tolex case. It’s also of note that the Legacy HSS and HH models are now the same price as the standard Legacy, so no penalty for humbucking pickups. The Legacy Special is still a little more, and last time we looked those pickups were supplied by Kent Armstrong.

There are also minor price changes on some of the options, but nothing game-changing. And yes, stainless steel frets are still expensive. Our understanding is that they chew up the tools very quickly and of course take a lot more labor and Plek time.

The pricing relationship between List and MAP is also different, and the MAP is now about 30% off list. Without going into great detail, buyers who typically assume they can strike a deal below MAP will find dealers more reluctant to negotiate than in the past. As Fender has done, the MAP price really reflects the true street price, and the battle continues to preserve price and brand value in the cyberworld.

Wrap Up

While nobody likes to see a price increase, G&L still offers a unique value in a USA guitar that can be made to order. As far as these changes go, I think most of them make sense either commercially, or in terms of what the market really wants. And if you really want a “Pre-July” G&L you can still option a guitar to come out that way. So nobody is left out in the cold. That is unless you want an ASAT Special Deluxe.

The G&L Bluesboy: Traditional Bluesboy or Bluesboy 90?

Belair Green G&L Bluesboy 90

The G&L ASAT Classic Bluesboy™ has been around for many years, and is very much analogous to the Fender Telecaster Custom, which comes and goes at times the Fender lineup. The concept is simple: Create an option for players that like the idea of a Tele® style guitar but find the traditional Tele neck pickup lacking in dynamics and flexibility.

It could be said that G&L already solved this problem by creating the MFD ASAT neck pickup, which pretty effectively “fixed” the Tele neck doldrums. But there’s a market for a humbucker equipped ASAT, so why not fill it?

The original ASAT Classic Bluesboy uses a Seymour Duncan Seth Lover pickup, which emulates the construction of the early PAF pickups developed by its namesake. With a fairly low output and Alnico 2 magnets, it has a smooth top end with good clarity, but the wound strings are on the warm side and lack a strong attack. It’s a “loose” sound that has a definitive old-school vibe, and it’s always seemed to me more of a Jazz tone than a Blues tone. It’s a very good pickup, but the contrast to the ASAT bridge pickup is rather stark to the point of being a challenge to find an amp EQ that works well for both (although the sound of both pickups together is rather heavenly).

The G&L Bluesboy 90

A few years back G&L developed a great P-90 pickup that they used in some of their limited edition ASAT Junior II guitars, and even some Tributes. Originally created by Gibson in 1946, the P-90 fell out of favor with the advent of the PAF humbucker. The P-90 lived on in the Les Paul Junior and other less prestigious Les Paul models, but the PAF was clearly viewed as the “better” pickup. So G&L has this really nice pickup and no standard USA production model to stick it in. Enter the Bluesboy 90 (and the Fallout too, but that’s another post).

My totally subjective theory is that P-90 pickups are not very popular because as builders responded to the commercial desire for higher output pickups, the P-90 did not respond well to higher octane techniques. High output P-90 pickups are often dull, one-dimensional, and at the bridge take on a grating nasal bark. Somebody trying a P-90 for the first time would not be favorably impressed.

Much to their credit, G&L developed a very moderate output P-90 pickup that measures in the mid-6K range, which is a “weak” reading for a P-90. While resistance is no guarantee of tone, the G&L P-90 is a clean sounding pickup, with good note definition, even midrange response, and the wound strings have a pleasantly percussive attack. It’s not the scooped glassy sound of a Legacy, but a fatter, firmer tone that is warm, clear and expressive. The pickup handles pedals well too, taking on a slightly creamy note, but not collapsing into mush. Or just turn up your amp – always a good idea – and the G&L P-90 will create it’s own natural crunchy personality.

It’s also a great tonal match with the ASAT bridge pickup. In terms of overall response, the P-90 and ASAT Bridge are more akin to each other, and if you tend to work both pickups in equal amounts, it’s more likely you’ll find a common ground amplifier EQ.

Traditional G&L Bluesboy or Bluesboy 90?

If you delve into Jazz or smooth pop, and typically don’t rely on the bridge pickup in large amounts, the traditional Bluesboy is a very nice guitar. No denying it looks cool too. There are a wide range of tones that you can get with the Duncan pickup, but be advised that what amp EQ works for the neck may not be optimal for the bridge.

If you like to tinker with your guitar, the opportunities for replacement humbucker pickups are limitless. A quick pickup swap with possibly a moderate output Alnico 4 or 5 pickup may be all that’s needed to bring sonic harmony.

My personal opinion is that out of the box (or the case) the Bluesboy 90 is a more harmonious package. For reasons previously stated, the G&L P-90 sounds good by itself, and plays nicely with the bridge. It’s a single coil, but it doesn’t sound like a Strat®, and chances are you already have one of those. There are fewer options in terms of pickups tweaks, and yes P-90 pickups can be noisy under stage lights. Thankfully, LED stage lights are on the rise. Once the drummer starts, who can tell?

It’s not difficult to find happiness with either guitar, but if you’ve never tipped your toe into the P-90 pool, the ASAT Bluesboy 90 is a very positive introduction.