G&L Fullerton Deluxe or Build to Order?

Historically a build-to-order manufacturer, over the past few years G&L has introduced some no-option build to stock lines. One of their first attempts the Fullerton Standard line was maybe a bit too standard, and while the price was good the guitars lacked much curb appeal. Currently there exists two no-option USA series of the guitars, the CLF Research series and the Fullerton Deluxe. The CLF Research is its own animal, rebooting some the early 80’s aesthetics and offering some guitars — like the Espada — that are not available in any other format (Custom Shop excepted). The Fullerton Deluxe series are standard popular G&L models with a range of nice appointments and upgrades that would cost more if you followed the build to order route. To keep the cost in check they now come with a gig bag, and mercifully they dropped the gloss neck of the original FD series in favor of tinted satin. It’s not that the G&L gloss is sticky, but it’s a sticking point with many buyers.

G&L Fullerton Deluxe Skyhawk

Why Fullerton Deluxe? – Any manufacturer needs stable production to plan materials, product flow, labor, and in general keep things humming. While we love the fact that G&L will build to order, it’s less efficient and results in a bumpier product flow than making just a few standard models. Also, big box stores and large dealers don’t want to custom order each guitar. They want SKU’s (stock keeping units) they can have their purchasing department order based on what their ordering system is telling them. All Fullerton Deluxe guitars have a UPC code because modern purchasing systems recognize the UPC code as the model identifier. A build to order guitar has no UPC. Outlets like Sweetwater and Guitar Center sell almost exclusively Fullerton Deluxe and CLF Research because they are SKU guitars. They give G&L an steady flow of regular volume and they are easy to order and plan. These heavyweights also have the ability to commission their own specific models too, such as the ASAT Classic Custom that only Sweetwater offers (which has a UPC).

Why buy a Fullerton Deluxe? – If you like the finish and the features and you don’t mind a gig bag, why not? They are not lesser guitars, and if you want a G&L right now and you like what you see, our experience is that the quality of a FD is on par with a build to order. Also, places like Sweetwater and GC can offer financing that many smaller dealers can’t touch. So if you want a guitar and take 3 years to pay for it, a FD through a big box is an attractive option.

Are Fullerton Deluxe the same quality? – From what we have seen, yes. One could argue that if you make the same thing every day and not 15 different things every day your quality should improve. That would be boring, but it’s healthy for a factory. While we don’t carry much for FD guitars — why fight Sweetwater at their own game — our experience with them has been generally positive. And for certain guitars like the Skyhawk the only way they are available is as a FD or CLF Research.

Why build to order? – In short, you can get what you want in a reasonable amount of time. Or you want a left handed USA guitar. And if you want a Fallout, SB-2, Legacy HH, Classic S….it’s the only way you can get them in a USA model. Plus we like creating interesting guitars and so do our customers. Lastly, it gives the smaller shops the ability to differentiate themselves from the big box stores, and being different is the key to survival. Maybe we can’t commission our own specific model like Sweetwater, but there’s no such thing as a Fullerton Deluxe Fallout either (fingers crossed).

A potential doomsday scenario for smaller dealers is that as new models are released, they are launched only in the FD or CLF format. That puts the independent shops squarely in competition with with big boys. But G&L has been very good to us, while managing the likes of influential big box and internet retailers. That has not been the case for every manufacture that has decided to ride the big box tiger. Choice is good, and G&L offers both availability and the ability for players to create something that’s personal. Sometimes you can have it both ways.

G&L: What’s new for 2018?

Doheny SH 2017 was a very active year for G&L and they’ve gained steam, rolling into 2018 with a lot of new products, features and a whole new look on their website. Let’s take a quick look at what’s new for 2018:

New Website – G&L has launched their new website, and it’s cleaner, more modern and better pictures and images. G&L is also clearly promoting their heritage, and the Leo Fender story in a more obvious fashion. Makes a lot of sense when your founder invented the modern solid body electric guitar and bass. They also have a new “CLF Research” Instagram and Facebook page.

It’s still a work in progress, and there are some guitars and options in my price book that are not on the site, and vice versa. So we are working through that, and if you have any questions, just check with us and we’ll get an answer.

NAMM – G&L had a booth at NAMM for the first time in many years. It was packed, very active, and they had some great one-off guitars on the wall (we snagged a couple). Phyllis Fender was on hand to sign copies of her new book about Leo Fender the man. It’s the story of Leo, not a history of Fender guitar. It’s a pretty quick read and quite insightful about a very unique and creative individual that did not even play guitar.

G&L Custom Shop – G&L has launched their Custom Shop concept, and there is a dedicated section on the website for custom shop guitars. There a new finishes — the nitro option is back — the availability of hand-wound and signed pickups off Leo’s original CLF pickup winder, mild aging if you want it, and in general a much higher level of attention and hands-on TLC. Considering how good the “factory” guitars currently are, this is a pretty high bar. It’s not clear how “custom” you can get, and this is a work in progress. I don’t have a enough detail to know if you can put P-90’s in a Doheny, make a single pickup Fallout with Solamente wiring, etc. It’s baby steps as they feel out the process, and if you are interested give us a shout and we’ll work through the process with you.

What’s Out – The SC-2 is gone for 2018. My feeling is that once the Fallout came along, that really took the air out the SC-2. It’s fun guitar but they still have the ASAT special and it’s the same pickups.

What’s New  – The Doheny was new for the fall of 2017 and they’ve now rolled out the Doheny Deluxe and Doheny Semi-Hollow. The Deluxe is a Flame Top guitar with wood binding and rear-mounted controls. But you don’t have to get binding, and what we also like about the Doheny is that Fixed or Vibrato bridge is the same price. Also the MAP for this guitar is $200 less than then similarly outfitted ASAT Deluxe.

The Doheny Semi-Hollow comes standard in swamp ash and also includes wood binding and rear mounted controls. Our feeling here it to opt for an Okoume back when ordering this guitar. Semi-hollow guitars tend to gain some nice harmonics, but lose a bit of low end. The Okoume back will add in a bit of roundness and warmth.

Also note there are no neck profile options on the Doheny. It’s a Modern Classic, but you can opt for a different radius. The Doheny has its own 21-fret neck, and it’s not tooled to handle all the other profiles. The “MCNK” seems to be very popular, so I think they are sticking with what most people want anyway.

Also new is the CLF Heritage L-2000. This is a throwback L-2000 with an 80’s neck profile, the cool 80’s metal control plate, glossy neck finish, and “Heritage” MFD pickups. It’s available in four colors and no options. To keep the weight down they are using Basswood on the solid colors and Okoume on the bursts. Both woods work very nice on a bass, with punchy and clear fundamental notes.

Not Sure – The Invader and Invader XL are still in my 2018 price book but not on the new website. I don’t think they are dead, but that there is a make-over in the process in terms of a more shred-friendly neck profile and other features. The Anderson/Suhr market is something G&L has yet to crack, and they’ve got their eye on it. The ASAT Fullerton Standard is on the website but also not in the price book, and I know that’s currently not in the plans.

While I’ve not scoured the prices in excruciating detail, nothing pops out, and all the base guitar MAP prices appear unchanged. Rosewood is now a $50 MAP option and “Caribbean Rosewood” (Chechen) is now the standard “brown” wood. We really like Chechen, and while it’s not as dark as Rosewood, it’s got really interesting grain and it feels nice and smooth. Due to CITES regulations Rosewood has become problematic, and the supply is erratic.

Neck Profiles – The 2018 book is not listing the V-profiles, U, the Wide C, or Heritage profile. But the website is. We’ll have to sort this out, and it could be that the wide range of profiles will be reserved for Custom Shop. I will lobby for the Soft-V though….

New Colors – Rally Red (sort of Fiesta), Galaxy Black (jet black with a subtle light metallic flake), Shell Pink, and Surf Green joins the permanent ranks. Yukon Gold Metallic is out, and they are working on a better replacement. Nobody really liked Yukon Gold, including G&L.

Overall we like what G&L has been up to, and while sometimes they run before they walk, it’s all with good intentions. They also maintain a presence on Social Media, which a lot of companies just don’t bother to do. That’s good for the brand image, brand value, and ultimately resale value. We think 2018 will be a great year for G&L, and let us know if you have any questions or comments at studio@upfrontguitars.com