‘The Real Ones’ - A history of G&L

 
 

The most famous bolt-on necks are those with the name Fender on their headstock, the company founded by Clarence Leonidas (Leo) Fender (August 10, 1909 -- March 21, 1991) just after World War II. No other man in history has done more in providing musicians with the tools to be heard. Fender amplifiers are still the standard against which any other amp is measured. And what musician is not familiar with a Telecaster, Stratocaster, Precision bass, and/or Jazz bass? However, right when popular music started its ascendency in the early-1960s, Leo’s health failed him with a persistent throat infection, even causing fear his life might be shortened. To that end, he started contemplating selling his by now vast empire of musical instrument manufacturing and sales companies. In the end, Fender was sold to CBS on October 16, 1964 but the deal only became effective as off January 5, 1965. Fortunately, some well deserved rest and a large dose of antibiotics prescribed by a different doctor soon solved the health problem.


As part of the deal, Leo was retained as a consultant to CBS-Fender for 5 years and subjected to a non-compete clause for 10 years. But having seen how CBS had changed the company culture as well as artist relations, it did not take long for Leo to start thinking about building his own company again. Step 1 was establishing CLF Research, once more an eponymous company. Step 2? Moving his office to a new space on a tract of land he had developed along Fender Avenue in Fullerton, CA. After his consulting contract with CBS-Fender had expired, Leo could now fully focus on his new venture and start designing new instruments. Many people he had worked with had left CBS-Fender by then too. Among them Forrest White and Tom Walker, who had started Tri-Sonic, soon renamed to Music Man (MM), with financial help from Leo. Initially, any direct involvement was still restricted by the non-compete clause so Leo kept a low profile. Since Forrest had expertise in that area, MM only offered a line of bass and guitar amps at its inception. However, it made perfect sense for MM to partner with CLF Research to complement their line of products with what became the StingRay and Sabre guitars and basses. To that end, Leo partnered with another ex-Fender employee, George Fullerton (March 7, 1923 -- July 4, 2009) at the end of 1974. George was made Vice-President of CLF Research Corp. and had a ⅓ ownership with Leo owning the remainder. They started designing new instruments and pickups again, tooling up the factory in the new space to ready it for production. Their activities went into full swing at the start of 1975, the moment the non-compete restrictions had expired. The first shipment to MM happened on June 23, 1976. The agreement between MM and CLF Research stipulated the latter was only paid for instruments accepted by the former. However, it was no secret that Forrest and Tom wanted to incorporate production within their own outfit. A ploy to force such a move by rejecting instruments and hence payments to CLF Research lead to a complete stop of production with related reduction in workforce involving all factory personnel except for plant manager Lloyd Chewning. It was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and backfired. Leo, his usual fiercely independent self, withdrew from the agreement in early-1979 and started another new venture, again with George in tow.


G&L, for George & Leo, rose up from the ashes of CLF Research. They were now equal partners in G&L Musical Products Inc. and continued tooling up the factory to build their new designs while using already existing MM parts here and there. In June 1980, i.e. about a year later, longtime Leo-associate Dale Hyatt (December 10, 1925 -- March 28, 2013) was brought on board as Vice-President of Marketing and Sales becoming an equal partner with both George and Leo in the independent G&L Music Sales Inc. The first G&L instruments were shipped on July 3, 1980 and what has been produced since is the focus of this project. Due to stress and health related issues, George sold his stake to Leo in 1986 while still retaining his position as Vice-President and staying on as a consultant. Instead of coming up with a different company name, the meaning of G&L just changed to Guitars by Leo. After Leo’s death, Mrs. Phyllis Fender (February 20, 1934 -- July 22, 2020) started looking for buyers for her late-husband’s company and about seven months later settled on BBE Sound, Inc. (BBESI). This led to Dale’s subsequent retirement on November 4, 1991 with his stake being bought out after some legal wrangling. Although BBESI, or BBE for short, started managing G&L immediately, full ownership was not fully transferred until May 1992. You will frequently hear or read “Leo-era” in reference to the period before the sale but, as G&L researcher Gabe Dellevigne has pointed out, that shortchanges the enormous contribution of many (long time) collaborators: George, Dale, Lloyd, Amanda Ybarra, and others. Hence “pre-BBE era” is used instead.


So it came to be that my favorite bolt-on neck guitars are built in Fullerton, CA, on Fender Avenue not too far away from where the original Fender Company started out. During the first five years, Leo, in close collaboration with both George and Dale, introduced the world to his latest thinking in electric guitars and basses, applying many of his patents on a range of interesting models, including what they perceived to be improvements to the Stratocaster, the futuristic Interceptor guitars and basses, and heavy-metal Superstrats, so apt for the dominant music style of the 1980s. But the majority of G&L instruments on this site are some variant of the Broadcaster/ASAT (Special) introduced in 1985, and/or the ASAT Classic, introduced in 1990. The G&Ls can otherwise be divided up into the high-end Dale Hyatt Collection, Commemorative series, prototypes, The Hellecasters “endorsed” models, CCD Limited Editions (with separate pages for User forum Limited Editions, the Anniversary models/collections, custom artwork by Johnny Garcia, the Korina Collection, and the Savannah Collection), CCD Special Build, Buffalo Brothers Special Editions, other dealer Special Editions, 2004-2005 mahogany guitars, the Detroit Muscle Series, and CLF Research models, with an occasional custom order sprinkled in. However, the ASAT would never have come into existence were it not for the SC-2 and SC-1, 2 of the ‘entry level’ models, with a separate chapter describing what happened to these models in the BBE-era. No collection can be complete without a good bass, and some of the results of Leo’s last foray into that area are discussed on this “low-enders” page. “The Family” honors George, Leo, and his second wife Phyllis and presents instruments adorned with their Signature. Serial numbers are always important in identifying instruments and G&L has had quite a number of formats worthy of a separate discussion. I am not the first one to have written about this wonderful brand of guitars and basses so a long list references to books and magazine articles is provided on the “What has been written before ...” page.


However, it is clear the modern-age G&L has moved away from the Leo-era G&L quite a bit. Body shapes have converged towards (FMIC) Fender dimensions for decades now, a development which already started when Leo Fender and Dale Hyatt were still running the show. George Fullerton’s working 3-bolt neck attachment has not been seen since 1997. The Bi-Cut neck went missing in 2006 with the introduction of the non-compression truss rod. G&L already introduced its first Alnico pickups on the Legacy in 1992, even though they initially were Seymour Duncan SSL-2 pickups. And Alnico pickups have become even more prominent with the release of the ASAT Classic Alnico line in 2012, making the MFD pickups, the defining hallmark of G&L, less relevant. The ferrule block, holding all 6 string ball-ends on every ASAT Classic (Bluesboy) ever since this model’s inception in 1990, was replaced by 6 individual ferrules somewhere close to the end of 2015. And now, even though 7½” and 12” radii are still available, the default 9½” fingerboard radius eliminated another difference with (FMIC) Fender. The new neck manufacturing process in use as of February/March 2017 caused the disappearance of the headstock birthmark. And with all that, I have to admit I have lost some interest for the modern day G&L. Not the pre-BBE era, mind you. The development of novel MFD pickups and their application on entirely new models have caused my interest not to wane completely. Otherwise my ASAT Classic Bluesboy Semi-Hollow okoumé w/Port Orford cedar top, one of the first guitars with these current day specs, would have been my most modern G&L. As it is, the Custom Shop ASAT HSH RMC is the youngest ASAT and G&L overall in this collection. So there it is, a rather extensive cross-section of 41 years of G&L.


Finally, something about the running order of these instruments on this site as reflected by the table of contents. Greg Gagliano already does an amazing chronological job in the G&L section of his ggjaguar.com website. I set out to tell the story of the Broadcaster/ASAT and have tried to use their pickups as the thematic line through them all, while maintaining as much chronology as possible. Why all the other non-ASAT models then? Some of these pickups appeared first on a different G&L model. These so-called “source guitars” have been added implying that once in a while an excursion is made from the main line to other models so the proper historical context of the pickup in question can be covered. However, the G&L Gallery shown all instruments in chronological order just to have that record “spelled out” too. And although still not entirely complete, I hope the 105+ ASATs in the collection cover all relevant combinations ever officially released by the factory (plus some extras). If not, let me know!

 

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