‘The Real Ones’ - A history of G&L

 
 

For many, the G&L version of the Broadcaster was still too radical. The Jumbo Magnetic Field Design (MFD) pickup was, and still is, frequently mistaken for a P-90 after which people are taken aback by its sonic properties expecting something different. Or for many, the Broadcaster/ASAT (Special) does not look enough like a Telecaster. Leo Fender however, had a slight dislike for the Broadcaster for a completely different reason: he had not been involved in its design. And whereas the Broadcaster had been devised without Leo’s knowledge by Vice President of Sales Dale Hyatt and shop foreman Lloyd Chewning, the tables were turned when Leo and George Fullerton designed the ASAT Classic in secret. That name was not what Leo originally had in mind but after Dale stumbled across the new creation while visiting Leo’s office, he could be convinced a name closer to the now well-established ASAT brand would be more beneficial in marketing the model.


Several prototypes were developed in the process likely reusing the same bodies and necks. They started out having a traditional Tele-bridge with 3 saddles, not the 6 individual saddles on any of the production versions. The initial versions of the pickup had square corners. Reminds one of the early S-500, doesn’t it? But also here Dale had some input. Why not design new ASAT Classic MFD pickups such that they can replace traditional Tele pups directly? One of the last prototypes with S/N G024089 was purchased directly from Dale Hyatt by another G&L collector. As many other prototypes, the ash body is only finished with sanding sealer and is without pickguard It still has a 3-saddle Tele-bridge but the newer pickups with a semi-transparent injection molded neck pickup cover. Some pictures included with its provenance provided by Dale Hyatt himself show test player Jeff Ross on this guitar, John Jorgenson playing another (Silver Sparkle?) ASAT Classic Signature, and Dale Watson strumming a Sunburst ASAT Classic Signature.


When discussing the ASAT Classic in “The G&L ASAT - Part III”, 20th Century Guitar Magazine contributor and G&L researcher Greg Gagliano mentions the above prototype. He also notices the oldest ASAT Classics he has seen are from May/June 1990, in particular a gorgeous ASAT Classic Signature with S/N G026896 built for the Summer NAMM 1990 expo. However, the price list for January 1990 shown below already lists the ASAT Classic Signature, available in Ash (Natural), Blonde, Cherryburst, and Black, which shows production started well before the NAMM show. The other 2 ASAT Classic Signatures in the picture referenced above may be proof positive of that. In any case, that NAMM guitar inspired George Fullerton to order his own with the same specs. Sunburst was added to the finishes a year later on the January 1991 price list.


The ASAT Classic Signature is a major part of 2 sets of guitars of notoriety. The first set was built at the very end of Leo’s life for famed artist Buck Owens. In 1988, Dwight Yoakam had pulled Buck, Tele-twanging leader of the popular Buckaroos, out of the semi-retirement he had been in ever since the untimely death of Don Rich. Buck’s trademark was the (patriotic) Red, White, and Blue color scheme on the guitars he (and Don) played. On February 27, 1991, when Buck had a gig at the Crazy Horse Saloon, Santa Ana, CA, Dale saw the chance to showcase the latest G&L model. Unbeknownst to Buck, Dale had started the build process for 3 guitars in R/W/B, all gold hardware, rosewood fingerboard, and a bound headstock. Dale also made sure the 2 hand-wound ASAT Classic MFD pickups were slightly overwound. Two of these were finished before Buck’s Crazy Horse Saloon gig. The first, picked by Buck, has a vintage #2 neck (i.e. 7½” board radius, 1⅝” nut width). The second, present in this collection, has a (pre-BBE) #4 neck (25”, 1¾”) betting Buck might not have liked traditional neck specs with his big hands. Both were entered in Dale’s sales log on 2/22/1991 under PO# “Buck Owens” and invoice number “4740”. The 3rd ‘Buck Owens’ was completed in April of 1991, shortly after Leo’s passing on March 21, and has a (pre-BBE) #3 neck (12”, 1¾”). It was entered in Dale’s sales log by its R/W/B color scheme for the PO#, not as a ‘Buck Owens’ proper, and under a different invoice number as the other 2. It was sold to collector Paul Lombardo, a good friend of Dale’s, who in turn sold it to Odd Erik Lauritsen in 2015. The second set are the Commemoratives discussed separately.


While Leo’s widow, Mrs. Phylis Fender, tried to find a suitable buyer of the assets, G&L was run by Dale. That buyer turned out to be BBE Sound, Inc. with the intent being expressed in November 1991, leading to Dale’s retirement, and the deal being finalized in May 1992. However, BBE-era G&L’s first price list was published on January 1, 1992 and already contains some noticeable differences. No more ASAT Classic Signature, just the ASAT Classic. Why? Now with Leo gone, the Fender company objected to G&L’s use of Leo’s signature. This also led to the agreement limiting the total production of Commemoratives. Even binding, as found on the Commemorative ASAT Classic, disappeared until it was offered again in 1994, initially through the release of 22 ASAT Classic ‘Daddy’s 22nd Anniversary’ guitars.


Now operated by BBE Sound, Inc. and in particular the brothers David and John McLaren, the year 1996 saw the introduction of 2 new models. The first still was close to the old offering, the ASAT Classic Custom, only available in 1996-1997. But whereas that is still an ASAT with 2 single-coil pickups, what about putting some humbuckers on the body? And so the ASAT Deluxe, the second new model, came to be. Initially it still had a 3-bolt neck but soon got caught up in the transition to the 4-bolt neck attachment. The year 1997 saw the introduction of Semi-Hollow versions of the ASAT lineup including the ASAT Classic.


The ASAT had seen a 3-pickup version before, the ASAT III which was available between 1987 and 1991 and again for a short period between 1996 and 1998. However, the ASAT Z-3 introduced in 1998 in reality was a reissue of a model still harkening back to an instrument built in Leo’s days involving a player by the name of John Jorgenson, among many other things of The Hellecasters fame. That chapter also discusses the 2002 Will Ray Signature model, i.e. an ASAT Z-3 with string bender, as well as the short-lived ASAT JD-5 inspired by Jerry Donahue and G&L’s first all Alnico pickup ASAT model released in 2004. And the first Custom Creation Department instrument ever released was another 3 pickup instrument: the 1998 ASAT ‘Classic III’ which in 2004 evolved into the ASAT Classic ‘S’.


The next major development for the ASAT Classic happened in 1999 but is better discussed separately in the context of Tim Page of ‘Buffalo Brother’ fame and the series of instruments he designed starting in 1999. Suffice it to say the ASAT Classic Bluesboy quickly became one of G&L’s biggest sellers.


And now things get somewhat confusing. G&L already had an ASAT Classic Custom in 1996-1997, still an ASAT Classic proper. The ASAT Classic Custom released in 2002 only shares its name, not its configuration! It took that long for G&L to create the ultimate blues tone monster in combining the ASAT Classic MFD bridge pickup with the ASAT (Special) Jumbo MFD neck pickup. All this stayed that way until 2013 when another 2 changes were introduced. Production of the (post-2002) ASAT Classic Custom was halted. Instead, G&L introduced the ASAT Classic Bluesboy 90, first seen in the Savannah Collection, using their proprietary P-90 pickup in the neck position. The second 2013 change echoes the 1999 ASAT ’50 as well as changes in 2012 when the ASAT Classic (finally?) became available with Alnico pickups, not just MFDs, as first seen on a prototype and then 2 Launch Edition guitars. In short, the ASAT Classic Solamente was added to the lineup, both in MFD and Alnico versions, as well as the ASAT Classic Alnico and ASAT Classic ‘S’ Alnico.


A collection of ads, slicks, catalogs, and price lists related to the ASAT Classic, ASAT Classic Bluesboy, ASAT Deluxe, and ASAT Z-3 are included below. With the ASAT in all its variations making up the vast majority of the guitars, an attempt has been made to bring together at least one with each and every pickup combination ever released by the factory; no after-market mods and/or pickup swaps are allowed (of course with a single exception). For example, there is a single-pup Red Sparkle ASAT Deluxe out there, but since its owner had changed out the SD bridge pickup I did not elect to buy it when it appeared on one of the auction sites even though it is a missing pickup combination. The pages for each specific guitar contain their specs, with special focus on the pickups, and why the particular specimen was of interest to be added to the collection. For group shots of all 100+ ASAT guitars, go to the ASAT Gallery. Knock yourself out!

 

... To ASAT Classic and beyond