‘The Real Ones’ - A history of G&L

 
 

On March 21, 1991, Clarence Leonidas Fender passed away after a long and fruitful career in the industry he had practically invented. Even 2 days prior, he had still been working in his sound-lab at G&L putting the finishing touches on a guitar with a new hum-bucking pickup (S/N G028886). To celebrate his life and accomplishments, co-founder, partner, and sales manager Dale Hyatt decided to design a Commemorative Edition based on the ASAT Classic since this had been the last model to which Leo had contributed. From the get-go, Dale envisioned these to be very special instruments which would give testament to the best G&L could produce. They would receive a lot of individual attention during the build process, hence a separate sales log was created (see picture of 1st page below). Manufacturing and assembly started in mid-October 1991.


Only 12 instruments were built before Dale retired on November 4, 1991, and BBE started to take over management of G&L. This batch contains 5 guitars with a unique look: a Honduran mahogany slab sandwiched between an Australian lacewood veneer top and back, built for a handful of people who had been instrumental to the success of G&L. Lacewood Commemorative #1, with a maple fingerboard and completed October 17, 1991, Dale kept for himself. Plant foreman Lloyd Chewning received Lacewood Commemorative #2 with rosewood board. George Fullerton got #3, which also has a rosewood board. It is featured in the color section of George’s book “Guitar Legends, The evolution of the guitar from Fender to G&L” on p. 74 and 77. The next Lacewood Commemorative is #5 which has a maple board. Although the sales log indicates it was shipped to Craig’s Music, the “Louisiana Music” scribble underneath is closer to the truth. Initially, Dale also kept #5 for himself and took it to the Louisiana Music Sales stand at the November 1991 Fall Nationals Guitar Show in Arlington, TX. Although intended just to be displayed, he sold it eventually to British singer-songwriter Trevor Midgley better known as Beau. It was featured in the February 1992 issue of Guitarist magazine as well as in Willie G. Moseley’s book “Stellas & Stratocasters” as the last B/W picture of “DALE HYATT: A Salesman’s Perspective” on pp. 163-166. Trevor sold the #5 to another Briton in April 2016. Lacewood Commemorative #9, with rosewood board, went to Roy Ferguson, proprietor to Roy and Candy’s Music in Oklahoma and a dealer Dale had close ties with. The final 2 Lacewood Commemoratives were completed in the BBE era. Lacewood Commemorative #26, for shop foreman John Rodriguez, was completed a week after Dale’s retirement and has an ebony fingerboard. A seventh and last Lacewood Commemorative (#69 with maple board) was presented to Mrs. Phyllis Fender on April 10th, 1992, after it was signed by many of the then G&L employees. This guitar can be found on p. 72 of George’s aforementioned book.


All other ASAT Classic Commemoratives have a Cherryburst finished, double-bound, swamp ash body but share with the rare Lacewoods a choice of highly figured, bound Bird’s Eye maple or, as in some rare cases, curly maple #1 (12”) or #2 (7½”) neck with 1⅝” nut width. Most common is the Commemorative w/maple board, there are quite a few Commemoratives w/rosewood board, and only very few with an ebony board. The upper bout of each Commemorative is adorned with a decal of Leo’s signature and his year of birth and death (“1909-1991”). Underneath, a rose with gold petals is shown. And that’s where the gold just starts. All hardware, i.e. bridge, control knobs & control panel, pole pieces, tuning machines, the neck plate, and even the plastic pickguard are gold plated. To top it off, it is strung with a set of .009” gauge gold-plated Maxima strings. The first Cherryburst Commemorative (#4) completed October 22, 1991, was purchased by Paul Lombardo, a friend of Dale.


Although each ASAT Classic Commemorative Edition comes with a stamped neck plate with a “# of 1000” S/N, production was halted well before that number was ever reached. G&L had stopped offering the Signature versions of their models shortly after Leo’s passing, but his eponymous scribble makes one more glorious appearance on these Commemorative models. Now with the main man gone, and the company in transition to new ownership by BBE, the Fender Musical Instrument Corporation (FMIC) finally saw an opportunity to throw a monkey wrench in the machinery and sued BBE for infringement of the “(Leo) Fender” name! As part of the inventory of the original 1965 CBS-Fender deal, they claimed they now owned the rights to the name after having bought Fender from CBS in 1985. What a weird world! The case was settled with the result that production of Commemoratives would be limited to 500 instruments, but not just guitars! Not wanting to overlook Leo’s impact on the development of the electric bass and leave the low-enders out of the loop, room was made for a number of basses, which led to the now infamous 350 guitars/150 basses split. The choice fell on the ASAT bass, which had been introduced in 1990, leading to the ASAT Bass Commemorative Editions with choice of ebony or maple fingerboard.


In a letter to dealers dated February 11, 1993, it was announced production would be halted in May of that year and more than likely even the 350/150 numbers were never reached. George Fullerton states in his book “Guitars from George & Leo: How Leo Fender and I Built G&L Guitars” that only 250 guitars were produced, which might even be an overestimate. ASAT Classic Commemorative Edition #250 is listed in the Guitars by Leo Registry, but so are two neck plates only: #214 and #217. The next highest registered S/N for a completed true Commemorative is #208. And to add some mystique, one of the last built, judging by the date stamps, is my #29. G&L did offer a neck plate with the updated ‘350’ production number (Gabe Dellevigne assures me they do exist) but as far as one knows, nobody has taken them up on it. Note that the aforementioned letter only offers to replace the COA and I have seen updated versions for #97 and #178 with calligraphed “# of 350” while both neck plates still read “# of 1000”. The situation for the ASAT Bass Commemorative Edition is not much different. While the neck plate is similarly stamped with “# of 150”, the highest S/N in the Registry is #23 (and a neck plate only for #27), leading to a likely upper limit of about 25 basses produced.


Since so few Commemoratives of either kind were built, the factory had a large surplus of headstock model decals, signature decals for the body, as well as neck plates. Similar to what happened with the original Broadcaster, this facilitated the appearance of replicas and/or so-called employee instruments, i.e. non-original Commemoratives still built by people connected to G&L with proper parts but (much) later than May 1993. An example of this is the entry in the Registry for #229, previously owned by the late Gene Engelhart, which almost looks like a Commemorative. Gene, a big presence at CLF Research Corp./G&L from March 1979 until his untimely passing in February 2009, also secured the neck plate with S/N ‘1000 of 1000’ which then was used on a triple-bound “Commemorative” with an ASAT Deluxe body, i.e. mahogany back and quilted maple top, still with ASAT Classic pickups with gold plated pole pieces, similarly gold plated bridge plate/Dual Fulcrum Vibrato combo and control panel, but no pickguard. Both #229 and #1000 have a matching Cherryburst headstock, unlike any other Commemorative, making it likely they were built after the run was finished. The date stamp in the neck pocket of #1000 reads ’27 MAY 1993’ and the one on the neck heel ’22 MAY 1993’, 4 days prior to the neck date stamp on #29 but still the very end of the production period. Note that #1000 does not even have the pickups soldered into the wiring harness! Another example of a guitar with Commemorative decals is an ASAT Deluxe with S/N G04531, one number removed from my F-100 Series I. This one was also built by Gene around 2001 or later, as evidenced by the ’20 FEB 2001’ date stamp in the pocket and the presence of a 4-bolt neck attachment, hence no Commemorative neck plate with S/N. This beautiful instrument, with double-bound quilted maple body and matching bound quilted maple neck, currently resides with another collector.


Commemoratives (L-to-R):

1993 ASAT bass Commemorative Edition w/maple board, 1992 ASAT Classic Commemorative Edition w/rosewood board, 1991 Lacewood Commemorative #1, 1991 Lacewood Commemorative #26, 1993 ASAT Classic Commemorative Edition w/maple board, 1993 ASAT bass Commemorative Edition w/ebony board.

 

The Commemoratives