‘The Real Ones’ - A history of G&L

 
 

Contrary to persisting popular opinion, as reported by Peter Blecha in his article “Audiovox #736 - The World’s First Electric Bass Guitar” for Vintage Guitar Magazine, the honor of inventing the electric bass goes to Paul Tutmarc, not Leo Fender. But the extraordinary influence Leo has had on popular music by further developing, popularizing, and economizing the electric bass cannot be underestimated. Would James Jamerson’s famous Motown riffs have sounded the same without? Would funk ever have come into existence? Would the world ever have seen somebody like Jaco Pastorius or The Ox? With the introduction of the Fender Precision bass, covered in US Pat. Des. 169,062 filed for by Leo on November 21, 1952, and Jazz bass, arguably the biggest revolution in popular music took place; even more profound than the introduction of the electric guitar I would claim. Just think about the size difference between the upright bass and an electric bass. Finally an audible instrument taking care of the lower registers that travels easy and sounds great!


After starting G&L, it became clear Leo would not overlook the low-enders and had a couple of improvements up his sleeve, just like for guitars. With the introduction of the (fretted or fretless) L-series basses, i.e. the L-1000, L-2000, and L-2000E all present on the September 1, 1980 price list, the world learned about the sonic qualities of the (L-series) Magnetic Field Design (MFD) humbuckers with adjustable pole pieces, allowing players to tweak the balance between strings, and Locktight (Saddle-Lock) bridge, maximizing the vibrational coupling between strings and body. The L-1000, or ‘Wunkay’, is a simple workhorse of a bass. Its one switch allows the single MFD to be in humbucking, split-coil, or coils in series with bass boost mode. The latter is better known as the “Oh My God” (OMG) setting. It is clear the L-2000(E), and hence the L-1000 to some extend, evolved from the Music Man Sabre Bass. This is most evident when inspecting the L-2000 prototype appearing in G&L’s very first catalog from 1980 as well as some marketing material less than a year later. Its body contours are similar to the Sabre Bass, the pickups are in identical positions, and it has the same banana-shaped control panel but for the number and location of the mounting screw holes. Like the F-100E prototype in the same catalog, the L-2000E prototype has a 4th switch on the panel with unknown functionality and absent on the final version. Compared to the L-2000E, the fully passive L-2000 lacked the preamp, including its corresponding white tip, 3-position control switch, and the ‘Series·E‘ decal on the headstock, but still shared G&L’s proprietary PTB system and the red tip Splitter switch allowing the 2 MFDs to be in “humbucking” or in “series” mode. The difference in pricing between the 2 versions was a mere $70: $779 for the L-2000 and $849 for the L-2000E, both with a maple fingerboard, and $799 versus $869 when ordered with a (fretless) ebony fingerboard, all prices including the $100 original hardshell case. The L-2000E was so popular that it was the only entry on the April 1, 1981 price list. This implies the passive L-2000 was only produced for about 7 months and is super rare. Little to no marketing material has ever been seen featuring the passive L-2000. What finally went into production is pictured in the 1981 catalog. The L-2000E control plate now has tabs where the switches are located and the pickups have both been moved towards the bridge and are positioned closer together. The ‘Series·E‘ decal stuck around until late-1982 when G&L moved from the skunk stripe to the Bi-Cut neck with the hook. The ‘E’ in the model designation in catalogs and on price lists would only disappear in the BBE-era though it does still show up in their first price list dated January 1, 1992. The line of L-series basses was later extended with the 5-string L-2500 in the mid-1990s. Although initially conceived differently (see the ASAT Bass prototype), the same wiring harness and pickups are found on another body shape, i.e. the ASAT Bass, introduced on the January 15, 1990 price list, then exclusively as a Signature model.


The MFD design was also used for other bass pickups. A single-coil “Jazz” style MFD was used on the ‘entry level’ 1st style SB-2 and SB-1 basses, introduced in 1982, as well as the Lynx after the SB-basses evolved. The Bi-Pole™ humbucker, which has a smaller footprint, was introduced in 1983 on the El Toro (discontinued as of January 1, 1984) and the El Toro-E, followed a year later by the Interceptor Bass. Some of these basses even had a Kahler vibrato! Split-coil MFD’s were used on the 2nd style SB-1 (Deluxe), introduced in 1985, and the 2nd style SB-2 (Deluxe), which saw the light in 1989 still with a bridge “Jazz”-style MFD. In early-1987, Leo was even actively developing a Z-coil pup for 5-string basses, coming to fruition with the 1988 announcement of the L-5000 model, with rosewood fretless and maple fingerboard specimen in this collection, and even a ‘Z-5000’ prototype from 1991.


Beyond the aforementioned switch to the Bi-Cut neck in late-1982, one other cosmetic change was made in Leo’s days. The control panel on the front face of the early G&L basses could either be chromed or black powder-coated. Starting in mid-1985, all non-”entry level” basses with the exception of the El Toro-E moved to rear-loaded controls. This provided a very clean looking front while still allowing easy access to the wiring harness and/or battery compartment by removing a plastic cover on the back of the body. And even the “entry level” basses saw a change with their controls being mounted on the pickguard also holding the split-coil neck pickup.


Only after the purchase of G&L by BBE Sound, Inc. was there a focus on developing basses with Alnico pickups. Since 1992, many models have been introduced with such pups, in different configurations and shapes, such as the Legacy Bass /LB-100, JB/JB-2/JB-5, and MJ-4/MJ-5 basses, with the JB-2, MJ-4, and MJ-5 already having been discontinued in the interim. Late in 2019, the G&L introduced the Custom Shop Matador Bass with 2 custom wound LB-100 Alnico V split-coil pickups, although 2 SB-1 split-coil pups are an available option. The L-series MFD humbucker is not forgotten though as evidenced by the introduction of the Climax Bass, later evolving into the L-1500 (a 4-string bass notwithstanding its name), 5-string L-1505, Kiloton, Kiloton 5, short scale (30”) Fallout Bass (Launch Edition), and the M-2000/M-2500 basses, the last 2 with an updated 3- and 5-string version, respectively, of this magnificent pup, called the M-series MFD humbucker, tailored to a newly designed active wiring harness. For many of these models, MFD and Alnico, G&L used reprinted reviews on glossy paper as promo material for dealers. Those in this collection have been included below. In 2018, both the L-1000 and L-2000 were reissued under the CLF Research label with a distinctive look harkening back to the beginnings of G&L, including the revival of the control panel, control knobs, and hookless headstock. And the SB-1 and SB-2, with the SB-2T as a variant, have been available for most (SB-1) if not all (SB-2) of the BBE-era.

 

basses - the Low-enders