‘The Real Ones’ - A history of G&L


In the first 5 years of G&L’s existence, George and Leo worked hard to design and build instruments with improvements on concepts generally in use in building basses and guitars. Many of these innovations were covered by patents owned by Leo, with one very notable contribution by George, as discussed in “Patents & Parts”. G&L instruments were often different beasts altogether, especially pre-BBE guitars and basses. The first bass released by G&L, and the very first model in general, was the L-1000, affectionally known as the ‘Wunkay’. As derived from the logs, it seems production started on July 9, 1980. Shortly thereafter, the L-1000 was followed by its twin pup brethren: the L-2000. Although not explicitly stated on the September 1, 1980 price list, both models were offered built out of common tonewoods: mahogany or (swamp) ash body and a hard-rock maple neck initially with either ebony or maple fingerboard. Either model with rosewood fingerboard was included for the first time on the June 1983 price list. However, Thijs van Milligen’s all original mid-1982 L-2000E has a rosewood fingerboard and demonstrates they were built as such well before mid-1983, be it in a circuitous way by ordering a “custom” bass neck with rosewood board, first listed as NB 230(-F) on the January 1, 1982 price list. Both models were also available in a fretless version, like this L-1000F. And they introduced the world to the revolutionary Magnetic Field Design (MFD) pickups.

The first guitar released was the F-100. The prototype for this model has a neck pocket date stamp of 1-16-1980 and APR 28 1980 on the neck heel, no serial number, slightly different control layout with a 4th mini-toggle switch, and is featured in the 1980 catalog shown below. When the F-100 appeared in the September 1, 1980 price list referenced above, it was listed in 16 variations: either vibrato or hardtail bridge, hard-rock maple neck with choice of radius (Series I with 12” or Series II with 7½”), optional preamp (Series IE and Series IIE), and ebony or maple fingerboard. And that does not include the choice of body woods: mahogany, (soft) maple, or (swamp) ash. A rosewood was not offered even on the June 1, 1986 price list, the last one I have with the F-100 listed. But just like for the basses, page 4 of the January 1, 1982 price list shows one could go the route of ordering a “custom” neck with either 7½” (NG 230-R) or 12” (NG 130-R) radius rosewood fingerboard. Although few F-100s were produced after 1983, Dale Hyatt accepted orders on this model up to the day of his retirement in November 1991. Both basses and the guitar were inspired by already existing models produced by other manufacturers. The L-series basses are inspired by the Precision bass (but with a bucker), and the F-100 seems to be a straight upgrade from the Leo-designed Music Man Sabre. The latter even in model designation since the F-100 fighter jet is known as the ‘Super Sabre’. And of course they both sport MFD bass or guitar humbuckers with adjustable pole pieces. More than a decade after Leo’s passing, allegedly in 2003, G&L built another prototype, S/N CLF31273, an Ivory F-100 without model decal on the matching Ivory headstock and a much simpler harness though still with 2 tone controls. But in the material G&L used to promote the F-100 Return Edition, a Custom Creations Department (CCD) model for which production started in 2007, they claim tooling for the F-100 humbucker was only resurrected in 2005 during the development of the 25th Anniversary model, another CCD model and the first guitar more generally available in the BBE-era with these revived pickups. This puts the year 2003 for the prototype into question and it is more likely to originate from 2006 or 2007. The F-100 Return Edition was shortly followed by the less flashy so-called BBE-era F-100, produced between 2009 and 2017. In contrast to the aforementioned prototype, both this latter F-100 and the F-100 Return Edition only have a master tone control.

The G-200 is interesting for several reasons, as I learned in no small part from Trever Scott. With a body and neck designed by George Fullerton, and introducing the G&L hook or “teat” as part of the headstock shape, for once Leo Fender had his company release an instrument with more Gibson-esque features in an attempt to appeal to that segment of the market. First, the design strayed from the customary and beloved 25½” scale length and used 24¾” instead. Second, the separate volume and tone controls for each of the 2 MFD humbuckers, pickups which are slightly different from the ones used on the F-100. The first G-200 guitars were built at the end of 1981 and shipped in January 1982 in conjunction with the new price list released that month. Initially, all controls except the 3-position pickup selector were placed on a “rain cloud” control panel, a moniker coined by Dale Hyatt himself. At the insistence of Dale, and based on rather unfavorable feedback from the market, the controls were rear-loaded for the last 20 or so. The first of these (S/N G009414), built by Dale in collaboration with plant manager Lloyd Chewning, was completed on February 5, 1982 and is pictured on p. 274 of Richard R. Smith’s “Fender - The Sound Heard ‘round The World”. Strangely enough, although considered by many to be the greatest sounding G&L, the G-200 was not very popular. It never hit the “LP Killer mark” as Greg Gagliano writes in “Leo vs. Les: G&L G-200 and Gibson Les Paul Standard”. On top of that, Leo was not a big fan of the G-200 likely because of all these Gibson-esque elements. This all resulted in a limited production run between 1982-1984; the November 1, 1982 price list still includes the (rear-loaded) G-200 while it is no longer present on the June 1983 price list. But that did not stop Leo to experiment with different footprints for his humbuckers as evidenced by the (rare) 1st X-body Interceptor II or Cavalier and those used on ‘entry level’ (HG-1 and) HG-2, all 4 introduced on the latter price lists.

Of course, both Mr. Fender and Mr. Fullerton are mostly known for their guitars with single-coil pickups developed and built under the Fender brand until 1965. Although the updated version of the Telecaster is the main focus of this site, George & Leo also tried to improve the Stratocaster. This page relates the evolution from S-500 to Nighthawk/Skyhawk and beyond.

G&L was certainly a guitar manufacturer of its time. “Big-hair” bands were immensely popular is the early-1980s. In 1983, something entirely quirky and unique was introduced to the market: the Interceptor. G&L also dabbled in more conservative Superstrat designs, introducing the Superhawk, Rampage, and Invader, in late-1984/early-1985.

All the ‘entry level’ models were developed during these first five years with most importantly, at least for me, the SC-2 introducing the single-coil Jumbo MFD which would eventually lead to the introduction of the Broadcaster in 1985.

With the notable exception of my Interceptor II, every pre-1985 instrument, bass and guitar alike, has the phrase “MADE IN USA PAT PEND FULLERTON CA” on its headstock. Sometimes it appears underneath the G&L logo (both Cavaliers, the Nighthawk, and early Interceptor Bass), most of the time underneath the model decal (F-100s, G-200s, S-500, all ‘entry level’ models, L-1000s, and L-2000E). With the introduction of the Broadcaster, the “PAT PEND” part disappeared only to reappear almost 4 years later on the ASAT Signature and then the ASAT Deluxe II and ASAT Junior II when they were introduced in 2011. Though only for a short while in both cases.

Below are some group shots of early models. Also shown are the October 1980 and June 1981 sales catalogs, several relevant ads, as well as a number of spec sheets from a 1983 sales binder, highlighting marketing material for many of the aforementioned models. Other marketing and sales material can be found on the relevant pages.

The first 5 years