The Leo Fender Legacy, Part 3: G&L Guitars

In Part 1, we looked at some of the early design innovations by Leo and his team at Fender Musical Instruments Corporation. Part 2 explored how he continued to break new ground even after he left Fender, forming Music Man. In this article, we take a close look at the guitars that Leo dubbed "the best instruments I've ever made" — G&L.

Sam Beattie

Sam Beattie

Missed parts 1 & 2? Click these links to read about Fender Guitars and Music Man before exploring the history of G&L Guitars. Note: to avoid confusion, we’ll be referring to Leo Fender as Leo, and to Fender Music Instruments Corporation as Fender!

Leo Fender’s younger company, Music Man, saw a number of slowdowns during the 1970s. Their HD-130 amp (as mentioned in Part 2) received mixed reception due to shifting trends in the guitar world. It was during one of these troubling times that Leo grew weary of Music Man and became somewhat disillusioned with the direction that they were taking.

Leo Fender G&L Guitars Factory

In 1979, he founded G&L Guitars with fellow Fender alumni George Fullerton (George and Leo). For Leo, this was yet another breath of fresh air — creatively-speaking. They were able to take a step back from the early Fender designs and gain a fresh perspective on them, in the context of an industry that had changed drastically since the ‘50s and ‘60s. With this in mind, they went to work refining and improving their formulae with the modern audience in mind.

Leo famously declared that the guitars he and George Fullerton designed at G&L were the “best instruments” he’d ever made. It was a big claim from a man so influential! But what helped G&L guitars stand out from the crowd?

Pioneering G&L MFD Pickups

Some of the innovations that Leo pioneered at G&L included the acclaimed ‘Magnetic Field Design’ (MFD) pickups; unique for combining ceramic bar magnets with adjustable soft iron pole pieces. Before that, pickups were typically made with warmer-sounding Alnico magnets and with set pole pieces. The ceramic magnets and increased control over independent string volume allows G&L MFD pickups to achieve a higher level of output and articulation, with a broader frequency response to boot! They’re also far less noisy than vintage single-coil pickups.

G&L MFD Z-Coil Pickups Comanche

At G&L, Leo also invented the MFD Z-Coil pickup, which features an offset design similar to that used in the split Precision Bass pickup. An exclusive feature on G&L’s Comanche models, Z-Coils essentially move the treble part of the pickup closer to the bridge and the bass side closer to the neck — enhancing the clarity of the former and the warmth of the latter. For more information on G&L MFD pickups, click here.

High-Quality G&L Hardware

Leo Fender also created a couple of unique bridge concepts, including the ‘Dual-Fulcrum’ vibrato and the ‘Saddle-Lock’ hardtail bridge. These remain key features on most of G&L electric guitars and basses.

G&L Dual-Fulcrum Vibrato

The G&L Dual-Fulcrum tremolo uses two pivot points to anchor the bridge to the body, rather than the traditional six-screw configuration. This reduced friction leads to much smoother operation, and makes it easier for players to bend notes up as well as down — as you can raise the height of the tremolo at the mounting posts.

G&L Saddle-Lock Bridge

The G&L Saddle-Lock bridge uses a small Allen screw on the side to reduce lateral movement of the separate string saddles. This design improves tuning stability and sustain at the same time, by preventing the saddles from moving and allowing (or perhaps, forcing) them to vibrate with each other instead of against each other — essentially as a single mass.

G&L Guitars Today

Nowadays Fender, Music Man (under the ownership of Ernie Ball) and G&L are still going strong. Leo’s spirit of innovation — and his ability to bring in collaborators who could help him realise his ideas and contribute their own too — is seen and heard every day, from the smallest garage band to the biggest stadium act!

Shop G&L Guitars

Want to Learn More?

If you’re keen to stay up-to-date with other matters within the musical instrument industry, take a look at more of our ‘Industry’ content by clicking here. For further information on the other topics mentioned in this guide and more, check out our related articles:

Sam Beattie
Sam Beattie
Sam is one of our content writers, as well as being our resident southpaw and synth enthusiast. He spends his free time composing for music libraries and playing in a post-rock band. Sam's desert island gear would be his Mexican Tele, Strymon El Capistan and Teenage Engineering OP-1.

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