G&L Legacy vs. S-500 – What Are Their Differences?

G&L's Legacy and S-500 guitars have a very familiar look, and it's therefore no surprise that Leo Fender was involved in their design. However, these two leading models from G&L's line-up are practically identical when placed side-by-side. So, what exactly are their differences?

Luckily for you, we've put these popular G&L guitars head-to-head in a battle for supremacy! Dissecting their features one-by-one, you'll soon understand what each of these guitars has to offer, and ultimately, discover which one will suit you the best!

Elliot Stent

Elliot Stent

After Leo Fender sold his eponymous company to CBS in 1965, he was inspired to break new ground in the guitar industry. Ambitious and eager to pioneer fresh concepts elsewhere, Leo founded the CLF Research company, which designed and manufactured instruments for Music Man in the ’70s. By the end of the decade though, Leo had a strong desire to once again form an independent musical instrument company — G&L Guitars!

In a position to have full creative control, Leo took the formulas he had spent years developing and refined them even further. Creating a number of original models, Leo boldly dubbed his new products “the best instruments I have ever made”. However, many of G&L’s instruments closely resemble the designs from Leo’s first company — especially their Legacy and S-500 models.

Closely adhering to the traditional S-type, the electronics and hardware appointments featured on these instruments would prove to validate Leo’s claim. Cutting-edge at the time and still relevant today, innovations like the ‘Dual-Fulcrum’ tremolo and ‘Magnetic Field Design’ (MFD) pickups pushed the boundaries of traditional guitar design. Other companies have since taken inspiration from them, and thus Leo Fender’s legacy continues to live on through G&L.

G&L Legacy

G&L Legacy Guitar

The G&L Legacy is viewed as the more traditional of the two instruments. Produced from 1992 (after Leo’s death), Legacy models sport a number of the forward-thinking features found on most G&Ls, but a few elements of their design echo the construction of classic S-style guitars. Somewhat bridging the gap between modern and traditional, let’s take a closer look at the anatomy of the G&L Legacy.


Most G&L USA Fullerton Deluxe Legacy models are constructed from Leo’s favoured combination of tonewoods: Alder (body) and Maple (neck). Alder serves as an excellent foundation for the sparkly-sounding pickups, as it sounds balanced and produces a fairly pronounced mid-range. Maple, on the other hand, is adored for its brightness and gives notes a vibrant and snappy character. This is further accentuated by a bolt-on neck joint.

This type of construction is, of course, synonymous with the instruments from Leo’s first company. For extra variety though, selected G&L Legacy models are available with different body and fingerboard materials — depending on the finish option. For example, the Sonic Blue version has a Western Sugar Pine body instead, and other models sport Caribbean Rosewood fingerboards.

G&L Legacy guitars from the more affordable Tribute Series are slightly different. To keep costs down, certain models will feature standard Rosewood fingerboards instead of the premium Caribbean Rosewood found on their US-made counterparts. And dependent on their colour finishes, these guitars either come with Sassafras or Poplar bodies — the latter popular for its light weight.

Electronics & Hardware

Most G&L Legacy guitars feature CLF-100 Alnico single-coils, instead of the MFD pickups installed in most of G&L’s instruments. Designed to capture the essence of that vintage ’60s sound, these medium-output pickups have potent mids to ensure extra clarity. If you’re looking for a guitar that projects that unmistakable S-type sound, these pickups really deliver the goods!

Despite the old-school sounds that they provide, Legacy models are fitted with G&L’s flexible ‘PTB Tone System’. Unlike conventional tone controls that simply reduce the treble frequencies, the PTB System is a lot more intuitive and gives you greater control over the EQ of your pickups. Essentially made up of two master tone controls, one knob decreases the treble like a standard tone knob, while the other rolls off the bass frequencies (like a high-pass filter). This system therefore gives you far more sonic legroom.

The innovations don’t just end at the Legacy’s electronics. That’s because these guitars also boast G&L’s Dual-Fulcrum vibrato. This beautifully-machined bridge is considered a far more practical alternative to the traditional 6-screw tremolo. With its 2-point design, this results in lower friction for a smoother playing action. The raised design of the Dual-Fulcrum tremolo also allows you to slightly raise the pitch, while the brass inserts and string saddles yield more top-end clarity and greater sustain.

Shop G&L Legacy Guitars

G&L S-500

G&L S-500 Guitar

G&L has produced the S-500 since 1982. It’s regarded by many as Leo Fender’s evolution of the iconic single-coil-loaded, double-cutaway guitar! Also featuring a number of G&L’s signature elements, these guitars are aimed at professional musicians that seek exceptional versatility.


In terms of their build, S-500s are very similar to G&L’s Legacy models. Adhering to the same bolt-on construction, these guitars deliver articulate tones — especially as they also feature Maple necks. Both their necks are shaped to G&L’s ‘Modern Classic’ profile, a fairly slim carve with a mild taper from 0.820″ at 1st fret to 0.870″ at the 12th fret. They’re enhanced with a slippery satin finish for fast playability too!

It’s not all about modern touches though, as G&L S-500 models feature Alder, Swamp Ash or Pine bodies; synonymous with older instruments. Used exclusively by Leo’s first company in the early ’50s, Ash and Pine are regarded for their light weight and although tonally similar to Alder, they’re more porous textures yield clearer highs and greater sustain. S-500s can therefore serve as excellent live workhorses — a forgiving weight and able to cut through nicely in a mix! Affordable G&L S-500 Tribute models feature Nato, Poplar or Sassafras bodies instead

Electronics & Hardware

Just like the Legacys, S-500 guitars come fitted with trios of single-coils. However, G&L S-500s feature Leo Fender-designed MFD (Magnetic Field Design) pickups instead of typical single-coils. Utilising ceramic bar magnets, their design transfers the magnetic field to the top of the pickup. Ultimately, this creates a wider frequency response and thus produces a much more balanced sound overall. Their adjustable iron pole pieces also contribute to this, as they let you determine their heights in relation to the strings. Compared to traditional single-coils, MFD pickups also have more output and are therefore capable of handling even thick overdrive — without losing any of the clarity that you’d crave from single-coils.

Of course, to get the most out of their pickups, S-500s also come fitted with G&L’s PTB Tone System (passive treble and bass controls). This feature further cements the S-500’s reputation as a versatile and useful instrument in a live performance context. However, there’s another appointment that expands the S-500’s tonal palette too! G&L S-500 guitars also have an “Expander” switch that engages all three of their single-coils at once, or just the bridge and neck pickups (dependent on selector switch position). The latter setting is particularly desirable, as it somewhat emulates the sound of a T-style guitar!

The excellent Dual-Fulcrum tremolo also features on G&L’s S-500 guitars. It’s worth mentioning too that Fullerton Deluxe S-500 (and Legacy) models come equipped with bone nuts. This allows their strings to glide smoothly when using the tremolo, and thus return to pitch in the vibrato’s natural position.

Shop G&L S-500 Guitars


G&L Legacy vs S-500 Headstocks

As a whole, there’s not much to separate these two popular models from G&L when it comes to their aesthetics. Instead, it’s predominantly their electronics that differentiate them from each other. Although both electric guitars are fitted with the flexible PTB Tone System, the S-500 models are arguably more versatile thanks to their low-noise MFD pickups and additional switching.

Ultimately, it can be determined that the G&L Legacy was produced after Leo Fender’s death for a reason. It’s designed to attract consumers looking for that classic S-type sound and look, with some of the added benefits that come with G&L’s Dual-Fulcrum tremolo and PTB System. The S-500, on the other hand, is made for guitarists that desire an upgraded or “evolved” S-type that can go beyond the functionality of a classic example.

Want to Learn More?

Interested in finding out more about music gear and expanding your knowledge? Click here to view all of our Labs articles! For further information on the other topics mentioned in this guide and more, check out our related articles:

Elliot Stent
Elliot Stent
Elliot is a Senior Digital Product Marketer at Andertons, and at least the 7th best guitarist in the company's Web Team. He's exactly one day younger than Harry Styles, and believes that this "head start" is the only reason why Harry's more successful than him.

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