G&L MFD Pickups – Leo Fender’s Greatest Innovation?

G&L guitars may have a somewhat utilitarian look, but these forward-thinking instruments boast a number of ingenious electronic and hardware appointments - including Leo Fender-designed 'MFD' pickups. But what are they, and can they be considered as Leo's greatest innovation?

Elliot Stent

Elliot Stent

G&L Guitars was Leo Fender’s final business venture before his death in 1991. Famously labelling them as “the best instruments” he had ever made, Leo’s last guitar designs would sport several cutting-edge features that improved upon some of his most famed formulas. And of these, his G&L MFD pickups are perhaps the most acclaimed.

In this blog, we’re going to explain why G&L’s unique MFD pickups are so exceptional; uncovering how they work and describing what their benefits are over traditional pickups. We’ll also look closely at the different variations of G&L MFD pickups, comparing their physical designs and tonal characteristics. By the end of this article, you just might consider a G&L guitar for yourself!

What are G&L MFD Pickups?

MFD pickups are installed in the majority of G&L’s guitar and bass models – considered a signature feature. Their name stands for ‘Magnetic Field Design’ as they essentially transfer the magnetic field to the top of the pickup rather than the middle. This is achieved via a unique construction that utilises a ceramic bar magnet (installed beneath each coil) with soft iron pole pieces. Magnetic Field Design pickups also yield about twice the output per wind, making them less noisy than most conventional pickups while allowing for greater overall output. Ultimately, the result is a responsive tone with lots of clarity and a wide frequency response.

G&L Magnetic Field Design pickups are physically distinctive for their adjustable pole pieces too, which let you determine their heights in relation to the guitar’s strings. This is unlike traditional pickups which often have their pole pieces pre-set and fixed in a position considered as optimal. The advantage of the MFD design is that it allows a player to precisely adjust the volume or “output” of each string, and to an extent, experiment with their guitar’s EQ. These pole pieces can simply be adjusted with a hex key allen wrench.

Dave McLaren, G&L Guitars’ CEO and president, explains just how the company’s proprietary Magnetic Field Design pickups work in this detailed video:

Are There Different Versions of the G&L MFD Pickup?

G&L boasts a large instrument catalogue, comprising many electric guitar models. Instead of fitting the same MFD pickup in all of its instruments, G&L has developed multiple versions of the design in order to produce slightly different sounds – giving their models more tonal disparity. In this next section, we’ve broken down all of the different types of G&L MFD pickups:

MFD Single-Coil

G&L MFD Single-Coil Pickups

The “original” G&L MFD pickup is essentially a single-coil. Considered a marked improvement over the renowned single-coil design established by Fender in the ‘50s, Leo’s MFD pickup delivers more output and provides a balanced frequency response with deeper lows and articulate highs. These qualities make G&L’s MFD single-coil more versatile than customary single-coils.

You’ll find G&L’s venerable MFD single-coil pickups fitted in their ASAT Classic, S-500 and Skyhawk models:

Jumbo MFD

G&L Jumbo MFD Pickups

The G&L Jumbo MFD pickup is a modified “fatter” version of the MFD single-coil. Voiced to deliver a tone akin to a P90 pickup, the Jumbo MFD offers a punchier mid-range than its single-coil counterpart and can thus cover slightly more sonic territory. It is more apt for use with overdrive and even distortion, yet still retains that classic “twang” you’d expect from a single-coil.

G&L’s Jumbo MFD pickups are made exclusively for their ASAT Special guitars, which come equipped with pairs to adhere to the classic T-type configuration:

MFD Z-Coil

G&L Z-Coil MFD Pickups

Perhaps the most unusual-looking version of G&L’s MFD pickup is the peculiar Z-Coil. It’s name is somewhat indicative of its irregular split-coil shape, which emphasises the bass response of a guitar’s three lowest strings and accentuates the treble of its highest strings – yielding a well-balanced and contemporary sound with plenty of output.

However, the most important aspect of the G&L Z-Coil pickup’s unique design is its ability to eliminate 60-cycle hum. Although all G&L MFD pickups produce far less noise than vintage-style single-coils, the Z-Coil goes one step further and is practically free from hum or susceptibility to feedback. This is thanks to its split-coil format, which cancels out hum similarly to a humbucker.

The popular G&L Comanche model utilises a trio of MFD Z-Coil pickups, making it a solid contemporary alternative to the iconic S-type guitar. G&L’s recently-revived Espada model also comes fitted with a pair of MFD pickups that are similarly-designed to the Z-Coil too:

Wide-Bobbin MFD

G&L MFD Wide Bobbin Pickups

G&L’s Wide-Bobbin MFD pickup is basically a single-coil fitted in a soapbar-style pickup casing. This gives it the appearance of a Jazzmaster-like guitar pickup, which is why Wide Bobbin MFDs are seen only in G&L’s offset Doheny models:

However, there are some tonal differences between the Wide Bobbin MFD and its standard single-coil cousin. Voiced to project more “jangle” than “twang”, the G&L Wide Bobbin MFD pickup features traditional Formvar wire which captures the nostalgic ‘60s offset tone.

MFD Bass

G&L MFD Bass Pickup

If you’re a bass player, you’ll be happy to learn that G&L produces a powerful humbucking pickup featuring its innovative Magnetic Field Design technology. Able to deliver a thick and well-rounded tone with lots of dynamic range, the potent MFD bass humbucker is found in all of G&L’s L Series bass guitars, as well as their Kiloton and short-scale Fallout models:

Conclusion

From what we’ve explained, it’s clear that G&L’s proprietary MFD pickups are brilliantly-engineered and give their instruments a versatile voice. They’re well-suited for contemporary players who seek noise-free pickups that can still deliver plenty of output. And best of all, they’re great value-for money. That’s because the exact same MFD pickups found in G&L’s US-made Fullerton Deluxe guitars are also fitted in their affordable Tribute Series instruments!

So, are G&L MFD pickups Leo Fender’s greatest innovation? It’s hard to say, especially when you consider how many things the iconic guitar designer invented and pioneered during his lifetime. But Leo’s Magnetic Field Design pickups are certainly among his crowning achievements, and arguably deserve more recognition in the guitar community.

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Elliot Stent
Elliot Stent
Elliot is a Senior Product Copywriter at Andertons, a guitarist and a YouTube gear demonstrator. Having studied Music and Music Technology, his interests lie equally in both performance and production. Favouring Fender instruments and Marshall amps, Elliot is also a pedal fanatic with a large collection of effects.

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