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

G&L guitars may have a somewhat conventional 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 later 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 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 electric guitars and basses — considered something of 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. These 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 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 range, comprising many electric guitars. Instead of fitting the same MFD pickup in all of its models, G&L has developed multiple versions of the design in order to produce slightly different sounds — giving their guitars more tonal diversity. 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 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 much more versatile than most single-coils.

You’ll find G&L’s venerable MFD single-coil pickups fitted in their ASAT Classic and S-500 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’s more apt for use with overdrive and even distortion, yet still retains that classic “twang” you’d expect from a standard single-coil.

Jumbo MFD pickups are made exclusively for the ASAT Special model, which is considered the “quintessential” G&L guitar. They come equipped with a pair of Jumbo MFDs with the bridge pickup angled; adhering 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. This makes it a solid contemporary alternative to the iconic S-type guitar:

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-like pickup casing. This gives it the appearance of a Jazzmaster-style guitar pickup, which is why Wide Bobbin MFDs are seen only in G&L’s offset-inspired 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. Their Kiloton and short-scale Fallout bass models also come equipped with them:


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? 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 they arguably deserve more recognition in the guitar community.

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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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