A Closer Look: G&L Bass Guitars

Published on 23 October 2019


Who was and is the greatest innovator in terms of building bass guitars?

Who was the guy who practically wrote the rulebook on designing and making the entire instrument?

There’s only one person! It’s got to be Leo Fender, right?

That man made some seismic shifts happen with electric guitars and amplification, this much is clear. His contribution to basses, though, is perhaps even greater. His designs are peerless: they are the most copied and referenced of all electric bass guitar designs that have ever been.

So, what do you do once you’ve made history with your designs?

Keep on designing! Keep on thinking, trying out new approaches and new ideas. This was Leo’s way right up until his last days.

Once an innovator, always an innovator.

G&L, Leo’s final company, still do things Leo’s way. The US-built guitars (G&L also make a ‘Tribute’ range of instruments in the far East, based on the US models) are all made in the old Fender factory in Fullerton, California. Bodies and necks are hand-shaped, finishes are hand-sprayed and frets inserted by skilled artisans. Pickups are hand-wound in-house, too. Leo’s personal workshop, untouched since his death in 1991, now serves as a museum to his work ethic. It’s quite a place!

So, what of the basses themselves?

There are a number of models available, and it’s fair to remark that you can see the influence of Leo’s own previous designs. Why would it be any other way? Between Fender and Music Man, Leo Fender’s main designs (the Jazz Bass, the Precision Bass and the StingRay) are the three most popular and influential basses in history!

The JB Bass is Leo’s update of the Jazz bass. It’s familiar, but ergonomically reconsidered to be even more comfortable. USA models contain features like custom-made ‘Ultra-Lite’ tuners to bring better balance, and Leo’s patented ‘Saddle-Lock’ bridge design. This so-simple-its-genius component uses a pair of screws to push the string saddles together, retaining (and thus transferring) more of the string’s energy. This means more tone, frankly!

JB-2 models are available too, with a modern no-pickguard look and other spec options

The pickups on these US-made instruments are made after referring to Leo’s original plans, so these are as authentic to the original spirit as you can get! They are built using alnico V magnets, as per the original design. Paul Gagon, Vice-President of Engineering at G&L, personally tested a selection of ‘Holy Grail’ vintage instruments, analysing their sound, response and build to get these bass pickups just right. Talking to staff members that’ve worked in the factory since the 50s helped more than anything: they could tell him about variations in spec and technique over the years, proving that simply going by Leo’s rules wasn’t enough, however great a starting point it was. This extra-mile attention to detail is typical for G&L.

The LB Bass is a streamlined, refined take on the P-Bass. Leo’s split-coil pickup design remains, built the body is slimmer and more comfortably contoured. All of the previously-mentioned innovations in Saddle-lock technology and pickup design carries on over to these models, as they do for all G&L instruments!

The L-2000 (and it’s 5-string sibling, the L-2500), brings the power of humbuckers and powerful EQ sections to the catalogue. These come from a department known as CLF Research, which was Leo’s own personal research area within the company.

The humbucking pickups used on G&L basses are Magnetic Field Design models. This is another Leo innovation. Explained simply, Magnetic Field Design pickups use a ceramic bar magnet under each pickup, which has individually adjustable iron polepieces. The output of the pickup is around double that of a standard pickup, but the design is also quieter than standard! You can set the polepiece height for each string in order to get the very best response, and you’ll get more overall output too. This means more warmth and balance across all strings.

The Tri-Tone system, which you’ll also find on L-2000 and L-2500 instruments, is another G&L innovation. A set of three mini-toggle switches allow you to select pickups, choose series or parallel switching and change from passive to active operation. In one bass, you can have almost every type of sound you’ll ever need! Active sounds are punchy and strong, whilst the passive tones are clear and classic. The Tri-Tone system gives you them all!

The L-1000 model is cut from the same cloth, though has only one pickup compared with the other models’ two. This is also reflected in the toggle-switch options, of course. Who doesn’t love a no-nonsense, single pickup bass?

Speaking of which, the Kiloton is another original design G&L bass with a single pickup that’s set to stun!

G&L basses fall under a few stables. The most affordable are the ‘Tribute’ instruments, which are built overseas in the Far East under strict quality control guidelines. The Tribute Series still pack a ton of killer features, not least the same USA-made Magnetic Field Design pickups (in humbucker-equipped models) and Leo-designed Saddle-Lock bridge!

The USA models, often referred to as the ‘Made in Fullerton’ series, are, as you’d accurately guess, built in G&L’s Fullerton, California premises. To reiterate, this is the original home and factory of the Californian bolt-on electric guitar and bass! This is where the magic has happened since the 50s, and where Leo chose to return to work.

The Fullerton premises is also where G&L’s Custom shop and CLF Research instruments are made. A trip through the factory proves how hands-on this Californian operation is. It’s just as Leo wanted it.

G&L are a force to be reckoned with. This is particularly the case with their bass models. It’s like the best got a little better. Refined and reimagined by the original master himself.

Check Out Our Range of G&L Bass Guitars

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