Tribute by G&L
ASAT Special and S-500 electrics
By Emile Menasché

“The G&L’s ability to deliver subtle timbral nuances would be impressive on a premium domestic guitar, let alone an affordable import. This guitar gets it done.”

“Like the ASAT, the S-500 feels anything but cheap, and delivers the solid performance you’d expect on a much more expensive guitar. These guitars play like old friends, stay in tune under real world conditions and sound fabulous.”

“Most important, the Tributes deliver all the subtlety and expression of the original guitars. They may not have the individual personality of handmade American G&Ls, but the Tributes are outstanding instruments in their own right, and deliver unbeatable value.”

Among the major electric guitar manufacturers, G&L is probably the closest in spirit to the pioneers of the Fifties. Founded by Leo Fender late in his life, G&L has kept to many of the construction designs and methods established by the master. Key components, including necks, are shaped by hand, and as a consequence every G&L I’ve played has possessed its own feel and personality.

The guitars in G&L’s new Tribute Series are constructed with more modern building methods, using computer-controlled machines to cut necks and bodies to exacting specs. These Korean-made beauties may not boast the individual homespun feel of U.S.-built G&Ls, but in terms of quality materials and execution of design they come extremely close to capturing the feel and personality of their domestic counterparts.

Each of the Tribute models is available in Standard, Plus and Premium trim lines. The main difference among the classes is in the finish options and body materials: Standard and Plus models are basswood, whereas Premium models are Swamp Ash. All three versions sport similar key features, including smooth hard rock maple necks.

This month, I tested two models from the Tribute Series—the ASAT Special Plus and the S-500 Premium.

Tribute ASAT Special Plus
The ASAT, Leo Fender’s latter-day riff on the Telecaster, is one of the most enduring G&L models. Despite its updated looks, the ASAT Special’s specs are not all that different from the original Tele: single-cutaway body, 25 1/2–inch-scale bolt-on neck, fixed bridge, two pickups with a three-way selector switch, and master volume and master tone controls. Looking at these specs, I’m amazed to realize how much such a simple device transformed music.

My test guitar sported a rosewood fingerboard (a maple board is also available) with 22 jumbo frets and had a nice silky touch. Finishing details, including fretwork, intonation and action, were spot on. Although it felt a little fatter than other G&Ls I’ve played, the neck of the Tribute ASAT Special had the vintage roundness of a nine-inch radius and fit very comfortably in the hand.

Like domestic ASAT Specials, the Tribute version boasts some modern innovations on the original theme, including G&L’s patented Saddle Lock bridge, which eliminates the hang-ups caused by the traditional string-through-body Tele bridge and contributes to the guitar’s mighty sustain. Perhaps the biggest departure from tradition is the Magnetic Field Design pickups—large, high-output single coils that look less like traditional Tele electronics and more like soap bars.

Electronics
I’ve tested a lot of imported versions of American guitars, and the electronics are usually the biggest stumbling block: the pickups don’t measure up, while the controls sap what little tone the pickups have, rendering the guitar in desperate need of a personality transplant. The Tributes, however, sound like the originals because their pickups are the originals, built in the same Fullerton factory as the domestic brand.

The ASAT’s pickups offer a very broad tonal range. They can be very bright and chicken-pickin’ funky, but roll back the tone control and they deliver a fat, searing lead tone that has enough body for the blues. It’s like having several generations of Tele sound at your fingertips. I was impressed with the linear feel of the volume and tone controls. The G&L’s ability to deliver subtle timbral nuances would be impressive on a premium domestic guitar, let alone an affordable import. This guitar gets it done.

S-500 Premium
Aside from the Telecaster, Leo Fender’s other major six-string innovation was the Stratocaster, the most popular and most imitated guitar ever made. G&L’s S-500 is a souped-up version of the original Strat: it retains the basics, including the double-cutaway design and the trio of single-coil pickups, but it freshens the formula with subtle upgrades in the electronics, bridge and neck profile.

My Tribute S-500 Premium test model boasted a handsome, if somewhat heavy, swamp ash body with a sweet Cherryburst finish. Despite its weight, the guitar was comfortable to hold and play, thanks to the smooth maple neck and nicely trimmed rosewood fingerboard. Although the neck specs are similar to those of the ASAT, the S-500 has a slightly flatter 12-inch radius, which might be more appealing to hard rockers.

Electronics
Like the ASAT, the S-500 sports American-built electronics. The trio of traditional-size Magnetic Field Design pickups look and sound like vintage Strat pickups, with plenty of bite and, when used in the “in-between” positions, a pleasantly toothy pop. They produce less noise than other single coils, which is particularly nice when you want to get intimate with your dynamics. The S-500 is also great at holding a focused tone through heavy overdrive; the pickups maintain their snarl until you back off the tone control, at which point they mellow out.

The S-500’s controls—five-way selector, master volume knob and two tone knobs—are traditional, but they have a G&L twist, a mini-toggle that provides two pickup combinations not available on a traditional Strat: neck/bridge, and neck/middle/bridge. As with the ASAT, the controls have a smooth taper.
Hardware includes the silky, G&L-designed Dual Fulcrum vibrato bridge with nickel-plated die-cast saddles. Like the ASAT, the S-500 feels anything but cheap, and delivers the solid performance you’d expect on a much more expensive guitar. All in all, this is a great-playing instrument that handles the traditional Strat duties and, thanks to that mini-toggle, much, much more.

The Bottom Line
These guitars play like old friends, stay in tune under real world conditions and sound fabulous. While the bridges don’t boast the brass billet-machined saddles found on G&L’s domestic guitars, the hardware is high in quality. Most important, the Tributes deliver all the subtlety and expression of the original guitars. They may not have the individual personality of handmade American G&Ls, but the Tributes are outstanding instruments in their own right, and deliver unbeatable value.