OF THE THREE GUITAR BRANDS founded by Clarence Leo Fender, G&L remains the dark horse. On the strength of Fender’s original designs, his namesake company has survived multiple (some near-disastrous) ownerships, and his second venture, Music Man, has flourished under the ownership of the Ball family. The G&L world, though, has a bit of a cultish feel. The die-hard fans are serious geeks when it comes to the instruments’ technology and history, and it’s easy to understand why. G&L is the final chapter of Leo’s paradigm-altering career, and his office in Fullerton, California, remains untouched since the day he died. For those of us who have made our way through this world playing his creations, the debt owed to him is incalculable, so a little hero worship is to be expected. But in spite of G&L’s devoted fan base, I’ve always felt the company’s profile in the market seemed undeservedly low-key. Hey, this is Leo Fender we’re talking about! These are his final designs, incorporating experience gleaned from many years of building the most iconic basses and guitars in the world. In my opinion, the instruments he created for G&L were masterworks that paid homage to his early designs, while pushing the electric bass forward. The first bass he created for G&L was the vaunted L-1000, a.k.a. the L1K or “Wunkay.” It was a return to his first idea regarding pickup placement, and it featured the newly designed MFD humbucker — a passive powerhouse that could flatten a city block. G&L is once again building the L-1000, pairing the original “lawsuit” headstock with modern refinements like a reinforced neck, slimmer ’90s-style body, and six-bolt neck joint. Dubbed the CLF Research model in honor of the company Leo started after selling Fender to CBS in 1966, this updated classic is back in the G&L lineup, ready to encroach on P-Bass territory and win new fans.
The earliest L1Ks were available in ash, mahogany, or (for opaque finishes) poplar, but of those three body woods, only ash (in a natural finish) remains available for the CLF version. Substituting for mahogany is okoume, a softer, lighter African wood with a tight grain pattern that looks similar to mahogany when stained, and is reported to have similar tonal properties. For the opaque finishes, G&L chose basswood over poplar; the species is abundant, it’s lighter in weight, and its sonic characteristics have been referred to as fat, well balanced, and possessing a muscular midrange. The fingerboard choices are maple (for natural ash and Rally Red body finishes only), or Caribbean rosewood for the Tobacco Sunburst and Pharaoh Gold Firemist finishes.
All necks are made from hard rock maple, with a dual-action trussrod, and stiffened with graphite rods. The 1.625" nut width, slim “C” neck profile, and 9.5" fingerboard radius make the CLF L-1000 a happy medium between a Precision and Jazz neck. While G&L suggests the neck has the “slick feel of an old gloss finish,” your mileage may vary depending on your body chemistry and the temperate zone you inhabit.
One of the hallmarks of the G&L sound is the Magnetic Field Design (MFD) humbucker. When introduced, it represented a huge leap forward in bass technology, offering a wider frequency response with greater output than what was previously available. Unlike its two-pickup younger sibling the L-2000, the L-1000 employs this beast in a completely passive instrument. The 3-way mini-toggle puts the pickup coils in parallel, single, or OMG modes — the latter is often mistaken for series mode because of the volume bump. “OMG mode” is achieved by adding a 0.1μf capacitor across one of the pickup coils, drastically cutting the high frequencies, which effectively acts like a bass boost. Although both coils are on, they are no longer running equally, which creates some single-coil-type hum. The CLF L-1000 sports the old-style top-loaded control plate with chrome knobs, with a swanky red rubber tip covering the mini-toggle. The ever-present G&L Saddle Lock bridge is stable and dense; the chrome-plated brass saddles are held snugly together by a set screw. Standard G&L Ultra-Lite tuners, medium jumbo Jescar 57110 fret wire, and a hardshell case complete the package.
While it pains me to think of a bass from 1980 as “vintage,” exceptional deals on early G&Ls can be found on the collector’s market. Problem is, many of the old instruments were plagued with neck issues and weighed a metric fuckton (roughly ten shit-loads). I was on the hunt for an old L-1000 when I first heard of the CLF reissue, and I decided I’d give it a try before continuing the search. I first received the basswood version in Firemist Gold and immediately felt at home. I have several G&Ls, and have owned several more; I suppose that makes me a fan, but the neck profile felt closer to my treasured “B-neck” ’70s Fender P-Bass. The basswood body contributed to a comfortable weight in the 8.5- to 9-pound range, and with the lightweight tuners, neck-dive was slightly better than expected for this type of instrument. At home, my space is limited and neighbors exist, so I plugged the L1K into my tiny Phil Jones Bass Cub BG100 combo amp for an initial workout. Stocked from the factory with D’Addario rounds, the instrument had an enjoyable grindy texture, and I found it extremely slap-friendly in parallel mode. Single-coil mode seemed uninteresting at the time, so I quickly went for OMG. Even with the PJB’s relatively underplayed low-end response, you could hear an immediate bump “down there,” and I was hooked.
As a former bassist-at-large, I used to favor instruments that offered a lot of choices; this way, I could always find a tone that worked on any gig. Now that I’m gainfully employed by one band, I’ve homed in on what I specifically need to do that job, and I heard it the moment I flipped that switch. Put bluntly: I need a P-Bass. The texture, weight, and note density that a Precision Bass produces fits my gig requirements perfectly, and I’m obviously not alone in that opinion. The L1K was Leo’s final take on the Precision, and while it has its own voice with several texture options (and about 30% more output), it does the P thing quite well — the two coils fall right into the sweet spots Leo decided on for the split-coil P-style pickup. I immediately started thinking about taking the CLF with me on the road, but first I had to see how it responded to flatwound strings. You see, that’s the other thing about my gig ... I dug up a set of DR Strings Legends and cut a 3.5" x 1" chunk of soft foam rubber to shove under the strings at the bridge to kill the G&L’s legendary sustain. Would this baby thump, or would Leo’s best efforts to improve his original conception smooth it out too much? Flat-strung and foam-choked, pumped up in OMG mode with the treble rolled off, the Wunkay dished out plump blooms of boomy goodness. I knew then, this bass is coming with me.
Last year, the Mavericks (not the basketball team) released a Christmas CD, and we set aside Thanksgiving to mid December as the “Hey Merry Christmas” Tour. As we were focusing on the seasonal material, which also offered more opportunities to play electric bass (opposed to my Azola Baby Bass), I figured this would be a good time to introduce a new axe. It also meant that I would hear the L1K through my tour rig, a Genzler Magellan 800 powering a Greenboy Audio F215. This rig is the rare combination of brutally powerful and uncompromisingly true, and the CLF became another beast entirely upon cranking it. First, that MFD humbucker is MF loud! I had to cut back my gain on the amp as well as the master volume in order to maintain some semblance of my previous levels. But the Greenboy’s ability to handle the G&L’s girth showed me just how low you can go with only four strings. In a group context, playing at full bore, the G&L L-1000 supported the nine-piece band with a thick layer of low end that articulated clean and punchy. I heard every note with greater nuance and clarity — and it reminded me that indeed, things have improved a bit since 1951. In the course of the two-week run, I used the L-1000 on 11 shows, two radio spots, and an appearance on the CBS This Morning: Saturday show. In each setting, the bass gave me what I needed, with the extra benefit of hearing myself more clearly.
Since the CLF L-1000 is being offered in three different wood types, I asked G&L to send okoume and ash samples to review. My impression of the basswood model was that it thumped nicely. It felt alive, bouncy, and ready to respond. The ash L-1000 had scooped mids that made it my favorite for slapping, but the frequency dip created the impression that it was slightly quieter. I took an allen wrench to the MFD’s adjustable polepieces and brought them up one-quarter turn, which was enough to give the ash body a feeling of parity with the other two. The classic “100% natural” vibe of the ash/maple combination made this bass visually irresistible. The okoume version surprised me with its warm, present midrange — claims of tonal similarity to mahogany are well-founded. The sunburst finish and darker rosewood fingerboard gave it a traditional-but-sexy appeal. The immediacy of the attack, backed up by midrange punch and a thick bed of lows, made the okoume my personal favorite of the trio.
G&L has also released a CLF version of the two-pickup, active/passive hybrid L-2000 bass, sporting the delicious original headstock. The L2K has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the most versatile instruments around, but I for one am happy to see the return to the lineup of the all-passive L-1000—a modern-era classic that can fill many roles and give the hallowed P-Bass a run for its money.
BODY Lightweight Basswood for Pharaoh Gold Metallic and Rally Red, Swamp Ash for Natural, Okoume for Old School Tobacco Sunburst
NECK Hard Rock Maple
FRETS Medium Jumbo
BRIDGE Leo Fender-designed G&L Saddle Lock with chrome-plated brass saddles
TUNERS Custom G&L “Ultra-Lite” with aluminum tapered string posts
SCALE LENGTH 34"
PICKUPS G&L Magnetic Field humbucking pickup
CONTROLS 3-position mini toggle for parallel/split/OMG pickup modes, volume, treble, bass
MADE IN U.S.A.