Whenever a brand reaches the same level of status as Fender, you can be sure that copycats will spring up all over the place.
There are many Fender-likes out there, but every now and then a unique brand pops up. A brand that appears to be a copy on the surface, but when you look closer you see that it is its own thing.
G&L is one such brand. Their instruments look like almost exact copies of Fender’s, but they are much more than they appear.
Design And Build
On the surface, G&L and Fender’s instruments look very similar, almost identical. It is only on closer inspection that you notice the subtle differences between the two brands.
The most obvious difference is the name on the headstock. The headstocks also differ, but it is a very slight change between their shapes. From here, the differences become much more subtle.
Both G&L and Fender use similar woods and designs for their instruments. Swamp Ash, Alder, and Rosewood are some of the most common woods used by both companies.
Apart from the nearly identical body shapes, the neck designs are also very similar. Instruments are made with C-shapes, although G&L does use a slightly thicker C-shape. If you have larger hands, I think G&L’s instruments will be a bit more comfortable to play.
Further down the body is another noticeable difference between G&L and Fender - the bridge. Many Fender players don’t like the more modern look of G&L’s bridge design.
I like the more modern design of the G&L bridge. The change isn’t just visual, but functional as well.
Fender hasn’t really changed the design of their bridges apart from switching to two screws from six. The problem with this is that they also haven’t improved their bridges and especially the tremolo.
Fender guitars don’t have the greatest bridges for instruments of their caliber, and their tremolos tend to make the instrument go out of tune quite easily. G&L has the clear upper hand in this regard.
Their bridges and tremolos are much sturdier and pleasant to use. It feels more like a locking tremolo system than a Fender-style tremolo.
The differences and similarities between G&L and Fender carry over to their sound.
Fender guitars are characterized by their bright, chimey, and crisp sound. They are often associated with the classic rock and blues sound.
G&L guitars share many of the same qualities. They are also crisp and bright with a similar vintage tone. I do feel, though, that G&L’s lean a bit more towards a modern sound.
Their sound is also a bit more refined, especially on single coil models. Where Fender single coils are quite sensitive to noise and hum, especially on high gain, G&L’s single coils are much quieter.
I think G&L guitars have an overall cleaner and more rounded sound than Fender. This also makes them a bit more versatile when it comes to genres and styles. G&L’s guitars have a much easier time switching between a clean and distorted sound or going from funk to hard rock.
The basses are a bit different. While G&L does have some great-sounding basses, I think Fender just has something special that sets their basses apart.
Their basses sound very similar, much like their guitars. Fenders just have a bit more sweetness and smoothness to them.
But I think it is only a matter of time before we see a G&L bass that can compete with a Fender Precision. That day might also come sooner than we think if you just look at how good G&L’s selection already is compared to Fender's.
Honestly, the value for money between Fender and G&L instruments is fairly close. Both brands produce high-quality instruments and that quality reflects in their price. But there are two things that set these brands apart in terms of value.
While both companies make great lower-cost instruments, G&L’s offerings do sound and feel a bit more high quality. The quality between an Indonesian-made G&L and a Mexican-made Fender is noticeable enough to make a difference.
G&L’s Indonesian-made instruments are also somewhat cheaper than Fender’s Mexican instruments. I think this makes G&L a much more appealing brand for anyone who wants to get a Fender-style guitar or bass.
Not to mention that a G&L Custom Shop is less expensive than a Fender Custom. Comparing these brands based purely on price-to-performance, G&L wins hands down.
The second thing to keep in mind is resale value. Fender instruments age very well and can easily increase in price over time. This makes them excellent collector’s items and you also don’t really have to worry about losing money if you decide to sell your Fender.
Unfortunately, many other brands don’t have this resale value and G&L is no different.
Looking at the second-hand market for G&L, they don’t seem to lose much of their value. However, unlike Fender, they also don’t seem to gain value with age.
I have seen 30-year-old G&L’s selling for about the same price as their modern versions. While you probably won’t lose a lot of money on a G&L over time, don’t expect it to become a good investment either.
While G&L does have a lot of similarities to Fender, they aren’t actually trying to emulate them. For everything that is the same, something is different.
G&L’s instruments feel familiar but feel just as much their own unique thing. Which brand you choose will likely come down to personal taste.
If you are a die-hard Fender fan, you probably won’t be easily swayed by other brands no matter how good they are.
If you like exploring new grounds or you are a new player looking to dip your toe, G&L offers perhaps the best Fender-style instruments around.
The ideal would be to have one of each as both brands bring something special to the table. No matter which brand you choose, I promise that neither one will disappoint you.