A topic of hot debate is the G&L vs Fender conversation, and although Fender is one of the top guns in the guitar world not everyone thinks they are best.
There are plenty of Fender owners out there who have a G&L in their collection, and rate it favorably compared to it’s older cousin.
G&L certainly pushed the development of electric guitars further, but not everyone’s convinced that the changes are appealing from both a visual and tonal perspective.
Do guitar players think G&L guitars are better than Fender?
There is general agreement that G&L produce great quality guitars for their price, often rivaling more expensive Fenders, but not everyone likes the G&L headstock or their MFD pickup tone. If you’re looking at a cheaper MIM Fender vs a made in Indonesia G&L though, you may be more impressed with the G&L model.
Clearly Fender are far more popular than G&L and there’s many reasons for this, but does this actually mean they are better?
To answer this fully we need to look closely at each guitar brand to see where one wins over another. So let’s dive in and take a closer look.
We all have our own opinions, and often end up agreeing on many of the same things as others we regularly spend time with. We naturally gravitate toward others who have similar opinions on life – makes sense doesn’t it!
I’ve spoken to guitar shops, friends, and searched forums to help build a (hopefully) impartial view of what people like about each brand, and where they think one is better than the other.
Visual and Brand Appeal
Here’s where most people veer off in favor of Fender, and like with many things in life – the first version of something we see or hear often sticks with us as our favorite.
Fender has years of big branding having been on stage with countless huge bands, and due to Fender’s desirability factor everyone wants to be seen with one.
Many guitarists say they have nothing against G&L guitars, except for the slightly different headstock shape, and the fact that they aren’t Fenders.
No one seems to have any opinion either way on the fender vs G&L body shape as you would expect, given that Leo Fender modeled the G&L guitars off his earlier Fender designs.
G&L guitars also come in a wide variety of finishes, so there is no advantage from a visual perspective having one brand or the other.
Fender really win out with their brand name appeal, everyone has heard of Fender and wants to play them.
You see Fenders onstage everywhere, and in shops selling new and second hand guitars there are always plenty of Fenders, but usually little-to-no choice of G&L’s.
The Price (Bang for Buck)
G&L have the upper hand here, as their construction quality and hardware innovation come at a fraction of the price of a Fender.
No one will tell you a MIA Fender is bad, but when you consider that a custom shop G&L guitar sells for the same price as a Fender American Standard off the shelf guitar, you’re getting a lot of value for your money with G&L.
If you’re after a particular look, wood combination, or pickup set – then a Fender custom shop could set you back 3 times what the G&L will cost you.
Build quality comparison
G&L seem to have a good quality build across their range, especially in more recent years as their factory staff have gained experience.
Want to know more about G&L? See our article for a more detailed look at G&L guitars.
There have been reports of fret sprout and sharp fret ends on earlier G&L’s, however it has not been consistently the case, and many owners of older models love the necks on their older models.
The finish on both guitar types is good quality, and newer electrostatic painting techniques ensure that factories get it right consistently.
If a nitro finish is your thing, then for both brands you generally need to go with their custom shop guitars.
Body and Neck construction
When it comes to comparing necks between the two brands the best option is to look at their most commonly produced shapes, and what players think of them.
Fender mainly produces modern “C” shaped necks, with a 9.5” radius fingerboard, while G&L use a slightly fatter neck with the same radius fretboard.
Players are divided on the 2 necks, and since G&L recently changed to a wider neck at the nut it seems to suit players with larger hands much better.
- These days with CNC machining necks are very consistent compared to twenty years ago, so you will get what the manufacturers promise.
Guitar bodies are on-par for both brands, and they both have good wood choices available, and have good levels of finish.
Maybe one point of contention with guitar players is the use of basswood, which G&L feature in a few of their models.
Check out our article on basswood guitars for the inside story!
The Bridge and tremolo
Fender have never really developed their standard bridge apart from moving from a 6-screw design to a 2-screw.
Their tremolo system works ok, but they have never been known as the most reliable when it comes to staying in tune.
Although some people don’t like the look of the G&L bridge, preferring the traditional Fender look, you can’t deny that it is a step forward in design.
We’ve really gotta give it to G&L here, as their dual fulcrum bridge stays in tune really well (even getting close to Floyd-Rose), and has a brass sustain block as standard.
As for hard tail bridges, we also give the first place to G&L, as they have a protruding block that fits into a routed section in the guitar body for more transfer of string vibration, and a saddle locking system also.
Even though these are good advances, we have to admit there are plenty of die-hard fans of particularly the older ashtray-style Fender bridges.
Not that anyone really cares what the branding is on the bridge anyway, it’s more to do with the style!
Pickups, Electronics, and Tone
Fender are more traditional than G&L with their pickups and wiring, and there’s no doubt Fender has a tone all of its own, one that G&L doesn’t try to replicate.
Fender strat’s have that buttery smooth single coil sound that everyone wants to emulate, while G&L made their own unique pickups that guitarists are often divided on.
A super strat with humbuckers might get closer to the punchy tones of the G&L MFD pickup that has a higher output than alnico single coils, and greater range – but doesn’t quite have the clarity.
You could also compare the Fender single coils to the G&L z-coils, but here again the tones are different due to individual designs, and the fact that the z-coils are noise cancelling.
For innovation and advancement, you would have to give full marks to G&L who sought to improve further on electric guitar design.
However with so many people knowing and loving the Fender tone, many will still say that they prefer the original Fender sound, and that it can’t be improved on.
G&L, like most guitar brands doesn’t hold a good resale value like Fender.
If you buy a new Fender today and want to sell it tomorrow, chances are you will still get a reasonable price for it simply because of the name on the headstock.
People are a fickle, and we are heavily swayed toward brands that we have come to know and trust, and that we know are socially acceptable.
On the flipside, if you buy a used G&L guitar you are likely to get amazing value for money with a custom shop quality guitar cheaper than a low to midrange Fender.
And the winner is…
If you’re a die-hard Fender fan who can’t stand anything without ‘Fender’ printed on the headstock then for you they are the winner.
If you love the chance of something new, aren’t into brand snobbery, and want high quality for a good price, then G&L could be the winner for you.
The bottom line is that they are two different beasts both with their own virtues, and many players have both in their collections, holding them both in high esteem.