After selling the Fender company to CBS in 1965, and co-founding Music Man in the ’70s, Leo Fender’s next business venture was the creation of G&L in 1980. Originally named for the partnership between Leo and his longtime collaborator George Fullerton, after Fullerton left the company the G&L moniker was described as meaning “Guitars by Leo.” Leo’s desire to constantly improve his designs manifested itself at G&L, where he worked diligently nearly every day until he died in 1991. After Leo’s death, the company was purchased by the McLaren family (best known for its association with BBE Sound), which continues to build quality instruments in the way Leo would have wanted.
At Music Man Leo came up with a number of variations on his original Fender designs, the most noteworthy being the StingRay bass. Many of these improvements made their way into the G&L bass and guitar lines, along with some new elements. First and foremost, Leo came up with an all-new pickup that he dubbed “Magnetic Field Design.” This was quite different from his previous pickups and used a ceramic magnet instead of alnico, and had adjustable polepieces. The MFD is extremely full range and quite a bit brighter than many pickups, but I’ve always found it a lot easier to mellow out a bright sound than to add top end when it’s not there in the first place!
The body style of the L1000 is definitely derived from his previous work, but who better to inspire Leo Fender than himself? This bass is from the first year of G&L production, and this original headstock shape was perhaps too Fender-ish, so soon afterward the gracefully carved headstock shape that we all now associate with G&L appeared.
The L1000 is obviously a descendant of the Fender Precision Bass, and its single pickup has that singular midrange punch we all know and love. In addition, however, the massive pickup and tone controls provide cool options beyond the typical sonic range of the Precision. Many other G&L basses use an active preamp, but the L1000’s passive electronics display astonishing versatility. The tone controls are bass and treble boost, and the three-way switch provides very useable settings. Toward the neck is humbucking mode with both coils on, in the middle is the back coil only, and toward the bridge it throws the pickup into “series” setting, dramatically increasing the lows and lower-midrange bark. Later G&L’s with the active preamp had a similar twoway series/parallel switch that is one of my favorite ways to kick a tone to another level. I have had a pair of L2000s (fretted and fretless) for many years that I love and have used extensively, and this bass is like their muscular little brother.
This particular bass belonged to Dee Murray, Elton John’s longtime bassist who lived in Nashville for a few years before his untimely death from cancer in 1992. I always loved his playing and was fortunate enough to get to know him quite well. I was always impressed with his humble unpretentiousness— especially remarkable for someone who drove a Rolls Royce! Nigel Olsson, who played with Dee for many years with Elton, had these remembrances of his friend: “Dee was an amazing player and had a heart of gold. In the early days, audiences couldn’t believe it was just the three of us reproducing Elton’s heavily orchestrated records, and Dee was the key to that. Our producer, Gus Dudgeon, always loved the sound of that G&L bass and even tried to buy it after Dee’s death. Not a day goes by on the road where we don’t think of Dee, usually when something strange happens— he always was a practical joker!”
Sometime during the ’80s, Dee refinished this bass in a color he called “oxblood,” and it has been hanging in tribute to him at Corner Music in Nashville ever since his passing. (Thanks to JD for the loan.) What a pleasure it was to play this bass and think of all the great records Dee played on during his time with Elton. Check them out if you haven’t, as anything cut after 1980 probably has this bass on it.
The L1000 is a great example of a superb concept made better, in this case by the originator. Hats off to Leo Fender for all he did for bassists, and thanks to Dee Murray for the inspiration. Peace, Love, and Grooves until next time.