George and Leo ASAT Special

My recent purchase of an Epiphone Sheraton II was an accident. I’d actually gone shopping for an archtop semi-acoustic guitar, and failed miserably. I still don’t know if I haven’t yet found the right one, or perhaps archtops just aren’t my thing. The Sheraton was more appealing, and I still had quite a few more new guitars to try out before the wallet was ready.

I was offered a play on a shiny new Fender Telecaster, but I wasn’t impressed. Before moving on, Jason (main man at Fab Music Store) pointed out the G & L guitar directly below it. It was a plain-looking T-style guitar I hadn’t even noticed.

G & L ASAT Special

G & L? The name vaguely rang a bell. Then it came to me: I had read about G & L in The Birth of Loud, a book about the history of the electric guitar. The name comes from George Fullerton and Leo Fender, the guys who grew Fender Guitars from a radio shop into a huge international success, selling it to CBS in 1965.

The ASAT looked like a Fender Telecaster, but with three main differences:

  • The headstock shape was subtly changed, to avoid being an obvious copy.
  • The pickups looked plastic and nasty.
  • The bridge/tail was completely redesigned, having six saddles and being very compact.

Well, it’s not pretty, but I thought I should at least give it a try. That’s when the grin started — it played and sounded great. It seemed that those ugly duckling pickups were actually magnificent swans. They sounded hot, and they had bags of attitude, like beefy single coils with muscle.

ASAT Special bridge and Jumbo MFD pickup

The combined 6-saddle bridge and top-loading hard tail didn’t exactly look premium either. But it is a solid piece of metal, and neatly overcomes a couple of t-style design flaws. Firstly, the 6 saddles make it easier to fine tune the guitar’s intonation — something I am particularly sensitive to. Secondly, a locking Allen key removes any lateral movement in the saddles, making a significant difference to sustain.

Add to this a mahogany body and a 9 inch radius rosewood fretboard, and it starts to feel like something quite special, which is maybe why they called it the ASAT Special.

But, why ASAT? Apparently, they wanted to call it a Broadcaster, after the original 2-pickup Telecaster. But Gretsch intervened (again) over copyright grounds, because they have a trademark on Broadkaster. George and Leo had a well known penchant for space age names, and they liked the sounded of ASAT, the anti-satellite missile.

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