Copyright 1999, 20th Century Guitar Magazine.
It's only natural that most guitarists align themselves with a particular brand and/or guitar model(s). At least once a month Editor Acunto and I slug it out as to why Gibson Les Pauls make good firewood (my view) or are the best electric guitars in the Universe (Editor Acunto's view). Of course, we do this all in good fun (though sometimes Editor Larry temporarily suspends me from the TCG Editorial Board for an hour or two), but with the advent of Internet discussion groups the serious of brand/model loyalty has been taken to a new level.
There are many web sites for general discussion of guitars and amps, and raising the flag of one's favorite marque in a general discussion group sometimes constitutes "flame bait", i.e. - asking for trouble and serious verbal retaliation. But there are also those sites which are specific to a brand or model. These are the places where the hardcore enthusiasts, collectors, and just plain ol' players go to discuss their favorite guitars or amps.
Raising the flag in a discussion group specific to that brand or model results in much back patting and rallying cries. And new folks visiting one of these sites are often invited in with open arms just as the Frankenstein monster was invited into the old blind man's house ("Friend! Fire good!"). However, the neophytes are often indoctrinated quickly into the ways of the particular enthusiast group ("Hamer good! Gibson bad!"). In fact, these sites are probably the best source to get real world, field tested information about a particular guitar or amp. Often the participants will be able to offer honest comparisons to other models which is something that not all retail sales people or manufacture's literature can give.
These brand-specific and model-specific groups offer far more than simple support from fellow enthusiasts. They also offer tons of information, some of which is not available in books, magazines or company catalogs, photographs, as well as ties to the "mothership". That's right, many manufacturers keep tabs on these groups and some manufacturers have representatives (even as high as CEOs, VPs and Managers) participating in the discussions! The bottom line is that these discussion sites are important to the enthusiast as well as the guitar and amp makers.
An interesting phenomenon has been taking place on at least three of these web sites: the Guitars by Leo G&L Discussion Page, the Telecaster Discussion Page (now the Telecaster Discussion Page Reissue because the original TDP shut down), and the Hamer Fan Club page. An inevitable question that is asked (sometimes quite often) is "What would your dream guitar be?" Lively debate follows with descriptions of myriad designs from the enthusiast's favorite marque. Recently, these discussions have gotten more serious.
In July 1998, the participants at the Guitars by Leo Discussion Page (GbLDP), a site devoted to G&L guitars, began to discuss the possibility of G&L making a "dream" model specifically for them. A well-known G&L dealer acted as an intermediary and approached G&L on the idea. Although the company monitored and participated on the GbLDP, their reps were a bit surprised at such an upstart idea. However, they agreed to take it into consideration based on the "dream" guitar design's feasibility.
Luckily, no one at the GbLDP was looking for a triple neck, 6-string, 12-string, mandocello or anything like that, though one fellow was adamant about it having tailfins like a '59 Caddy. However, reaching consensus was a difficult and time consuming process. The basic premise was to honor Leo Fender's original G&L designs. Initial ideas ranged from reissues of '80s models to "overlays" of GbLDP decals and finishes on existing models. After 5 months of deliberations, consensus was reached and the design for the limited edition model was submitted to G&L for consideration. The company deliberated for a month and decided that the guitar's design was feasible and would be built!
The model was dubbed the www.guitarsbyleo.com Limited Edition or GbL LE, for short. The design incorporated features from the Leo Fender-era as well as current model line. Taken from the early 1980s Leo-era were: mahogany body, Saddle Lock bridge, S-500 Magnetic Field Pickups, "expander switch" and ebony fingerboard. Current model line features included: semi-hollow ASAT style body, birdseye maple neck, and Schaller locking tuners. Some features initially proposed, such as body binding, were omitted in order to keep the cost of the guitar as low as possible (a $1K street price was the target though the guitar ultimately cost just a tiny bit more than that).
In addition, G&L generously offered each guitar with choice of fingerboard
radius, nut width, oval or V-shape neck profile, and left handed as no-cost
options. In this way, the guitar could be tailored to the player's
taste beyond the design consensus established by the group. The 12-inch
radius fingerboard appeared to be the most popular along with an oval neck
shape. Only one left-handed GbL LE was made.
Photo © 1999 Brad Hansel
The next step was determining how many units to produce. This was
tricky since G&L did not want to be stuck with extra guitars. Based
on additional polling, the number of units to be produced was set at 25.
G&L committed to making two prototypes; one with a clear (natural) finish
and one with a lightly tinted (honey) finish. The clear finish was chosen
for the production run. The prototypes, being prototypes, did not have
the GbL LE name, but the production units were emblazoned with "www.guitarsbyleo.com"
"GbL LE" on the headstock. The neck plates were embossed with "xx of 25" where "xx" denotes the number of the guitar, i.e. 1 of 25, 12 of 25, etc.
Guitar manufacturers have always made special models for jobbers or for retail stores (Sam Ash, Guitar Center, etc), but the GbL LE represents the first time a company made limited edition guitar designed by an enthusiast group for the enthusiast group. Orders for the 25 GbL LE's were sold out within 36 hours after G&L announced it would build the guitar. Most of the guitars were shipped in April. Of the 25, 17 (plus the 2 prototypes) have been registered in the G&L Registry at www.guitarsbyleo.com. The whereabouts of the other 8 are accounted for, but the owners have not elected to "go public."
The LE owners (known affectionately as LEO's) who posted their comments about the guitar claim it to be not only one of the finest G&Ls they have ever played, but the one of the finest electric guitars that they have ever played. By all accounts it is a highly versatile instrument.
If you think reaching consensus on a guitar design by a small group of people for a guitar from a small company is tough, then reaching consensus on a design by a large group of people for a guitar from a big company must be insurmountable. And that's not far from the case with the Telecaster Discussion Page Telecaster (a.k.a. TDPcaster). The TDP's membership is in the thousands and many of these Telecaster enthusiasts felt that Fender already made "their" guitar with the '52 Vintage Reissue model. Still others clamored for extra pickups, humbuckers, 4-way switches, active electronics and all sorts of other features.
Add to that the concern for keeping the price reasonable and design ideas were wildly all over the place. The first design that came close to consensus was ultimately shot down. Too bad, as it was a nice Tele design (swamp ash body, Fralin pickups, big V neck) with a "TDP" inlay at the 12th fret and an engraved neck plate. This design idea was slated for the Custom Shop and may yet have a chance for a very limited run. A second, more economical (street price well under $1K) and conservative design idea is in the works, but I am sworn to secrecy on the details since they have not yet been finalized for consensus-building discussion.
The Hamer Fan Club (HFC) has had better luck, probably because, like Guitars by Leo, the group is small, the company is small, and the company is deeply involved with the group. In fact, Hamer sponsored an HFC open house last year where they unveiled the Hamer 25th Anniversary model and allowed HFC members first dibs on purchasing and taking them home that day! In addition the company produced five korina Standards (Explorer shape) that were stamped "HFC 10/2/98" in honor of the open house.
This event has fueled the group's desire to design a special HFC model and consensus building is in progress (though difficult). The group was hopeful that a design would be determined and the guitars built in time for the second annual HFC open house at the Hamer factory in October 1999, however, that isn't likely for this year and sights are being set on next year for the HFC model Hamer guitar.
It's refreshing to see that these guitar makers are responsive to enthusiast groups, even though they only represent a teeny tiny portion of the market, instead of just catering to big music store chains, large dealers, artist relations, or marketing department driven limited editions (ahem… NASCAR personality guitars anybody?). By actively participating with these groups, the guitar makers are strengthening their market base (repeat buyers) as well as expanding their market (word of mouth recommendation) and increasing visibility (Hamer and G&L aren't exactly the "Microsofts" of the guitar world).
Thanks to Brad Traweek (GbL), Mike Rice (TDP), and Ted Martin (HFC). For more information about these Internet enthusiast groups, please visit their websites:
Guitars by Leo: The G&L Tribute Page --- www.guitarsbyleo.com
The Telecaster Discussion Page Reissue --- www.tdpri.com
The Hamer Fan Club --- www.hamerfanclub.com
About the author: Greg Gagliano likes G&Ls, Fenders, and
Hamer Specials (the one with P-90s), but dislikes Les Pauls (take that Mr.
Editor!). He can be contacted by e-mail c/o TCG even if the Editor
temporarily suspends him from the Editorial Board.
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