I’ve always loved Telecasters, ever since seeing George Harrison on the telly with his sweet Rosewood model from the famous rooftop performance in 1969 playing “Don’t Let Me Down” (though strangely I never felt a desire to wear the same lime green jeans George wore that fateful day). There’s something about the efficient, no-nonsense lines and straightforward controls of the Telecaster which make it the archetypal everyman’s guitar – it is whatever you make it to be. Leo Fender originally conceived it as a country guitar, and while it’s remained a firm favourite for that genre, it’s been used for a lot more than that since its inception.
Leo Fender’s continued evolution of his classic Telecaster design resulted in the introduction of the ASAT. Like its G&L brother, the Tribute, which builds on a basic Stratocaster template, the ASAT picks up where the Telecaster left off. The main cosmetic difference is the addition of the impressively bulky rectangular Magnetic Field Design pickup, which looks somewhere between a beefed up single coil and a trimmed down Jazzmaster pickup.
The model features a traditional ‘ashtray’ style boxed steel bridge, completed by six individual brass saddles. It’s been a long time since the Fender company first began adding more Strattish saddles to the Telecaster, alleviating the intonation issues of the traditional barrel saddles, and the G&L twist on the design – the use of hard wearing, tonally assertive brass – helps add to the custom shop vibe.
The review model was finished in a deep purplish red sunburst quilted maple top on a swamp ash body, with white binding on the back and front, as well as on the fretboard. That’s it pictued at the end of the review – my dodgy photography isn’t nice enough to be at the top of the review, so that’s a shot from the G&L website. Neck binding is more commonly associated with set neck guitars, and its inclusion here is another nice hot rod twist. The three ply white/black/white pickguard is a little more rounded and slinky than that of its ancestor, and is cut very cleanly. The overall vibe is of a pimped out ’66 Telecaster Custom.
The hard rock maple neck is very fat and solid, with heaps of width to allow steel guitar style multi string bends or intricate country finger picking. The maple fretboard is finished in a tinted gloss, which to my ears increases the treble snap factor compared to a fretboard that’s just oiled. The typical ‘scoop’ behind the nut, long used by country players to execute wide bends by pressing down the string behind the nut, offers plenty of play for such techniques. The fretboard position markers are the classily understated black dot variety, which sits well visually with the black pickups, pickup selector switch tip and headstock string retainer.
Depending on where you sit on playability standards, Telecasters can be either a godsend or an absolute beast. Some love the tight string tension and traditionally flatter neck, while others are put off by those very factors. I found the ASAT Custom’s tight action and 7 1/2″ fretboard radius to be a pleasure to play, while still putting up a decent fight. A guitar this nice will make you work just a little bit for each note, but it’s extremely rewarding.
The pickups are the ASAT’s strongest selling point, as far as I’m concerned. It’s refreshing to play a pickup which is obviously designed to excel at clean tones. The bridge Magnetic Field Design pickup sounds warm and full without needing to compensate by being high output. Pushing the amp into light overdrive, new harmonic overtones opened up, and combining open strings with fretted notes around the 9th to 12th frets especially emphasised this trait.
But the oversized Magnetic Field Design neck pickup is the real star of this guitar. I’ve never heard a single coil, P90 or otherwise, sound so full and fat without muddying up. Bass frequencies had just the right balance of tightness and looseness to make it suited for rhythm and lead, regardless of gain level, and the dynamic response reminded me of an acoustic guitar. The neck plus middle pickup setting is often a compromise on guitars with two pickups, but on the ASAT Custom it created a third equally vital tone to the guitar’s bag of tricks. Combining the fullness of the neck pickup with the spank of the bridge, the result was a sharp yet round jangle perfect for that Rolling Stones classic rock vibe or dirtying up some neo country chicken pickin’.
Pushing the overdrive a little further and adding some delay, the ASAT Custom reminded me a little of a Gibson ES-335 in terms of upper midrange smoothness, but with a slight bite to the treble which kept individual notes from becoming indistinct. I wouldn’t use this guitar for metal or shred styles, but I would have no hesitation in using it as a rhythm guitar for harder rock tracks, because the midrange cut and immediate pick attack would sit really well with more bass-heavy drum and bass tracks.
Overall the G&L ASAT Custom is a fine evolution of the classic Telecaster design. The hot rod design ethos, combined with the world class tone of the hand wound pickups, represent the pinnacle of Leo Fender’s personal design philosophy. The end result is a guitar that feels worth every cent of its price tag.
PICKUPS: Extra fat large rectangular Magnetic Field Design neck pickup, traditional size MFD bridge pickup
BODY WOOD: Alder on Standard and all solid finishes, Swamp Ash on all Premier finishes
NECK WOOD: Hard Rock Maple with Rosewood or Maple fingerboard
NECK RADIUS: 7 1/2″ (190.5mm)
NECK WIDTH: 1 5/8″ (41.3mm)
TUNING KEYS: 12:1 ratio, sealed lubrication, adjustable knob tension
BRIDGE: Traditional boxed steel bridge with individual brass saddles
CONTROLS: 3 position pickup selector, volume, tone
FINISH: Standard finishes included
OTHER: Chrome Hardware; 3-ply white pickguard; G&L molded hard case