Tribute S-500 review by G&L

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  • Sound: 9
  • Overall Impression: 9
  • Reliability & Durability: 9
  • Action, Fit & Finish: 8
  • Features: 9
  • Reviewer's score: 8.8 Superb
  • Users' score: 8.9 (48 votes)
G&L: Tribute S-500

Price paid: $ 649.99

Purchased from:

Sound — 9
I fell in love with the sound of the G&L Tribute Series S500 immediately. The Magnetic Field Design pickups, the Passive Treble and Bass system, and the 7 selection pickup configurations really allow you to sculpt your tone to your own personal preference. The S500 absolutely can sound like a strat, but you can also get a warmer sound than you can from other single coil pickups I've played with, and you can really get closer to a good metal tone than I've been able to get with any other set of single coil pickups. I still feel as enthusiastic about the G&L Tribute Series S500 as when I first received it. You can get glassy to warm, you can get the Strat quack, and it is really super easy to get an almost percussive piano-like tone out of the G&L. I have been really amazed at how distorted I can get the tone and still have good single string clarity. The full sized cold rolled steel tone block really gives you solid sustain for a Strat style guitar with a tremolo bridge. I initially bought the G&L Tribute Series S500 to have specifically when I needed a single coil sound for something I was working on, but as I've used it more and more I find myself neglecting my other guitars. I won't say the G&L S500 will play everything well, but I will say it plays more styles better than I thought a Strat style guitar could. I got on a Hendrix kick that then progressed on to an early Joe Bonamassa and Robin Trower kick, which got me into Clapton, Jeff Beck, etc. And I felt like I really needed a Strat and my style changed from primarily playing early thrash metal style music to playing overdriven blues. Since I've got the G&L about six months ago I've progressed into playing much more eclectically. I've played a lot more outlaw country, reggae, folk, folk metal, classic rock since I started playing with the S500. It really handles everything well except metal, which it still handles better than any single coils I've played before. The MFD pickups are not silent single coils; there is some 60 cycle hum but not too much. I imagine that this could be fixed by shielding the pickup cavity in the body, but I'm not sure why G&L wouldn't do this during construction. This is something that it seems like should have been done, but I guess there are people out there who don't like their guitars shielded. Again, this isn't too bad, but I will probably go in and shield it at some point I have just been too lazy to do it so far. This is also a fault I've noticed with a lot of Fenders, unless it is a model that comes with the noiseless or noiseless HOT pickups. I still prefer the tone of the MFD pickups to the Fender Noiseless and Fender HOT Noiseless, though the Fender HOT Noiseless pickups are nice. With the individually adjustable pole pieces, extra pickup configurations, just the awesome tone from the MFD pickups and the dual fulcrum tremolo there is so much diversity of sound you can get from the G&L Tribute Series S500, and I absolutely love this guitar.

Overall Impression — 9
The G&L Tribute Series S500 is possibly my ideal guitar. I find myself going to the G&L over my other guitars 90% of the time, and I've absolutely developed a relationship with this instrument. I think it is very important to find a guitar that isn't just a hunk of wood and strings, but is an instrument that you can identify with, and the G&L fits the profile for me. This is an ideal instrument for overdriven blues, classic rock, funk and progressive rock, etc. It is very versatile though there are guitars that are going to do metal much better. I still occasionally want to play with humbuckers and stop tailpiece or string thru body, so now I'm on a Quest to find the perfect LP style guitar for me preferably with a string thru body, but for virtually everything but metal, the G&L Tribute Series S500 delivers, and it can handle metal much better than you think. It seems like it just takes a good deal more work to get a good metal tone out of single coils. If my G&L Tribute Series S500 were lost or stolen, I would possibly go with the actual USA Made S500 instead of the Tribute Series because you have a few more options that way, but I wouldn't hesitate to buy the G&L Tribute Series S500 again. The three main guitars I've compared this to are a Squier Bullet, a Fender MIM Strat and a Fender Deluxe Player's Strat. The Fender Deluxe Player's Strat is the only one even remotely competitive, and that all comes from the compound radius neck on the Fender being super nice, but to me it didn't compete in tone. In my opinion, the only improvement I can readily think of would be for the S500 to have a compound radius neck. As it is, it is still very nice.

Reliability & Durability — 9
I always have a hard time writing about the reliability and durability of a guitar, because theoretically, I don't ever want to put a guitar in a situation to really test out these qualities. I can say that it feels like the G&L Tribute Series S500 could take a lot of abuse, and I've read many owners talk about theirs taking a lot of abuse including falls, cigarette burns, collisions, etc., and I'll just take their word for it. I do think this guitar will last virtually forever. I jam with friends and I'm not worried that my G&L will get hurt in this setting. While I think this guitar would survive a lot of things with the really superb padded gig bag that came with it, I still store it in a locking hard case. I don't really gig, but I do jam with friends a lot, and the G&L travels with me and it holds up fine. I've used it for jamming and recording and it hasn't had a single problem. The strap buttons are fine they are full sized, and the hardware seems like it will be around after the apocalypse. The guitar and neck are actually manufactured in Indonesia, but the electronics, wiring and hardware are all constructed and installed in the U.S., and the quality control happens in the U.S. I guess the construction in Indonesia allows G&L to keep the price down. As far as the electronics and hardware are concerned, they are identical to the U.S. Made version of the S500. I will tell you this the input jack does not come loose. Why can't Fender make a Strat that can keep an input jack from coming loose?

Action, Fit & Finish — 8
The G&L Tribute Series S500 I got has the 3-Tone Sunburst finish, which was absolutely immaculate. The bolt-on neck has an awesome satiny finish and the neck pocket is super tight. The body is contoured and is really comfortable to play, sitting down or standing up. The finish is thin but seems pretty durable. The action was good when I received it it could have been just a tad lower to fit my personal preference, but it was really excellent and after playing it like this for a few days I decided to leave the action like it is. The intonation was almost perfect, and I seriously got it spot on in less than 15 minutes. It feels a little better for rhythm playing that for lead playing because of the neck radius, but this is pretty much Standard for Strat necks. I've played several Fender strats before and since I got this G&L and the only one with a better neck for lead playing I've found was a $1400 Deluxe Player's Strat with a compound radius neck, but I still preferred the G&L pickups, Bridge and just general comfort of the G&L. The frets, of course, had no rough edges and were very comfortable. I believe that they are medium jumbo sized and they feel nice. The nut is just a plastic nut, and I would have preferred a graphite or imitation bone nut but to be honest I haven't had any issues with keeping the G&L in tune, even using the tremolo. I don't really understand why any guitar over $250 or $300 dollars would have a plastic nut. The good thing is that replacement nuts are abundantly available for the G&L Tribute Series S500. I probably will get around to changing the nut out at some point just for peace of mind, but I haven't had any problems with the plastic nut that came stock. I don't normally like tortoise shell pick guards but I guess the combination of the pick guard with the 3-Tone Sunburst just seems to have a lot of character to me, and the lines of the wood grain under the transparent sunburst finish really come across in a complimentary way. I might some day decide to change out the pick guard for a white or black pearloid, which is what I had planned to do when I initially ordered the G&L, but for now I'm really digging the tortoise shell pick guard.

Features — 9
The G&L Tribute Series S500 is constructed of Swamp Ash with a Hard Rock Maple neck. The fingerboard is available in maple or rosewood with 22 frets. Mine is rosewood. The S500 has a 9" neck radius which took a little getting used to, as I have previously played with mainly 12" radius necks, but it grew on me fairly quickly. The tuners are closed and non-locking, but really seem to do the job nicely. The Bridge is a G&L Dual Fulcrum vibrato which is awesome, as it lets you bend both ways (with the Fender strats I've messed with, the spring tension is usually lessened so the Bridge sits at an angle so you can pull back on the tremolo arm) while the Bridge rests flat and you can have more control of the spring tension you prefer. The tone block attached to the Bridge is full sized and made of cold rolled steel. The G&L Tribute Series S500 comes in three different finishes, which are Blueburst, Natural Gloss and 3-Tone Sunburst. Mine is the 3-Tone Sunburst. All 3 finishes are really great, the wood grain shows through beautifully and the finishes seem to be tough. The G&L Tribute Series S500 also has a "Non-Compression Truss Rod" which was explained to me as using spring steel with the truss rod to keep all the pressure from being at one point of the rod making it much less likely to break. There are 3 single coil pickups, and these are a Fullerton design called MFD or G&L Magnetic Field Design pickups. The Bridge pickup is angled and the middle and neck are parallel with each other. The MFD pickups have a ceramic bar magnet under the coil of each pickup, and also allow individual pole piece adjustment or pickup height adjustment. This is great as far as allowing you to really tweak the output per pickup and per string to get the optimal string clarity at each position. The tone knobs are actually G&Ls PTB system, which stands for Passive Treble and Bass. The way this works is each tone knob is actually wired to all three pickups (this means the Bridge pickup, too unlike some other similar guitars) and the top tone knob allows you to control only treble and the bottom tone knob allows you to control only bass for all three pickups. I also immediately noticed that there is an even response for both knobs, which seems to be really rare. In my experience, the tone pots on a guitar seem to do 80 percent of their work with the last 20% of turn left in the knob, but the tone pots on the G&L have a really nice and refreshing even response really giving you more power to shape your tone to your liking. The Treble Knob is also a pull knob that allows you to activate the neck pickup, which allows two more pickup configurations. You have the normal 5 way position pickup switching, but pull up the treble knob and put the selector on the Bridge and you have the Bridge and neck pickup together, and put it on Bridge and middle with the treble knob pulled up and you get all three pickups at once. This is far more useful than I thought it would be initially, allowing me to find some really interesting rhythm tones using these different configurations, and a few really worthwhile lead tones. I also find that I use the EQ on my amps far less because I have so much control at my hands instead. Included with the G&L Tribute Series S500 was a very nice G&L padded gig bag, allen wrenches, a cheap guitar cable and the push-in vibrato arm (whammy bar). I bought a hard case separately from the guitar, because I can't bear the idea of storing a guitar in a gig bag, but this is a super nice gig bag. I think it would have been nice to get a hard case included with this guitar, and I would have been willing to pay a little extra for the G&L hard case to be included.

4 comments sorted by best / new / date

    As an owner of both I wouldn't rate an S-500 as better or worse than a Strat - they are simply different and if possible owning both can easily be justified. The S-500 cam mimic a lot of other guitars rather well but the MFD pickups can't quite imitate that glassy strat sound you get from the Alnico's. Hit the crunch channel though and the S-500 really comes into its own with a very full and powerful sound. I own the US version with the 12" neck but was very impressed with the Tributes as well especially for the price - they are hard to beat.
    I just picked up this baby last month. Found this in a local music store. Simply an amazing guitar for the price. Mine was made in Korea back in 2006 and have been sitting in the shop for a few years. Pefect guitar for all styles.
    I love the look and feel of this guitar but have been having trouble with the neck. Mine is a maple neck and maple fretbord, which has bowed on the bass side while back-bowing on the treble. This basically means the guitar needs a new neck, which is not good news...
    According to Leo Fender himself, the G & L guitars are NOT meant to be like Fender guitars. They are meant to be the NEXT STEP in the evolution of what Leo called "the working man's bolt-on guitar." As others have noted, the S-500 is capable of a MUCH WIDER RANGE of sounds than the Fender Stratocaster. This is part of what Leo intended. I think it's noteworthy that, in the last several years, Fender has tried to copy the S-500s with a dual-fulcrum vibrato, different types of bridges, and various switching choices not seen prior to the 1990s. Late in his life Leo stated, unequivocally, that the G & L guitars were, "The best guitars that I ever made."