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4.75 Tone Bones - Almost perfect but not quite

G & L Tribute Comanche in AmberBurst

G & L Tribute Comanche in AmberBurst

G & L Tribute Series Comanche
Summary: Super-affordable, production version of the venerable Comanche. Has the same swamp ash body and rock maple neck with Fender Avenue parts. Comes with either maple or rosewood fretboard.

Pros: This guitar is a great value! My eyes almost popped out of their sockets when I saw the price! Plays just like the original I played last year, and the Z-coil hybrid pickups produce a creamy-smooth tone with sustain for days. Bridge pickup is the most tonally balanced bridge pickup I’ve ever played!

Cons: I prefer a satin neck finish with maple necks (it’s that Strat thing), but the Tribute still sports the same vintage gloss neck finish as the original. It’s still very playable, but it’s a feel thing for me.

Price: ~$1300 list / $799-$899 street

Tone Bone Rating: 4.75 – This guitar would be perfect with a satin finish on the neck.

Back in March of last year, I had my first encounter with G & L Guitars in a little shop in Sacramento. At the time, I didn’t have any idea of the existence G & L company and how it was Fender Version 2 (I was still getting acquainted with the non-big-name manufacturers). But no matter, I picked up a Comanche off the rack, and instantly fell in love. So much so that I just had to write a review about it! But I had to temper that love with the reality that the street price for the guitar at $1700 was just way out of my price range. And having worked with Saint Guitars these past few months, $1700 is not that much to pay for a handmade guitar, but it’s still more than I can justify considering I have a mortgage and tuition to pay, not to mention food to put on the table.

So it came as a complete surprise to me yesterday to finally play a G & L Tribute Series Comanche and be completely blown away by the price of $799! All the feelings that the original guitar I played back in March came flooding back. This was the same, sweet-sounding guitar that made my soul just sing! The skies opened and I envisioned a chorus of angels singing sweetly to the music I was playing. All was right with the universe. Okay, I’m exaggerating… But a choir of angels should’ve been singing because my heart soared to even greater heights as the Tribute was over half the price less than the handmade version, and it still sings as sweetly!

So why the big price difference? The Tribute series of G & L guitars are their mass production versions of their original makes made in Korea. Using overseas production but the same parts typically lowers the price point of items assembled this way. However, that doesn’t mean that build quality is sacrificed. A good example of this is the SE series of PRS Guitars. These guitars are also produced in Korea, but their build quality is practically flawless! I totally dig the SE Soapbar II that I have. It plays like a dream, and has a nice, aggressive, yet expressive tone. G & L didn’t skimp on quality with respect to the Tribute series. The Tribute Comanche I just played had no build flaws that I could detect, and the guitar in Amber Burst is GORGEOUS!!! So looks great, sounds great, and affordable is a great combination!

From what I’ve been able to find out in my research is that G & L actually researched doing overseas production in Japan, but Korean production quality is now on par with Japan, and costs far less to produce there. G & L also spent two years teaching the Korean facility the correct way to construct the guitars. The end result is a very high quality instrument!

Fit and Finish

From a distance, I couldn’t tell an original Comanche from a Tribute. They look the same, though closer inspection yields slightly different hardware, but  you would swear they’re just different styles of the same model of guitar. The Amber Burst finish is absolutely gorgeous! And I detected zero build flaws. Nothing was misaligned, and all the joints were perfectly matched and mated. This is one well-built and guitar!

Playability

One might expect a production model guitar to be a little less refined with respect to playability. Not so in this case. The narrow neck with the jumbo frets make playing the Comanche a dream to play! You can be light to the touch or really dig in, and the guitar just responds. And especially for me right now, where I’ve been gigging a lot as of late, having an easy-to-play guitar is simply wonderful.

How It Sounds

At first blush, since the Comanche looks so much like a Strat, you might think it sounds like a Strat. It kind of does to a point in that tonally, it’s thinner sounding than a guitar with humbuckers. But the tone is much thicker than a Strat. Furthermore, the tonal character between the different pickup combinations is not as dramatic as with a Strat. For instance, with a Strat, positions 2 and 4 produce that distinctive, ringy and jangly Strat tone. With the Comanche, you get the ring, but it’s definitely not as dramatic; especially in position 4 which is the middle/bridge combination.

With position 4, the less jangle has a lot to do with the bridge pickup, which is a hell of a lot fatter sounding in the Comanche than it is with the Strat. Frankly, I love the tone of the Comanche’s bridge pickup. It’s really the first bridge pickup I’ve found to be truly useful. It’s brighter-sounding than the other pickups, but not nearly as tinny sounding as a typical Strat bridge pickup. But then again, it’s just different; it has its own unique character.

If I could pick a single word to describe how the Comanche sounds, I’d have to say, “smooth.” Everything about the tone the Comanche produces is silky smooth. I love the tone it produces.

Overall Take

On value alone, the Comanche gets a 5 Tone Bone rating. But as I stated above, I prefer a satin finish on the neck – it’s more of psychological thing – so I took a quarter point off. But make no mistake about it. This guitar kicks ass!

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