NGD/Review - G&L S-500 Tribute Strat

Discussion in 'Reviews of Electric Guitars' started by USMarine75, Jul 14, 2019.

  1. USMarine75

    USMarine75 Member

    Aug 11, 2017
    Middle East
    I needed a cheap S-type guitar while traveling in the US for a month... guitars considered were MIM Fender Strat, MII G&L Tribute and S-500, etc. After several visits to GC stores and a blind purchase from MF, I ended up with a G&L S-500.

    Bottom line up front:

    The G&L S-500 Tribute (MII) arrived. It's a keeper. It plays great and looks great. Honestly, it reminds me of most MIK LTD guitars... where I find myself asking, how could this be any better if it was the MIJ ESP version lol. It's a good quality, good sounding, authentic Strat (per Leo) with upgraded pickups for $500. I'd say 4.5/5 based on value, playability, tone, looks, and overall.

    The good:
    • The pickups - This is the S-500 not Legacy version, so it has their upgraded MFD pickups instead of stock single coils. They claim these have more lows/high while retaining mids, clean up well, and have more punch than stock singles. Well... they sound pretty good through an old Peavey Backstage practice amp lol. It actually has a lot of gain for single coils to the point where it drives the amp into overdrive. I actually found you needed to be at an 8 to have a normal single coil tone. For a comparison, I'd say blindfolded I'd guess these were P90s minus the hum. (Not sure it nails classic Strat tones until I try with a real amp, but they claim you can roll back vol to get this with no problem)
    • Tone controls - It has a (passive) bass and treble contour instead of normal tone knobs. This confused me at first (thanks to no manual lol). So instead of mostly useless mud knobs, you actually have the ability to tone-shape. You can roll off bass to tighten up the tone, and get a nice TS type tone with the vol knob dimed. This also removes the normally rounded bottom you get with singles and dirt, so I'm actually interested to try it with high gain on my KPA when I get back home. The treble contour is nice because it doesn't get wooly like a tone knob. LPs get a nice wooly/woman/Santana tone with the tone knob rolled off, vs most strats that just get blech. This also allows you to roll off just enough highs that the bridge pickup isn't ice-picky and grating.
    • Additional tone shaping - the push/pull allows you to get full SSS or SS bridge + neck tones. With the bass contour rolled off and N+B, it actually has a cool tele bridge tone.
    • Fit and finish - Looks great, with no rough fret ends, no binding issues, no mismatched or poorly aligned screws.
    • The initial setup was actually really good. Not really an issue either way (we can debate whether a manufacturer is responsible for "factory" setup). But it was a nice touch not getting a guitar set up like a violin. I lowered the bridge and loosened the truss just a tad, just to preference. The intonation was spot on, one of the best I've seen from a factory actually lol.
    • Playability - Very little buzz at approx. 1.7/1.2mm (if I had to guess) string height. Big bends don't fret out. 12" radius with traditional feeling Strat C carve is perfect (not thick or thin).
    • Trem - The bar doesnt have a great angle to it so you really can't dive too far without hitting the body. I can't lock the bar in thanks to MF not including the tools, so I cant really review the trem fully. I cant say for EVH style bombing, but it does flutter nicely (with 3 springs, 9-46 strings, in E-std), stays in tune, and is great for vibrato.
    • Factory Tuners - This is usually the biggest tell for MIK vs MIA/MIJ guitars to me. They always seem to need new hardware. Maybe it's because I had to put a new set of strings on and used pencil graphite in the nut slots, but even with all my bends and "tremery" it stays in tune really well. I expected to drop another $40 in tuners, so pleasant surprise not to need it now.
    • Mahogany body - Interesting, as all other strats I've played are Alder, Ash, etc. I'm interested to see how this will sound with my KPA or Tone King amp, instead of a Peavey practice amp lol. It definitely feels heavier than a Fender Strat.
    • Neck - Not usually a fan of heavily glossed necks. It looks fake, like it might be plastic underneath lol. Initially I wanted to send it back just for this lol. But after a while playing, I didn't notice and it played easily, so it apparently wasn't a big deal after 5 minutes... plus it's an easy fix to sand it anyways.
    • Color - At first I was upset MF only had Sonic Blue and not their Irish Ale color. I thought it would look just like a Daphne Blue Strat (not a bad thing). In person though, the Sonic Blue is awesome. It appears like vintage white with a subtle blue tinge, like a bad white-balanced photo lol. I love it and it needs to be seen in person to appreciate - nice touch for a bargain guitar IMO. (I think the Irish Ale might have looked cheesy over time, but who knows)
    The Bad:
    • The treble pot is much looser/smoother than the volume and bass contour. With EVH guitars this is intentional, as the vol knob is a Bourns low friction and the tone is normal. I don't think this was intentional here though lol. So it kind of sucks that one knob easily/freely spins. It feels like it would move around during a set. [QC?]
    • As mentioned, the highly touted trem system doesn't seem able to dive fully with the stock bar bend. But it sounds very musical (e.g. Jeff Beck bends and vibrato, Becker-style trem slides), so no big deal for me on a Strat.
    • MF disappointed me again... Not the fault of G&L. But WTF this is the third guitar in a row they sent that was sold as new but obviously used. Not as egregious as the LTD Ken Susi mirror guitar, which looked like it was heavily gigged by Ken for 44 days lol.
    • Of course MF shipped it to me without all the tools, so I'm not able to lock down the trem bar. But my father-in-law had enough allen tools for me to at least make adjustments. The trem bar screw seems to be a different size than usual allen sizes. It also didn't have a manual or any plastic of any kind on the pickguard or any tags or stickers, so it was either a customer return or maybe G&L doesn't ship like most other guitars I've bought new? The big give away was rusted strings and the high E was broken lol. It sucked having to put on a new set of strings just to try a guitar. Also, as a side note I think they ship with Again, thanks MF.

    ^that's the actual action (9-42 NYXL), I'm not holding the strings down or anything.

    Stock photo for reference:
  2. jbat

    jbat Member

    Jan 6, 2018
    Nice write-up and sweet axe.

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