So you thought G & L was just about Leo Fender's final thoughts on his original ideas for guitars and basses? So did we. And then someone suggested we tried the altogether more Gibsonesque Ascari. Really? We asked Tom Quayle to investigate.
Part of G&L's 'Tribute' line, the Ascari GTS and its sister, the Fiorano GTS, models represent a historic first for the company. Inspired by a recently uncovered prototype drawing by G&L co-founder George Fullerton, dated Jan 18th 1980, showing Leo Fender's vision for his first 24¾" scale, three-tuners-to-a-side guitar with a set-neck, the Ascari was designed jointly by G&L's Vice President of engineering, Paul Gagon, and Grover Jackson, founder of Jackson Guitars and, most recently, GJ2.
The original, 30 year old design, named the G-100, featured a bolt-on neck but was updated to a set-neck, thanks to technological developments at the company. Starting with the '80s hard rock designs such as the Interceptor, Superhawk and Rampage for inspiration, Paul Gagon and Grover Jackson added the more subtle curves and contours to the body, producing a modern design with a broad appeal. This design is completely new for G&L, giving them a model that is traditional in its Rock and Roll looks and construction but with a character and personality of its own.
The Ascari features a mahogany body with a very pretty flame maple veneer top and translucent red or black finish and binding running up through the neck. This is paired with a mahogany neck and rosewood fretboard with set-neck construction and traditional 24 3/4 " scale length. The neck is a very comfortable medium C slim shape with a 12" radius, ideal for chordal and lead work and is topped by the understated but classy looking three-tuners-per-side headstock, complete with abalone fan inlay and logo. The pickups are in-house humbuckers, designed by Paul Gagon and with the added push/pull coil tap, can be split for single coil tones for extra tonal options, making this more versatile than the average three-way switch, dual humbucker guitar. A Tone-Pros locking bridge, stop-bar tailpiece and chrome volume/tone controls complete the design.
The Ascari is constructed in Indonesia and, as with many of the Indonesian-built instruments we've seen in Gi in recent months, the build quality is superb with no flaws or issues to be seen. The set-neck is beautifully done and very clean, while the polyurethane finish is flawless with a lovely grain on the flame top. The fretwork is also top-notch and, thanks to the 24 ¾" scale and 12" radius on the slim neck, the Ascari is fast and furious to play, perfect for any Rock-based player. Set-up was superb out of the box with a low action and no fret buzz to speak of.
Tonally, the Ascari really shines as a great choice for a variety of styles. The humbuckers are pretty high output at 8.22k in the neck and 13.24k for the bridge. Whilst not in vintage territory, both exude clarity with their aggression and cope equally well with clean and distorted tones. The neck pickup is thick and creamy with overdriven tones and imparts a lovely woody characteristic to cleaner sounds, while the high output bridge humbucker is fantastic for heavy tones with enough bite for percussive palm muting and tons of sustain for lead work. Both pickups clean up very well, retaining clarity and top end making them good candidates for lower gain bluesier riffs and lines. The coil-tap feature aids versatility further still allowing for some very cool single-coil tones that have a sound all of their own.
I'd say that G&L are onto a winner here, even if they are a little late to the party. The 24 ¾" set-neck design was something that was sorely missing from their range and the Ascari is a great first model at a superb price for the specification, playability and tone on offer. There are virtually no negatives to speak of when a guitar represents such great value for money. The pickups/hardware are great and won't require upgrading for most users and whilst some may want a less conservative design (see the Fiorano) the narrow horns and asymmetrical design give it a unique look in a world full of clones. If you're in the market for a great value rock guitar with a bit more versatility than the average model then you'd be well advised to check out G&L's Ascari GTS.