When Alice in Chains’ video for “Man in the Box” began airing on MTV in 1991, astute guitar players took note of Jerry Cantrell and his single-humbucker G&L Rampage.
His deft musicianship and menacing guitar work helped bridge the gap between Eighties shred virtuosity and the grunge-era’s punk-influenced raw aggression.
But few people, including Cantrell, knew that the maple-body Rampage had a fraternal twin: the equally menacing dual-humbucker Superhawk. Cantrell himself learned about this obscure instrument only recently.
His interest prompted G&L to reintroduce the Superhawk, a versatile U.S.-made model that holds its rightful place as the sibling signature guitar to Cantrell’s Rampage. The company’s new Tribute Series version makes the Superhawk’s tone and feel affordable to the masses while retaining the quality expected of a G&L plank.
Features: As with the Rampage, G&L builds the Superhawk around a double-cutaway maple body. It’s a softer variety of maple than what’s used for necks, more focused than bright and similar to mahogany in weight and density. The standard version is more similar to the look and sound of Cantrell’s original guitars, offering an ivory finish rather than the Deluxe’s transparent maple veneer.
Its neck is also essentially a reproduction of the Rampage’s, built from hard rock maple and topped with a 22-fret ebony fingerboard. The true C-shape carve feels slick and fast, offering an aggressively tapered depth and moderately low action. Fans of Cantrell’s heavy-handed style may want to increase the string height and wire the Superhawk with 11s so that they can dig into each note’s volume and resonance potential.
A G&L saddle-lock bridge is utilized instead of the Rampage’s Kahler tremolo, offering uncompromised tuning stability, excellent sustain and a slightly more immediate attack. The major difference between the two guitars is in the electronics. Whereas the Rampage has a single bridge-position Alnico-based humbucker and volume-only control, the Superhawk additionally offers an Alnico-driven neck humbucker, a three-way switch and a master tone pot that has a push/pull coil-splitting feature.
Performance: While the ebony fretboard, maple body and maple neck certainly suggest a bright overall tone, those dense woods only serve to enliven the Superhawk’s profound tonal spectrum and help notes respond remarkably fast. Players naturally feel more connected to an instrument that immediately delivers each note with the exact intended nuance. The Superhawk’s preponderance of maple and ebony also enhances the focus and volume of harmonics, such that pinch harmonics can actually ring louder than fretted notes. Crunch tones are very chunky and aggressive, with excellent string-to-string clarity, while clean sounds are ultra-pure and round. Through either pickup, the Superhawk has a vocal quality that’s neither nasal nor dependent on position or string.
List Price: standard, $715; deluxe with flamed maple top, $787
Manufacturer: G&L Musical Instruments/BBE Sound, Inc., glguitars.com
Cheat Sheet: A soft maple body with a rock maple neck and ebony fretboard help the Superhawk Deluxe offer lightning-fast response and superior midrange projection.
Low profile, G&L bridge saddles add jangle, sustain and note separation, differentiating the guitar’s tonal base from the Kahler-loaded Rampage.
The Bottom Line: G&L’s reasonably priced Tribute Series Jerry Cantrell Signature Superhawk offers the power of a soft maple body bolted to an ebony-topped maple neck with the tonal versatility of dual humbuckers and a set bridge.