The G&L Superhawk was nearly lost to the ages—specifically, to the mid to late ’80s, when hair metal and shred ruled the arenas of the world. It was released in 1984 as a dual-humbucker alternative to the single-humbucker Rampage model, along with the Invader, which came equipped with two single-coils and a bridge humbucker. But as the ’80s and its Aqua Net trappings fell out of favor and faded into memory, so too did many of the guitars that were designed for players of that era.
Some of those instruments have since developed cult followings, though. And one of the biggest fans of the Rampage was—and is—Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell, who purchased his first one while working at a music store when the guitar was new. Its simple design and rock-solid reliability soon made it Cantrell's go-to guitar. Eventually, G&L and Cantrell would team up to release his own signature Rampage model, and more recently, a Superhawk reissue built in his honor. Cantrell's new Superhawk Deluxe has the same dual-humbucker setup as the original Superhawk, but a slightly different bridge configuration, a subdued flamed-maple top (available in transparent blueburst and blackburst finishes), and an even simpler control layout.
The basic building blocks of the 25 1/2"-scale Superhawk Deluxe don't deviate much from the Rampage’s. The body is built from soft maple, which is dense enough to make it heavier than, say, a Stratocaster, but not as massive as something like a Norlin-era Les Paul. Its beefy hard-rock maple neck is bolted to the body and sports a 22-fret ebony fingerboard with Plek-dressed medium-jumbo fretwire.
Our review model arrived with an eye-catching blueburst finish. While the darker areas around the burst and the back of the guitar look jet black from a distance, shining a light on them reveals deep purple shades. Close inspection of the fit, finish, and build quality revealed no construction flaws or cut corners.
Cantrell has never been into guitars with excessive frills, so it makes sense that the Superhawk Deluxe's hardware and pickups follow a no-nonsense approach: The floating Kahler bridge that used to be a mainstay on the Rampage has been replaced with G&L's non-floating Saddle Lock bridge, which enhances sustain by locking the saddles against each other, eliminating undesirable vibration and making the unit resonate more like a one-piece saddle.
A Seymour Duncan JB, long a favorite of Cantrell's, sits in the bridge position, and a lower-output '59 model is situated in the neck position. Both are controlled with a volume knob, a tone knob, and a 3-way switch. This setup works wonderfully for players who share Cantrell's penchant for a straightforward controls, but it limits those who like to use independent tone controls to move from treble-heavy to bassier, rolled-off tones with a simple flip of a switch.
Judging by the Superhawk Deluxe's lively unplugged resonance, G&L put a lot of thought and effort into making the guitar sustain as much as possible. And as I tuned the guitar, I noticed an impressive amount of vibration transferring to my body—and that’s usually the sign of well-built instrument. Even so, the resonance of the Superhawk Deluxe was extra remarkable.
Combined with a Bogner Ecstasy Red preamp pedal running into the power amp of a Mesa/Boogie Dual Rectifier, the Superhawk Deluxe unleashed mammoth rhythm tones rich with lows and detailed mids. The guitar's maple body and neck seem to give the output a bright edge and quick attack, which goes well with amps that have darker voicings. The 25 1/2" scale also brings out the presence and a snappy attack, which is especially noticeable when you flip to the bridge pickup. Even with tons of gain, the guitar demonstrates impressive note-to-note separation. And if the attack is too strong, dropping the tone control to about a third pulls back the intensity without losing the bubbly midrange and expansive lows. With the right amp settings and a controlled picking hand, the output takes on a feel, sound, and vibe eerily similar to Cantrell's.
Playing overdriven leads on the Superhawk Deluxe is also a treat. It's pretty easy to dial in a tone that slices right through the mix. The Duncan JB is well known for its ability to cover a lot of tonal ground, and depending on your amp rig and settings, the Superhawk's bridge pickup can easily cover everything from treble-heavy shred to burly, Kyuss-like single-note melodies. Too much treble can make the JB a bit fatiguing to the ear, so you may have to watch for that with high-end-emphasizing rigs.
Given that Cantrell's style has strong southern rock roots, it makes sense that the guitar also handles clean, low-gain tones with aplomb. Arpeggiated clean passages played in the lower registers with the '59 neck pickup ring out with surprisingly effervescent highs and sustain. Country leads played above the 12th fret kick with a snappy, stinging attack. The '59's legendary sensitivity and dynamic range naturally work well with lower gain settings and varied picking intensity. And when you use the JB and '59 together, mid-gain tones take on a very Jimmy Page-like vibe with a rubbery low end and slightly hollowed mids that growl harder when you really dig in.
If you're one of the many players obsessed with capturing Jerry Cantrell's wailing guitar tones, the new signature Superhawk Deluxe might be right up your alley. Its resonance and build quality are excellent, the simple controls and stable tuning make it satisfying to play, and the versatile pickup set can cover hard rock, metal, classic rock, country, and blues. And while fans of the original Superhawk might scoff at the absence of separate tone controls and floating Kahler bridge, the Superhawk Deluxe is bound to impress most heavy rock players—especially those looking to get a taste of the tones that made Jerry Cantrell a living legend.