Jerry Cantrell’s signature Cry Baby Wah just got an all-new makeover inspired by his latest solo record, Brighten.
Glow-in-the-dark features on the tread, front badge, and bottom plate were designed to stand out and shine in contrast with the casting’s subdued raw iron finish—an embodiment of the album’s exploration of darkness and light.
Sonically, this Cry Baby Wah is custom-voiced to offer tight, punchy heel-down tone with a rugged side-control knob for fine-tuning the toe-down frequency—perfect for nailing Jerry’s powerful wah-laden licks.
- Special edition makeover inspired by Jerry Cantrell’s solo record, Brighten
- Glow-in-the-dark elements stand out and shine in contrast with raw iron finish
- Custom-voiced for a tight, punchy heel-down tone
- Rugged side-control knob for fine-tuning the toe-down frequency
- Perfect for nailing Jerry’s famous wah tone
The Jerry Cantrell Cry Baby Firefly Wah is available for $199.99 from retailers worldwide www.jimdunlop.com.
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.
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.
Cantrell talks about The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here's stomping riffs and melancholy leads, his approach to songwriting, and why he likes to keep himself “kind of stupid.”
When original Alice in Chains singer Layne Staley died of a heroin-and-cocaine overdose in 2002, it dashed any remaining hopes that Seattle’s most storied alt-metal outfit would emerge from the protracted hiatus that Staley’s drug problem had imposed since 1996. Seven years later, however, fans of the band’s brooding sound rejoiced when the remaining bandmates—guitarist Jerry Cantrell, bassist Mike Inez, and drummer Sean Kinney—recruited singer/rhythm guitarist William DuVall and released Black Gives Way to Blue, an album powered by Cantrell’s familiar down-tuned dissonance and the band’s trademark angular vocal harmonies. Riding high on its momentum, Alice in Chains set off on a world tour that went so well the band hit the studio again in 2011 to record The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, which was released on May 28.
We recently spoke to Cantrell about Dinosaurs’ stomping riffs and melancholy leads, his approach to songwriting, and why he likes to keep himself “kind of stupid.”
How much of the material for The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here did you guys write beforehand and how much was crafted in the studio?
I don’t know, I guess the process was pretty similar to the last record and probably the ones before it. There’s a period of demoing, mostly on ideas you have throughout the year while touring. Once you’re out on tour, there really isn’t a whole lot of time to write for me. I guess people do it, but not me. A lot of ideas will come when you’re warming up for a show or during a soundcheck, so what you do is you try to document and record those ideas before you forget them. By the end of a year and a half of touring, you come home with 30, 40, or 50 ideas. So when I got to a spot where I started writing again, I went through those ideas and put stuff together. There’s a good portion of stuff on this record that was demoed on the road and was pretty close to what it became, and then there were a handful of tunes that kind of just happened spontaneously by getting together and playing.
Having already done an album and tour with William DuVall on vocals, did you feel less pressure this time around?
Having done that last record, we had the confidence that William could do the job and become a part of the band. We made that decision and moved ahead, and to have that record be the kind of record that it was and the way that people responded to it … I don’t think it could have gone any better. And it wasn’t some fluke—it’s because we worked hard and people cared about what we had gone through and the decision we made to continue. Music—like everything else in life—is like, “Okay, you did that, now what have you done for me lately?” [Laughs.] Each time is a challenge, and that record was challenging for reasons that this record wasn’t: We were coming back, we had a new member in the band. And then there was the question of how much does what I do and what Sean [Kinney, drums] and Mike [Inez, bass] do weigh in—and will people even give a [expletive] about it? This record, of course, had none of that, but it was still challenging—you have to keep up the standard. But we’ve always been pretty fortunate to have a pretty strong bullshit meter when it comes to music—as well as personally. We’ve always tried to make the strongest record that we can and write the best music that we can. At the end of the day, we have to be happy with that. By the time it gets to you and everybody else, we’re already satisfied with it.
You’re widely known for your riff-writing ability—you’ve even received awards for it.
Riff Lord! [Laughs.]
Can you describe your approach to riffs—how do you decide which are good and which are bad?
I guess it’s just what catches your ear and what you see when it catches someone else’s ear. When I think something is good and I’m playing it and see someone turn their head, I’m like, “Okay, that’s good!” For me, when I really know is when I demo it, go to bed, and then wake up and check what I did the night before to see if it still stands up. For instance, I came up with the riff for [The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here’s lead track] “Hollow” at our very last show for the Black Gives Way to Blue tour. I was in Vegas and I wasn’t feeling very well at all, and I remember warming up and stumbling onto that riff. I grabbed my phone and recorded it. [Dinosaurs producer] Nick Raskulinecz and our manager were worried about me because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to make the show. I played that riff and saw them both react, so I knew that that was a good one.
Your solo on “Stone” is incredibly tight and fits the framework of the song so well. How much do you work out solos beforehand?”
I’ve never been that great of an improvisational guitar player. I guess if I had more knowledge I probably would be, but I keep myself kind of stupid on purpose [laughs]—I like to stay at a certain level of dumb so that I have to fight through it and find it. It’s counterintuitive to do it that way, but it’s just the way I’ve always done it. I’ve always written my solos, and I guess if I were more knowledgeable and had more technique I could do ripping four- or five-minute solos, but I don’t. It’s more about the song to me. I mean, I am a guitar player and I am creating a moment for myself of course, but really the way I look at it is that it’s a musical break within the song. It has to speak and have a voice like the rest of the song has. I look at it more like a part change and a different vocal line. On this record, including the solo on “Stone,” I’m really proud of the solo work that I did.
Fronted by new vocalist/rhythm guitarist William DuVall, Alice plays the new tune “Stone” in this April 2013 performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
You’ve used acoustic guitars more than a lot of other heavy bands throughout your career, including on “Voices” and “Scalpel” from the new album. How important are acoustics to the Alice in Chains sound?
That has always been a really important thing for this band. We took a chance early on by putting out an acoustic EP [1992’s Sap] when we’d only had one record out and people only knew us from that. By taking that risk early on, it opened us up to be able to be more diverse and to get people okay with the idea that we weren’t going to be just a metal or hard-rock band—that we were going to go in a lot of different places musically. On the last two records, we’ve had elements of the acoustic sound so that you get both phases of the band. It really isn’t a separate thing—it’s all us.
Jerry Cantrell, the late Layne Staley, and the rest of Alice in Chains bring the heavy with nothing but acoustics in this hour-plus MTV Unplugged set from 1996.
How did you create the atmospheric sounds in the intro and outro to “Voices”?
I was using a Gibson EDS-1275 with 6-string and 12-string necks on it, and I stumbled upon that sound when we were demoing the song at my house. My guitar tech and friend Jim Dawson brought his doubleneck over, and I played it on the 6-string side but with the pickups on on the 12-string side. That chimey stuff was feeding across into the other neck’s pickups. When it came time to record it, Jim brought that guitar around and we did it the exact same way.
You’ve always favored your “Blue Dress” and “No War” G&L Rampages. How vital are those two guitars to your tone, and what do they mean to you from a personal standpoint?
[The Rampage] is the guitar that felt right to me first. I had a handful of shitty guitars before that, but when I got a G&L Rampage in my hands I was home—and I’ve never really left. I’m also a very big fan of Gibson guitars, and the Les Paul has been a big part of my tone, as well. Those are the two guitars that I play the most. I guess that happens for everybody—at some point you find your guitar and it’s what you become identified with. It’s not that you don’t play other things, it just becomes your thing. Jimi Hendrix played a Stratocaster, Angus Young plays an SG—you find your guitar and that’s just what it is. But anytime—anytime I pick up a guitar that I haven’t played or a different kind of guitar, it never fails that it gives me a new idea or I stumble upon something different. It’s been happening for 30 years, and it’s tried and true and totally tested. If I pick up something new, I’ll play something that I haven’t played before and it’s going to give me something.
Cantrell's famed "Blue Dress" G&L Rampage
You probably use a wah more than any other effect. What’s your approach to it, and what makes your signature Dunlop model unique?
The Cry Baby wah-wah has been a go-to pedal for all guitar players from its inception. It’s just a way to make the guitar talk a little bit more—it makes it speak. It’s something I’ve always been a fan of and have used from the get-go. I started off playing the Jimi Hendrix version of the Dunlop Cry Baby, and a few years ago the guys at Dunlop decided to design one for me. My tone has a little bit more darkness to it, and I’ll play the Cry Baby not even rocking it back and forth in a full sweep. I use half or three-quarter sweeps. So Dunlop took all those elements and put them into that pedal. It has a darker, throatier tone to it that I’m really happy with—not only to have my own pedal and for it to be the one I use the most, but also for a handful of my other friends to use it and really dig it. Nick Raskulinecz—who’s produced a couple of Rush records, too—told me Alex [Lifeson] used one in the studio when they were recording their last record, which made me really proud.
What’s next for you and Alice in Chains?
Well, it’s a very compartmentalized existence in my experience: For about a year, it was all about the record, and now it’s about going out and playing. Recording and writing go out the window, and it’s about trying to do the best show you can and trying to stay as healthy as you can to be able to play at a high and consistent level for people who are paying to come see you—people who haven’t seen you in years or maybe ever. So you try to make that special.