‘The Real Ones’ - A history of G&L

 
 

Mainly due to prevailing market pressures and, as evidenced by the dealer letter shown below, to dispel a rumor they were out of business, G&L added a number of Superstrat models: the  Superhawk, Rampage, and Invader. They were introduced at the start of 1985, with production starting late-1984, and all much less flamboyant than the Interceptors. A Superstrat is a colloquialism for a guitar with the comfort of a Stratocaster body and neck but with its pickups swapped out for more powerful units, mostly humbuckers but also high-power single-coil units. For the history provided below, beyond information in my own possession, I am much indebted to Gabe Dellevigne and Trever Scott for corroborating it, if not providing additional data.


The Superhawk used 2 Schaller humbuckers, which were all wound to Leo’s specification, and a wiring harness consisting of 3-position mini-toggle pickup selector switch, volume control, and separate tone controls for each pickup, a configuration repeated on the 2nd X-body Interceptor HH. Interestingly, the Schaller humbucker does have coil-splitting capabilities but this options was never used on any G&L Superstrat with these pickups. It came either with a Kahler™ 2320 flat mount fine-tuner vibrato or, post-1987, a Leo Fender Vibrato (LFV) as seen on this Superhawk. It otherwise stayed unchanged until it was discontinued at the end of 1991. There is evidence Leo Fender’s last project was actually related to this Superhawk prototype used to test a new humbucker concept. Due to its use by Jerry Cantrell of the Seattle grunge band Alice In Chains it was reintroduced in 2011 in 2 configurations: the Superhawk Jerry Cantrell Signature model and Superhawk Deluxe Jerry Cantrell Signature model, both with a Saddle-Lock fixed bridge, not a vibrato unit of any kind, and the same combo of a Seymour Duncan (SD) ’59 (SH-1) neck pickup with a JB Trembucker (TB-4), also found on the ASAT Deluxe (3-bolt) for instance. It is also noticeable these newer Superhawk models had a single master tone control with the master volume. When it was announced at the 2020 Winter NAMM show that Jerry had become a Gibson endorser, both his G&L Superhawk Signature models were discontinued.


The Rampage is the embodiment of simplicity: a single Schaller humbucker with a single volume control and the same bridge choices as for the Superhawk, but mostly Kahler units. This model is mainly known as the main axe of the aforementioned Jerry Cantrell. Although discontinued at the end of 1991, the Rampage has seen several reissues in the intervening time due to the its exposure. The 1999 Custom Creations Department (CCD) reissue of 70 White Rampage guitars is featured as a Rarebird in the Guitars by Leo Registry. At the 2010 Winter NAMM, the CCD announced the Limited Edition ‘Blue Dress’ Rampage, a collector grade recreation of Jerry’s main Rampage, each signed by him on the back of the headstock. It has a depiction of French artist Alain Aslan’s famous pin-up as it appeared in the June 1973 issue of Oui magazine on both the body as well as engraved on the numbered neck plate and comes with a black flight case with Jerry’s name stenciled on both sides. I believe it is the most expensive guitar G&L has ever released with a price tag of $6k ($4,999 street) and only became available around summer 2011. Around the same time, also the Rampage Jerry Cantrell Signature model was introduced, combining a Kahler 2320 vibrato, slightly sunk into the body for lower action, with a Floyd Rose string lock mechanism behind the nut. Instead of the Schaller humbucker, again an SD JB Trembucker was used. The Rampage underwent the same fate as Jerry’s Superhawk Signature models when he became a Gibson endorser in 2020 and disappeared from G&L’s website as an instrument in their lineup by May 2020. But about a month later, G&L announced it would reintroduce the Rampage in 2021, now without Jerry’s signature.


The Invader model, which followed the Superhawk and Rampage to market a couple of months later, had an HSS configuration using a Schaller humbucker in the bridge position combined with 2 Nighthawk narrow-bobbin Magnetic Field Design (MFD) pickups. The wiring harness is essentially identical to what was later used on the 3rd style Interceptor with separate on/off switches for each pickup, volume control, and a single tone control. Usually one would find a Kahler unit on this model but, post-1987, it could also be ordered with an LFV. The first production Invader, i.e. S/N G016484 with Natural finished maple body, ebony fingerboard, and Krome Kahler unit, was completed on August 15, 1984 and is known to have ended up with Danny Michaels, a test player for G&L. The first Invader to be shipped to a dealer was S/N G015922, completed on September 4, 1984 with a Black finished body, Krome Kahler unit, and ebony board. The second shipped to a dealer (S/N G015688, completed October 17, 1984) is the first Invader with a Black Krome unit and has a Hot Pink finish.


As an anecdotal side note: due to high-gain amps typically used by heavy metal bands, sound levels were much higher. Frequently this caused pickups to feedback in uncontrollable ways. And although he stated it as a way to weather-proof pickups, Leo Fender also owned the patent for wax potting pickups (US Pat. 4,885,970), the commonly used antidote for feedback!


After Dale’s retirement in November 1991, at which time the transition of ownership to BBE started, the Invader was redesigned and appeared as the Climax on the January 1, 1992 G&L price list, whereas the Superhawk became the Climax “XL”. In addition, the Climax “plus” was offered with an HSH configuration. Designed by Johnny McLaren, son of the new CEO and owner John C. McLaren Sr., the horns on the body of the (Jackson) Dinky-style Climax guitars were not as sharp as on the 3rd style Interceptor but definitely sharper as on any of the pre-BBE Superstrats and had a sculpted area around the neck attachment. At the same time, the default vibrato unit was changed to the Floyd Rose Original Tremolo System sourced from Gotoh Japan, which also sourced both single-coil pickups and humbuckers (although few have unbranded Seymour Duncan buckers), and the wiring harness used more common switches for pickup selection. One had the choice between a 12” or 17” fingerboard, either maple or rosewood, with either a 1⅝” or 1¾” width Floyd Rose locking nut. In 1996, the Climax name was dropped and became Invader (again). Beyond the Floyd Rose, G&L now also offered the Saddle-Lock hardtail bridge on this model as well as a wide variety of pickups, either standard or as an option. These include SD humbuckers, EMG active humbuckers, G&L Dual-Blade buckers to replace the single-coil pickups, and starting around 2015 G&L’s own version of the Alnico humbuckers. On these more recent versions, humbuckers have a coil-split option either using a switch or push-pull pot. The Invader Plus is present in this collection. For more information on the other 1996 - February 2017 BBE-era Invader series, follow these archived links: Invader and Invader XL. Although not yet featured on their updated website, the Invader and Invader XL were on display in the G&L booth during the 2018 Winter NAMM, now with a contoured body similar in shape to the Legacy, Floyd Rose Tremolo system, G&L humbuckers combined with CLF-100 single-coil pickups, and typical Invader wiring harness, i.e. master volume, single tone control, and capability to split the humbucker(s). Notwithstanding their reduced visibility, all 3 Invader models have been spotted in post-2018 configurations with appropriate combinations of Seymour Duncan buckers and G&L Dual-Blade pickups too, including several originating from the G&L Custom Shop.


It is worth mentioning the Fullerton Deluxe Skyhawk HH here which was introduced in March 2019. Notwithstanding it is being labeled as a Skyhawk, this 2 humbucker version seems to harken back more to the pre-BBE Superhawk but now equipped with a full PTB tone stack and push/pull coil tap for both pickups instead of separate tone controls for each.


Also check out the G&L section on Greg Gagliano’s ggjaguar.com website for his Invader and Superhawk. Unfortunately no Rampage is listed there. Below, a number of ads and catalog pages depicting the evolution of the G&L Superstrat through time.


Superstrats from the pre-BBE era (L-to-R):

1985 Rampage, 1987 Superhawk w/Leo Fender Vibrato, 1986 Superhawk w/Kahler, 1986 Invader w/Kahler, 1987 Invader w/Leo Fender Vibrato, 1991 Superhawk ‘Leo’s last project’ prototype.

Superhawks (L-to-R):

1987 Superhawk w/Leo Fender Vibrato, 1986 Superhawk w/Kahler, 1991 Superhawk ‘Leo’s last project’ prototype.

Invaders (L-to-R):

1986 Invader w/Kahler, 1987 Invader w/Leo Fender Vibrato.

BBE-era Superstrats (L-to-R):

1993 Climax “plus”, 1997 Invader Plus, 1992 Climax “XL”.

 

The Superstrats