NAMM 2010: Jerry Cantrell’s G&L Rampages

I took these shots at the G&L booth at NAMM. You’ll see the Tribute series Jerry Cantrell Rampage, along with some other tasty Rampage models, including the forthcoming Blue Dress reissue and, sweet lord, is that Jerry’s own actual Rampage on display? Y’know, the one that recorded dozens of classic Alice In Chains tracks? Or is it a replica? The whole relicing thing has become so well-honed these days that it’s kinda hard to tell! And check out the other models on display too. Can’t seem to dig up any info on if all of these will be available, or if they’re Jerry’s stage guitars on display, but they’re nice to look at, aren’t they?

Check out this G&L Rampage tour at NAMM by Premier Guitar. To be honest I haven’t even watched this myself yet cos I just found it and right now I’m trying to be mega quiet cos my son is trying to sleep a few feet away (I’m at a hotel in San Francisco right now) and I can’t get to my headphones without waking him up, but Premier Guitar always do awesome videos, and hey, maybe they answer the questions I asked earlier in the post! Bring on morning so I can find out for myself!

REVIEW: G&L Legacy Special

The G&L guitar company was founded by original Fender legends Leo Fender and George Fullerton, along with Dale Hyatt, in the late 1970s. After taking some time out from guitar design, Leo initially worked with Music Man before deciding to start up a new company to further refine his classic designs of the 40s and 50s. To this day G&L guitars are hand made on Fender Avenue in Fullerton, California, the spiritual birthplace of Leo’s original guitar designs.

Leo’s original designs were quite revolutionary, and that’s why they’re still in use today, but with G&L he felt he could offer a new perspective on his old designs. Some of these innovations include the dual-fulcrum vibrato, which anchors on two pivot points to improve tuning stability and tonal transfer; the G&L Saddle-Lock bridge, which uses an Allen screw to lock bridge saddles in place (a design feature occasionally found in the work of some other companies); and George Fullerton’s patented tilt neck mechanism, which allows easy adjustment of the neck angle without having to hassle with shims and guesswork.

The G&L Legacy Special uses Leo’s 54 and 62 Stratocaster designs as a starting point, but adds the G&L Dual Fulcrum bridge, special bi-cut neck, and a combination of two G&L DualBlade pickups in the neck and middle and a PowerBlade humbucker in the bridge. The G&L Legacy model, minus the ‘Special’ designation, uses a trio of Magnetic Field Design humbucking pickups designed by Leo).

The Stratocaster inspiration is obvious from a quick glance at the Legacy Special, but the distinctive design of the bridge immediately sets it apart from its older brother. The sheer amount of steel looks like it would add gobs of sustain, something Strats aren’t traditionally known for. The headstock too is a departure from Leo’s earlier design, but if you examine it closely, it actually appears to be created by following a traditional Stratocaster contour until the B string tuning peg, where it juts inward to end with the standard smaller Telecaster scroll.

The locking Schaller tuners add further heft to the headstock while keeping tuning nice and stable in the face of wild whammy bar antics, and the fretboard radius is surprisingly flat compared to a Fender Stratocaster. Underneath the G&L logo on the headstock is written “Guitars By Leo” – a nice touch. Frets are absolutely flawless, with mirror-clean finishing and a very tactile rounding to the edges. It instantly gives the guitar a played-in feel. Also interesting to note is the massive depth of the neck itself. It’s one of the deepest I’ve seen on a bolt-on electric, second only to that of the original Jeff Beck Strat. It’s an impressive chunk of wood but it still fits snugly and comfortably in the hand, proving you don’t need a ruler-thin neck for playing comfort.

Finish on the review model is jet black, matched by a black/white/black three ply pick guard, and black controls and pickups. There are many colour options available, but perhaps my personal favourite is the butterscotch body with black pick guard, which reminds me of the custom Strat-style guitar Frank Zappa played in the 80s. The twin-blade pickups themselves look like exactly what they are: painstakingly handmade. There’s a roughness to the finish which, far from looking cheap, actually makes them look more impressive and ‘big-time.’ The blades also nicely echo the frets, adding to the visual flow of the instrument.

Picking up the Legacy Special, once again the impression is of a serious, ‘big boy’s guitar.’ It’s heavy and sturdy and it seems to have a presence about it that commands attention, and this impression is verified by a single unplugged strum. I’ve never heard an unplugged solid body electric sound this loud and full. You could just mic it up and have a perfectly usable clean tone for recording.

The flatter fretboard radius is especially well suited to huge wide bends with great pitch accuracy, and it also makes light work of big chord stretches.

The bridge pickup has a chewy, hot attack and nice warm overtones, and is surprisingly suitable for metal rhythms. The middle and neck pickups have a single coil vibe with hotter output and no noise, with a slight scooped mid tone and hairy highs. Despite its somewhat classic looks it puts out a rather modern tone, and while it can cover a lot of tonal bases, it always retains its own character. You can still hear the tone of the wood no matter what pickup selection or gain level you use.

The PTB tone system consists of a master treble cut and a master bass cut, instead of the pair of tone controls you would expect from this design. It’s an especially tidy solution for fine-tuning clean rhythm guitar tones, and can also take some of the wool out of the distorted tone at higher gain levels, opening up the sound a little more for increased dynamics.

The Legacy Special is a great jack of all trades guitar, yet it still retains its individual character. Like Leo Fender’s early guitars, it too feels like it would survive 50 years of use and still be at the top of its game. It’s also a good option for heavier players who want to dip their toe in the waters of Stratocaster ownership but want something a little more sleek and industrial.

PICKUPS: 2 G&L Dual Blade and 1 G&L Power Blade humbucking pickups
BODY WOOD: Alder on Standard and all solid finishes, Swamp Ash on all Premier finishes
NECK: Hard Rock Maple with Rosewood or Maple fingerboard
NECK RADIUS: 12″ (304.8mm)
NECK WIDTH AT NUT: 1 5/8″ (41.3mm)
TUNING KEYS: 6:1 ratio locking machine, sealed lubrication, adjustable knob tension
BRIDGE: G&L Dual Fulcrum vibrato with chrome-plated brass saddles
CONTROLS: 5 position pickup selector, PTB system
FINISH: Standard finishes

I can’t seem to find a shopping link among my affiliates for the exact model reviewed, but I found this, which looks awesome: G&L Legacy Electric Guitar with Tinted Maple Neck Blonde

REVIEW: G&L L-2500 5 string bass

The G&L story is quite a familiar one by now. Leo Fender and George Fullerton formed the company in 1980 to carry on the work begun in the 40s by Leo’s former, somewhat successful guitar company. Along the way they created such classic instruments as the Legacy and ASAT, as well as the Rampage model favoured by Alice In Chains’ Jerry Cantrell.

Leo Fender invented the electric bass at Fender, so you would expect any such instrument from either of his namesake companies to be something pretty special. So how does the L-2500 stack up?

SPEC CHECK
The L-2500 is a 5-string bass which mates a swamp ash top to an American tilia back, with a bolt-on maple neck and rosewood or maple fretboard. The frets are a little smaller that I would expect in width, and also in height, but it all adds up for playing comfort and helps to offset any learning curve associated with the soft vintage V-shaped neck profile.

The test bass was finished is a gorgeous honey colour that’s practically edible, but it’s available in a range of finishes. Tuning keys are G&L’s Ultra-Lite design, and they are very solid in both operation and stability. The bridge is G&L’s innovating saddle lock design, with brass saddles for extra tonal punch. Electronics are a pair of G&L humbuckers which feed an active/passive preamp system consisting of 3 pots and 3 mini toggle switches.

CLEAN UP IN AISLE 3
Okay, now that the specs are out of the way… this is one heck of a bass. It feels like it’s a living, breathing thing, and notes sustain practically for days. The natural unplugged tone is good enough and full enough that it you were able to mic it up adequately, it could sit perfectly well within a pro mix – and it only gets better once you plug it in.

In terms of attack the L-2500 responds equally well to pick or fingers, and rolling back the treble makes way for a powerful, resonant John Paul Jones sound. The preamp system includes a 3 way toggle for pickup selection, another for series or parallel operation, and yet another to turn the preamp off, on, or on with a high end EQ boost. It might sound complicated but the only tricky thing about it is figuring out which sound to use, since they’re all great. With the flick of a switch you can go from a meat-and-potatoes rock sound to a hi-fi studio funk sound and back again. It’s exhilarating to have such versatility in a single instrument, and while other companies might try to pack a variety of sounds like this into their basses, what makes the L-2500 special is that each of its voices sounds good enough and ‘real’ enough that each could stand on their own if it was the only sound offered by the bass.

GIMMIEGIMMIEGIMMIE
I would be quite comfortable – in fact ecstatic – to add a bass like this to my recording arsenel and I’m a little sad to have to give it back after the review. The perfect playability means there’s nothing to get in the way of playing exactly what you hear in your head, while the huge range of tones means you can summon any sound you need with a minimum of fuss.

CLICK HERE to buy the G&L L-2500 5-String Bass Guitar Natural Gloss Rosewood from Music123 for $1,575.

PICKUPS: 2 G&L Magnetic Field humbucking pickups
BODY WOOD: Swamp Ash top on American Tilia back
NECK WOOD: Hard Rock Maple with Rosewood or Maple fingerboard
NECK RADIUS: 12″ (304.8mm)
NECK WIDTH AT NUT: 1 3/4″ (44.5mm)
TUNING KEYS: Custom G&L “Ultra-Lite” with aluminum tapered string posts
BRIDGE: G&L Saddle Lock with string through body configuration; chrome-plated brass saddles
CONTROLS: G&L Tri-Tone active/passive electronics, 3-way mini-toggle pickup selector, series/parallel mini-toggle, preamp control mini-toggle (off/on/on with high end EQ boost)
FINISH: Standard finishes included
OTHER: Chrome hardware; no pickguard; G&L molded hardcase included

REVIEW: Alice In Chains concert, Melbourne, Australia

Palais Theatre, St Kilda, February 26 2009.

The last time Alice In Chains toured Australia, I was still in high school and lived 4 hours away from the nearest capital city. The circumstances required for me to see them live were alarmingly insurmountable, and even after I moved to the big smoke and was geographically and economically able to see them, the tragic death of singer Layne Staley seemed to spell a permanent impasse to my ever witnessing them live. Jerry Cantrell has been one of my favourite players ever since I was about 14, so I was ultra-excited to be able to finally see him live.

Now, of course, Comes With The Fall vocalist William DuVall has taken up the front-and-centre position on stage, and within the first song of the night I’m sure anyone with lingering doubts about his place in the band had resolved to shut the hell up and just get on with having their socks rocked off. DuVall also provides rhythm guitar on certain key tracks, and is a very capable player.

I’ve heard reports from those who saw Alice In Chains back in the day that they were a less-than-inspiring live act, with dull stage presentation and sleepy musical delivery. How much of this is true I can’t really say, but the band who appeared on stage at the Palais last night were energetic and powerful, and certainly knew how to work a crowd. The set list included, but was not limited to, Angry Chair, Man In The Box (third song in!), Rain When I Die, Love Hate Love, Them Bones, Would? Rooster, No Excuses, Dirt, Junkhead and We Die Young.

In the years between Alice In Chains’ first incarnation and 2009, guitarist Jerry Cantrell seems to have picked up a more cultured, controlled vibrato, and was able to nail accurately-pitched bends with a confidence I don’t recall hearing in previous performances. Naturally it stands to reason that one’s playing will develop and evolve over a given time span, so this should come as no surprise, but the Jerry Cantrell on stage last night seemed to go that extra step beyond what the Jerry Cantrell of 1993 was capable of in terms of phrasing, dynamics and all out rock power. By the way, Cantrell still uses his original old G&L Rampage, as well as a few other Rampages, and some Gibson Les Pauls.

Mike Inez was, as always, a very solid player, keeping the sound full and powerful on any of the single-guitar songs in which Cantrell took solos. He seemed to be smiling all night, and locked in perfectly with drummer Sean Kinney’s behind-the-beat-yet-perfectly-in-time playing. Incidentally, I’m not sure how but Kinney has managed to not age one day since 1993. Dude must be into some kind of freaky age-defying voodoo.

Finally, special mention must be made of the band’s trademark vocal harmonies. Longtime fans of the band are surely well aware that Jerry Cantrell’s harmonies and backing vocals (and occasional lead vocal lines such as in the verses for Grind and Would?) were always an important part of the band’s sound. Well, despite the swapping of Staley for DuVall, Alice In Chains still sounds like Alice In Chains, and a big reason for that is that Jerry is still singing too. This is certainly not like in the case of Van Halen where the whole sound of any back catalogue songs changed when Sammy Hagar stepped into David Lee Roth’s gig.

If you haven’t seen the new version of Alice In Chains because you’re sceptical about whether they can hold it together and live up to their legacy, it’s time to put aside such concerns and check them out. Of course they’ll never be the same without Layne, but last night’s performance was a powerful demonstration that the Alice In Chains of 2009 deserves to be spoken of in the same reverential tones as the Alice In Chains of the 90s.