The Ernie Ball Music Man model started life as the Edward Van Halen guitar around 25 years ago. After Eddie’s association with that company ended, the guitar design lived on with a few changes as the Axis, while a new variation called the Axis Super Sport was also introduced. Compared to the Floyd Rose-loaded regular Axis, the Super Sport typically features a fixed bridge (a Music Man vintage tremolo is also an option) and five-way pickup switching (with single coil modes in positions two and four), but is still very much an Axis. The Semi Hollowbody version was introduced at the NAMM Show this year.
The Axis Super Sport Semi Hollowbody is available in two pickup configurations: MM90 (Music Man’s version of the P90) with an ash body and book matched figured maple top, or a two custom DiMarzio humbuckers on a basswood body, also with a book matched figured maple top. I’m reviewing the latter. The body is bound in cream while the back and sides are opaque black, giving the guitar a rather classy air. Bridge options include the a Music Man strings-thru-the-body bridge of chrome plated, hardened steel with solid steel saddles as the standard offering, options of a Music Man vintage tremolo or a Piezo bridge with solid steel saddles. The review model is the standard.
The neck is made of select maple (finished in gunstock oil and hand-rubbed with special wax blend) with the option of maple or rosewood fretboard (maple on the review model), and there are 22 high profile, medium width frets. The neck joins the body with a five-bolt configuration, while a sculpted neck joint provides great access to the upper frets.
By the way, how’s this for nice attention to detail: the humbucker version comes strung with .009-.042 gauge Ernie Ball Slinkys while the MM90 model is shipped with .010-.046. I love that Music Man thinks about stuff like this – and well they should, since they’re such kings of strings.
One of the reasons the Axis is still such a hit after all these years is because of these particular DiMarzio pickups. There are other pickups that are rather a lot like these in the DiMarzio catalog (the Tone Zone in the bridge position and Air Norton in the neck) but neither of those pickups is exactly the same, and the subtle differences really add up. The bridge pickup has more bite and less bass than the Tone Zone, and the neck model has smoother pick attack than the Air Norton. In the semi-hollow body of this guitar, these pickups are darkened very slightly compared to in the solid body version, and this makes it a little better suited to vintage styles – albeit a hotter take on vintage tone – rather than the hot-rodded LA street machine tone of the Axis. The tone of the neck pickup is very full, deep and round, while the bridge pickup has a dry, direct punch to it. The single coil modes are quite nice, with plenty of zip and spank, meaning you can get some great country and blues tones out of this baby too. And there’s still enough humbucker raunch to get some great hard rock tones.
The best thing about this great-sounding guitar though is its sheer interactivity. Differences in pick attack and nuances in fretting technique seem to be emphasised rather than smoothed over and compressed, which the solid body version seems to do just a tiny bit (at least in comparison to this). It’s one of those guitars that really rewards you when you lean into a note, and for this reason it’s an utterly gorgeous guitar for styles like blues and fusion. But really it’s a great all-rounder.
If you want a Floyd Rose-loaded Axis, buy a Floyd Rose-loaded Axis. They’re killer. But this take on the Super Sport gives you a very versatile guitar, not as sonically aggressive as the Axis and definitely a little more adaptable to different musical situations.