REVIEW: AXL Badwater

Up until now I’ve only known AXL through their line of black, aggressive metal guitars, so when this pair of AXL Badwaters arrived I was surprised and a little curious. The most apparent thing about these guitars is the finish – they take the Fender idea of ‘relic’ to the ultimate extreme.

Back to those finishes in a second. These guitars feature an alder body – one of my favourite body woods at least since I got my Ibanez Jem7VWH – a wood which is known for having a lot of dimension and liveliness, with a pleasant high end and tight bass response. The neck is maple, with a rosewood fretboard. Electronics consist of a set of AXL pickups designed by EMG, as well as a 5 way selector switch, master volume, and 2 tone controls.

Now those finishes. I tested the #10036, a distressed, faded white; and #10037, a crackled, dirty brown. This is no photo finish or neat process: these guitars appear to have been strapped down while a crazed wolfman wailed the bejabbers out of them with a chain. Metal parts are rusted, wooden parts are scratched, scorched and dinged, plastic bits are faded, stained and marked, and paint is scraped, knocked, gouged and hacked. On the #10037, the finish is rough to the touch, and on both guitars, you can even see thumb prints pressed into the plastic of the control knobs. Of course this is not the work of a lazy baggage handler: These finishes are expertly applied and carefully sealed, so while the guitars may look like they were left out in the rain during the wet season and then dumped in the middle of the desert to dry off for a decade or so, they’re actually very structurally sound.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s get to the real guts of these guitars: What are they like? Both models felt nearly identical in playability and sound, so let’s talk in general terms. These are tough guitars. They don’t feel like pretty, easily playable planks to plink out dinky little solos. These are tough, rough machines that put up a fight in the same way as a vintage Telecaster or one of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Strats. They’re not hard to play, per se, but they seem to beg to be picked hard, and this type of playability is great for blues, funk, or really aggressive rock.

Despite my Ibanez fixation I’ve always kept a few single coil loaded guitars with high actions and heavy strings, and the AXLs hang in there with the best of them in terms of feeling like a living, breathing instrument. The EMG-designed passive pickups complement the visual aesthetic very well. The bridge humbucker sounds a bit like a Bill Lawrence L-500L to me. In fact if you’re after that Nuno Bettencourt sound, which is aided not only by that pickup but also by an unfinished guitar body, you’ll get startlingly close with these guitars, considering the price range. The higher action of the #10036 especially invited this vibe. The single coils sounded tough and mean, with lots of pick attack, and were especially good for Hendrix style rhythms and SRV rhythm-lead work.

These are fun, funky, well built, tough guitars which sound great. For the price they’re quite unbeatable, but if you like this kind of rugged, ‘have to fight it a little bit’ feel, then the Badwater holds its own with guitars worth several times the price.

NECK: Maple
PICKUPS: AXL, designed by EMG
BRIDGE: Vintage vibrato
ELECTRONICS: 1 volume, 2 tone, 5 way selector

NEWS: New AXL Badwater colours

Just saw this news about two new AXL Badwater colours, which reminded me that I dig these inexpensive little rockers so much that I should post my review. So CLICK HERE to read it.

Here’s the press release about the new colours:

AXL Releases Two New Badwater Colors

Capitalizing on the successful Badwater Series of electric guitars, the new Badwater colors, Dark Grey and Dark Red add a further individualized element of unique vintage style to the award-winning Badwater guitars.

The Dark Grey and Dark Red (AS-820-DGY/DRD) Badwater guitars are assembled from the same quality components found in the entire Badwater series of guitars. The double-cutaway Alder body is hand-distressed for a vintage look and worn-in feel. The rock maple neck is finished with a satin stain for ease and comfort, and the rosewood fretboard helps give the guitar a warm and articulate tone. The new Badwaters come standard with excellent-sounding EMG-Designed pickups — two single coils and a humbucker — for a full complement of different tones, selectable by the aged 5-way selector switch. The rest of the hardware is carefully aged to give the guitars a classic vibe, and the headstock has the AXL badge burned directly into the wood.

The all-new Badwater colors add additional depth to a unique and innovative line of guitars that offer guitarists the look and feel of vintage instruments without the exorbitant price tag. With a list price of $239.99, Badwater guitars are a great-sounding alternative to pricier vintage-style instruments.

List: $239.99. Available Now.

For more information, visit their web site at

NEWS: VHT Standard 12 combo

This looks like cool news for anyone who feared that the VHT brand name would just be chucked onto pre-existing AXL amps after the latter bought the former. VHT founder Stephen Fryette now has his own amp company, Fryette, where he will continue to build the various designs that made VHT famous, including the Sig X and the Pitbull. But AXL seem to be very respectful of the ideals of the VHT brand name and the opinions of the company’s fans, as evidenced by the release of the Standard 12, a handwired, US-made combo.

Here’s the press release.

VHT is proud to announce the release of the first handwired amplifier from “The Standard Series,” The Standard 12. The Standard 12 amplifier is carefully handwired in the VHT workshop just outside of San Francisco, where experienced VHT designers are looking it over every step of the way.

All VHT handwired amplifiers are carefully pre-tested for quality. Extensive burn-in time insures excellent reliability. Each amp is given an initial sound test before burn-in and then given a second, more extensive test after the burn-in process is completed. It is then A/B tested to make sure that each individual amp offers the same level of quality. The Standard 12 uses 12AX7 tubes on the preamp side and 6v6 tubes for the poweramp. The rectifier tube is a 5Y3GT. The high-grade VHT finger-jointed birch cabinet houses a 12″ Celestion G12H30 speaker. All of the components of The Standard 12 were chosen to provide the ultimate in sensitivity and expressiveness to let the individual sound of each player shine through.

The Standard 12 sounds great for classic rock styles, breaking up easily as the volume knob is turned up. The Standard 12 also excels at overdriven blues sounds as it is extremely touch-sensitive and retains its chime throughout the entire volume spectrum. It does everything that a classic tweed-voiced amplifier is supposed to do. The Standard 12 has a very vocal clean tone with a powerful midrange and great headroom. Although the design goal was to capture a vintage sound, the Standard 12 doesn’t “brown out” like vintage amps — the low end doesn’t become loose and muddy — the 12 doesn’t compress to the point where the low end gets mushy. It doesn’t sacrifice a “crunchy” top end in order to gain powerful midrange, but instead maintains articulate, sugary highs throughout the volume spectrum.

The Standard 12 has that classic American amp sound with a warm tone and strong mid-range that really sings. It was specifically designed with simplicity in mind, for players who want to just plug in and sound great. The Standard 12 lists for $1,799.99 and is available now.

For more information, visit their web site at

NEWS: AXL offers Badwater hardware kit

I’ve long been a vocal supporter of AXL guitars – after I reviewed a few Badwater models for Mixdown magazine I fell in love with their tone and ‘make you fight for it just enough’ playability, not to mention those cool weathered finishes.

Now the distinctive weathered hardware of the Badwater series is being made available separately, for those who want to add some rusted-ass, beaten-down vibe to their favourite Strat-based axe. Here’s the press release:

Capitalizing on the successful and critically acclaimed Badwater series of guitars, AXL presents the Badwater Hardware Kit for players who want to individualize any guitar.

The Badwater guitar line features incredible antiqued finishes and hardware that Guitar World labeled “anything but run of the mill, and a first for the budget-guitar market.” The Badwater Hardware kit helps any guitar achieve the same kind of road-worn look and feel without an expensive “relic-ing” process.

The Badwater Hardware Kit (PG-820) comes with a carefully aged pickguard cut for 3 single-coil pickups, two tone knobs and one volume knob, a selector switch tip, output jack plate, bridge assembly and tremolo arm, six tuning machines, and a set of strap buttons and mounting screws. Each plastic component has been antiqued and every metal piece has been anodized for a unique look and vintage feel. The Badwater Hardware Kit has a list price of $49.99, and is designed to fit most 3-pickup guitar designs.

Badwater hardware comes standard on AXL Badwater Series guitars, including the V-styled Jacknife. AXL Guitars is also the builder of the Mayhem, Bloodsport and Marquee Series of electric guitars and basses.

CLICK HERE to see AXL Badwater guitars on eBay.

NEWS: VHT changes name to Fryette

VHT Amplification, who have been cranking out killer amps like the Pitbull and the new Sig: X for more than 20 years, are changing their name to Fryette Amplification under Steven Fryette Design Inc, but the VHT name, resp will live on under the ownership of the company AXL, known for their Badwater guitars and cool little portable amps.

VHT has been huge this year with the success of the Sig:X amp, which Guitar Player raved about back in July. It’s good to know that despite the name change, the company will continue to produce the same amps, as well as new ones under the leadership of owner Steven Fryette.

Here’s the press release:

Effective January 1, 2009 VHT Amplification, Inc., will be known as Fryette Amplification, a division of Steven Fryette Design, Inc. Fryette Amplification will continue to manufacture all of the VHT models currently in production including the award winning Sig:X amplifier, Deliverance amplifiers and speaker cabinets, Pittbull Ultra-Lead amplifier, FatBottom speaker cabinets, Two/Fifty/Two and Two/Ninety/Two power amps and Valvulator I Buffer + Power Supply.

In making the name change, founder and CEO Steven Fryette states: “Much like a musician who finds his own voice, my more recent designs have really captured what I’ve been searching for ever since starting VHT 20 years ago. These designs represent my personal vision of how an amplifier can interact with a player in a truly musical way. We’ll be introducing the Memphis Series amplifiers at Winter NAMM and these new products exemplify the use of our patented technology, years of experience and commitment to quality all in an affordable format. For years I have thought about putting my name on a product and finally I feel comfortable enough to do just that.”

As Steven Fryette Design Inc., Fryette plans on continuing working with others as a design consultant in addition to building Fryette Amplifiers and accessories. “Earlier this year, I had consulted with AXL and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of working with another manufacturer. In a surprise move, AXL offered to buy the trademarked VHT brand name and logo. They will now manufacture their own product under that name. The offer to buy was also an opportunity to rebrand the company under my name.” says Fryette. All of the original VHT intellectual property, patents, designs, and trade dress have been retained by Steven Fryette Design, Inc.

The web address for Steven Fryette Design Inc is