GUITARS WITH AGED FINISHES ARE GENERALLY MADE TO LOOK LIKE THEY’VE BEEN played for a bunch of years, with all of the components painstakingly scratched, dinged, or chemically etched to mimic the patina that a guitar gets from lots of contact with hands, sweat, smoke, and immovable objects. AXL takes an entirely different tact with its ageing process. As seen on the Badwater 1216, the hardware has a worn copper plating and the distressed white finish (other colors are available) looks like it has been tinted to look more dirty than worn. The result is a Les Paul-style guitar that has its own thing going in the world of “relic” instruments— and that’s okay, because the 1216 is a serious player in its own right.
A couple of caveats need to be addressed before we get to the good stuff, and the worst of these is a high E string that is so close to the edge of the fretboard it slips off and gets stuck under a fret end at the slightest downward wiggle of your finger. Then there’s the issue of the non-potted EMG-designed pickups, which makes for lots of squealing—primarily from the bridge unit—when the volume is raised to any significant degree. These things aside, the 1216 plays well, has hardly any fret buzz, and even sounds satisfyingly in tune as you move around the neck. The amplified tones are this guitar’s best attribute. Not potting the pickups is a double-edged sword on any guitar, as generally you wind up with a livelier sounding, but more squeal-prone, instrument. The 1216 takes this to an extreme with its obviously non-wax-potted pickup coils, and the result is a vibrant set of tones. The neck pickup combines a cool mix of roundness and sheen that works great for everything from blues to jazz. The bridge pickup can cop the brightness of Tele, but it also has the body and fullness to rock mightily when pushing a gainey amp channel. The fact that tones are even slightly in the camp of what our insanely more expensive Les Paul Historic delivers via its un-potted Burstbuckers is downright amazing. You’d have to replace these pickups with less-feedback prone units to make the 1216 a viable stage guitar, but even with that investment, and—at least in our case—some extra to fix the spacing issue on the high E string, you’ve still got a pretty affordable guitar. Bottom line: The 1216 could stand a little refining here and there, but the basic recipe is badass.
SPECSAXL Musical Instruments, (888) 552-5465; axlusa.com
MODEL Badwater 1216
PRICE $225 street
NECK Mahogany, set
FRETS 22 standard
PICKUPS EMG- designed humbuckers w/alnico magnets
CONTROLS Dual Volume and Tone, 3-way selector
BRIDGE Tune-o-matic style w/stop Tailpiece
FACTORY STRINGS .009-.042
WEIGHT 8.1 lbs
KUDOS Lively sounding.
CONCERNS High-E string too close to the edge of the fretboard. Squealy bridge pickup.