As distressing has become more popular, quite a few companies now offer models featuring the unique cosmetics. However, more often than not the end result doesn’t look very convincing. With the Badwater series, AXL provides a unique take on distressing offering up guitars which, per their marketing, are “warn in, not worn out”.
The Jacknife sports a Flying-V type vibe with slightly more aggressive contouring and a semi-circular cutout in the lower bout. The uniquely distressed cosmetics elicit the imagery of swamps and Cajun shacks rather than the typical “battered” look of reliced guitars which I found very attractive. AXL paid great deal of attention to detail in crafting this guitar’s look; even the pickguard and Tune-O-Matic bridge are antiqued! Features of the Jacknife include a string through body design, master volume, master tone, and 3 way pickup selector switch. AXL has additionally rounded off the top back edge of the solid alder body to provide a little comfort against your ribs, nice touch.
I’ve never felt completely comfortable with V styled guitars as the shape and weight distribution always feels a little alien. However those more comfortable with the V design will feel right at home.
The 25” scale, fast and thin, three piece maple neck joins the body at the 19th fret providing comfortable access to even the highest notes. Fretwork along the 14” radiused rosewood fretboard was decent though there were quite a few rough ends, a few might even qualify as sharp. Tuning stability was good with no binding across the 1-5/8" bone nut.
I auditioned the guitar with a Digitech GNX3000 run direct and with a Tech21 Trademark 60. The high output Alnico, EMG designed P90 styled pickups are slightly dark in nature and I had to adjust each rig’s top get a little extra bite. P90’s seemed a rather odd choice for a guitar marketed towards metal players as single coil pickups are noisy with the gain cranked by nature and the Jacknife is no exception. Metalheads will definitely need to use a noise gate when cranking the gain with this guitar. At extreme gain settings, the hum was severe enough to render the axe unusable. However, those willing to suffer some moderate hum are rewarded with a surprisingly versatile guitar capable of decent higher gain tones as well as workable clean tones. I felt the tonal spot this guitar felt most at home was a vintage Marshall-esque crunch with enough gain to get some nice sustain yet retaining enough clarity to easily pick out notes in a chord, think AC/DC or old school Aerosmith. At these settings, the pickups exhibited a nice balanced tone and were admirably dynamic to pick attack and volume knob changes.
The AXL Badwater Jacknife certainly delivers a cool vibe at an affordable price point. Our review model would require a fret dress before any serious usage and those seeking the brutalist of tones will likely need to swap the pickups. However, shredders looking for a more vintage voiced guitar to complement an otherwise modern arsenal should be pleased.
Price: ~ $270 USD
Pros: Fast thin neck, good tones, cool vibe.
Cons: Some sharp fret ends.