In November of 2008, I reviewed an AXL Badwater Jacknife and was impressed with their unique take on the modern distressed trend. The SE (Special Edition) line of Badwater guitars is a limited run with enhanced cosmetics, furthering the already cool distressed appeal.
The AXL Badwater Eldorado SE features an alder body with a 25.5” scale maple neck along with a rosewood fretboard with a 12” radius. Fret ends on the medium C-shape neck were perfect, not a rough end to be found. Additional features include a “hard tail” string through anodized bridge, Gibson-style, three-way pickup selector, and master volume/tone controls.
Cosmetically, I don’t know if I’ve seen a cooler looking guitar. AXL’s Badwater finish is an extremely unique take on distressing. Rather than try and fake the look of a worn instrument, they focus on giving the guitar on organically worn look, as if the wood has been reclaimed from an aging barn. The result is a fantastically unique guitar that will surely turn heads. No detail was overlooked; even the hardware is nicely antiqued. The headstock drives home the aesthetic with unique shape which subtly hints at an old pistol, a branded logo, and rough routed edge. However, the icing on the cake is a wooden pickguard featuring a branded image of a cowgirl with six shooters in each hand (this is the distinguishing feature of the SE versus the standard Eldorado, which is fitted with a standard plastic pickguard). Absolutely fabulous!
Strapped up, the guitar sits about parallel to the ground. I’d like a little upward tilt, which I could likely get by moving the upper bout strap button a half inch or so closer to the neck; an easy mod, especially as the distressed finish would hide the original screw hole. Tuner action is nice and smooth and the guitar held pitch admirably. Set up out of the box was good and totally playable without any necessary adjustment.
I auditioned the guitar primarily using a Fender Cyber-Champ, Boss GT-10, and AmpliTube 2 with various monitors and headphones. Based on the guitar’s shape and dual pickup configuration, I really expected it to sound much like a Tele. However, I was pretty far off the mark. The EMG designed AlNiCo pickups are very nice. The bridge is twangy, but closer to a Strat than a Tele. On closer inspection, I shouldn’t have been surprised, as the pickup is a Strat-styled single coil. The high end gets a slight bit spitty with an amp’s treble cranked up, but it has enough midrange punch to waltz from country into rock with ease. The neck warms things up with the perfect amount of definition and excellent sustain. A totally unexpected surprise was the hum-cancelling middle position, combining both pickups which sounded absolutely funk-a-licious. Tonally, the voice is somewhere between a Strat 2 and 4 position, perfect for Jimmy Nolan-approved syncopated stabs. Push the gain with any of the pickup settings and you’re rewarded with a rich, full, singing tone that was inspiring through all the auditioned setups.
The volume and tone knob action wasn’t as smooth as I’d like, making it a little difficult to make precise adjustments. The tone knob has an exponentially increasing effectiveness, overly concentrated in the last quarter turn. Additionally, as the volume knob is rolled back, the guitar loses some high end. In spite of this, it actually ended up taming a bit of the aforementioned spittiness. I actually preferred the volume knob between 80% to 90% rather than up all the way.
I get really excited when a company takes a design chance and it works. Such is the case with the AXL Badwater Eldorado SE. The volume and tone controls could stand to be improved. However, this guitar is a fabulous player; sounds great and is among the coolest guitars I’ve ever seen. AXL’s got a real winner in the Badwater Eldorado SE; I can’t keep my hands off her!
Price: ~ $225.00 USD
Pros: Incredibly beautiful guitar, excellent playability with excellent pickups.
Cons: Volume and tone knob action/performance could be improved.