Price paid: $ 229
Sound — 9
This guitar really surprised me when I played it. I play a lot of hardcore punk/alternative rock, and even a little bit of metal. Coming from a "knock-off-Strat" this thing blew my socks off. The distortion is surprisingly punchy, especially on the bridge humbucker. I actually use a Metal-Muff pedal on all of my other guitars, and this thing sounds better without it. I really didn't expect this good of distortion out of such a "cheap" guitar, but these EMG designed pickups really deliver. The clean on this guitar is absolutely heavenly. I honestly could not believe my ears. There isn't much out there (and NOTHING in this price range) that will sound better clean than this guitar. Cover the name on the headstock and play it and people would think it was a $800 guitar (if not more.) There is a lot of variety as well with having the 3 pickups. Just don't expect much out of the tone knobs, which seem to be there just for looks.
Overall Impression — 9
My overall impression of this guitar is very good, especially considering the price. It is a pretty good match for my style of playing, which I honestly didn't expect at all at a first glance. I also own a Dean Dave Mustaine VMNTX, an Epi Les Paul, and a Jackson Kelly....and this is close in the running for my favorite, believe it or not. If someone stole this guitar, I would definitely buy another one. Like I said earlier, the clean on this guitar is completely unmatched. I love just about everything; from the awesome finish, to the sound it delivers, to how it feels to play (perfectly balanced, nice neck)...and there isnt anything I hate about it. I compared this to a few other guitars in this style(Washburn X-Pro, a few Squier Strats) and this was by far my favorite. Like I said earlier, the only thing I really could wish for is Grover tuners. And I don't really want to put a set on myself because they wouldn't match the awesome distressed bronze hardware. Other than that, the thing is pretty solid. I definitely recommend it to someone looking for an affordable, sweet looking (and sounding) guitar.
Reliability & Durability — 9
I have heard a lot of complaints on the reliability of these guitars, but to be honest I don't have any worries about mine. Everything seems great. The concerns I had with it staying in tune were erased after my first session on it. I played it for probably 2 hours with multiple divebombs on the whammy, and it was still in tune after it all. This was even on the garbage strings that came on it. The strap buttons are VERY solid (completely embarrasses my Epiphone in this category.) Even the nut on the input jack is tight as a drum, which is an issue I seem to have with every guitar I touch. I wouldn't play it live without a backup however, because A) I like to play all of my guitars, and B) if I were to break a string I wouldn't want to have to deal with it. But I have no doubt it would handle a live show, no problem.
Action, Fit & Finish — 10
Surprisingly, I was very happy with the set-up of this guitar when I got it. I actually didn't have to touch a thing. I have a few more expensive guitars that give me much worse headaches than this guitar. The neck was straight as an arrow, intonation was perfect, frets filed perfectly (I can't even feel that they are there,) nothing is loose at all, and if it did have any visual flaws, they blend right in with how this thing is supposed to look. Everything was PERFECT on this guitar right out of the box. A pleasant surprise.
Features — 8
The coolest feature on this guitar has to be the distressed finish. I actually own a Johnson model Badwater (same companies I guess, but mine has the Johnson logo on the headstock vs. Axl) in the Vintage white finish. The distressed bronze hardware is completely awesome, and I like the subtle touches such as the wormholes in the wood, woodburning on the headstock, and the simulated wood pickguard and back panel. The guitar comes in the popular H-S-S Strat style, with a tremolo bridge, and EMG-designed pickups. The 5-way selector and VOL-TONE-TONE knobs control the sound. All in all, this is a VERY cool looking guitar, with a lot of nice functional features you wouldn't expect in this price range. The lifetime warranty is also very nice. My only other request would be Grover tuners.