Price paid: $ 146.4
Purchased from: Ian Lewingtons LTD
Sound — 8
Like all strats, you get hum when near any other electric kit, but hey that's just single coil pickups for you. Obviously hum isn't noticeable when put through a clean channel, or with less than medium gain on overdrive. The inside was pretty well shielded when I first got it, and this probably kept the hum to a minimum. Pretty decent bonus that, as most manufacturers barely bother with cavity shielding at all. Sustain is identical to a real Strat. Once you've got the basics set up well (as on this guitar), locking bridges and fancy nut mechanisms make negligible difference, and in my mind are merely there for mental satisfaction for poor mislead people that have coughed up 1000 for an electric guitar! The 3 single coil pickups are labelled 'EMG-AXL.' At first I thought this was a shameless attempt of leeching off EMG's hectically amazing reputation (being that of the best pickup manufacturers there ever were). However, it turns out Axl were kindly allowed to use the design notes of an EMG model single-coil when designing this pickup. Obviously, due to the price and quality restrictions, the pickups aren't anything like real EMGs, though they put up an amazing fight in proving themselves in the world of other single-coil pickups. Their output, bold sound and frequency response range are nothing short of a small miracle given that they probably cost less than 10 each. As a result, this guitar sounds like it cost you at least 300 (that's about $400 for you Americans over there). How's that for unexpected?
Overall Impression — 9
If three words could sum up this reviewer's opinion, they'd be: 'value for money'. Great for playing anything that isn't metal. Originally I compared it to other Strat imitations such as the Fender Squier. I can safely say (with full evidence) that it smokes them all, and I am thoroughly satisfied with my purchase. Because it's Axl, you don't have to pay extra for the name/label, you don't have a stupid round head shape like a true Strat, and you get very good value as this small company is obviously trying to get a name for itself through thorough customer satisfaction. If someone stole it I'd probably be glad that it would have another life of music, as it didn't cost me much and I seldom play it these days.
Reliability & Durability — 10
After a few weeks of playing, the strap buttons and machine heads became a bit wobbly, but that happens in any vibrating system involving threads. Nothing that a few twists of a screwdriver didn't fix. This guitar is solid. The number of lessons I have learnt with it (which would have ended in a large repair bill had it been another make of guitar) is large and varied. It's withstood being dropped on a variety of surfaces, left in the rain, wedged in a door frame etc. Mind you, it has the occasional tell-tale scratch and dent as a result. But even the dents are not very deep, owing to the dense wood (which also helps with sustain) nor are the scratches, presumably due to the durable paintjob/finish.
Action, Fit & Finish — 9
In hindsight, the intonation and action were well factory set. Again, an unexpected bonus. Probably for reasons I outlined somewhere above. It came with 10s on (a very light string gauge, i.e. thin strings) which I soon changed to 12s for a richer tone and a lower rate of snapping! There were no flaws in the paintwork, the filing or the routing of the cavity (not that you can see it anyway).
Features — 9
Strat imitation made in Asia somewhere I suppose, by skilled workmen and women toiling away for their next meal. Due to the work culture over there the workmanship on this axe is far better than most things made by shortcut-taking westerners. God bless 'em. Anyway, 21 frets, rosewood, thinner neck than my other electric (not that neck thickness makes any difference, it's just something annoying kids whine about as an excuse for their poor technique). Solid top with see-through red paintjob. From what I can see, the grain of the wood has very little imperfection. To cut short further rambling, it has everything a real Fender American Strat has (including the funky black line around the scratch-plate), the only noticeable differences other than the named parts (i.e. tuning mechanisms with 'Axl' imprint) is the shape of the head which is a sleek kind of Ibanez-fender mix to the extent that instead of a stupid round bell shape, it finishes in a cool curved point. This was my first electric guitar, and now, many (too many) years later, I have chosen to type this review as I like to think I finally have the experience and know-how to actually do a decent review.