Sound — 6
Now we can get to the most important part of any guitar; the sound. The AX3 features 2 humbuckers which can be coil split using the 5-way switch and function as single coils. This should allow you to get both crisp single-coil and thick humbucker tones out of the same budget conscious axe, and it was this feature that really led me to try the guitar out. Unfortunately, the AX3 doesn't quite deliver on this promise as I was a little disappointed with the stock humbuckers. While the single coil tones sound very clear and are well suited to blues, classic rock, and even funk, I find the humbucker settings too muddy for my taste, and usually find myself playing this as if it were a single coil only guitar.
Overall Impression — 8
Overall, I think that the AX3 would make an ideal first guitar. The body and hardware are all of surprisingly good quality, and the guitar looks cool enough to inspire any new musician to pick it up and play, all at a price that won't break your wallet. While a new player won't notice the lackluster humbuckers, more experienced musicians will likely be a little disappointed by the pickups. However, the low starting price makes the AX3 an ideal candidate for a pickup replacement, after which you could end up with a very nice axe that contains your ideal pickups all for under $500. It's definitely worth a try next time you're at the guitar store.
Video from YouTube:
Reliability & Durability — 8
As I stated before, the materials on the AX3 are all of good quality and should survive years of play without much issue. The finish also appears to be rather robust and able to take some abuse. Would I gig this guitar without a backup? No. Mainly because I don't think gigging anything without a backup is a good idea, but also because I have encountered an abnormal amount of broken strings with this guitar. Most likely this is due to a burr on one of the frets which I have yet to locate. Either that or the Van Halen-esque design is inspiring me to bend my strings way too far.
Action, Fit & Finish — 7
First, the guitar looks far better than most of its budget friendly competition. The quilted maple image on top is very attractive (even though it is weird to say that about a glorified sticker), and makes me want to play it every time I see it hanging on its stand. The finish work is acceptable. There are a few sharp edges on frets, but all to be expected at this price point.
I found the guitar to be very playable, with only a small amount of tweaking to the out of the box set-up. The neck shape is great as the asymmetrical design keeps the back slightly more rounded near the headstock to allow for ease in forming chords, but flattens out nicely for faster passages near the bridge. My only complaint about the design is that the overall length of this guitar is quite small since the bridge is positioned a little further back on the guitar than in more mainstream models like a Strat or a Tele. Though this could be a blessing for those smaller individuals or kids just learning to play.
Other hardware on the AX3 is all of good quality. The tuners are fairly precise and hold tune quite well. I also found that I actually like the odd 4 and 2 headstock shape which allows for a more straight pull on the strings and avoids the use of string trees which can snag strings. I also really like the truss rod adjustment system. Instead of a standard blot on the headstock the truss rod is connected to a wheel between the neck and the neck pickup. This wheel was very convenient to access and made truss adjustments a pleasure. The last piece of hardware to discuss is the bridge. This is a very standard stratocaster-style tremolo system that can be set up as a floating or fixed bridge, as well as 6 individual saddles to set string intonation. As with all floating tremolos it has a tenancy to go out of tune with excessive whammy bar use, but it is still a fun feature to have available.
Features — 9
The Sterling SUB AX3 is the ultra-affordable cousin of the Ernie Ball Axis guitars. I have to say that you do get a lot of bang for your buck with the AX3. A complete list of features can be seen here.
- Solid wood body
- Quilt maple image top w/ binding
- bolt-on neck joint
- 25.5" scale
- Asymmetrical cut maple neck & maple fingerboard
- Medium frets
- Smooth satin neck finish
- Easy access truss rod adjuster
- 2x high output humbucking pickups
- 5 way selector switch with coil splitting
- Stratocaster-style tremolo bridge