S.U.B. AX3 review by Sterling by Music Man

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  • Sound: 6
  • Overall Impression: 8
  • Reliability & Durability: 8
  • Action, Fit & Finish: 7
  • Features: 9
  • Reviewer's score: 7.6 Good
  • Users' score: 6.2 (5 votes)
Sterling by Music Man: S.U.B. AX3

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:

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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

7 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Replace the plastic nut thats causing some tuning issues and its great. After a set up,oriented basically to tuning stability its great neck and good pick ups will pay off. pros price,neck quality cons some minor quality issues,tuning instability caused by tremolo or nut. ( ive stopped the tremolo just to make sure, not fan of vintage style trem anyway)
    Love mine. Btw, the pickups are the same pickups that come on the Axis. Made by DiMarzio for EBMM. When I installed a double locking Floyd Rose w/ d-tuna & Killer Guitar Components 37mm block on it, both pups had Axis stickers on the back(1 saying F-front, other R-rear) and have heard this many times on EBMM boards. Anyway I prefer and installed a DiMarzio Tone Zone on the bridge. Installed a Schaller Sure Claw nickel platted and also installed Wilkenson mini head locking tuners. Between the Sure Claw, KGC block(looks like jewelery w/spring retainers/I don't run backplate) before I plugged in, there was Big audible difference and once I plugged in I was blown away. But, I did sand the fret edges when I sanded the satin finish from the back of the neck. With the 5 way switch in the middle, it has the classic strat sound. I like and play it more than my 2 Strats & Washburn N3. Not too shabby for a beginers axe. And the neck is the most natural feeling of any guitar I've played(except for the Axis, which is shape but without as much "birdeyes").
    I'm installing GFS humbuckers into my SUB AX3. The AX3 humbucker wiring color codes are not what I am used to working with. It has a blue wire and no green. Can anyone clue me in on how to wire this change?
    I played one of these at my local guitar center. I loved the sound, loved the versatility of the electronics. I had only one major complaint, the neck did not feel good. I found the design to be cool but something about the way it fit my hand just didnt feel quite right and it distracted me. Other than that this is a fantastic guitar I'd consider buying if the shape of the neck was changed.
    Thanks for info. on claw/block & tuners for the AX3. I'm going to have some fun upgrading mine. My J. Vaughan Strat lit up the same way with a Callaham bridge and locking Sperzals. It was so loud and clear. The AX3 neck feels right and the body looks cool and light, I play it a lot without really realizing that I pick it up so much.
    So after 2 years of heavy use the bridge wont sit flush in the body, 5-12 frets have worn out a bit causing fret buzz across the neck, the knife edges of the tremolo are worn out and you can hear a clank noise if you dive bomb, the jack fell of from day one. Pretty much stay away... Not durable.. Good pickups though and nice feels on that neck.