Monday, February 14, 2011

Ernie Ball MusicMan Axis Guitar

¿Como estas?

I run into guitarists all the time who think that the Ernie Ball MusicMan company only makes Stingray basses. That is a shame because they also make fantastic guitars, and their most famous endorsee ever was Eddie Van Halen (or Mr. Bertinelli, as I like to call him).

The Eddie Van Halen signature model guitars were introduced in 1990 and were a hit with shredders everywhere. If you look for one on eBay nowadays you will spend a lot of coin to pick one up.

There is a cheaper alternative that share the same look and many of the features: the MusicMan Axis guitars. These guitars were introduced later in the 1990s, and are still in production today.

The biggest differences between the EVH guitar and the Axis are:

1. The logo on the headstock no longer includes Mr. Van Halen’s signature.

2. On the Axis, the pickup select toggle switch is below the volume knob, instead of below the neck pickup.

3. The Axis body has a belly contour on the back.

4. The Axis neck is 1/32” wider at the higher frets to reduce high E string slippage.

5. The Axis has a tone knob instead of volume knob.

6. Axis guitars with Floyd Rose-type bridges have non-offset saddles (EVH had offset saddles).

I see most of these as improvements, and the rest of the guitar is about the same. So, let’s take a look at what you get when you buy one of these. The example we are looking at today is a rare bird: a 1997 Axis hard tail.

The body on this guitar has a flat top and is made of basswood. This makes the guitar very light, and it weighs less than 7 pounds. It has a a bookmatched maple top with a classy flame to it. It is finished off in a transparent red, which show little fading (an issue on the original EVH guitars).

The neck is maple, and does not have a traditional poly finish. MusicMan uses a gunstock oil finish that that is baby’s-butt smooth, but does require maintenance when it wears off or becomes dirty. There is plenty of bird’s-eye in the wood, which I find attractive. Axis guitars have a 25.5-inch scale, so they should very comfortable to you if you are defecting from the Fender guitar camp. As with other MusicMan guitars the truss rod has a handy adjustment wheel, making set-ups a snap.

The hardware is very nice, with Schaller non-locking tuners and a hardtail string through the body bridge. The recessed 5-bolt neck plate is a classy touch. I guess I should point out that current production Axis guitars only come with locking tuners, and that the hardtail option is no longer available.

The pickups are Dimarzio humbuckers that were wound to Eddie’s specifications. The controls are simple: a 3-way pickup selector (3way!) and a volume control. There is no knob farm to be found here. The internal body cavities are shielded with graphite resin to prevent unwanted noise.

The Axis is an incredible rock guitar, and this one was as good as any EVH I ever played. When I owned this one I had it set up with Ernie Ball 0.010s and it was a slick guitar. The neck was playable over its entire length and the action was nice and low with no buzzing. The electronics were clear and the pickups were very crunchy. It was a beauty, but something sparkly caught my eye, and I ended up selling it.

You may have noticed that there is also an Axis Super Sport Model, so I should probably cover the differences between the Axis and the Super Sport.

The most obvious difference is the bridge. The Axis has a locking Floyd type tremelo while the Super Sport is available with a vintage tremolo or string-thru-the-body hardtail.

Another major difference is the pickup selector: the Axis has a 3-way selector while the Super Sport has a 5-way switch. And lastly, the Super Sport is also available with P90s (which come with an ash body).

The Axis and the Axis Super Sport are both fantastic guitars that are made to high levels of craftsmanship in the United States. So, it is not surprising that you are going to pay good money to get ahold of one of these. The Axis has a base price of $2450 (street price of $1715) and the Super Sport has a base price of $2475 (street of price $1732).

Why don’t you stimulate our economy and buy one of two of these guitars today?



  1. What does the 5 way pickup selector do? More adjustability between high and low tones?

  2. Hey Steve. Thanks for checking in!

    A 3-way switch allows the player to choose either pickup or both together.

    Since these are hum-cancelling pickup there are 2 coils for each pickup. A 5-way switch allows coil tapping, or selecting individual coils within the pickups. It provides a lot more tonal options.

    BTW, a friend of mine ran into Joe K. on the job in Tennessee yesterday. Small world...

  3. Hey there,

    Is this guitar for sale? email me at

    thanks, daniel

  4. Nice pictures. I happen to have bought an exactly the same Axis hardtail NOS in the same colours this week!!!

    It had been hanging in a very local shop for more then 10 years. It is an amazing axe.
    One mod that I may try is to change the volume pot and make it a push/pull type of pot, so I can coil tap too. Shouldn't be to hard and the pickups are the same as the pickups in the Super Sport models...