BY ADAM PERLMUTTER
When AXL introduced the Badwater series several years ago, the company
gave players access to value-priced, vintage-styled guitars that are often a lot more
expensive. Like most guitars in their price
range, the original Badwaters were assembled
overseas. But AXL recently unveiled a line
of American-assembled guitars at similarly
competitive prices, including the Strat-inspired USA SRO and the more Gibson-esque 1216 and 1030. The USA Badwater
line offers a choice of features and components, too. We checked out the 1216, which
is built with top-shelf components—
including Seymour Duncan Seth Lover pickups
and TonePros hardware—and put together
at AXL’s Hayward, California, workshop.
The American Badwater 1216 uses the Les
Paul Jr. as a jump-off point and adds a little
more personality with some unique shaping
around the cutaway and upper bout. It’s built
with a mahogany neck set into a mahogany
body—about as simple and straightforward
as it gets. But it also features some more up-to-date design elements, like an asymmetrically contoured neck heel for better access to
the highest frets on the treble side.
Perhaps most beneficially, the 1216
features an electronics package rarely seen
on guitars in this price range. The pickups
are a pair of Seymour Duncan Seth Lovers.
The internal components include CTS
pots, Sprague Orange Drop capacitors, and
a volume kit that keeps treble frequencies
consistent when the volume is rolled off.
And everything is connected with vintage-style cloth-covered wire.
The 1216’s hardware is high grade, too.
The nut is a Graph Tech Tusq XL, which
Graph Tech claims brings out harmonics and
richness while improving tuning stability.
Tuners are three-per-side Grover Rotomatics,
and the TonePros Tune-o-matic–style bridge
and tailpiece—parts commonly used as
upgrades even on expensive guitars—lend
solidity and sustain.
With its walnut finish and minimal
adornment—an AXL logo branded into
the headstock and rectangular fretboard
inlays—the 1216 is a handsome guitar. It
is well made, too: The fretwork is tidy and
the neck-to-body joint is tight and clean.
However, the guitar’s distressed treatment
reveals more about the sacrifices you make
at this price point: The satin finish looks less
like it’s relic’d than sloppy, with irregulari-ties that could’ve been smoothed out in the
manufacturing process without sacrificing
the aged feel. The white binding on the
neck and body is also smudged with brown,
which looks more like rushed work than an
Asymmetric heel contour
From Cutting to Smooth
At 8. 68 pounds, our 1216 is light
for a mahogany, 24 3/4"-scale Les
Paul–style guitar. It’s comfortable to
hold and, with its action set low, it’s
a joy to play right out of the box. The
neck has an agreeable C shape—a
bit less hefty than what you’ll
encounter on many vintage-Gibson-inspired guitars,
and a definite plus in my
opinion. Without an
amp, the 1216 has a
fair amount of sustain, but not quite
the resonance you’d
associate with the
finest Les Pauls.
To test the 1216 I
plugged into a Fender
Pro Junior amp and,
on occasion, a Fryette
S.A.S. distortion pedal.
Seymour Duncan Seth Lover humbuckers
Volume kit for
treble at lower