AXL USA Hand-Aged Bulldog
Price: $699.99 (street)
Unabashedly inspired by the classic Les Paul Junior, AXL Guitars’ limited-edition USA Hand-Aged Bulldog is a single-pickup guitar with a slab mahogany body and set neck. Crucial assembly tasks are performed in AXL’s California workshop, where the Bulldog is fretted, set up, tricked out, and whipped into relic’d submission.
Hardware components on the Hand-Aged Bulldog are first-class throughout. A Lindy Fralin dog-ear P-90 is wired through CTS pots with an orange drop capacitor on the push-pull Tone knob, which also functions as a “bite” switch to bypass the tone control. A 111/16″ Graph Tech nut, a TonePros featherweight wraparound bridge, and vintage-style three-to-a-strip TonePros/Kluson Deluxe tuners (also made by Graph Tech) fill out the specs.
The Bulldog’s relic’ing is a noteworthy work of luthiery. Artful and individualized, the test Bulldog had some serious “belt-buckle wear” trespassing through the poly Transparent Red finish and into the one-piece body, its subtly rounded bass-side cutaway splitting the difference between the original single-cut 1954 Les Paul Junior and the ’58 double-cut. The tuners and bridge looked ancient, but with brand-new functionality. While the test guitar’s neck was worn all along the playing length, showing off its straight-grain flamed timber, the 243/4″-scale-length rosewood fingerboard was flawless and outfitted with well-dressed new frets. Topped with a black headstock wih AXL’s retro shield logo in pearl, the Bulldog’s neck is outfitted with a truss rod that is adjusted in classic LP fashion beneath a black-over-white cover.
Aged as it was, the C-shaped neck felt substantial and smooth, thanks to a light coat of oil applied after relic’ing. The setup was easy playing, with no buzzes or concerns. Some players might wish the wraparound bridge was more adjustable, but its location allows for good intonation across the strings.
Plugged full out into a late-’50s Ampeg Jet, the Fralin P-90 had plenty of gain and enough cut to bring down a forest of blues and rockabilly licks, with some punk attitude thrown in. The single-pickup Bulldog was not a one-trick puppy, though. Manipulating the Tone control coaxes out a kinder, gentler rhythm sound. With the Tone knob rolled off completely, a fat ’50s jazz timbre is possible. The handy push-pull Tone pot allows the Bulldog to quickly roar back into a classic lead sound.
With the appeal – and prices – of vintage Les Paul Juniors not dropping anytime soon, the AXL USA Hand-Aged Bulldog is an affordable and tuneful alternative, offering plenty of its inspiration’s sonic and visual vibe.
This article originally appeared in VG September 2013 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.