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Axe 3 - Two Weeks In Mini Review - It's TASTY

Variable

Inspired
Yes, tasty. I really liked my Axe 2 and it got me through some rough apartment years and saved me tons of money on GAS. However, last year I started picking up some really good tube amps (Guytron GT100, Mesa Lonestar Classic, and PWE Event Horizon EH3), and I began noticing the Axe 2 not quite making the mustard, so to speak, with the tubey goodness of the stuff above. And I would sometimes get frustrated with the routing limitations in the Axe 2... I bounce between my Yamaha monitors and a Fryette PS2 + guitar cab setup, and the Axe 2 made that kinda frustrating with the limited output options.

Enter the Axe 3. I got mine a couple weeks ago and like everyone who gets a new Axe 3, immediately dove in like a crazy person. I must have done something wrong to start off with because I was getting some unnatural funky high-end distortion. After a few hours of fiddling with my routing in my rack I figured that somewhere I was getting bleedthrough from one of my cables. I redid the whole thing and everything was golden (thanks FAS support for the help!).

And then the fun began! I recently picked up a fantastic Les Paul Standard with Fralin Pure PAF pickups and 50's wiring, and I have to say, the Marshalls, Fenders, and pretty much everything except the metal amps sound really, really good. This isn't a knock against the metal amps; I'm sure with a less vintage style guitar the metal amps would probably be better, but I haven't run anything other than my Les Paul and MusicMan Cutlass RS through the 3 yet, which both aren't well suited to chugga chugga djentlemantly goodness.

Axe 2 vs. 3: The Sound Difference

Yes, it does sound better. I know everyone says that, but it's pretty noticeable to me, even compared to the latest Axe 2 firmware, which is excellent. Like so many have said, the high end is much more detailed and natural sounding. The Axe 2 seems to hit a limit on the top end that, while it doesn't sound bad (in fact, it still sounds really good), I could tell the difference when compared to my tube amps (especially with the Lonestar; the Axe 2 models are close to the real thing, but the clean is missing the 3d airy depth the real amp has).

The dynamics and attack are better, too. I recorded this clip just now with a generic blues backing track to illustrate how you can really get some amazing, dynamic lead tones with an amp set to "blow up." In this instance, I used one of Austin Buddy's Suhr Badger 30 patches (the Guthrie Govan scene) with the input gain maxed. I didn't really intend it, but found myself in Santana land once turned my guitar volume up (pardon my perpetual clams, I recently starting taking guitar more seriously and have quite a ways to go to get to the amazing level of musicianship I hear on this forum!)


Playing through my Friedman 1x12 cab with a Creamback and the cab sims off, I can't tell it's not an amp anymore. All the woody, natural goodness is there with the amps I tend to like. Especially the Marshalls and Marshall style amps. The Ecstasy models, which I could never bond with in the Axe 2, are brilliant on the 3. The Friedmans, which were always some of my favorite amps on the Axe 2, are just that much better on the 3, especially when rolling the volume off.

FX

I'm not a heavy FX user, but I feel the reverbs are much, much better than they were in the Axe 2. I love a good reverb, and the Axe 3 takes away any GAS I might have for a Strymon Blue Sky.

Routing

Dear God, the routing is so much better now! Being able to place input and output blocks is what I was always missing on the Axe 2. And having two more master output volume knobs means that I can now have one set of outputs for my FRFR and another for my tube amp + cab setup. Being able to bypass the cab sims globally in Axe Edit now also makes my day. Where I lived on the front panel of the Axe 2, I actually enjoy using Axe Edit with the Axe 3, especially with the new client / server paradigm, which is much faster.

Front Panel

I bought the Axe 3 for the sound improvements, knowing that we have years of firmware updates ahead of us (thanks Cliff!). The new color screen, though, is icing on the proverbial cake. I appreciate that the quick knobs are now aligned with the amp controls on the amp block. I do miss the Global button, but it's not a big loss since I can do more in Axe Edit III (I usually hung out in Global to toggle cab sims). It didn't take super long for me to get used to the new UX; it's a pretty easy transition in my opinion from the Axe 2 as long as you take a minute to read what's on the screen.

MIDI

I'm set in my ways with my Liquid Foot+ Jr+, so I'm eagerly awaiting full sync support with the Axe 3. That said, I played around with it a couple days ago and was able to get some of the stuff I use working. I don't gig right now, so not my highest priority, but I'll be super happy when the LF+ gets a firmware update with proper sync support.

Summary

No regrets whatsoever. I've been playing the Axe 3 more than my real amps, and that's probably a good sign. Hopefully this review was helpful for anyone who might be on the fence like I was :) I'm really looking forward to the new amps and FX that I'm sure will show up over the next few years. All I know right now is that TASTY is the best word I can find to describe the Axe 3; I'm addicted and can't seem to stop playing. Good job, Cliff and crew!

-Russ
 

Rick

Fractal Fanatic
Thanks for taking the time to share the review. It seems amazing to me that, no matter what style the user likes to play, an exemplary tone for the genre can be attained quickly, often using a preset already available. Such a testament to the thought that went into the design.
 
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