Build in progress: Oakland Axe Factory 8-string headless

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A couple years back, fresh from a Meshuggah concert, I decided that I would make the move up to an eight string guitar.

I sold my Schecter seven string to my roommate and combined that money with my tax return and I ordered an Agile Intrepid Pro 828. At the time there weren't many options for 8-strings. You could get very expensive custom built ones from luthiers like Blackmachine, Ibanez had the very expensive Ibanez 2228 and the poorly reviewed RGA8, ESP had the ESP LTD SC608B, and then there was Agile. Agile was mail order only, so no try before you buy, but they'd gotten a halfway decent reputation for acceptable quality, particularly considering their prices.

The 828 was well worth what I paid for it. Solid, good tone, simple and straightforward. Nothing about it was outstanding. It played OK, intonated fine, had pretty good action, but the fretwork was rough, the balance wasn't great, and the neck profile made my hand cramp up pretty quickly. I've played the hell out of it for years now though. Even though it's no match in quality for my Parkers, the extra range of the eight has been compelling. I have a weekly informal jam session with three or four other guitarists, which gets a bit crowded sonically, and the eight string gives me much more room to move around to where there's an opening, whether it's up high, or down into bass territory. Even with the one bridge pickup and no tone knob, I've found that I can cover quite a bit of musical territory with it, from metal to more shoegaze or jazzy stuff. All in all, I'm completely sold on the idea of an eight string for my needs, even if the quality isn't 100% there on my particular one.

So since getting the Agile, I've been thinking a lot about trying to find a higher quality eight that would keep that range I've become accustomed to, but have that quality, precision feel that I miss about my higher end guitars when I play it.

I discovered Oni, who were doing great things with Parker inspired carbon-fibre skins on multiscale eight strings, and started looking into a custom from them, but my timing sucked and Dan from Oni announced that they were going to stop doing those experimental builds and focus on a couple standard models for a while instead.

Then, last summer, Tom Drinkwater from Oakland Axe Factory announced a budget group run on Oakland Axe Factory is pretty small and not well known yet, but had already developed a reputation for quality and experimentation. Plus they are based in Maine, just a few towns over from where I grew up. The specs were sort of up in the air, but as soon it looked like it was going to be a multiscale eight string, I jumped on it as fast as I could.

The specs that the run eventually settled on are a headless, Xen designed ergonomic-bodied singlecut 7 or 8 string multiscale (25.5 to 27" for 8's) with a swamp ash body, maple neck, upgrades available for fancier tops, a couple different pickups to choose from, and either Tom's standard C-profile neck, or a Rick Toone IPNP neck profile. I went with a curly walnut top, a birdseye maple fretboard, the IPNP neck profile, and Lace Alumitone Deathbucker and X-Bar pickups. Later, Tom announced that he was licensing the Strandberg Endurneck profile and could offer that, so again, I jumped on it.

The build was originally planned to be finished this past winter and has clearly missed that mark by a little bit. This seems to be pretty normal for custom builds though and the overall planned timeline was much shorter than other builders usually offer, so it hasn't been an issue. Plus Tom has been very active keeping everyone updated and posting pictures of the work on Facebook. It looks like everything is lined up and running smoothly now and finished builds should start shipping out in the next month or two.

I'm getting more and more excited every day. I've even got pictures of my in-progress body and neck blanks, ready for routing, shaping, and finishing:

OAF body blank

OAF neck blank

I will definitely have more pictures and a review when it is finished.