1996 Ernie Ball Music Man AXIS EX | Hi-End Guitars EVH [EARLIEST Production Van Halen MIJ] Translucent BLACK !!
The Ernie Ball Music Man AXIS EX has to be the most obscure production guitar for fellow EVH collectors to hunt, simply because they were allocated for the Japanese market and there’s so little published information about the model.
I love these guitars so I have bought dozens of them over the years in a quest to get my hands on as many as I could with the intent of documenting my comparisons to the Van Halen Signature model and providing answers to many of the questions that I have had.
There is certainly a lot of mystique about the AXIS EX and a number of opinions on the internet, but here are a few notations that I believe to be true and may hopefully be helpful to anyone potentially interested:
- Ernie Ball Music Man produced the Edward Van Halen Signature guitar between 1991-1995 before Eddie abruptly left for Peavey and introduced the Wolfgang. It’s been said that EBMM wasn’t able to produce enough guitars to meet the demands of Eddie’s fan base and “satisfy his accountants” so he needed to move to a bigger manufacturer.
- Eddie’s affiliation with Ernie Ball Music Man was really an unbelievable move at the time simply because he appeared to have evolved overnight and away from his iconic spray painted Frankenstrat parts guitars to preferring such a meticulously refined instrument.
- After Eddie’s departure from EBMM to Peavey, all of the leftover parts from the EVH Signature guitars that remained were then sent from the Ernie Ball Music Man plant in San Luis Obispo, California to their distributor in Japan (Kanda Shokai Corporation) for assembly and final setup.
- These guitars continued to be built with the same specifications as the Van Halen Signature model while the AXIS EX name was introduced as its value-priced successor for the Japanese market.
- The Eddie Van Halen signature graphic was deleted from the front of the headstock and “Made in San Luis Obispo, California” was deleted from the back.
- The AXIS EX does not display any markings of the model name or “Made In Japan” anywhere on the guitar, so even those who are lucky enough to own one may not know exactly what they actually have.
- After all of the remaining parts from the EVH Signatures were used to build the initial run of AXIS EX models, the Kanda Shokai plant continued to source the woods and components for production through 2006.
- Nobody knows how many leftover Van Halen bodies and necks may have actually been sent from California to Japan, and I personally have yet to find one, so that still remains to be a myth that I continue to pursue with hopes of someday finding 1 of maybe a handful to possibly dozens.
- The bodies and necks from all of the EARLY AXIS EX guitars that I have owned are indeed fantastic, but still ever so slightly different than my EVH’s in a few different ways. 1) The early EX bodies do have 2 piece bookmatched maple tops but also typically have a thin quilt maple veneer layer that is stained (and is also prone to fading like the EVH). 2) The cream binding on the EX is slightly thinner than the EVH. 3) The hole for the upper strap button on the EVH is drilled at 12 o’clock if upright and the EX is drilled at closer to 1 o’clock. 4) The neck on the EX is slightly thicker at the nut than the EVH, and feels closer to the USA AXIS (which many prefer since the high E string resides so close to the edge on the EVH). 5) The application of the Hand-Rubbed Gun Stock Oil and Special Wax Blend on the neck of the Japanese EX is good, but just not quite to the level or consistent as how EBMM applies “their secret sauce” in San Luis Obispo.
- The next wave of AXIS EX guitars that were sold in the late 90s evolved along with the AXIS USA models and featured very subtle differences than the limited initial run, such as: the new Ernie Ball Music Man logo on the neckplate, a new MUSIC MAN branded GOTOH GE1996T Floyd Rose (that looks very similar, but no longer has the offset saddles like the GOTOH GE1988T on the EVH), and a DiMarzio Custom N2 stamped neck pickup (rather than N1).
- Ernie Ball Music Man is no longer working with Kanda Shokai, so unfortunately they are unable to provide any data pertaining to serial numbers and the overall production of these very hard to find guitars, but I will continue to explore all of the potential rabbit holes out there and always welcome any other findings.
This AXIS EX has all of the features that fellow EVH collectors are looking for!!
- VINTAGE MUSIC MAN® LOGO NECK PLATE (PRE 1998) WITH 5 DIGIT SERIAL NUMBER (85113) 5 digit serial numbers are very hard to find and are the remaining stock of pre-stamped Van Halen Signature neck plates. Most early production AXIS EXs have the same vintage logo neck plates, but the serial numbers begin with the letter “A” (just like most of the ’97 AXIS USA models).
- MUSIC MAN® BRANDED FLOYD ROSE WITH OFFSET SADDLES and GOTOH 40mm Brass Block – Many of the later EXs no longer came with the offset saddles like the EVH because the initial supply of the GOTOH GE1988T were depleted and discontinued around 1998, so the EX eventually also went with the same revision of the bridge that was being installed on the USA AXIS (GOTOH GE1996T).
- “HI-END GUITARS CRAFTED BY HAND” Logo applied under the finish, beneath the springs on the back (See Photos). I would love to learn more about this company or possible division of Kanda Shokai! But, what I do know is that Japanese guitar shops view these guitars with higher regard than they do others without the marking. I personally feel that the quality of early EXs built in 1997 without the HI-END GUITARS marking are of equal quality. But since this guitar was built in ’96, my assumption now is that the logo may be an excellent indicator that the date inside the neck pocket will likely also be one of the earliest produced since the others that I recall seeing also had 5 digit serial neck plates (and possibly even “PATENT APPLIED FOR” DiMarzio Custom Pickups, like this one).
- Original Custom DIMARZIO B1 & N1 PICKUPS with “PATENT APPLIED FOR” Sticker on the N1 Neck Pickup (A red U.S. Pat 5,399,802 sticker became standard on all AXIS N1 & N2 Neck Pickups just a few months later in production) THE PAF STICKER ON THE N1 MAKES IT AN ABSOLUTE MATCH TO WHAT YOU WOULD FIND ON THE EVH PICKUP.
- 2-PIECE BOOKMATCHED MAPLE TOP WITH TRANSLUCENT BLACK STAINED QUILT MAPLE VENEER 17 10 96-1 Handwritten in Neck Pocket (suggests that it was made on October 17, 1996 | 1 = The pairing number of the neck and body from that day.)
- BIRDSEYE MAPLE NECK 17 10 96-1 Handwritten (suggests that it was made on October 17, 1996 | 1 = The pairing number of the neck and body from that day.)
- Original SCHALLER M6LA TUNERS with Pearl Buttons
- Original 3-Way Toggle Pickup Selector
- Original 500K Ohm Volume Pot
- ORIGINAL KANDA SHOKAI WARRANTY CARD DATED 10-24-96 – This is the earliest documented AXIS EX that I have been able to verify.
BODY: Basswood Body with Bookmatched Figured Maple Top & Cream Binding
NECK: Figured Maple
FINGERBOARD: Figured Maple
NECK FINISH: Hand-Rubbed Gun Stock Oil and Special Wax Blend
NECK JOINT: 5 Bolt Sculpted Neck Joint For Perfect Alignment
TUNERS: Schaller M6LA with Pearl Buttons
BRIDGE: MUSIC MAN® Licensed Floyd Rose Double Locking Tremolo with 40mm Brass Block (GOTOH® GE1988T)
CONTROL: 500K Ohm Volume Pot
SWITCH: 3-Way Toggle Pickup Selector
PICKUPS: HH – 2 DiMarzio Custom Zebra Humbucking
APPROXIMATE WEIGHT: 7.5 lbs
What’s really cool about the AXIS EX is that it doesn’t display the model name anywhere, only the Ernie Ball Music Man logo. So, it looks exactly the same as Eddie’s EBMM prototype that he played and actually even more of a replica than the Van Halen Signature models with his autograph on the headstock.
- STEALTH BLACK EVH D-Tuna has been added to preserve the original look and still allow you to drop-down when you’re feeling “Unchained”!!
- Original “VOLUME” Knob has been replaced with an EVH Style “TONE” Knob
Case & Candy
- MUSIC MAN Hard Shell Case
- Original Kanda Shokai Warranty Card (Dated 10-24-96)
- Original Owner’s Manual
[Ernie Ball Music Man/Kanda Shokai Corporation Catalog (Japan) | November 2005 | AXIS EX page 11]