The Demon's own weapon of choice
By Jon Chappell
Senior Editor, Harmony Central
Bassist and KISS cofounder Gene Simmons has carefully orchestrated every aspect of his long career, from the legendary band he formed with Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, and Peter Criss to his image as rock superstar and TV personality. It's no surprise then that the musical instrument that would complete Simmons' KISS character, known as "The Demon," would also be designed to his exacting specifications.
Originally an expensive custom-order instrument, the Gene Simmons Axe is now available as an affordable working-musician's bass. Simmons worked closely with Cort to make sure that the standards laid down in the original were upheld in bringing Cort's version to market. The Axe is authorized by The Demon himself, with Simmons' signature emblazoned on the headstock.
And what an instrument! The electric bass that bears the Gene Simmons imprimatur is a professional-level and versatile-sounding bass that just happens to bear a striking (sorry!) resemblance to a medieval executioner's axe. Though musicians since the 1930s have been referring to their instruments as "axes," Simmons took the concept to literal extremes, all in support of his over-the-top, blood-spitting stage persona.
The Gene Simmons Axe is a two-pickup, four-string bass with a mahogany body, maple neck, and rosewood fingerboard, and is finished in a glossy black and metal-gray paint scheme. The huge blade portion of the body that extends from the 1st string downward (toward the floor as you hold it in playing position) is counterbalanced by the relatively small amount of body material coming out from the 4th string upward. Consequently, the bass is substantial but not at all heavy, despite the psychological impression that it would weigh a ton from having a massive metal axe blade for a body.
The blade edge itself is perfectly smooth and curved, though the paint scheme visually simulates gouges that would indicate, uh, "resistance" from really stout necks (the human kind). The chrome-finished bridge cover, knurled control knobs, and truss rod cover plate all color-coordinate and accent the axe blade's edge, while the black pickup covers and pickup selector switch blend discreetly with the black-metal scheme of the axe head's butt end. It's sleek and stylish as well as menacing. The instrument is very well-balanced and rests comfortably on your shoulder—good for long gigs of meting out sonic justice. And speaking of heading off to battle, the bass ships with a custom gig bag featuring a multicolor graphic of The Demonic One himself.
For its electronic arsenal, the Gene Simmons Axe sports two Mighty Mite pickups in a PJ configuration with a MMPB-4 in the neck position and a MMJB-R in the bridge position. The three-way selector allows you to dial up a variety of sounds from the pickups from lardaceous and thundering to clear and focused, and the master volume and tone controls allow for further sculpting. Working the controls in conjunction with the pickup selector yields the gamut of tonal possibilities, but always produces musical results, even in the extremes. It's built for high-output hard rock and metal, but is tonally at home in many musical settings.
Wielding the Axe
I plugged the Axe into several amps, including an Ampeg BA115 with a single 15" and a Gallien-Krueger Goldline 500 head driving a GLX410 cab with four 10" speakers. In both setups, the Axe delivered booming, chest-thumping lows while still retaining focus and definition in the fundamentals, even when drop-tuned to D. Spanked-out notes in the upper positions really popped, especially when played through the 4x10 cab. The varied sounds available from this versatile pickup combination will deliver in spades on your most earth-shaking low-note riffs as well as your high-altitude melodic excursions in the upper frets. In other words, it's got you covered, from "Detroit Rock City" to "Beth."
Does the Axe make the cut?
Gene Simmons' Axe was designed to be one of the most memorable—and frankly, scary—instruments to appear on an arena stage. In that it succeeds. Wildly. In the three weeks I had the instrument to review, it always called attention to itself wherever I went—whether people were familiar with Simmons and KISS or not. But beyond the aesthetic shock value and whatever sinister delight you derive from that, you still have a great-playing, great-sounding bass over and above the theatrics. The Gene Simmons Axe is one badass bass, one that Cort and Simmons have made true to the vision of the original, while being affordable and available to rock bassists looking for an edge.
Features & Specs
- Mahogany body
- 34" scale
- Bolt-on neck joint
- Maple C-shaped neck
- Rosewood fretboard
- 21 large frets
- 1-1/2" nut width
- 15-3/4" radius
- EB6 4-string bridge with tail cover
- Electronics: Mighty Mite MMJB-R and MMPB-4 pickups
- Controls: volume, tone, toggle switch pickup selector
- Die-cast tuners
- Chrome hardware
- Black and silver finish
- Includes padded custom gig bag with Gene Simmons image