The Ibanez Artcore Hollowbody AF75TDG Review – Bigsby, Gold, ACH and more!
I’ve really enjoyed having a few semi-hollowbody and hollowbody electric guitars over the years. They give something completely new to a palette of sound in a guitarist’s library. There are many, many famous hollowbody players in current and older times – for a good reason. Their sound is uniquely wonderful and truly a pleasure to the ear. With many hollowbody guitars, options on pickups, wiring, and amplifiers can even give you a choice of sounds that extends from jazz to rock to country to rockabilly to even some forms of heavy rock. They’re versatile, interesting, warm-sounding, and a real pleasure to play.
This review is about an open (true) hollowbody from the many offered by Ibanez. These “jazz boxes” are particularly well-built and sound delicious. I’ve owned my AF75 (reviewed here:) since 2005 and won’t part with it. I’ve even owned a handful of different widths and sizes of Ibanez hollowbodies, all from the nice Artcore line. I’ve sold my AF75TDG (CR – Candy Apple Red), but am now in the process of looking for another down the road pretty soon. Just looking at the pictures for this review made me really miss mine!
Quick Opinion: Wow. Buy one.
Seriously. Just buy one. I’ll detail why in the review below.
Playability: The Artcore series from Ibanez are generally very easy to play from the standpoint of the neck’s geometry and the overall weight of the guitar. The AF75 series guitars have nice medium-thick hollow bodies that have a nice acoustic sound and feel to them. Since they’re not thin like a flat-body, you’ll find yourself reaching over the top a bit to put your playing/plucking hand in the playing position. This isn’t a function of AF75s, but of any hollowbody in general. Since the Ibanez Artcore AF75s are thicker than most semi-hollowbody guitars (such as the Gibson ES or the Epiphone Sheraton, for example), you’ll find yourself feeling as though you have a heavier acoustic guitar in your hands. This isn’t a problem: it’s just something you get used to when playing thicker hollowbodies.
I feel that the neck has a nice grip to it, something like a shallow D, not as deep as a V or as flat as a C: something in the middle of neck profiles. I like the way it feels, it’s substantial, but without being a baseball bat. Folks with small hands generally appreciate the way the AF75TD neck plays: I donated a couple of my AFs to some wonderful old roots blues musicians via the Music Maker foundation – and they found them to be easy to play and a delight to hear.
In general, the smooth, polished hard gloss finish is comfortable, the back is broad and comfy, and the fingerboard feels quite natural under the fretting fingers. On the whole, the AF75TDG is a lightweight hollowbody that is comfortable and a pleasure to play.
Sound: The sound of the AF75TDG is nothing short of wonderful. It has the low-output, warm, whole, broad sound you would expect from a jazz-boxy hollowbody electric guitar. The sound of the AF75TD is by far one of the strongest reasons to play and own one.
Here is a little breakdown of the way I feel about the TDG:
3) Body and neck woods
4) A tip for rounder sound!
Pickups and Electronics: The ACH1 and ACH2 humbucking pickups shipped in the AF75TD are clean, smooth, and very rich. They are definitely on the low-output side of things, almost to the point of Vintage. The ACH1 (neck pickup) and the ACH2 (bridge pickup) use ceramic magnets. They lean towards the dark side (no pun intended… or is it? :-)) and tend to be harmonically medium: that is, they are not as full range as something like a Seymour Duncan SH1 or a DiMarzio PAF. They tend to capture the lows and low mids perfectly – making them ideal for jazz and classic rock and rockabilly.
The wiring is typical of Asian-made guitars, with ultra-mass-produced pots, switch, capacitor, and jack. The switch is surprisingly strong and solid for a “little box” switch. When I did some upgrades to my orange AF75, I actually left the original switch (the same one used in the AF75TD) in the guitar – I was very satisfied with the action and the connectivity it offered. The wires themselves are the typical fine-gauge vinyl-covered wires you would find in most any Asian-made instrument. No real problems here, just basic inexpensive stuff.
I found the solder joints to be solidly done and not sloppy with brown goop, nor were the leads sloppily attached to their access points. Overall, the wiring is good for simple clean sound. I do think that down the road that the pots will probably get scratchy, but I’m thinking that this would be a matter of decades and not one or two years – depending on the conditions in which the guitar lives.
Hollowbody-ness: The laminated plywood body top, back, and sides are lovely maple that is generally high grade in appearance and in grain. The outside ply of the plywood is also pretty nice looking on every model I’ve ever played. The consistency and thickness of the plywood appears to be very even and well-chosen. This lends itself to a strong open sound that is remarkably even for something with a pressed-maple laminate body.
The AF75 and AF75TDG are true hollowbody guitars – they don’t have center blocks and they’re not “dugout with F hole” guitars. All the other varieties of hollowbody and semihollowbody guitars have their place an their strong points, the true open holowbody truly has its hallmark for the warm and open sound it creates.
A side-effect of a hollowbody with F holes or a soundhole is that it will feed back (squeal or scream) if the guitar gets in a situation that is too loud or is too close to a loud amplifier or PA speaker. This is something that is known about how this design works, and is not peculiar to the Ibanez (or other similar guitars, for that matter). Many guitar players who play in large/loud/stage situations will often take no-stick tape such as painter’s tape and cover one or both F holes. Other creative solutions include using electrical tape to tape a small piece of paper or cardboard over the F holes. Note this: I’m not responsible for any modifications you make to your guitar! If you’re worried about damaging the finish on your guitar, don’t put tape on it.
Body and neck woods: As I touched on in the Hollowbody-ness section, the body wood is laminated maple plywood. Its a bright and resilient wood that actually allows some nice mid-tones to shine through. The brightness of the not-too-flexible maple plywood is largely balanced by the nature of the warm low-output pickups and the hollow body of the guitar. The woods are beautiful, very strong, and really make this guitar a special treat.
The neck tonal color is a delight. It is a mahogany and maple neck that is made of (according to Ibanez’s specs) three piece. It sustains nicely and carries the sound from the nut to the body very well.
A Tip for that Round Sound Want that super-jazz sound out of your AF75? Put flatwound strings on it. They come from the factory with D’Addario round-wound 10s. Without much (if any) adjustment, the AF75 can be upped to flatwound 11s or even better 12s. The 12s are a lot harder to bend and can really take some calluses, but they sound fantastic. With some careful adjustment, the AF series can generally take 13s as well. I love Fender flatwounds, but I don’t really like the rough G string (the 3rd string), which is wrapped (not plain) on flatwound sets in general. I like to use D’Addario Chromes on my hollowbody guitars because I like the quality, the sound, and the smoother G string. Another alternative is to buy your favorite brand’s flatwounds and replace the G string with an equal-diameter plain string from the same manufacturer’s roundwound set. I’ve done both and like both for different reasons. In short – its’ a personal choice.
Quality: Every single Ibanez AF75 (of any model, be it D, TG, T, or other!) has been made so well to the point where they are pretty much flawless. The workmanship is incredible, the attention to detail has been superb with every single Artcore I’ve played or handled.
The paint finish is a hard, glossy, smooth finish that’s almost as if the instrument’s wood was dipped in wet glass. The binding is all over the guitar, and is done without a single bump or split or mis-match. Very nice…
The fret ends were dressed better than average. My AF75TDG had no ragged ends, and the frets were pretty much level right out of the box. I found the neck to be buzz free, either with roundwound Ernie Ball strings or flatwound D’Addario strings. The surface of the fretboard is smooth, burr-free, and the inlays were done with a minimum of “fill ins.” Sometimes, however, Ibanez will have a little extra fill-in putty on guitars that have more ornate inlays. I’ve not had a problem with this, because it is generally almost unnoticeable, and the feel and sound and general look are not affected.
I loved the huge single swath of maple on the top ply of my AF75TDG. it looks almost like it is one large single piece of maple…
Another note about the binding: it looks great and really dresses things up. LOTS of manufacturers don’t put binding in the F holes, including $800 (street) Epis… I think the binding is well done and is a nice touch. Also, the TDG has pearloid tuner buttons – they’re a nice touch. They don’t change the tuning any, but they look cool. 🙂
Value: Wow. These are priced spot-on in the new market and are a screaming bargain in the used market. I’ve found that the street price of the AFTs is in line with or less expensive than comparable guitars from other manufacturers. On the used side, you can often snag an AFT with a real Ibanez case for a very reasonable price. They’re generally underappreciated in the market, but always loved by those who pick them up. They’re not low-value at all – they’re just not the mainstream guitar that commands $799 price tags.
Features: The Artcore is often referred to as a working guitarist’s working Jazz box. It’s versatile, plays great, sounds great, and is an excellent value. The features are above par and are nicely enumerated on the Ibanez site.
* Two nickel-covered jazzy vintage-y humbucker pickups
* Binding on the neck, headstock, body, back edges, heel, F holes, and side joint
* Nicely tapped-down electronics in the body
* Good quality tuners that are just a little bit better than average (easy to replace if you don’t like them)
* Good rosewood fretboard
* Excellent medium frets
* Extremely solid build and input jack mount
* Individual tone and volume controls for each of the two pickups
* A solid three-way switch
* A strong three-piece neck with truss rod that adjusts at the headstock
* A nice big ol’ Bigsby trem
* A rosewood bridge with excellent easy-adjusting heights
* A nice treble-side cutaway for high-note access.
Wishes: I really do wish these were offered with the alternative Bigsby that the Epiphone Swingster has. It’s smoother and easier and is a lot of fun to use.
As a long-time musician and guitar player, I don’t mind the floating body-top (not attached, sits on the body as bridges do with violins and other fiddly instruments) bridge. It adds plenty of wonderfulness to the sound, and gives the guitar professional a lot of flexibility. However, for the new guitar player or for someone who doesn’t understand adjustments, a floating bridge is a very scary thing once it is out of adjustment or is dropped/moved when changing strings. A mis-placed bridge begs for a tuning nightmare. Perhaps the AF75* series could ship with measurement instructions, a bridge-placement template, or even a bridge that sits in a small indentation in the top wood?