Ibanez AW-40 Artwood 40 Acoustic Solid-Top Guitar Review – from an owner’s point of view

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I originally posted this on February 16, 2006. I still love these. I’ve since found another one (used)… Shipped from store to my home. I’m loving it. Doing some recording, looking to see if the intonation is any better on this one… I’ll write another review and take some live pics when I can.


Ibanez AW40 Vine Detail Jim Pearson

Update, October 2009 Sigh… the AW40 is no longer in production (still not in production as I re-post this… You can find used ones out there, and the occasional “claimed” “New Old Stock” (NOS) ones…) I’ve since found a used one that had been dropped and have rehabilitated it into my mountain-trips guitar. Lovely, wonderful, plays well, sounds awesome, even after it was dropped (hard) by its previous owner. I then donated that guitar to an instruments for kids fund… I’ll look for another some day…

I was looking for an affordable solid-spruce-top 6-string acoustic for nearly a year. I was looking for medium-bright sound that also had crisp, clean basses, but with good resonance, easy playability, and good intonation. Finding a guitar that meets these expectations, and is under $400, is a real challenge.

I started my quest by playing countless acoustics at both my local guitar stores. I probably played more than 200 different low-cost acoustics – specifically looking for my target attributes.

Ibanez Artwood AW40 Rosette Detail Jim Pearson

Ibanez Artwood AW40 Rosette Detail Jim Pearson

I eventually discovered the Ibanez AW 40. This delightful acoustic guitar is from Ibanez’s ™ ArtWood™ series acoustics. The street price for the AW 40, both locally and on the street was $200US. This new AW 40 turned out to be the guitar I purchased – and I’m very glad I did. I bought the AW 40 (mine was named “Rosie”) from one of my local GAS-Guitar Stores – it has been used on many songs across three different acoustic albums of mine.

Quick Opinion: I chose to play the AW 40 on and off for a few weeks before I actually purchased it. I wanted to play several other contenders in comparison just to be sure: The AW 40 is a bargain, and is an excellent purchase! It has excellent craftsmanship, good features, and sounds like guitars that cost $200-$300 more. Purchasers of the AW 40 are VERY unlikely to be disappointed! This is the second-most-played-acoustic I own.
Even though the AW-40 is no longer available as new, you can get free shipping and more information about Ibanez acoustics here at zZounds.com

IbanezArtwoodAW40NTNeckHeadstockBackShotJimPearsonPlayability: The neck is a delightful satin-finish soft “c”-ish shape (the rosewood color is unique, too). This guitar plays nicer than the gloss-finish necks of many other guitars in this price range.
The frets are finished nicely, and are just the right balance of height and thickness. The scale is just right – medium. There are no buzzy frets on the example I purchased. The string height was a little too low when I brought it home, so I had to change the truss rod just a tad to stop general string buzz. Once I raised the strings a bit, the string sound was flawless.
The weight and depth of the AW 40 body is excellent, and the fretboard feels smooth and quick. The 1 5/8” width nut is just about right for this particular neck.
The AW 40 ships with D’Addario EXP bronze strings, starting with .11 width on the 1st string. These particular strings are really quite nice (especially if you like coated strings), and are appropriate if you like a little darker high sound. After a week or so with the stock strings, I switched to D’Addario EXP phosphor-bronze .11s to give me the crisper bass sounds I was seeking. Once the new strings were installed, this guitar has been giving the low-end Martin guitars – a strong run for the money.

Sound: Crisp, crisp, crisp, resonant, and more crisp! The solid spruce top lives up to its job very well. The bass sounds are clean and clear. The 1st and 2nd strings above the 13th fret are a little thin for my tastes. The midranges are clean and rarely muddy for finger-picked notes. The body resonates nicely against your chest and hands when the guitar is played. Very nice!

IbanezArtwoodAW40NTHeelShotJimPearsonValue: This is a $450 guitar in value (not ‘retail’, ‘street’). The sound, quality of make, and appointments are top-notch, excellent. To get a better instrument, you’d have to spend at least $499. This guitar is made in China, but you would have difficulty telling its origin from the excellent build quality.

Features: This is an excellently-designed instrument. It has the bits needed for daily use and for recording alike. The body is fully bound in a nice white-with-black stripes motif. The rosette is a beautiful abalone-ringed decoration. The headstock has inlaid pearl Ibanez logo and AW logo. The back of the guitar has a nice black-white center stripe and nicely matched halves. The red-ish shell pickguard does seem a bit bright for the cream-colored spruce top, but is pleasant enough.

An unexpected and BEAUTIFUL feature of the AW 40 is the abalone “vine of life” fretboard inlay. This is truly a nice-looking addition, and is really nice and unique. I always get good comments on this feature every time folks see Rosie.
The stock tuners are mechanically sound, but felt a bit uncomfortable. In addition, the gold plating on the tuners was not well done at all. It looked as though the gold had barely been applied (this was true on all the examples I played).

More about the tuners: I ended up replacing the stock machine heads/tuners with Grover™ Rotomatic™-style 14:1 tuners. The screw holes did not match the factory screw placements exactly, but I felt it was worth it to drill new screw holes and putty the old ones – and gain excellent tuners. I bought chrome Grovers, and they look very nice with the rest of the guitar’s appointments. The Grovers function flawlessly and are, well, they’re Grovers (’nuff said!).


Ibanez Artwood AW40NT Headstock Jim Pearson

Wishes: The tuners really should have been better-made and better executed. Even the Yamaha™ basic guitar tuners work better and look better than those on the AW line.

My only other wish: After playing mine for quite a while, I found that it was difficult to intonate at all. If I recorded music with my old AW-40 and tried to overlay tracks with a different guitar, I found myself to be constantly fighting intonation issues. If you’re playing guitar for pleasure, or are recording the guitar as the only instrument, the AW-40 is fine. If you’re recording multiple instruments or playing live with more than one guitar, you’ll have to have the guitar adjusted at the nut to come close to being in-tune all the way up the neck…