The Ibanez AF75TDG Artcore Hollowbody Guitar with Bigsby Review with gold trim and Candy Apple Red metallic finish!

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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!
IbanezArtcoreAF75TDGFront1ByJimPearson

Quick Opinion: Wow. Buy one.

Seriously. Just buy one. I’ll detail why in the review below.

You can read more, get pricing information, and purchase the Ibanez AF75TDG here at zZounds. These are great folks… click through and help an old hippie earn some income? 🙂

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.

IbanezArtcoreAF75TDGBack1ByJimPearson

A sultry curvy maple back – with that classic carved look


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:
1) Pickups/electronics
2) Hollowbody-ness
3) Body and neck woods
4) A tip for rounder sound!

IbanezArtcoreAF75TDGHeadstockFront1ByJimPearson

Nice headstock, pearly buttons


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.
IbanezArtcoreAF75TDGHeadstockBack1ByJimPearson
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.

IbanezArtcoreAF75TDGFloatingRollerBridgeDetail1ByjimPearson
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…
IbanezArtcoreAF75TDGGoldBigsbyDetail1ByJimPearson
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…
IbanezArtcoreAF75TDGFHoleBodyDetail1ByJimPearson
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. 🙂

Shameless plug… Click here to see more about the Ibanez AF75TDG hollowbody here at zZounds.com here…. they’ve got guarantees that make it easy to try out something new!

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.

Overall value? You can’t beat these in either new or used prices. If the AFT hasn’t been abused and misused, the guitar-for-the-buck ratio is wonderful. Seriously. Just buy one.
IbanezArtcoreAF75TDGBindingAndHorndetail1ByJimPearson

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.
IbanezArtcoreAF75TDGBackBeautyShot1ByJimPearson

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?

An Ibanez SZ520QM SZ520 Electric Guitar Review – Humbuckers, quilted maple, excellent neck and body

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I first wrote this review on February 19, 2007. I sold that first SZ520 to a guy just starting out. It has had a great second life. Six years later, I’ve found another one in the used bins and have re-made it with EMGs, Grovers, and excellent wiring… It’s a real player and is a joy to hear. Solid, sustaining, wide-open. Kind of like a Stratty Les Paul-y with a set-neck smooth-heel at the body/neck. Great!

Ibanez SZ520QM BBL Electric Guitar Review

When I was first looking for an electric guitar that I could use as a recording guitar and as a way for my son to cut his guitar-chops, I searched high and wide. I had a severely limited budget at the time I began playing again… and had to get some of the features I knew that I liked in a guitar from my early days.

I wanted a guitar that was tough enough to handle hard rock guitar but that didn’t fold on me over time. I also wanted an instrument with lots of sustain, plenty of output, and a nice neck.

I ended up settling on an Ibanez SZ520 for a number of reasons. For sure, though, the SZ520 is a remarkable instrument – one that is not given its true kudos in the world of guitars. It is an unsung hero and an excellent instrument.

Quick Opinion: The Ibanez SZ line of electric guitars (and, to an extent, the Ibanez S line of guitars) are excellent instruments. They have the quick feel of a rocker’s guitar, fairly good quality, and excellent features.

These guitars have excellent playability, great sound, and a price that puts them at the mid range between less-expensive set-necks, and inexpensive top-brands. SZs are not bargain-basement guitars – rather, they are at the top of their range. Whether or not to purchase an SZ will depend very highly on your personal feature interests, and your particular desire for a given sound. Let’s take a look at this fine instrument – with some comparisons along the way. Update: now that these are no longer in manufacture, they can be had affordably on the used market. I’ve bought one through online store used inventory, and of course, there’s always Craigslist and eBay.

The SZ is no longer produced as a new product by Ibanez, but you can see more about Free Shipping on Ibanez electrics at zZounds.com. They make it easy to love your new guitar.


Ibanez SZ520QM Electric Guitar Review

Playability: Several things strike you immediately when you first pick up and play the SZ520. The neck is a dream – and lacks a big heel. The staggered, string-through design rings with sustain. The body is very nicely balanced and is of medium to medium-heavy weight. The fretboard is comfortable. Think of an Epiphone Les Paul with a little less weight and a double cut-away, plus a tummy cut.

The neck on the SZ520 is nearly ideal for chord players, shredders, and slide playing. It strikes a nice, medium-width balance against just a deep-enough “C” shape to get a grip on it when you’re running up and down the neck. The neck back is painted to match the body, and has a nice, hard, smooth finish. The neck-to-body join is superb on this instrument – few electrics get anywhere close to this nice of a join. The heel-less feels fantastic when you’re flitting around above the 14th fret. I truly wish most Gibsons and Epis had this type of neck join on their electric guitars.

Ibanez SZ520QM Flame 12th fret Inlay

The inlay on my current SZ520QM BBL


The body balance is above average, if not pretty close to excellent. After playing the SZ for several hours, you don’t feel like you’re struggling with an unruly animal. It just feels good where it is – especially since the weight is medium in the spectrum. A Fender Stratocaster is significantly lighter in feel, and a Les Paul is a bit heavier in feel.

The fretboard, string-spacing, and fret size are an interesting combination – almost unique when compared to the other manufacturer’s view on fretboards. The fretboard is subtly different from most any other instrument out there. For those who are familiar with Fenders: it is thinner than a Strat and wider than a Tele – very similar to the superb and underrated Fender TC-90. For you Gibson and Epi fans out there, the SZ is much more like an Epiphone SG with respect to its neck. The fretboard is extremely similar to the Epi G400s I’ve played.

Fingerstyle players or players who use a modified pick hand (like myself) will find the strings a bit close together. However, this is balanced out by overall comfort, and the ease of gripping chords. It’s a little wider “feeling” than a Telecaster, but more like a narrow 60’s Les Paul neck.

In order to get great sounds out of the SZ in slide, the strings had to be at least 10s with thicker middle strings (and better, 11s or 12s). Extra-light strings sound muddy and don’t tune well when applied to the SZ. Also, the tone and sustain are robbed with very-light-gauge strings. These days (2012), I like to play Ernie Ball Slinkys on these, either the coated variety or the regular variety. I’ve been waiting for availability of the new Cobalt Slinkys! Can’t wait to try them on necks like these!

The fretwork of the SZ I owned was superb in almost any respect. The current one is great, as well The frets are medium to jumbo in overall size and height, and the ends were reasonably well-dressed. The nut was well-worked and had no issues at all.

The bridge does a nice job of intonation variance. It’s as easy to adjust as a Tune-O-Matic, but sits differently on the guitar. Here’s my current guitar

Ibanez SZ520 Gibraltar Bridge Close

The Gibraltar bridge on my current SZ520

Features: The Ibanez SZ520QM (QM stands for “quilted maple” cap) is a high-feature guitar made in Korea. It has a gorgeous quilted maple cap on a warm and medium-thick mahogany body. The tuners are OK (not great), but the neck inlay is beautiful (my guitar got the name “blue flame” because of its 12th fret inlay). The finish on the guitar is deep and lustrous.

The heel-less neck feature is worth mentioning again. Feel it for yourself – most folks will absolutely love it.

The binding is light-cream, and is superbly done. I only felt the “edge” of the binding in one or two places on the front of the body, and none on the neck. My second SZ520 binding looks like natural wood. I don’t know what it is made of, but the (now 7-year-old) binding has mellowed out in a major way. I love it.

The Duncan/Ibanez open-face humbuckers are a nice feature. They strike a nice balance between being able to play stronger, more assertive music – and music that is marginally mellower. These guys were the precursors to the current (2012) “Duncan Designed” humbuckers on mid-priced models made in Asia these days. They’re excellent pickups for the money. My current guitar had terrible shorts in the electronics (moisture exposure), so I’ve changed mine out for a set of active EMG 81/60 pickups. Another article someday?

Ibanez SZ520 CUSTOMIZED Front with EMGs

The front of my current SZ520 - EMG 81/60 in ivory, awesome upgrades, Grovers

The string-end design is string through. The staggered string holes are of varied lengths from the bridge and its saddles. Unlike many string-throughs, there is no tailpiece – the strings feed directly from the bridge to the holes in the body.

The Gibralter III bridge makes intonation a fairly easy task, and is completely buzz-free. It is stud-mounted to the top of the guitar, so lots of sound emanates through the bridge very nicely into the guitar body.

Sound: The SZ520QM sounds wonderful. It has tons of sustain (although an Epi or Gibson Les Paul still have a longer and warmer sustain – the SZ is more like a set-neck SG in sound and sustain). The pickups and electronics are clean and noise-free. Sonically, the SZ is a good crossover guitar – from harder music to classic rock.

I found the pickups to be not as high on the output scale (sound-wise – I didn’t pull them and put them on a multi-meter) as you get with EMGs or more aggressive Seymour Duncan humbuckers. They are louder than my first Epiphone Les Paul’s original open-face humbuckers, but they are not as rich and creamy.

The pickup-selection-and-tone part of the guitar is pretty good. The SZ has the often-used Tone-Volume-Volume plus pickup switch hardware setup. With the SZ520QM, there is one master tone knob, the middle knob controls the bridge pickup volume, and the knob closest to the neck controls the volume of the neck pickup. The SZ also uses a fairly standard (but extremely well-made) pickup selector toggle switch.

Value: Value for the money is where the SZ is not quite a clear winner. I don’t think the guitar is terribly over-priced, but it is not a bargain in any sense (at 2006-2007 prices, mind you). The Fender TC-90 (albeit with Black Dove P90 pickups) and the Epiphone Explorer and Epiphone Flying V are much better performers – yet they all cost less. A similarly-equipped ESP, Jackson, or Schecter is generally a better bargain for sound and price. (UPDATE 2012 – now that these are on the used market almost expressly, they are about the same price as their competitors… things have equalized in the favor of the player – snag one: they’re a bargain!)

As I said in 2006=2007 dollars: “With that said, and in all fairness, the SZ520 does have a great feel, and does a decent enough job for the sound. I am a fan of Ibanez guitars, and there are many models that are great… I just think the SZ 520 should be a little lower in price. – or should have higher-end Seymour Duncans to bring up the value.”

Wishes: Some nickel-covered and upgraded Seymour Duncans would be great (or, even better, some EMG HZ passive pickups, perhaps H4s). I really think Ibanez should choose to use some nice Grovers as tuners, or at least some locking tuner/locking nut offerings on this guitar.

Ibanez AF-75D/AF-75 Review – a long-term impression from someone who still plays it 6 years later

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I wrote this review the first time in March of 2006. I still love my AF-75D and still play it. It has been a wonderful instrument for recording and composing. A few years ago, I changed the pickups to Seymour Duncan 59s (a matched pair)… it sounds like a $1000 instrument now… wow… I’ve slightly edited the old review here and there… mostly as original. Read on.


When I started playing guitar again (in 2005 – after a 25-year break), one of my goals was to have different sounds with different types of guitars. One distinct sound for which I was looking was the jazzy/bluesy/open-body sound. In addition, I wanted the guitar to be able to rock ‘n’ roll.

A Second-Look: Ibanez AF75/AF75D long-term review

I visited my local guitar haunts and played just about every type and example of hollow- and semi-hollow-body electrics. My budget was $300 or less. To name a few, I played all of the Ibanez Artcore AF variants, several examples of the Epiphone Dot Studio, a few of the Carlo-Robelli/Brownsville types, and even a few used Gretschs and Gibsons (out of my budget range). I settled on a snappy and beautiful example of the Ibanez AF75D. Keep in mind that I played many examples of the same kind to get a feel for quality consistency and sound consistency. The one with which I came home was $319 back then (a little more these days?), and was a stunning example. I think I’d still like to have an Epiphone Dot or ES or Swingster someday, but it was too far above my budget, and (frankly) I couldn’t find an example with both a straight neck and one with good electronics.

Quick Opinion: The Ibanez Artcore series are generally very well made. Most are made in China. The AF75D example I purchased (“Punkin”) was exceptionally well made. The price was reasonable, and the sound quality is very much nicer than anything else in its price range. The guitar is chock full of features, has great parts, and plays like a dream.

I LOVE my AF75. Given the money in hand, I would buy another to put away for when I wear this one out.

Read more about the AF75 and other awesome Ibanez Artcores here at zZounds.com! Free shipping and price matching – and more!

Playability: The neck feels pretty quick and seems to be in the ballpark of Epis/Gibsons (short “feel” to the scale). The taper is just right, the fretboard was extremely nicely dressed and fitted, and the overall weight of the guitar is nicely light. After I fitted some Fender flatwound electric guitar strings (and substituted a plain 3rd instead of wrapped), the guitar played like a dream. The action adjusted to just the right height with little effort, and the reach of the single cutaway is very good – the top few frets of the low strings are a bit of a stretch.

Features The AF75 has two closed-cover humbuckers, binding on the neck, body, f-holes, and headstock. The tuners are very much like well-made Grover tuners – very smooth and accurate. The trapeze and floating bridge combination makes for a wonderful and open sound (be careful, you must be prepared to do some measuring and intonation once you buy it – the position of the bridge is important to intonation). The three-way toggle is problem-free, and is fairly easy to reach. The individual volume and control knobs work fairly well in their purpose (they remind me of old Gibson Les Paul speed knobs). The body is laminated, but nicely shaped maple. The fit and finish overall is nearly as perfect as one could expect from a nicely-made guitar. The finish of the coloring is flawless – I really enjoy the “differentness” of the orange. The frets are medium, and are extremely well finished (I’ve played many $700+ guitars that don’t have frets as nice as these).

Sound: The sound is open, airy, and wonderful. In any genre in which I play, this guitar can fit in. It is best for music from the 50s, 60s, and 70s – or Jazz or relaxed blues. It can play rock with the best of them, but the original factory pickup output is too weak for hard rock/metal/thrash. In a loud band stage situation, the guitar can cause some feedback if placed too close to an amplifier (amazingly, this only happens in a few different melodic keys). The overall sound is crisp, clear, and refined. I’d rate the sound as something that is not as edgy as a Strat, but much mellower than a Les Paul or PRS.

One thing just to clarify the above: If you’re standing amongst screamin’ amps, you WILL get feedback on certain pitches. When I play live or record against an amp in a closed space, I put a little soft electrical tape over the F-holes and the problem goes away (without damaging Punkin).

Value: This is a $499 guitar in value (not ‘retail’, ‘street’). The sound, quality of make, and appointments are top-notch for a bargain hollow/semi-hollow electric guitar, excellent. To get a better instrument, you’d have to go to a Gibson or a top-end Epiphone (Casino, etc.). This guitar is made in China, but you would have difficulty telling its origin from the excellent build quality. My local guitar stores now have them at $349 on the sticker. A case would be a good thing to get to protect your guitar – many different manufacturers make a case that works well with this guitar.

Wishes: Good instructions on bridge placement (for those who don’t know how to adjust and place their bridge) would be essential. Stronger output from the humbuckers would be good, and a larger center-block to help keep feedback down would be good.

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

TheGuitarReview.com is completely free for personal use, and it would help a LOT if you could help a little bit (you can change the suggested amount in the next screen) to assist me to run the site and the occasional set of strings!

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.

IbanezAW40VineDetail2JimPearson

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…

IbanezArtwoodAW40NTBackShotJimPearson
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.
IbanezArtwoodAW40NTFrontShotJimPearson
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!).

IbanezArtwoodAW40NTHeadstockShotJimPearson

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…