The Fender Fretless Standard Jazz Bass – A Review of a Timeless Sound in the Hands

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The Fender Standard Fretless Jazz Bass Review – Warm Bassy Goodness. Can you say “MWAH?”

Into each bass player’s life a little fretless should come. For many of us, when we lay our hands on it for the first time, we never stop thinking about which tunes would sound great with the ultra-warm mwah of a fretless bass with great googly-moogly flatwound strings (tape, metal, whatever sounds best to you). I went on a journey of discovery in 2006 after playing a fretless Fender Jazz for the first time (I had been tinkering with bass playing on and off since I was a teenager.) I felt strongly enough about the importance of a fretless in my sound library that I went to great lengths to order a special one from Fender. My Fender was special in that it was a 2006 diamond anniversary edition, and that they put together one with the color I liked (none of the online dealers offered Oly white at the time – although Olympic white has been offered off-and-on over the years prior and since). I received my new, freshly-assembled Jazz pretty quickly and took it home to play.

FenderFretlessJazzBassFretlessDetailByJimPearson

What followed was nothing short of revolutionary and enlightening.

My Fender Fretless MIM Jazz came with a lovely buffed and polished flat rosewood fretboard, a slick and (really) perfect Olympic white poly candy shell, great basic MIM electronics, and those heavenly Fender flatwound Jazz strings. zZounds offers the Fender Fretless Jazz at a competitive price. Read here for more details and specs. Shameless plug alert… The gig bag was thin and light, but it got the bass to my house in the factory box OK. If you’re not worried about the finish of your Jazz, the gig bag makes an excellent strong carry bag. NOTE: Some current models may not come with a Fender gig bag. I was happy enough with my Jazz that I went out and bought a Fender plastic hard shell case for it. The setup was pretty impressive, the intonation was decent and the string height was about where I’ve kept it in the years since.

The Fender Fretless Jazz bass is a bargain, an excellent player, and a permanent fixture in my sonic library. Here’s why:

Quick Opinion: The Fender Fretless Jazz bass is an extremely well-made instrument with a great sound for everyday playing and recording. The body is that excellent rounded-corner easy-on-the-body-and-arm shape, with a standard long-scale reach and traditional old-school Jazz controls. It plays effortlessly, sounds great, and is a bargain in the grander scheme of basses.
FenderFretlessJazzBassBodyBackByJimPearson

There aren’t a lot of low-to-mid cost fretless basses out there in the new-instrument market… so the market is a bit limited for profitability’s sake. With that said, I think it is important that quality instruments remain in the retail stream with an on-going view into the market. Bass players will often (at least) try fretless basses during the maturation of their skills. With some, fretless guitars and basses are a curiosity, with others, there is a need to get that “upright bass fiddle” sound in some situations. Still, with others, a fretless is the only way to go! (Jaco Pastorius, anyone?) I am glad Fender continues to produce MIM- and USA-made Fretless Jazz basses. I know I will be holding on to “Polar” as long as I have hands to hold it.

Here’s a quick breakdown of this particular guitar’s features:
* Rosewood fretboard
* Thin light-colored strips in the fret locations for those of us who still have to look at the fretboard (;-))
* Everyday Jazz MIM electronics and pickups
* Poly paint offered in several opaque colors (varies from year to year)
* Reliable open-gear butterbean large-button tuners
* Factory-issued Fender Flatwound strings

zZounds has satisfaction guarantees – I have received excellent sales and service from them for my own guitars. I’ve bought a lot of my gear from them. Shameless plug to help me keep the site going: if you buy stuff from them, it helps me write more reviews!

FenderFretlessJazzBassBodyFrontByJimPearson

Sound: Part of the Fender Fretless Jazz sound is its strings and fretless-ness, part of the sound is the guitar’s materials and workmanship. You can put cheap round-wound strings on your fretless and get cheap sounds with an ability to play glissandos and scoops – and the guitar will do its best to sound like a traditional Fender jazz. You can put high-end tape-based flatwounds on the fretless and it will sound like a million bucks. The pickups are “vintage” strength and sound as they should, if a little quiet for low-powered solid-state amps and DI applications.
On the whole, the Fender Fretless Jazz sounds great. Here is more detail…

Here are some of the components of the Fretless Jazz sound:
1) Pickups/electronics
2) Tone woods, neck woods
3) Strings and fretboard/fingerboard

Pickups and Electronics: Opening the Fretless Jazz’s cavity shows a pair of ceramic-magnet single-coil Fender Jazz pickups, standard CTS-type potentiometers, a basic burgundy-colored chicklet tone capacitor, and a Switchcraft jack. The pickups are wired in parallel, and each has its own volume control. There is a master tone control on the circuit.

The pickups are low-output vintage-sounding pickups. The Jazz allows you to blend the sound of the pickups by turning one and/or the other down/up with its individual volume control. There is no pickup-selector switch – the volume control gives you flexibility and dial-in sound. I played my Fretless Jazz with wiring as-is for the first 5 years I owned it. I’ve used it for countless recordings and small gigs, so I can attest that it really sounds like a nice traditional Jazz sound. I have found that great 15″ speaker cabinet(s) and a tube pre-amp REALLY bring this bass to life. If you’d like to record with it, I recommend finding a nice tube pre-amp to put in between your bass and the DI or computer recording interface. My recordings are so much warmer with tubes in-line.

As a side note, after 5 years, I did decide to do a little upgrading… I wired in a series/parallel switch and installed a factory pair of genuine Fender “Original Jazz Bass” Alnico pickups. The factory sound of my Jazz was awesome. My re-worked Jazz is now a real tour-de-force for rock, funk, jazz, classical, and new age.

FenderFretlessJazzBassHeadstockBackByJimPearson

Tone and Neck woods: Here’s a bit of something that most bass players might find interesting: Fender doesn’t list the body tonewood for its MIM Jazz basses in its on-site specs any more. I am not an authority on this, but I suspect that this gives Fender the flexibility to use the tonewoods it chooses (without having to update specs or guarantee content). Most Jazzes I’ve seen with materials listed were either alder or basswood. (Note that many special edition or FSR Jazz basses will state explicitly that they have ash bodies – my favorite.)

For the Fender Fretless Jazz bass, I think that either the alder or basswood body types sound great. I don’t actually know what wood my Oly White Fretless Jazz has as its body. I just know that I like the sound of it. I have known and heard of Fretless Jazz players who buy a bass with the neck they like and search out a specific body wood and color, then put the two together in a sort of a FrankenJazz (JazzenStein?). I can understand doing this… but know that if you “just want to have a great sounding bass that’s fretless”, the factory Fender Jazz bass is awesome.

The neck: The neck is a nice hard maple one-piece chunk of wood with that awesome narrow Jazz nut width. It feels great, it transfers string sound great, and is a pleasure to play. Fender takes care to create a great 9.5″ radius rosewood fretboard for the player. The surface is buffed to an almost shiny extent on most of these I’ve played. Mine looks as though it has been coated (although it hasn’t). It feels awesome, is pleasing to the touch, and is a real joy to play.

Strings and Fretboard/Fingerboard Most (not ALL) manufacturers ship their fretless basses with flatwound stainless or nickel strings – Fender is no exception. There are two primary reasons for using flatwounds (or tape-wounds) on a fretless.
1) The sound: the sound is the reason for the season, the color of the sky, the raison d’ etre. Flatwounds lend themselves to bass sounds in general, but really make the sound of a fretless Jazz.
2) Fingerboard life: On fretted basses, round-wound strings are pretty rough on the steel/nickel frets. Active bass players who use round-wounds on their basses will always see divots in their fret wires after a time – it is a fact of life in the life of most basses. Fret metal is pretty tough stuff: imagine what it would do to the much softer wood of a fingerboard. Using round-wounds on a fretless bass might give you a sound you are after, but doing so will definitely carve grooves in your fretboard. If you choose to go with cheap round-wounds to save money, you will end up with a chewed-up fingerboard.

The rosewood fingerboard offers a rich feel and sound experience that most players find enjoyable. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned professional, the excellent fingerboard is an integral part of the experience and sound.

Fender Fretless Jazz Headstock frontby Jim Pearson

Playability I’ve played many different manufacturers’ fretless basses, both acoustic and electric. I must say that my experience with my Jazz is the most enjoyable and memorable. It’s predictable, easy-to play for anyone that can reach a 34″ scale bass neck, and even works with those with small hands. The neck is just right. The body is just right. The fretboard is invisible to my hands – I just let the music flow from my soul to my ears through this bass.

For those of us (like me) who still feel insecure when we play a fretless – and want to nail the intonation of a note from the finger attack, the lines for the fret markers are awesome. They take the crazy out of “where is C#?”. On one hand, the lines are a crutch – I encourage you to learn to play the neck without looking at it – on the other hand, the lines are comforting. I’d rather have them there than not – but if I played every day for a living, I’d learn the fretboard without my eyes. Let the music flow from your mind and soul and build up muscle and music memory…

zZounds has a good selection of fretless Jazz basses, including the Standard (MIM) Fretless Jazz.

Quality: My Fender Jazz Fretless Bass was made extremely well. The neck pocket is pretty decent, the finish of all the items is flawless, the components feel and sound good. What’s not to like?

I have found the tuners to be reliable and solid. The finish on the neck and body are both excellent. The fretboard is awesome. The wiring was clean and well-done. The bridge placement was nearly spot-on. The pickups sounded just as they should. Over all, I have not found an issue with my bass in 6 years.
FenderFretlessJazzBassPickupBridgeDetailByJimPearson

Value: Fender’s Fretless Standard MIM Jazz bass is underpriced. The street price of the Fender Fretless Standard Jazz is less than East-Asian-made fretted basses from a variety of manufacturers. The quality, however, is well above those same basses. The MIM Standard Jazz Fretless is comparable to something that would be like an American Special in overall quality – but at a price that is actually pretty low. Whether you buy a new Fender fretless or buy one on the used market, they are a bargain. Really.

If I were blind-pricing Fender’s Standard Jazz Fretless compared to $799 Chinese basses from some of the popular mass-market makers, I’d say this bass should street-price at the same level or a little more.

Fender Fretless Jazz Fretboard by Jim Pearson

Wishes: I wish there was a maple fretboard version – I have no idea if it would sound different, but when I see Fender, I think maple fretboard. It would be nice to continue to offer traditional colors such as Olympic White, Black, and Wine.

The Fender FSR Ash Noiseless Stratocaster Transparent White Blonde Review – Creamy Goodness!

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The Fender FSR Ash Stratocaster Noiseless See-through White Blonde Review! Good enough to own one twice!

So, what is “FSR”, anyway? According to Fender’s web site, FSR means “Fender Special Run.” You can read a bit more here at Fender’s web site. The link opens a new window…. FSR Fender products pop up here and there, generally at major online or brick-and-mortar dealers. Sometimes the extra cool ones (like the ones that Jeff Allen signed) come to hometown dealers, too. I’ve had an FSR Strat or Tele here and there over the years. Sometimes they are just color combinations on the standard stuff, other times; they’re great combinations of great materials that aren’t offered together.

The white blonde Fender FSR Ash Stratocaster with Noiseless Pickups is one of those wonderful FSRs that shouldn’t get away from you if you want an awesome sounding Strat that really fits the bill. Why did I sell off some of my instruments just so I could get one (and then another after someone offered me the right price for my first (customized, too!) one? Read on…

Although zZounds doesn’t offer the blond ash Noiseless FSR Strat, they do carry a HUGE array of Fender Stratocasters. Click here and read all about them! It helps me write more reviews if you buy awesome gear at zZounds. Besides, they have great customer service and return policies!

FenderFSRAshNoiselessStratFactoryImage

Factory image. The colors are a little off, but the idea is about right

Quick Opinion: The FSR Ash Stratocaster with Noiseless pickups and the transparent white blonde finish is superb. The neck is (at least, at the moment) unique, the electronics are awesome, and the build quality is just fantastic. I love this guitar. If you’re looking for a mid-priced Stratocaster that won’t break the bank and will play its heart out, this is definitely one to consider!

This particular FSR Stratocaster has good looks, easy playability, that wonderful ash-body sound, and the quiet power of Fender’s “Noiseless” single coil pickups. Even the pickguard is cool: mint green – like an old friend from the 70s that’s been around for a long time.

The interesting neck, the mint pickguard, the pickups, and the look and feel of the transparent gloss finish on the ash body is intriguing and very playable.

Here’s a quick breakdown of this particular guitar’s features:
* Ash body;
* Transparent white blonde body finish;
* Combination semi-gloss/gloss neck (read on), modern C shape;
* Vintage-style 6-screw non-floating tremolo bridge;
* Maple neck, maple fretboard;
* Traditional S-S-S pickup configuration with two tones and a master volume;
* 5-way blade pickup selector switch (N-NM-M-MB-B);
* Mint pickguard… Cool!;
* Ping-style tuners and old-style string tree on B and high E;
* Synthetic bone nut;
* Fender’s awesome Noiseless hand-wound pickups;
* Nicer Fender gig bag

Sound: If you like a quiet Stratocaster that has the guts to pull off everything from country to blues to Stevie Ray Vaughan to Jeff Beck to Clapton, this guitar is a real contender. Overall, this Strat captures the essence of what a Strat sounds like, but with quieter oomph.

Let’s get into details about what drove me to this MIM Strat in the first place…
1) Pickups/electronics
2) Tone woods – a one-piece maple neck and: Ash!

Pickups and Electronics: The pickups are a big part of “the reason for the season” with these particular FSR Strats. The pickups are hotter than vintage, but aren’t super wide-open. They live up to their “quiet” reputation with their AlNiCo magnets, special enamel-coil wire, dressed magnet edges, and the nicely upgraded controls (pots, caps, resistors). They sound great, are nicely balanced, and are truly great at making that “Fender Strat” sound.

The electronics are the upgraded/special set of controls that Fender sells with its Noiseless set kits. The tone pots and volume pot work superbly and sound just fine. All the solder joints are really clean and nicely done. The wiring is well-routed and planned – overall: nice stuff.

I like the traditional CRL-style mechanical blade pickup selector switch. Fender, please don’t switch to those awful PCB switches (like those in the Blacktop Fenders)!

Tone woods Some of the best sounding Fender guitars in history have been ash. Ash has a completely different character than alder or basswood. It has a denser tone (at least, to my ears), and has more definition and ring than alder.

My particular FSR ash Strat sounds warmer and more full than my alder Stratocaster. It has a heavier feel to the shoulder, but I like the sustain and resonance of the ash.

Body wood can be a really personal thing for Fender players, so I won’t take up a stance here – I just want to try to have an objective view of things in my reviews: Ash is a great tone wood, one that does great for rock styles and country styles.

FenderFSRAshNoiselessStratocasterJimPearsonCustomBodyShot

My customized FSR with the 50s Reissue neck, my Jimi Hendrix-style “Gypsied” pickguard, and my Schaller strap locks

Playability This guitar fits the body like a soft cotton shirt, and the overall balance is excellent. The ash body is a little heavier than my alder-body Strat, but not enough that I really notice it. I found that the body feels smoother against my skin than my Highway 1, but not as buttery as my Jimmie Vaughan signature MIM Strat. The body is extremely high gloss, done to the nines. Someone spent A LOT of time getting this one right. When I sold my first one, I found myself pining away for it about a week later… I eventually saved up and bought another during a big online sale.

The feel of the traditional Strat body is a story on it own, with countless thousands of friends out there to testify. It’s a very playable body, comfortable and straightforward. So very easy to reach the front of the guitar… you don’t spend much time thinking about the body’s contact with your arm and ribcage. Simple. Genius.

Vintage-style (6-screw, non-floating) Fender Stratocaster bridges aren’t the most intonation-stable bridges. They require a good setup to stay close in tune for an extended period of play, but still go out here and there even then. If you want extreme tuning stability, you’ll need to go to a stop-tail with locking tuners, or a double locking trem such as a Floyd Rose, Jackson, Kahler, or Ibanez. (There are Floyd-bridged Strats out there…). If you can accept that you’ll have to tweak the tuning keys if you’re a big tremolo-bar-bomber, the vintage-style bridge is fine. When I’m not specifically looking for trem effects while I’m playing, I don’t even put the trem arm in my Strat’s bridge when I play it. To put this into perspective, when I recorded with my American Standard Stratocaster last month (two-point floating trem, Ping-style tuners), I had to stop and tune it several times when I pushed the trem around a bunch for some parts of the recording.

I love the way Strats play. Even though I am a fan of many types of guitars, I’m not sure I’d ever do without at least one Strat in my closet.

Playability: The neck This particular FSR Strat came with a neck that isn’t like its contemporary MIM Standard Strat cousins. The fretboard and headstock face are high gloss, while the back of the neck is a creamy semi-gloss/matte finish. The back of the neck feels a lot like my Fender Deluxe Ash Telecaster’s neck. The front of the neck reminds me a lot of the nicer Japanese Fender necks and the 50s reissue necks made in America and in Mexico.

This (currently) unusual combination of gloss front/matte back is a neat combination. I felt instantly comfortable with it. The neck back profile is a general C “modern” shape and feels compatible with the necks of the Fender MIM Standard models. It’s just thick enough to feel substantial, without feeling like a Jackson speedy neck. The width is quite comfortable, and I find chording is just as easy as picking and arpeggiating. Nice neck.

(Editor’s note: I really like a boat, V, or D neck on Fenders, so I ended up putting a 50s reissue neck on my FSR. A VERY happy eBay member got my FSR’s original neck and found it to be a real winner for him… Necks are like shoes. You like the way they feel or you don’t. NO issues with the FSR’s beautiful neck: I just liked my V neck better.)

Don’t forget to check out zZounds’ selection of Fender Stratocasters

Quality: The build quality of my FSR Ash Noiseless blonde Stratocaster is nothing short of superb. There was only one flaw on the entire guitar: the neck pocket on the bass side has a tiny gap with the original neck, on the edge facing towards the headstock. I don’t think this is a deal-breaker for me. After all, this is not an Eric Clapton Signature Strat or an Eric Johnson Signature Strat. It’s a mid-line animal that was built with LOTS of attention to detail and love from the folks at the Ensenada plant.

FenderFSRNoiselessAshStratocasterDetailBackByJimPearson

The back goodness of creamy transparent blonde. You can just see the grain in this (not my best) picture. The “F” neck plate is my addition: factory versions ship with a plain neck plate.

I couldn’t have found a nicer example of neck craftsmanship, body routing and finish, electronics detail, and fret detail in such a nice mid-priced guitar. Speaking of the frets: they’re very nicely ended and crowned, smooth, and even…

I’m gushing, but then again, this guitar deserves it. I don’t know that every one is this way, but the two I’ve had were excellent examples.

Value: The FSR Ash Stratocaster with Noiseless pickups is about $150 more than the MIM Standard Stratocaster. In my opinion, it is very much well worth it. It’s a strong value if you’re looking for much nicer pickups and much better neck and tone woods. In the grander scheme of Fender guitars, this one is mid-range and has a value that’s more akin to the $899+ “specialty” Fenders like the Player series and Road Worn series

I would have a hard time choosing between this Strat and the much more expensive 50s Player Stratocaster. I like the 50s Player: a lot! But this one is much more affordable and sounds much better! The difference for me? The body wood wins on the FSR and the neck wins on the 50s Player.

Wishes: I do wish these particular FSRs had V-shaped necks. Otherwise, I love them just like they are!

The Rockin’ Gibson SG “HH” Special Limited Edition Review! Affordable Awesomeness – get your Angus on!

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Gibson SG Special “HH” Limited Edition Review!

In 2012, Gibson began shipping a variant of the non-gloss (some folks call it “faded”, but it’s not the official title) Gibson SG Special. The Gibson SG Special has a long history of bringing USA-made sound-wonder to the masses at more affordable prices. I think most folks wouldn’t turn down an SG Standard or Supreme if offered, but when the money sneaks out of the wallet, the budget-priced SG Special is the ultimate Gibson “gateway” guitar.

GibsonSGSpecialHHFrontShotbyJimPearson

The Gibson SG Special HH Limited Edition

Rich, resonant, easy-to-play, priced competitively with Asian-made lookalikes, simple, durable (for the most part), and truly a work-horse guitar… I love the Gibson SG special line so much that I’ve “rescued” several “basket cases” over the years and turned them into some of the best sounding and playing instruments I’ve ever owned or used. The retail price of the Gibson SG Special has varied greatly over the years – this limited-edition “HH” model is VERY affordable at less than $600. They can occasionally be found on sale for as much as $75 off the street price. A bargain for handcrafted USA-made rock machines!

What do I think of the limited HH SG Special? I think it is a winner. It does just what it is supposed to do, does it well, and sounds fantastic.

You know, it actually helps me write more reviews and do more gear stuff if you visit zZounds through my links and buy cool stuff from them. Take a look at the Gibson SG Faded Special at zZounds. Although they don’t offer the Gibson SG Special HH with wrap-around tail piece, they offer the Faded and gloss series. zZounds’ folks are great peeps with really great policies and excellent customer service. I’m a customer too.

Quick Opinion: If you find one of these jewels new or used and you’re looking for your first Gibson or your next Gibson, give this serious consideration. They come in unusual colors and have the old-style semi-chunky SG Special neck from the old days. If you need your first USA SG, this is a strong contender!

On another note, as a person who plays lots of guitars each week, I actually like my HH SG Special very much! I’m enjoying the maple fretboard and the nice smooth feel of the dark cherry-finished body and neck. Nice!

GibsonSGSpecialHHControlDetailbyJimPearson

The Gibson SG Special HH Control and Bridge

Sound: Gibson SGs are known for their lightweight and resonant tone. The nice set neck with the small-ish light body makes the guitar sound resonate in your body as you play. There’s not much quite like it. The neck joint and body shape really make for great sound. But there’s more to the formula of that wonderful Gibson SG sound. There are reasons why Clapton, Townshend, Young, Trucks, and so many other awesome guitarists have played SGs over the years.

This particular variant of the Gibson SG is VERY light. It has a fairly thin body and is made of decent tone materials. The finish is actually smoother than the recent “faded” models – I don’t know if the finish makes the sound any different, but my ears tell me that the thin smooth (not glossy, though) nitrocellulose finish is a great breather. Give these a couple of decades and they’ll be very desirable for their sound!

GibsonSGSpecialHHBodyColorWIthFlashbyJimPearson

Shot with a flash to bring out the real wine color

Let’s get into details…
1) Pickups/electronics
2) Tone woods, body, neck, bridge
3) The lightweight simplicity of the SG Special

Pickups and Electronics: The Gibson SG HH Special Limited Edition electric solid body guitar has a slightly different configuration from many Gibson SGs. The HH has two volume controls and one tone control (master), with a traditional L-angle three-way pickup selector switch. The input jack is in its normal place as is the switch, and the knobs are about where they generally are (minus the second tone knob). Depending on to whom you speak, the tone control is or is not important. To me? Yes, it is. I like individual tone controls, too. In my case, I often leave the neck pickup at 10 on the tone, and sometimes put the bridge pickup at 5 for warmer sound. When I’m rockin’, all the dials are at 10+… So, I like a choice. For this little gem, I can give up a little of that flexibility for the price.

The HH comes with the basic Gibson 490R (neck or “rhythm”) pickup and the basic Gibson 490T (bridge or “treble”) pickup. These pickups use AlNiCo II pickup magnets and are wound a lot like the sound of the Gibson 57 – but with distinct characteristics that separate them from the ’50s pickup sound. In the case of the HH SG Special, the pickups are traditional single-conductor (plus braided shield ground) wiring that is soldered like crazy to the back of Gibson pots and electronics. They’re squarely in the mainstream voice, are medium output, and can push the tubes quite nicely. If you’re looking for that extreme output “metal” sound, you’ll find them a little on the vintage side for hard stuff – but I’ve been known to put a King of Tone (opens a new window) and some 12ax7s in a tune-able preamp between the guitar and amp to get massive tone of just about any shape and color.

One side note about Gibson’s 490 pickups: An opinion (remember what they say about opinions?): They’re like lower-priced AlNiCo II Slash pickups – more vintage-y, a little less defined, and a little more mid-rangy than the Slash pickups and the Seymour AlNiCo II pros – but a worthy contender nonetheless. These do the blues JUSTICE as compared to even some of Gibson’s more expensive pickups. And another thing? You can actually play clean on the neck pickup if you don’t drive them too hard. Nice.

GibsonSGSpecialHHWiringDetail1byJimPearson

Wiring Detail – factory soldering

The pickup selector is fairly standard Gibson toggle fare: Neck-Neck/Bridge-Bridge. It’s quiet, mechanical, and very sturdy. I’ve never replaced a Gibson-installed pickup selector because it was bad or didn’t work.

Tone woods The body and neck are mahogany. The fretboard is baked maple (looks a lot like an unusually-grained rosewood or red-walnut color). The body is thin and resonant. Mine was made with a minimal number of wood pieces, so it has a nice growly resonance that is very distinctive.

I like rosewood like most folks, but I am really enamored of ebony and maple. The new “baked maple” fretboards of recent vintage feel a lot like good old hard maple and have a nice consistent bright sound and smooth feel. I know many people will be glad when rosewoods and some ebonies go back on the market, but I have the guilty pleasure of always wanting a few Gibsons to play that have real blonde maple fretboards and necks. I guess I’m a sucker for that smooth and bright wood…

GibsonSGSpecialHHBakedMapleFretboardDetailbyJimPearson

Rosewood, ebony, and many in the family of these dense dark woods are in short supply worldwide. Much of the (increasingly rare) woods of these types are getting forested for clear-cutting, illegal trade, and for creating junk wood products. The thing is, these woods take a LONG time to repopulate and to re-forest. Some ebony trees take a hundred years just to grow a few inches of diameter, some even longer. We can’t just cut down these woods, replant them, and harvest them again in a few short decades. Some of the best woods out there are older than even the Iron Age. We have to do our part: love the woods you love, but remember that we have to start becoming more sustainable.

Neck type and bridge Starting with the bridge, this is the old-style bridge: it’s not a tune-o-matic style with adjustable saddles and a separate stop-tail: These HH Specials have the single bridge-and-tail wraparound tailpiece that is placed very near the bridge pickup. These are reminiscent of the Melody Maker guitars of recent vintage and of the original series. It’s cheaper and simpler to have a single bridge piece and one set of studs in the body. The intonation is barely tune-able and the individuality of the tunable saddles is sorely missed, but the simple direct-to-body idea of the wrap around is fine. It sounds wonderful and resonates in the main body wood very well. I’m 50/50 on these bridges. On the one hand, they’re simple and sound fine. On the other hand, it’s very hard to set the intonation up correctly.

The neck is not the thickest Gibson neck I’ve held, but it is very much that chunky “D” sort of shape. I like V and D and deep C necks, so this one feels right at home. It’s just wide enough to make it easy to go from most any Gibson to the HH Special Limited Edition. As far as sound? Acoustically, when you play the guitar unplugged, it sounds fantastic. It has sustain that is unusual for guitars this light and of this setup. The neck actually plays a strong role in this guitar’s sound. It reminds me VERY much of my 2003 Gibson SG “moonie” Special. It’s a joy to play and sounds fantastic. Plugged in? It rings like crazy and feels very much alive in your paws when you’re playing loud OR soft.

The SG Special Sound: Simple. Resonant. Light. Awesome woods. Rings like a bell in your hands. Wonderful. Breathable finish. Buy one. (Subliminal: buy one!)

zZounds also sells the nicer, upscale gloss Gibson SG Special in ebony and cherry. VERY nice! They have a great ‘love your guitar’ guarantee! If you buy your gear after visiting my site and using my links, it helps me out (just being honest – no funny agenda or anything).

GibsonSGSpecialHHBodyShotbyJimPearson

Quality: My Gibson SG HH Special Limited Edition electric guitar is built like a tank. Bear in mind that all aspects of it were actually nicer than the faded models I’ve owned and played. The finish is a real plus! They did a GREAT job of the nice nitro satin finish!

Even though this is a low-end Gibson (well, in some folks’ eyes), the frets were done RIGHT on mine. I didn’t have to dress them or mess with the ends. VERY nice, smooth, shiny, and no jagged edges for my fingers to snag. I also found that there were no buzzy spots – the frets were seated very nicely.

The hardware is perfect and the solder joints were tough as nails. The soldering wasn’t as pretty as my LP Standard’s soldering joints, but they’re VERY strong and nicely applied. This new VVT (volume-volume-tone) arrangement made for a smaller control cavity and a little cramped-ness between the switch and pots. If you’re like me and you love to mod guitars like this, you’ll find that you have to be VERY careful about your planning as to what components to use and how the wiring will be routed. I think they could have put another two inches of bridge-ground wire in them for us modders… for the players out there, the ground is excellent and as quiet as a passive HH system gets.

GibsonSGSpecialHHBodyShotBackbyJimPearson

Gibson seems to be using different kinds of tuners these days when it comes to the traditional “green Key” or “keystone” type tuners. Mine came with genuine Kluson Deluxe tuners. I’ve seen others with Gibson Deluxe tuners (last time I was in touch with the Kluson folks, they told me that they’re not the same… I believe them.) I’m glad either way, because I grew up with old Les Pauls and 60s SGs with those lanky crazy green-key tuners. They’re not the most accurate or smooth tuners in the world, but hey work OK and they’ve gotten better over the years.

GibsonSGSpecialHHHeadstockBackbyJimPearson

My SG HH had Kluson Deluxes from the factory

Overall, my Gibson SG HH Special is built first class. Other than the gloss of many comparable Asian look-alikes on the market, my HH is better built than any of the ESPs, and even upper-crust Epiphones I’ve played and owned. Rock on Gibson. Thank you for doing such a great job on these low-cost wooden babies!

Value: The value of these guitars is an 8.5 out of 10, where 10 is a screamin’ steal and a 1 is “forgettable.” My only reason for these not being a 9 or 9.5 is the stop-tail config (and, I must admit, the brown color). I think these guitars are a must-buy for the budding guitarist. Remember: these days, the street price for many Chinese guitars with chock-a-block glue-hog bodies and cheap electronics are in the $500 range. No offense to the other guitars meant: I’m just saying that if you’re going to get out there and rock out ’til the clock’s out, a genuine Gibson USA SG is actually competitively priced to mid-line imports.

Interestingly enough, these street-price at less than the single-coil Melody Makers and only a little more than the 2011 single-humbucker Melody Makers (when they first hit the street).

Very high value, easy to play, sounds great, looks great, and worth the extra money to go get it a hard case – sold!

Wishes: I wish the wrap-around tailpiece had little adjustable saddles like those funky comb-shaped bridges of the 70s and early 80s. I almost want to put a Maestro Trem on it and feed the strings across saddles, but no go with the smooth simple wrap-around.

White (not distressed or TV white) and Pelham blue would have rocked the house! I don’t mind the walnut-type colors of the brown “faded” Gibsons, but I honestly felt like the dark brown of the HH Special looked like too-dark Minwax walnut over plywood – I would have preferred a black semi-gloss like the Goth series over the brown of these guitars.

Last wish? Do a Firebird and Explorer like this! I would totally eat up an HH Explorer Special!

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

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!

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?