Spending $3,000.00USD on a guitar — like the Eric Clapton Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster — can bankrupt a family when somebody just wants to start making music, so I set out to find the best electric guitar that cost 10 times less than the Clapton Custom. I happened upon the Ibanez Artcore AG75 — the best guitar for the money at $300.00USD — and I invite you to find out why.
Yes, the Ibanez Artcore AG75 is a $300.00USD guitar and it’s actually two guitars in one. It is an electric guitar with pickups and volume and tone control; but it’s also an acoustic hollowbody that actually sounds pretty good unplugged.
You wouldn’t want to use an electric hollowbody to replace your standard acoustic guitar, but if you wanted to jam on the run, or without electricity flowing, the AG75 will play for you in the dimming and the dark.
The fit and finish on the AG75 is surprisingly good. The guitar is made in China, and while that doesn’t bother me a bit, some “guitar purists” will dismiss the AG75 as being inferior only because of its place of origin.
“Made in the USA” might have had a guarantee of quality and craftsmanship fifty years ago, but today, in a compressing international economy where pieces and parts are “worlded out” — the only thing that matters is answering this question: “How does it play?”
The Ibanez Artcore AG75 plays just fine. The guitar is small in your hands, but plays big with a woodsy, resonating, hollow. There is a distinct difference between the neck and bridge pickups and that’s really all you can ask of an electric guitar — a variety of switchable sounds.
Unfortunately, the AG75 doesn’t come with any carrying case. It is delivered bound in a cardboard box. If you want a hard case for the guitar, that will cost you an extra $100.00USD. Is it ridiculous to pay for a case that costs one-third of the guitar it’s carrying? Yes, but you need to protect your investment — no matter how small — so you’ll have to eventually pony up for the protection if you want to take your AG75 into the world. Even as a beater guitar, you don’t want your AG75 meeting the street.
The strings — or the fretboard — left my fingers a filthy black. I don’t know if special ink was used to darken the rosewood fretboard or not, but ending up with blackened fingers after five minutes of tooling around is ridiculous. My AG75 was born in October of last year, so I guess there was plenty of opportunity in transit from China, and then sitting in a warehouse for eight months, for the grime to build up — but still — $300.00USD or not, the guitar should not be filthy.
The factory installed strings were also incredibly strange in that they were a huge, unrecognizable, gauge. The Ibanez website claims all Artcore guitars are strung with .9s. The Ibanez Support forum claims the website is wrong and all Artcore guitars are strung with .10s. My AG75 strings were definitely D’Addario — the colorful ball ends were a dead giveaway — but they were not .9s or .10s or even .11s. The bass strings were massive. I saved the strings and I’m waiting for my digital caliper to arrive so I can get a proper string gauge measurement.
I replaced the dirty factory strings with D’Addario .10s, and the guitar plays and sounds even better. Hollowbody guitars with a floating bridge like the AG75 require a higher tension string to keep the bridge in place and to resonate throughout the hollow. I wouldn’t go below .10s on the AG75 and for many guitars the standard for a hollowbody electric is at least .11-.49.
The neck is thin. The frets are really rough. Doing an even half-step bend will result in an uncomfortable grinding of your strings against the frets. The AG75 is best for Cool Jazz but not the Bendy Blues.
The most unfortunate thing I noticed on my Artcore AG75 is the fretboard inlay at the fifth fret was raised on the treble side instead of being flush with the wood. The sharp edge and corners of the inlay interfered with doing slides and bends. Did I want the hassle of returning a $300.00USD guitar with the likely result that the cross-shipped replacement would have the same inlay problem? No.
I took my SOG and carefully shaved down the sharp edges of the inlay so they were a bit flatter against the fretboard. Yes, some of the rosewood was also shaved off in my improvised surgery, but I was at least able to take enough off the inlay so I could, at last, comfortably bend some Blues without the possibility of getting cut.
You might wonder how I happened to come upon the Ibanez Artcore AG75. I enjoy Jake Reichbart’s YouTube videos, and I recently learned Jake plays an AG75. When I went to check the price of his guitar, and found out it could be had for around $300.00USD on the street, I went bonkers hankering for a chance to imitate his cool tones.
The beloved kidding about Jake Reichbart on YouTube is that while he makes his guitar sing like an angel, he looks like a guy waiting for the bus while playing — so when you watch Jake in this AG75 example, look past the faraway, inattentive, look in his eye, and try to not stare at the blue duct tape on his bridge pickup — just close your eyes and enjoy the sound.
Don’t buy the Ibanez Artcore AG75 and think you’re going to get that guitar to sound like Jake Reichbart. Jake is a professional musician and his fingers bring all the tone and memeing to the AG75, but if you’d like to try to learn how to play like Jake, starting with the AG75 is a good first step, and you will never regret the dollar spent for the sound earned. The AG75 is a tremendous value, and a greater instrument, for percolating your musical muse.