UPDATE: May 20, 2011 — After a week of playing this guitar every day for at least three hours, it’s starting to warm up and loosen up a bit. The wood is “coming in” and the sound reverberation is much more pleasing and enjoyable now. This is, in large, a relief and I am starting to like the creamy Jazz sounds oozing from this box.
As I move my Blues guitar playing deeper into Jazz territory, I decided I wanted to dip my fingers into a more complex Jazz box — a traditional archtop — to see if I could more easily replicate that classic Jazz guitar sound. I know you can play Jazz on any guitar, and my ’57 Les Paul Black Beauty and my ’56 Les Paul Goldtop both sound great playing Dave Brubeck and Wes Montgomery, but I wanted to get into Joe Pass, Tal Farlow and Jim Hall hollow body territory. I decided on the Ibanez AF125AMB Artcore Custom and the price was right at $900.00USD after a $100 instant rebate from SamAsh.com. I was set.
One might think the first question to ask when purchasing a sub-$1,000.00USD archtop is, “How does an Ibanez Artcore Custom AF125 compare to the Gibson ES-175 that it is imitating? Is an ES-175 worth 3.5 times the price of an AF125?”
The immediate answer is, “I don’t know, yet” — but perhaps a more prescient question to ask is, “How does an AF125 compare to an Ibanez AG75? Is the AF125 worth three times as much as the AG75?”
I don’t think so.
Ibanez guitars are okay guitars, but they aren’t Gibsons. Ibanez guitars are made in Korea and China and they are created to be affordable to the masses.
That said, my AG75 sits in its case unplayed. The pickups are okay, the problem with the fingerboard still gnaws at me, and while the AF125 demonstrates superior craftsmanship with a lovely amber burst, quilted maple veneer, and better pickups — the AG75 is louder unplugged and that speaks directly about the construction differences between the two models.
One of the reasons you want an archtop is so you can play and practice acoustically. The sound won’t rival a regular acoustic guitar, but you should get some greater sense of natural sound from the instrument because the unplugged sound influences the electrified tone. You need a hollow body to sound good unplugged. A dead archtop is a useless guitar, and my AF125 is dull and dead unplugged and that’s one of the dangers of buying a guitar sight unseen and utterly unheard on the internet. I accept the risk. I will live with the consequences.
That said, the AF125 is beautiful. It looks great. The wood binding around the edges, fingerboard and F-holes is quite a nice touch, as are the wooden knobs, tailpiece and floating bridge. Even the pickguard is made of wood. The guitar was perfect when it come out of its case. After an hour of playing, I felt a small ding in the upper edge of the wood binding. I couldn’t believe it! I put the guitar in playing position and the ding perfectly lined up with one of the buttons on my Carhartt shirt. Unbelievable! Play your Ibanez guitars shirtless or you’ll rue the first day you started plucking!
That said, would I prefer to have a less beautiful — but more robust — guitar that sounded better unplugged? Yes.
Will I be sending the AF125 back to SamAsh.com as part of my 45 day return window? No. I threw away the shipping box and my button done dinged it. Gaff me!
Here are the specs for the AF125:
Neck: 5pc Artcore custom set-in neck
Neck Type: AF set-in
Body: Quilted Maple top/back/sides
Frets: Medium frets
Fingerboard: Bound Rosewood
Inlay: Artcore Custom
Bridge: ART1 Bridge
NeckPU: IBZ Super 58 neck pu
BridgePU: IBZ Super 58 bridge pu
Color: Amber Burst
Here’s a honey shot — taken with my awful and aging iPhone 3GS camera — of the AF125 and my Black Beauty and Goldtop. You can see I swapped out the metal saddles on the AF125 for one made of rosewood. Both saddles are included with the guitar along with a proper, non-logo, hardshell case:
If you want to get that Jazz archtop sound, you can stick with the Ibanez AG75 and save yourself about $600.00USD extra that you’d have to spend buying the AF125; but if you’re a serious student of Jazz guitar — I’d warn you to entirely stay away from Ibanez guitars and save your money for a better brand — say a Gibson ES-175 or a Gibson L-4.