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.

30 Comments

  1. Sure looks like a pretty one, David. Too bad the looks don’t match the sound. I’d try to take it back if I were you. Why keep it when we know it will sit in a case not being played?

    1. It is a shining, glowing, example of a great looking guitar, Anne. I just wish it had better sound. Sometimes you hit and other times you miss. Ibanez has missed twice for me. There won’t be a third chance.

      I will rotate playing the AF125 so it won’t sit in the case. It’s too pretty not to hold once-in-a-while. SMILE!

    1. That’s a fair question. I don’t hear that big a difference with the Custom ’58s in the 125 compared to the ACH PUs in the 75 even though they are supposed to be superior. Is that a PU issue or a build and resonance problem? There shouldn’t be any doubt or question.

    1. That’s what I’m trying to do, Gordon, split the baby. An electric hollow body should be sort of usable unplugged for quiet playing or playing when you aren’t near an amp. The 125 is silent unplugged using fingerstyle. With a pick, it’s almost usable. My two Custom Les Pauls, both solid bodies, sound much better unplugged using fingerstyle than the 125. That tells me something is wrong with the Ibanez design and execution.

      I will keep playing the 125 though, to give it some seasoning time — it’s a new guitar just built a few weeks ago — and I’ll hope the sound finally comes into it somehow.

      1. Umh, I can’t believe what you said, because I’ve got the same guitar and absolutely the sound is very nice, full and loud, far away from a solid body! I’ve got some other guitars, like fender stratocaster and gibson les paul studio, and the sound is way louder in the ibanez unplugged. And when plugged I think it is a good guitar (gorgeous on the look and very good to play) but if you prefer gibson, you’re welcome to pay a guitar at least 3 or 4 times the price of af 125 and I rather prefer not to. I’ve no regrets about this guitar. and I tried several ibanez artcore families (ak75, ak95, af75) and I still think it is one of the best.

          1. i have one also and it blows away my less pauls and fenders unplugged. ant ther pick ups cant compared to the ach’s they are way better. even before i switched to nano web flatts and the wooden bridge. In fact it not much different then my friends 175 and iut cost almost 4 times more. You either got a bad one ( whoich is what happens when yopu buy online. Or it needs a pro set up and good flats. MIne sounds better two yerars later now, then when i first got it, and the women love the looks 🙂 and dont forget to put foam under the pick gard to remove rattle sounds.

  2. UPDATE:

    Yesterday, I removed the pickguard and the sound became richer and deeper. In acoustic mode, volume increased by at least 50%. I’m not a big fan of pickguards on any of my Les Pauls — and now I know why pickguards are really a bad idea on an archtop.

  3. I have owned the Custom125 for 3 weeks now. For what it is, it an outstanding instrument! NO, it is not a carved spruce top guitar that costs 3-10 times the money.

    I grew up playing the top quality classic 50s and 60s jazz boxes. I have not owned a decent guitar in 38 years. I did not want to spend the money for a “vintage” instrument, or a current “real” archtop. This guitar is an excellent value that sounds very good. Playing along side my students who have L5s and the likes, this Ibanez sounds fine. Besides, I have never seen a more visually beautiful guitar.

    I put on the wood bridge top, and put on Thomastick Jazz Swings. It sounds much more woody and strong. I suspect after 6 months of playing in, it will be even better. Fits my needs very well.

    Thanks for making a great guitar.

  4. I also removed the pickguard from mine. I’ve used it as my gigging guitar for a few years now and couldn’t be happier, I just plug it in and play – sounds good and look nice. When I’ve needed to practice unplugged at home or in dressing rooms I’ve been happy enough with the acoustic sound.

  5. I’ve got this beauty since ’08.

    Taking in account that my playing skills are of this level (http://youtu.be/cwHfUfqepQQ), I think that this guitar is too much for me and I would be really ashamed if I had an ES-175 🙂

    By the way, great for practice, can deliver rich sounds and even if I’ve got an Ibanez RG (570 made in fujijen) I’m trying to go against the flow by cranking up the distortion (not just that, but that’s the point) in my line-6 spider jam, and guess what: If you watch out the feedback it can sound like a mean dirty filthy myddy metal slug sounding in more harmonics than your ears can get !!!!!!!!!!

    Detail tip: If you carefully examine the pickguard you’ll notice that in the point where it is cut in the shape of the PU’s the wood is only the outer front and back layer, and in the middle is some kind of reddish/brown plastic material. I could’t even stand the thought that the whole guitar body is made out of this.

    Detail tip: You want it to sound louder?
    1) As in any acoustic guitar try carefully cleaning with a toothpick (oiled in the edge with sth like WD-40) the nut and the bridge in the point where the string sits. Believe it or not it enchances sustain and volume
    2)I treated the wooden bridge with fretboard lubricant,and after 4 years the bridge came back to life. I dunno why but it delevers the sound better to the body
    3) If you don’t mind as mentioned before remove the pickguard, it lets the sound spread equally from the body

    Mr Boles, thanx for the great review and your patience to give this guitar a second chance

    Peace and Love

      1. I am really careful with the toothpick, so that I clean olny the slots, and that the WD is never enough to form a drop and disperse from the nut slots. I never directly spray WD-40 in the guitar, I think it could easily damage the fretboard. I use Dunlop 02 conditioner (used in the wooden part of the bridge as well) and 65 lemon oil. I am sure that there are tons of lubricants appropriate for this job…

        Needless to say, after 4 years of using AF125 as my main every-day guitar (=the one that my wife wants to throw out of the window), the neck remains straigtway just like it was out of the box. Also in a strange way, the laminated wood after the first 2-3 years has started producing some more rich tones and overall the guitar sounds more “solid”. I don’t know the physics of this but maybe the wood is now more “experienced” from all the moisture and temperature changes and the varnish may be a little thinner in some points. The result is that I feel the guitar resonating more throughout the body. Maybe It’s just my idea but I am trying to be objective I guess a solid top archtop could evolve much more over the years to a fuller sound !

        The golden finish has started wearing out at some points, but i don’t care at all, besides it starts getting a vintage look 😉