Ibanez Artcore Expressionist Guitars -
A world away from the Ibanez solid bodies that more or less rule
affordable Metal guitars, and light years distant from its exotic
seven and eight stringed models, Ibanez has another, quieter side -
its renowned semi-solid Jazz guitars. We gave three of its
Expressionist series newcomers to Tom Quayle and told him to play
something tasteful. Nice!
During my history as a student of Jazz I've always owned an
Ibanez of some kind, from '70s 'lawsuit' copies through to the
modern AS-103 that resides in my studio right now. Put your head
into any music school Jazz guitar ensemble and you'll likely find
at least one Ibanez in the line up. It's no surprise given that
their artist roster contains three of the most legendary Jazz
guitarists out there: Pat Metheny, George Benson and John Scofield.
All three of these guys revolutionized Jazz guitar in their own way
and have certainly done no harm to Ibanez's reputation in the Jazz
field. The most successful Ibanez 'Jazz-box' range has been the
Artcore series and, with the new Expressionist range, Ibanez is
looking to start a new chapter in the Artcore story.
Previous iterations of the Artcore series have always been well
loved, especially by students looking for a starter Jazz guitar,
but unless you went for a top of the range model the pickups tended
to be sub-par, even for a guitar in the budget range. Ibanez have
listened to criticisms and have upgraded all of the new
Expressionist models with their classic Super 58 pickups, much
loved by Pat, George and John, plus an army of jazzers around the
globe. These are fantastic, dynamic and superbly responsive pickups
that really shine for Jazz tones, so this upgrade is worth the
price of admission alone. Of course, pickup upgrades wouldn't count
for much if these new guitars suffered poor build quality or
playability. Ibanez sent us three models to review, all of which
sit firmly within the Jazz world being fully hollow bodies with
single or dual humbucker configurations.
The AFJ95 features a traditional shaped, 15 ¾" body with lovely
flame maple back and sides and a spruce top. The neck is a
three-piece mahogany and maple, set-neck design with the classic
Artcore headstock shape and chrome tuners. The fretboard is
constructed from rosewood, bound all the way round and features
pearl block inlays and narrow fretwire and 20 frets for a
traditional Jazz feel and design. Ibanez's own ART-W wooden bridge
and VT06 metal tailpiece add to this authenticity and are backed up
by two Super 58 humbuckers, a three-way switch and independent tone
and volume controls.
The AFJ91 is almost identical in its general construction but
features a single pickup in the neck and, thus, a single volume and
tone control for a simpler more traditional look. Ibanez advertises
the AFJ91 as having a wooden bridge but ours came with a metal one,
so perhaps this will be dependent on which country you are in.
The AKJ95 is a slightly different design and body shape
featuring flame maple top, back and sides but the same neck design
as the previous guitars. The cutaway is a more aggressive
'Florentine' shape allowing slightly better access to the upper
fretboard range but still imparting a classic look that you'll
recognize immediately. In all other respects the AKJ95 is the same
spec as the AFJ95 so the differences become purely aesthetic.
Considering the price of these guitars, the build quality is
astounding. All three models were beautifully made with no sloppy
workmanship on the neck, body or fretboard. The chosen body woods
looked resplendent with their flame maple grain adding an expensive
feel and the quality binding outlines these classic body shapes
very nicely indeed. The hardware also felt great and performed well
with no tuning issues, intonation problems or buzzing frets to be
found. Ibanez seems to have a knack for making Jazz guitars that
play like butter and, even strung with 11-52 flatwound strings, the
Expressionist range plays itself thanks to a superb set-up straight
from the factory.
Tonally, all three guitars sound impressive, both acoustically
and electrically. Obviously we're not talking boutique levels of
tone but to have the Super 58 pickups and quality construction at
this price point means that almost anybody can afford a good level
Jazz guitar with impressive tonal abilities. The neck position
Super 58 (let's face it, how often are you actually going to use
that bridge pickup?) sounds suitably fat and round but retains
great clarity even with the tone control wound all the way off. You
can easily go from Scofield-esque tones to darker Jim Hall and
Metheny moments with ease and paired with a good clean amp these
pickups really inspire you to play with dynamics and to think about
The Expressionist range is certainly a triumph for Ibanez and
I'd have no hesitation in recommending any one of these three
guitars to any Jazz student or professional. I can imagine these
guitars becoming the staple sight in music colleges and gracing
many stages across the world, just as previous Artcore models have.
One thing to factor into your mind is that these models don't come
with a case so add that into your budget when thinking about
buying. Great Jazz guitars from Ibanez - I'm tempted myself!
Check out the full review inc. video of Ibanez
Artcore Expressionist Guitars by Tom Quayle featured in
Guitar Interactive Magazine Issue 19.