3 Stores2 Reviews
Pros: A fine roots rock big box
Cons: Not a truly fine jazzbox
The Ibanez Artcore AF75 was part of a line of low cost archtops that debuted a few years ago, and by most accounts, made quite a splash. Until then, companies like Epiphone dominated the market for mid-line hollow bodies. To get a truly cheap one, you had to look for cool, but not very good Harmony Rockets or Japanese copies.
When the Artcore series came out, it did seemed like the basic concept of buying a hollowbody did change. The perception that it was an expensive and specialized type suddenly changed to it being a feasible second or third guitar to add to the collection. At the very least, a low cost way to enter into the world of jazz guitars.
Like all new concepts that make such an impact, reality and hype did merge, and more than a few rockers bought an Artcore AF75 thinking they were getting a real jazz guitar. Certainly the company backed that idea up. Ibanez even bragged that other companies were buying the guitars to resell under their own brand names (they still do).
One of the initial models was the AF75. It was the entry level model, based somewhat on the old Gibson Byrdland with it's wide but narrower body, and easy to play short 22 fret scale neck. It come in a vintage burst, blueburst, and orange finishes and most buyers can find it at a street price of 320.00 to 350.00. A bargain for a nice looking jazz guitar with a maple body, mohogany neck, humbuckers and decent hardware.
The only jazz-related guitar that I had any experience with before then was an old ES-330 I used to have in the 70s and I found this Artcore to have a nice smooth sound that sounded "jazzy" and somewhat similar (not as good, but certainly similar).
In other words, the tone had a jazzy quality, but with a noticable amount of solid-body tone. You could get it "thicker" or "darker" sounding with some fiddling of the tone knob, but unfortunately, it came at the cost of sounding muddier.
To sum it up, I had myself a beautiful looking hollowbody with average electronics. Certainly upgradable given the low initial cost, but jazz guitars aren't like solid bodies. You can't upgrade the pickups, for example, as casually and expect a massive improvement. Changing the pickups can improve things, but due to the nature of a hollow body and what goes into the construction of one, it's not certain it would have resulted in a noticably better "jazz" guitar.
One clue I now look for in jazz guitars before upgrading is, does it sound good acoustically? It doesn't have have to be loud, but how is the tone? In this case, the AF75 isn't bad, but it's a bit too "woody." Compare it to an old DeArmond or an Epiphone Emperor Regent, and it begins to sound like an old Kay.
Since I was looking for an entry level jazz guitar to add to my collection, the this model was a valuable first experience. I ultimately found it unsatisfactory as an entry level jazzbox. In fact, the market seems to agree, as one can find this model used (often with upgraded pickups)in the 200-230 range in my area.
However, no guitar this well constructed would ever be really useless either. One has to remember that the old era Rock and Roll, Blues, Rockabilly, and Swing players used big box guitars also, and in this context, the AF75 is more than decent. In fact, there's almost no need to buy a more expensive model in the Artcore line if rocking the blues or doing the rockabilly is your goal.
The pickups overload quickly on a tube or analog amp, and the distortion is suitably warm and full. The tone is sensitive to pick attack and capable of a large range of sounds in this context. The stock humbuckers growl more than do the midrange fuzz-out, so your leads will cut through any mix.
Roots rockers who can find a used copy in the low 200.00 range will find it a bargain, and with upgraded pickups, a real keeper.
I think Ibanez has tacitly acknowledged the weakness of models like the AF75 as jazzboxes by coming out with more upscale models that critics have raved about. My local guitar store, for example, will steer customers towards the more expensive Ibanez models even though 30% of their stock are Gibsons and Epiphones.
So, in the few years since the Artcore line was launched, the AF75 has gone from revolutionary to a guitar where you definitely get what you pay for.
However, that statement can be qualified as thus; the jazzer may find it mediocre, but the rockers will find it a bargain. It's all in the eyes of the beholder, as they say.