Pros: This is the perfect midrange guitar for both beginners and experienced players.
Cons: The fretwork could use a little more attention.
I am fond of Ibanez Artcores which bring a lot of guitar for a reasonable price. I have an entry level "70" series Artcore AS model and right within the middle of the line is the gorgeous AS93 at around $550 to $600 dollars street price.
Bound flame maple body with semi-hollowbody construction
Transparent blue sunburst finish
Three piece, 22 fret maple and mahogany neck with bound rosewood fretboard
Abalone and pearl block inlays
Two volume, two tone knobs, and three way switch
Gold plated hardware
Today I walked into my local music store and tried out this beautiful blue guitar. What struck me was just how light this was being the lightest ES-335 style semi-hollowbody I have ever played. The well seasoned maple, mahogany, and rosewood were married in a perfect union letting this guitar ring out with a snappiness while unplugged and with great sustain through a small Fender tube amp.
While the neck on this guitar tends towards a more traditional thicker neck just over 1" inch in depth at the 12th fret, the action on this guitar with 9-42 super slinky strings played with authority and very little buzz. Ibanez has more than any major guitar company prided themselves on having the best set ups right out of the factory and this was no exception. For those who are used to the Ibanez superstrats with very thin necks and very big frets, this guitar isn't it. The design is to be more akin to a 1950s Gibson hollowbody jazz guitar in its feel but the neck is still pretty fast.
The medium frets are like the most vintage frets and have that specific vintage feel and may have been better if they were just a little taller and wider like the frets on virtually any other Ibanez. The size of the fret is more relegated to taste and does not make it a lesser or cheaper guitar. The fret finish was what one could expect from a moderately priced guitar and could have been a little more polished and smooth to match with its premium body and finish.
While sustain usually belongs to a guitar that is fully solid, Ibanez's somewhat hot ceramic humbuckers on this guitar allows it to have a little extra gain and get a sustain approaching that of a solidbody electric guitar. Backing off the pickup from the strings will give a warmer, more traditional tone and setting them up close to the strings gets that famous, tight tone that some players like in a good rock and roll ceramic pickup.
There's no question that they really shine when put to the test with distortion. While I practiced for a month for an outdoor gig with three Marshall half stacks and a solidbody, it was the Artcore AS model that I chose that day. The semi-hollowbody allows for a decent amount of volume unlike a fully hollow guitar which would feedback uncontrollably. I wouldn't recommend this as the best guitar for a 100 watt Marshall, but if it's your only guitar, it will get the job done.
I don't know if it's my respect for tradition, but semi-hollowbody guitars sound great through small combo amps with just one or two speakers. While not as easy to control at the verge of distortion as the typical Les Paul, SG, or strat, it's always fun to experiment with a guitar that does not know if its a jazz instrument or rock and roll instrument. When Gibson first invented the concept in 1958, it didn't take long for all the other makers to offer their own version of such a hybrid.
When Ibanez first started making a prime time semi-hollowbody, there was no problem with the quality but they were not able to lower the price to a level many could afford. Where the first AS-50s and AS-200s wowed the musical instrument world of professional and semi-professional guitarists, the Artcore line decided that all should be able to tap into this great design. The AS-93 brings that spirit of an affordable guitar, but uses modern technology and the emerging drive of Chinese manufacturing to pull off such a great value in an otherwise top quality guitar. What I expected was a weak link in the stock pickups but they produce a full midrange attack with plenty of sustain. I would not stack them up against the IBZ Super 58 or Custom 58, but they are not bad on this guitar at this excellent price point.
This model has a nice arched top to it and a neck that sits high over the body helping the woody tone of the hollowbody wings to ring out. While the tone has a solidbody sustain, it also has that fully acoustic hollowbody tone evident when played in the neck position humbucker. For around six hundred dollars, it's hard to believe that a major guitar company like Ibanez could have such beautifully bookmatched flame maple under a flawless glossy finish.
While this guitar, like any guitar, has the primary purpose of being played, one wants to just look at this guitar as a piece of art. Most flamed maple guitars have either a cherry sunburst or brown sunburst finish, but Ibanez took a different route with this particular option on this model and gave us a deep blue sunburst. I have seen pictures of this guitar over the last few years, but there is nothing quite like seeing this finish in person. I may not make a lot of friends saying this, but it looks better than the much more common cherry sunburst finish guitars (from various makers including Ibanez).
The bright 14k looking gold plated finish works well with this guitar though I would have preferred a shiny chrome to go with the blue. The white pearloid plastic tuning keys look classy with this guitar and it's a nice touch. The gold plastic knobs with rubber grip also give this guitar an upper echelon vibe.
When looking at the entire Artcore line in the AS Series, it's hard to say what is the best value for the dollar since I have to say they all prove their point from the satin finished AS53 all the way up to the AS103 Artcore Custom.