Has Ibanez per­fected the con­tem­po­rary dou­ble-cut?

Total Guitar - - REVIEW -

Look, we could open this re­view by bang­ing on about how Ibanez is syn­ony­mous with shred gods Joe Sa­tri­ani, Steve Vai and Paul Gil­bert, but we all know there’s more to the Ja­panese gui­tar gi­ant than pointy head­stocks. Over its six-decade his­tory, the com­pany has found favour with gui­tarists of all stripes – the jazz-friendly Art­core, the in­die de­light that is the Tal­man – but the AZ series marks its most laser-fo­cused at­tempt to cre­ate the ul­ti­mate ‘play­ers’ player’ gui­tar, courtesy of four years’ R&D and in­put from six-string sa­vants such as Tom Quayle, Martin Miller and Andy Tim­mons. But can one gui­tar be all things to all play­ers?

The AZ224F clocks in at the more af­ford­able end of the line-up, with an In­done­sian build and bass­wood (rather than the up­per-end Pres­tige’s alder) body, but still de­liv­ers the core of what makes the AZ range such a win­ning prospect: in short, ev­ery­thing. We’re talk­ing a roasted maple neck and fret­board, com­plete with hard-wear­ing stain­less-steel frets, glow-in-thedark side dots and a non-stick Graph Tech TUSQ XL nut; Go­toh Mag­num Lock ma­chine heads, with height-ad­justable posts for op­ti­mum string an­gle be­hind the nut; a Go­toh-de­signed vi­brato, with a lock­able tremolo arm that doesn’t flop around; an in­cluded hy­brid hard­case/gig­bag… oh, and a set of newly de­signed Sey­mour Dun­can Hype­r­ion pick­ups with nine (!) se­lectable po­si­tions.

Just sit­ting down with the AZ is a rev­e­la­tion; the looks may be clas­sic, but the com­fort and fret­board ac­cess is un­prece­dented. Ibanez’s su­per all-ac­cess neck joint means you’ll have no prob­lem up at the dusty end, while an er­gonomic back con­tour makes for a gui­tar that melds into your body. That neck will be a sur­prise to any­one used to Ibanez’s le­gendary, su­per-skinny Wiz­ard pro­files, how­ever; the oval C, bor­der­ing on D, pro­file is cer­tainly more of a palm-filler, but we reckon it has a more uni­ver­sal ap­peal while still be­ing svelte enough for fret­board hero­ics, es­pe­cially with its in­cred­i­bly light sealer fin­ish. The vi­brato is a joy to use, too; even if you tend to shun

the az’s playa­bil­ity is im­me­di­ately grat­i­fy­ing...

whammy, you may find your­self adding in sub­tle shim­mers, such is the smooth­ness of the sys­tem and sta­bil­ity of the tun­ing.

While the AZ’S playa­bil­ity is im­me­di­ately grat­i­fy­ing, the pickup switch­ing takes a bit more thought, and the key lies in the Al­ter Switch. Flick it down, and the selections are as you’d ex­pect from an Al­nico V-equipped HSS gui­tar: a clutch of fat, hi-fi sin­gle-coil tones that ex­cel at con­tem­po­rary clean sounds. But switch­ing in the other di­rec­tion opens up four ad­di­tional tones: po­si­tion five runs the two sin­gles in series to ap­prox­i­mate a hum­bucker; next is the neck and sin­gle hum­bucker coil near­est the bridge; then the sin­gles in series with the hum­bucker; fol­lowed by the sin­gle hum­bucker coil near­est the neck; then the hum­bucker as nor­mal.

That grants you ac­cess to darker, jazz­ier neck tones, punchy all-pick­ups-on sounds, and thin­ner sin­gle-coil snap. Com­bined with the stan­dard po­si­tions, there’s an un­par­al­leled choice of tones – if you can’t find a mid-po­si­tion quack you like here, it doesn’t ex­ist.

That ver­sa­til­ity makes the AZ a dab hand at just about any kind of play­ing – although it is worth not­ing that while the hum­bucker does the clas­sic rock thing ex­tremely well, it’s not the most high-out­put pickup in the world, so metal play­ers might want a boost in their sig­nal chain for se­ri­ously high-gain sounds. What’s most strik­ing is how well-bal­anced the pickup sounds are across the range – noth­ing’s overly dark or spiky. It all adds up to an in­spir­ing set of tones that re­tain their char­ac­ter through gain.

It’s hard to think of an area where Ibanez could im­prove here – sure, ebony fret­board and hard­tail op­tions would be nice, and some play­ers may just pre­fer a sim­pler coil-split to a whole ex­tra set of pickup po­si­tions – but that’s tes­ta­ment to the com­pany’s metic­u­lous at­ten­tion to spec. We love the sub­tle out­put jack, hid­den in a re­cess near the strap but­ton, and the thumb­wheel to lock the whammy bar in po­si­tion. With the AZ line, Ibanez has cre­ated a gui­tar that has the po­ten­tial to ap­peal to just about any player – and in an age of divi­sion, that’s a very wel­come achieve­ment.

Michael Ast­ley-brown

1 Al­ter Switch The az224f boasts a whop­ping nine ton al vari­a­tions courtesy of this mini-tog­gle and the five-way se­lec­tor2 Tuners Go­toh’s mag­num Lock tuners are on board here, com­plete with height Ad­justable posts to pre­cisely set the ten­sion for each string3 Side dots Ibanez has thought of ev­ery­thing –thea z’s side dots even glow in the dark, so there’ s no ex­cuses formissed­fret­son dark­stages231

Ibanez’s su­per all-ac­cess neck­joint­mean­syou’ll­have no­prob­lematthe­dustyend

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