In this review, JGT contributor Brad Jeter takes a close look at the Ibanez AS-113 – check out what he has to say…
I have been an Ibanez fan since I was 16. At that time, I had been playing for about a year on my first guitar–a horrible import by the name of, Howard. About all I can say is that it had a neck, strings, and pickups. In hindsight, I believe to this day that a beginner should start with a horrible guitar–it tends to weed out those who are not serious about becoming a player. It’s not the only path, but it is the path that I was forced to take. If you can make it work, in relative terms, and progress on the instrument, I truly think it not only “toughens you up” it also instills an appreciation for the better instruments your development brings.
I had many guitar heroes during that time. One stood out, not least because of the mesmerizing iconic images I ogled in magazines. Always slung impossibly low, Jimmy Page’s Les Paul sunburst was an object of lust–it was perfect and everyone dreamed that someday, “I will own one”.
Most 16-year-old guitarists of my generation could only do just that. Dream. A Gibson–any Gibson–was simply unobtainable. As fortune would have it, I found something that was a quantum leap over the torturous Howard, and by hook or crook, it could be mine. That something was a bolt-on Ibanez Les Paul sunburst copy hanging on the wall at my local music store. If I recall, it was a little over $200 new and I simply had to have it. I wound up working in a restaurant after school washing dishes and eventually, that Ibanez was mine.
Through the years, I continued to purchase Ibanez guitars–A Destroyer and a Rocket Roll Senior, both still copies but very, very good copies. I continued to purchase Ibanez guitars when they started designing their own. One that I wish I still had was a 1982 AS-50. Ibanez, by that time, were making world-class instruments that were still tremendous values compared to what other companies were offering.
And that brings us up to today and the guitar I have had the pleasure of spending the last several weeks with. The Ibanez AS-113. When I unpacked it from the box, the quality was evident. This guitar can be had for about $1000 which is surprising for reasons I am going to get to starting now.
Manufacturers have become far savvier about what customers want and more importantly, what they expect of an instrument in this very crowded field vying for your dollars today. The obvious rise of even smaller contract builders, having invested in modern tooling–especially CNC-based tooling–is setting the bar higher and higher all the time. Commercial builders realize that they have to not only offer instruments of a much higher quality than what was being produced just a decade ago, they have to constantly up their game because the other builders are always squeezing ever higher quality at lower costs to the end user.
Just to be clear, I am describing guitars in the, let’s arbitrarily say, under the $1500 price range. I didn’t research the statistics but I think it’s a good bet that the majority of guitars sold by volume are in this category and the majority are made in modern, efficient Asian factories.
So what separates the exceptional instruments in this category? In broad terms, I would argue it comes down to experience and the ability to source the highest quality woods and components to meet a price point. Ibanez is one of the companies with a proud legacy and the experience to bring it all together offering a superior instrument.
Semi-hollow body guitars, by the complexity and nature of construction, are more time-intensive builds and attention-to-detail instruments. Unlike a solid body instrument that may have some issues that can be “fixed in the mix” a semi-hollow has to get it right–you can’t tweak the neck angle in either axis; electronics and pickup swaps are far more difficult to undertake. A semi-hollow guitar needs to be built correctly from the get-go.
For this review, I am going to break with my usual protocol. Instead of running down a list of the guitar’s features, I am going to start with what I found to be the standout feature of the instrument before running down the list of features.
I simply fell in love with the neck of this guitar. It is three-piece maple construction with a small volute for added strength at the headstock junction. Everything about it almost conjures a bespoke quality as if it were made just for me. I prefer a beefier and rounded neck profile. The AS-113 neck has a very solid feel in hand with a very gradual taper towards the body. To me, it is very comfortable and places my hand in a “just right” grip for both chord formation and lead work. I will briefly mention here, for those that may not be familiar with my review style, I do not state measurement specs; those are readily available on the manufacturer’s website. By referencing those, you may get a general idea of what I find comfortable as compared to your own preferences and hand size.
The fret selection is medium jumbo and they are finished to a very high quality. Their installation and fret-end dressing are top-notch. They give a very silky feel whether adding just a hint of shimmer or wide bends. The ebony fretboard has been prepared nicely–I am not a fan of over-sanded and finished to the point of almost being glossy. The block inlays have a distinct, attractive design and are installed properly with little or no filler.
I did have a minor criticism of the bone nut. The slots–though well cut and spaced properly–had the slightest hint of “tinkling” on the high B and E string. I was able to correct this with minimal passes using nut files. Again, this is absolutely not a flaw and simply something I noticed with this particular example of the instrument. I will add to this that the guitar comes strung with .010s and I would swear they feel like .009s because of the excellence of the fretwork. Personally, I think this guitar would be a perfect candidate for .011s with no one being the wiser.
The tuners would appear to be non-branded Grovers and offer very smooth and precise adjustments with a very nice turn ratio. Something sometimes overlooked is string routing to the tuning pegs from the nut: the AS-113 spaces the strings evenly from low to high and the A, D, G, and B strings are well away from the adjacent tuning pegs.
The body style, while being very similar to an ES-335 (and to be fair, almost every semi-hollow body guitar produced follows this tried and true design) but with slightly different geometry at the waist and cutaways. Needless to say, it is immediately familiar and comfortable especially when played seated. The body woods are an interesting choice sporting maple sides and back but with a very nice, tight-grained spruce top. I don’t know if the top and back are laminates but I suspect they are which is consistent with the traditional original design.
I think the choice of an antique tobacco sunburst is absolutely beautiful and especially compliments the spruce top. The finish is not too thick and the instrument rings true acoustically.
As I mentioned, the tuners are very high-quality and that quality is carried over to the bridge and tailpiece. Both are Ibanez designs and are well thought out. The bridge offers a wide-ranging adjustment of the saddles and the tailpiece offers quick, top-down loading of the strings (this feature really shines when an emergency string change on stage is called for). All metal hardware is gold-plated.
The knobs incorporate a serrated “glove” to allow for positive finger contact and control. Speaking of the controls, they have a smooth taper and physical resistance. I didn’t put a mirror inside but my pinky did verify that the pots seem to be 16mm (and there is nothing wrong with that).
The pickups are Super 58s–which, if you are of a certain age, you will recall they were one of the first Japanese pickups that weren’t immediately swapped out and thrown in the dumpster. The originals were quite good as I recall. I have no way of comparing these new Super 58s to the originals but knowing Ibanez, they are probably exactly the same or very close. They have an overall balance that leans slightly to the warm side of the spectrum and are more-or-less vintage-style output. I found them to be very well-matched tonally to the guitar. Output is nicely balanced between the neck and bridge. There is the addition of a mini-toggle, three-way switch which Ibanez refers to as Tri-Sound. It will reconfigure the neck pickup coils to offer some leaner, single-coil-type sounds. These alternative pickup configurations should satisfy the player looking for maximum tonal options originating from the guitar.
In conclusion, this is a very fine instrument at a price point that leaves you wondering how they did it. Did I mention it comes standard with a hardshell case? The Ibanez AS-113 is not only a great value it continues the outstanding legacy of Ibanez offering instruments that exceed expectations. I have no reservations about recommending this guitar to any player regardless of ability. It will inspire a novice and it will provide the most seasoned professional with a satisfying instrument of superior quality.
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