The Chinese-made 300 has a light feel, and its neck fills your hand much like a mid ’60s Gibson ES-335’s—not too thin, not too fat, and just perfect for the majority of players. The lightly polished frets feel great to bend on, and you can hardly notice their tapered ends as your hand slides along the fretboard. The action is nice and low, but unfortunately, the intonation suffered a bit in some spots and fret buzz was a problem on the B string above the 12th fret. None of this is difficult to straighten out, but our review guitar definitely needed some setup help and possibly even some rounding of the nut’s sharp corners, which can bite into your fingers when you lift the guitar off a stand. The Cosmo Black chrome bridge and stop tailpiece feature smooth surfaces to lay your palm on, and I’ve got to say those black metal parts (including the pickup surrounds) look very hip. Ditto for the diamond pearl fretboard“dots,” the tattoo-like 12th position marker, and the swanky pearl “I” that graces the peghead face.
It’s unusual to find active pickups in a guitar at this price point, and the 300’s Ibanez-made units are powered by a pair of AA batteries that are accessible from the back of the body. Designed to deliver a powerful signal and be very resistant to noise (courtesy of a low-impedance output, which makes them essentially immune to the signaldegrading effects that long lengths of cable can impose), they deliver thick overdrive tones and have a nice, tight low-end response. They are bright without being too edgy, their midrange color is rich and expressive, and they stay clear and focused when you turn down. When I lowered the pickup height a bit to elicit more headroom from our test amps (a Vox Classic 50 and a Dr. Z MAZ 18) the ART300 offered up some beautiful rhythm tones—especially in the dual pickup mode, where you can take advantage of the blending options that the two Volume controls provide. Roll back the well-voiced Tone control when using the neck pickup, and you can even get some sweet jazz sounds from this guitar.
The ART300 is a highly capable rock machine that is quite inexpensive considering all that it offers. With its cool look, great playing feel, and active pickups, the 300 nails most the major performance points of guitars costing three or four times as much. And where but from Ibanez are you going to find an axe that flaunts a faux’gator top?
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