Starting out as a bookstore in 1908, the Hoshino Gakki company launched its modern, Ibanez-branded guitars in 1957, which were essentially very finely manufactured replicas of popular models. U.S. distribution began in the early ’70s, and by 1974, Ibanez had transformed imitation into inspiration, and debuted its first original designs as the AR, or Artist, Series. Steve Miller and Bob Weir were early converts—and both were given their own signature Ibanez models in the late ’70s—but despite the relatively high profile of the AR line, it was discontinued in 1992, then relaunched in 1998, and has now branched out into several variations of the stunning original design, including the new AR620FM.
With a beautiful, flame maple top on a mahogany body trimmed with abalone and adorned with gold hardware, the AR620FM is an undeniably handsome guitar. Adding even more elegance is a Tree of Life inlay on the ebony fretboard that’s echoed on the headstock. But the AR620FM isn’t just fun to look at, it’s also a blast to play. The body’s symmetrical cutaways are rounded off smoothly, which provides both comfort and plenty of room to access the upper frets with ease. The factory setup right out of the box was also impressive. It came ready to play with a low, buzz-free action and good intonation. Even after long periods of aggressive strumming and riffing, the AR620FM stayed in tune. The control knobs were set on their posts somewhat unevenly—the bridge Tone was so close to the body that it was resistant to a smooth turn—and they are a bit out of reach for quick, on-the-fly adjustments. A shame, as the Ibanez Sure Grip III knobs provide excellent, non-slip manipulation.
The AR620FM’s Super 80 “Flying Finger” humbuckers sound rich, woody, and incredibly resonant. The neck pickup, in particular, offers a luscious clean tone that’s warm and jazzy. The Super 80s are very dynamic, as well. You can get a lot of tones simply by adjusting your pick attack or tweaking the Volume controls. However, the AR620FM isn’t meant for just vintage rock or uptown jazz tones. The two Tri-Sound switches—one for each pickup—configure the selected pickup in series, parallel, or coil-tap operation. Used in combination with the 3-way pickup selector, these switches provide expansive tonal versatility. For example, I’d set a pickup to splitcoil and turn up the Tone control to get a bright, funky spank. If I wanted something meaty, I’d go for the series configuration to push my amp into a thick, natural overdrive—which, depending on the pickup, brought on some Zeppelin-esque (neck) or AC/DC-like flavors (bridge). One of my favorite tricks was putting the neck pickup in parallel to get some sweet, David Gilmourlike sustain, then click to coil-tap for some biting blues riffing. There seemed to be no end to the tones the AR620FM can deliver. Navigating all the different pickup combinations takes a bit of exploration, but it didn’t take me long to find some favorite settings.
Overall, the newest addition to the AR series stays true to its original ’70s design and tones, while also providing the flexibility to produce ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s sounds and beyond. The only problem here is that the AR620FM almost looks too good to bring out in public. But if you do dare to show it off, it’s going to attract attention not just for its stunning looks, but for its tonal power, as well.
PRICE $949 street
NUT WIDTH 1.69"
NECK 24.7" scale, three-piece maple, set
FRETS 22 medium
BODY Mahogany with flame maple top
BRIDGE Ibanez ART-1 with Quick Change Classic tailpiece
PICKUPS Two Super 80 “Flying Finger” humbuckers
CONTROLS Two Volume, Two Tone, Two Tri-Sound switches, 3-way pickup selector
FACTORY STRINGS D’Addario EXL110, .010-.046
WEIGHT 8.2 lbs
KUDOS Warm and articulate tones. Versatile sounds. Elegant design.
CONCERNS Control knobs can be hard to turn.