Ibanez AEL10E

The relatively large and deep-bodied AEL10E looks almost like a fatback jazz guitar. The instrument feels very solid and substantial, and the workmanship is quite good overall, with only a few tiny rough spots and glue traces marring an otherwise immaculate job. The review instrument has a high-gloss black finish, with white binding on the neck, the top and rear of the body, one side of the neck joint, and along the center back joint. The headstock and rosette are inlayed with an attractive abalone-like material. The fretwork is outstanding, with smooth ends and polished tops that are comfortable to the touch. The tuners are a bit imprecise, but they keep the instrument in tune, even when aggressively banging and bending the strings. The strap button on the neck heel is a nice detail.

The AEL10E’s action is set rather low, resulting in noticeable buzzing in several spots, particularly on either side of the 3rd fret. There are also some minor intonation problems, most significantly on the third and fifth strings around the 10th fret, and the fourth string above the 12th fret. A better setup would likely go a long way toward alleviating these issues.

Powered by a pair of AA batteries, the electronics include a Fishman Sonicore under-saddle pickup coupled with an Ibanez SST Shape Shifter preamp/ EQ/tuner. The preamp has sliders for Bass, Middle, Treble, and Shape (sort of like the Loudness control on some home stereo amplifiers), and a Volume knob. The knob is difficult to turn, which is actually a good thing given the chances of accidentally bumping it with your arm. The fact that the sliders operate in reverse—you slide them to the left to boost a frequency—however, is just plain silly. There’s also a button that engages the onboard tuner, which displays the letter name of the note you are playing, and another button for reversing phase. A huge bonus is the inclusion of an XLR output in addition to the balanced 1/4" output.

Acoustically, the AEL10E sounds big and rich, while retaining a pleasing balance between the individual strings and frequencies. When played through a tube guitar amp, it sounded quite nice, with only minimal piezo quack on the high end—a characteristic that the EQ helped compensate for even further—and feedback wasn’t a problem. The sound was even better when the guitar was played through a tube recording preamp, particularly when using the XLR output.

I really liked this guitar a lot. Intonation problems notwithstanding, it represents an excellent value at $299 street, and would make a fine performing or recording instrument, except perhaps for finicky fingerstylists.