By Art Thompson
Thinline electrics have traditionally carried heftier price tags than their solidbody cousins, but the new Ibanez AFS75TTRD ($459 retail/ $339 street) is a prime example of how far your archtop bucks can go these days. This guitar features quality components and construction, and it plays and sounds as nice as it looks. And man, what a looker. The AFS75’s deep blue finish is mirror smooth, and the solid white and multi-ply bindings that surround the body, neck, headstock—even the f-holes—are so perfect it’s scary.
Other aspects of the AFS75 are equally outstanding: the 22 medium–sized frets are well shaped and set (though they could stand to be polished and trimmed more thoroughly), and the neck-to-body joint is as clean as it gets. Even the polished bone nut is impressively rendered. The tuners work positively, the vibrato has a very smooth action, and the pearl inlays are cleanly set without a trace of epoxy around their edges. If only the wooden bridge base didn’t have that dark lacquer finish like you see on cheapo import furniture, the AFS75 could easily pass for a much costlier ax.
Playability and Tones
The AFS75’s gloss-finished mahogany neck has a round, comfy profile (which Ibanez calls the “Artcore” shape) with a volute at the nut end. The cutaway makes it easy to reach the 17th fret, and playing around in this region of the neck elicited no string buzzing. The fact that the bridge base can be moved means you’ll have to check the intonation more regularly, but once you’ve got it dialed-in, the guitar sounds quite sweet in all positions. One ergonomic issue, however, concerns the placement of the pickup selector, which requires moving the vibrato arm out of the way whenever you go to switch pickups. Arrgh!
Instead of a “log” running through the center of the body, the AFS75 sports a braced top—a design detail that gives it lots of acoustic volume and resonance. Not surprisingly, the AFS75 sounded big and gutsy though a variety of amps, including a Carvin Vintage 16, a Dr. Z Route 66, a Fender Vibro-King, and a Matchless Chieftain. The pickups have plenty of output, and though not overflowing with complexity, they yield warm, sweet tones that work very nicely for rhythm and lead. The AFS75 is very controllable at high volume and it feeds back in a predictable manner. Owing to this guitar’s slightly dark voicing, it was necessary to turn up the treble on the amps a bit to achieve the best tones. But that’s a good thing when you’re after either buttery, high-gain sounds or sultry jazz textures—both of which the AFS75 can deliver. A nice surprise was how well the AFS75’s vibrato performed. I commented earlier on its remarkably smooth action, and even after aggressively pushing and pulling on the bar, the strings always came back in tune.
Thin is In
With its winning looks, excellent playability, and impressive tones, the AFS75 is obviously an astonishing deal. Ibanez has successfully captured the important elements that comprise a good thinline guitar, while managing to cut production costs to a minimum. Compliments also to the China-based factory that built the AFS75. To see such an impressive instrument coming from a country that, until recently, had almost no experience in guitar making is quite telling of the world we live in. As the AFS75 so perfectly highlights, for legions of guitarists who have to watch every dollar they spend on “discretionary” items, these are indeed the best of times.