Not being known as one who is easy on guitars, I have a tendency to perceive acoustic instruments as being suited to a delicate touch, not the kind of power-chording and repetitive down-stroke abuse dealt out by rockers. But the Ibanez AEF30 acoustic-electric ($639 retail/$442 street) is a guitar that beckons you to tap into your sensitive side one moment and frighten the neighbors with your visceral intensity the next. And though it lands in the lower end of the price spectrum, the AEF30 offers a lot of flexibility in a sturdy and highly playable package.
The Korean-made AEF30 is flawlessly finished in a cherry burst, which enhances the vibrant flame maple on the body and matching headstock facing. The mahogany neck sports pearl block abalone inlays, gold die-cast tuners, clean fretwork, and a correctly slotted nut. Access to upper frets is enhanced by the cutaway design—another plus for rock players.
While likely an anomaly, the factory setup presented an unusually high action—not a bad thing in my book, but it likely wouldn’t work for everyone. A quick trussrod adjustment helped the playability, but most players would probably need to have the bottom surface of the bridge saddle sanded in order lower the overall string height.
Gently strummed, the AEF30 rings out sweetly and clearly with a warm definition. But I found this guitar was no cupcake when attacked aggressively. Barre chords sounded tight and crunchy, while more complex voicings remained open and detailed. Volume and sustain were impressive, and the AEF30 responds beautifully whether you’re channeling Joni Mitchell or Johnny Ramone. With its shallower body the low end isn’t huge, but what it lacks on the bottom is more than made up for by the clear and cutting mids. Running through a Marshall 250 DFX, the AEF30 sounded well balanced. I only needed to kick up the highs slightly to make notes ring out evenly on all strings.
The AEF30 comes equipped with an Ibanez AEQ preamp, which features Bass, Mid, and High sliders, along with a master Volume, a Phase button, and a Shape Shifter control, which works somewhat like a variable “loudness” control, enabling you to adjust the overall contour of your sound without affecting the EQ settings. Also included is Ibanez’ SquealRepeal Pickup, which is designed to control feedback at high volumes or close quarters. I tried everything to obtain some ear-piercing ring from this guitar, but my efforts were foiled by a feedback-supression system that definitely works. The preamp’s 9-volt battery pops out for quick changing, and a red LED alerts you when the power is low.
Whether or not you consider yourself a rocker, the AEF30 is a hip choice. Offering tonal characteristics of guitars twice its price, the AEF30 certainly delivers a lot of bang for the buck—not to mention it’s a guitar that can take it if you actually do bang on your instruments!•