REVIEW: Ibanez AG95 Archtop Guitar
Thinking Outside the Jazzbox
By Pete Prown
This Ibanez hollowbody is a good example of what Ibanez has done well for the past 30 years, offering handsome, good playing guitars at what seems like absurdly low prices. The AG95 is a looker, too, thanks to its nicely figured Bubinga-veneer top, back and sides in a dark brown sunburst. Add to that fancy inlays on the fingerboard and tailpiece, you have a mighty classy looking axe.
Let’s first cover some construction specs. The guitar is made at the Changcheng (i.e., “Great Wall”) factory in Guangzhou, China, a well-regarded facility that manufactures guitars and gear for a number of brands. The AG95’s neck is a 3-piece sandwich of lengthwise maple and mahogany slabs with an overall scale of 24.75 inches. Its bound fingerboard (with 12-inch radius) is rosewood with 22 frets, though I could only get up to the 18th fret comfortably. The fingerboard is decorated with abalone-styled inlays that the company calls Artcore DX—I’m assuming that it’s some sort of affordable composite material, but they’re attractive nonetheless. The body has a large pickguard, also finished in figured plastic veneer that matches the body material. The hardware is gold, as are the gold-plastic knobs, while the tuners are capped in pearloid white. Also adorning the headstock is an inlaid lightning-bolt graphic. Not sure where Ibanez was going there—it’s as if they’re hedging their bets between presenting the AG95 as an elegant archtop or a twangin’ rockabilly axe. Feel free to scratch your head.
The AG95’s pickups include an Artcore 2 ceramic humbucker in the bridge and an Artcore 1 humbucker in the neck, which the company describes as “clean sounding with a slight overdrive.” When you put the 3-way toggle in the middle position, both pickups are on simultaneously. And maybe most importantly on a jazz instrument, each humbucker has a passive tone control for that all-important fat, mellow sound when you roll them off to your favorite setting.
In performance, the guitar delivers nicely. The AG95 has a comfy neck with super-low action. It comes set up with very light strings, but perhaps this is meant to appeal to rockers who want an upscale jazzbox for their collection. I’d advise bumping up a gauge or two if you want to get into proper jazz territory (serious jazzers also use flatwound strings). The Artcore pickups sound solid, too. On the neck pickup, with the tone rolled back a bit and a dash of reverb added on the amp, a fat, luscious jazz tone was easily achieved through a small tube combo. Other useful tones were also found in the middle setting with both ‘buckers activated. Conversely, you can add some nasty gain and flip it to the bridge pickup for your favorite Ted Nugent medley. All told, there are lots of good, usable tones in the AG95.
Ulltimately, what’s the difference between this Ibanez and one of those regal four-figure or even five-figure archtops? Obviously, materials for one thing. High-priced hollowbodies often have solid tops of premium spruce or cedar, creating a big, warm acoustic tone. The AG95, meanwhile, doesn’t have that acoustic dimension—unplugged, there isn’t much going on. But plugged in, this Artcore model comes alive and delivers excellent value, both in tone and playability. Whether you’re a novice jazzer or the rocker looking for something more sensitive and subtle than a solidbody, the AG95 comes highly recommended. And for an average street price under $500, this Ibanez lives up to the company’s reputation for delivering serious bang for the buck. Actually, better make that “bang for the box.”
List price: $666.65
(This review previously appeared in Vintage Guitar magazine)