Ibanez is the king of the shred axe, but with the AZ series, they’re aiming for a slightly more sophisticated, drinking-tea-with-your-pinkie-finger-out kind of playing experience. Words by Peter Hodgson.
Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #132. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Ibanez has long been at the forefront of guitar trends. There’s a famous photo of Kramer’s Dennis Berardi wincing in visible angst at the NAMM unveiling of Steve Vai’s Ibanez JEM back in 1987, for instance. Ibanez led the charge in the seven-string revolution (another Vai innovation), their Edge locking tremolo is considered among the best in the biz, and they were ahead of the curve on things like all-access neck joints, automatic split‑coil wiring, and baritones geared towards metal.
But somewhere along the way, a few boutique guitar brands started to woo Ibanez players, maybe not consciously, but there was a bit of, “Have you moved on from Floyds and pointy cutaways and high-powered pickups? Then we’ve got your new guitar.” I don’t know if this was specifically part of what Ibanez was addressing when they created the new AZ series, but in the brief time this guitar line has been available it’s certainly won over a lot of players who have always loved the Ibanez name but have maybe drifted from the RG and S aesthetic.
The AZ242F Premium is from Ibanez’s Indonesian factory, a facility whose workers have been trained up by Ibanez J Custom luthiers in the fine art of fret-finishing and other finicky little details. The model features a flame maple top on an American basswood body, paired to a roasted maple neck and fretboard with jumbo stainless steel frets, a Gotoh T1502 non-locking two-point fulcrum tremolo bridge, and a Graph Tech TUSQ XL nut.
The scale length is the Ibanez standard of 25.5 inches and the fretboard radius is 12 inches. The neck shape tapers from 20.5 millimetres at the first fret to 22.5 at the 12th, with a nut width of 42 millimetres and a width of 57 millimetres at the 24th fret.
The neck joins the body with a Super All Access neck joint, which combines a rounded neck joint and an eight-millimetre concave body curve which goes all the way down to the back of the treble‑side cutaway for increased access. Ibanez uses luminescent side dot position markers, and the tuners are Gotoh Magnum Lock machine heads with height-adjustable posts. The back contour is quite deep and the forearm contour is pretty generous too for player comfort.
At the heart of the electronics setup is a Seymour Duncan Hyperion humbucker set with Alnico 5 magnets and moderate output. These pickups are more or less in the same ballpark as the Pegasus and Sentient models but are voiced specifically for this guitar series (there are matching middle and neck single coils too for other models).
Controls consist of master volume and tone knobs and a five-way pickup selector switch and
a mini switch which together form the dyna-MIX 10 system which offers ten sound variations including a Power Tap mode to provide realistic single coil sound at volume levels consistent with the humbucker modes.
THE PLAYER’S PLAYER
Playability-wise, this is one of the best-playing Ibanez guitars ever. That doesn’t mean the neck is paper-thin and you can shred on it all day – it means it’s extremely comfortable for extended playing periods and it provides the perfect amount of support for your hand whether you’re embarking on a fusion odyssey or playing a set of soul covers.
The tremolo system is very expressive (think more Jeff Beck than Steve Vai in terms of the stuff it encourages you to do), and the tuning stability is exceptional for a non-locking system, aided by that TUSQ nut and straight string-pull between nut and headstock.
The pickups are very versatile, presenting your phrasing on a silver platter without unduly influencing the tone with any weird sticky-outty frequencies. They provide a perfect platform for working with effects since there are no unpleasant harsh frequencies, and they’re moderate enough that you can pile on ridiculous amounts of gain while maintaining clarity and attack.
The single coil modes are very useful too; the dyna-MIX 10 system allows for each humbucker to be used in ‘one and a half coil’ mode so the bottom doesn’t completely fall out of your sound when you switch to single mode.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This is a sophisticated guitar but not a complicated one. It can pull off all sorts of genres from the pop-oriented to progressive rock, making it a great workhorse for cover bands, studio players and guitar teachers as well as the fusion‑influenced instrumental rock players who are flocking to this model.
If you’re an Ibanez fan but you don’t always want the ultra shreddy performance of an RG or an S, and if you’re maybe reigning in your gain levels and whammy bar freak-outs, this is the perfect guitar for you.
• Flame maple and basswood body
• Roasted maple neck and fingerboard
• Seymour Duncan Hyperion humbuckers
• Gotoh hardware
• Super All Access neck joint
• Custom-voiced pickups
• Great playability
• Strong tuning stability
• No seven-string version
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