With its striking Coral Pink finish, this guitar will definitely command attention. The question is, are you man enough to rock a pink guitar?
Ibanez began making a semi-hollowbody model called the Artist in 1978. The Japanese company had previously made a name for itself by making impressively accurate copies of Gibson and Fender guitars, prompting Gibson to bring a highly publicised copyright infringement lawsuit against them in 1977. The lawsuit was settled out of court the following year and Ibanez, chastened by the experience, changed their strategy to focus on producing their own original designs, rather than copies of American instruments.
Today, many people consider Ibanez to be “shredder” guitars, due to the number of high profile rock and metal musicians that have favored Ibanez instruments over the past three decades. Guitar pyrotechnicians like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and Paul Gilbert are amongst the many rockers who have had Ibanez signature models. As a result, generations of guitarists have grown up associating the Ibanez brand with hard rock and metal.
It’s worth pointing out, however, that many of the original Ibanez artists were jazz players. Sure, Paul Stanley from Kiss and the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir were among the earliest Ibanez signature artists, but so were George Benson, Joe Pass, Lee Ritenour and John Scofield.
Today, original Artist semi-hollowbodies from the late ‘70s and ‘80s are highly collectible, commanding hefty prices on the second hand market. The direct descendants of those instruments are the AS range. In the current Ibanez catalogue the AS range is divided into the Artcore series at the lower end of the price spectrum, the middle of the range Artcore Expressionist instruments, and the top of the line Artstar models. In all, there are 14 different models ranging from the entry level AS-53, all the way up to the AS-200. In addition, the John Scofield and Eric Krasno signature models add another five instruments with the classic AS body shape.
The Artcore AS-63
The AS-63 is not the cheapest guitar in the AS range – it is the next model up. It shares the same double cutaway shape as all of the AS instruments, as well as the aforementioned Scofield and Krasno models. While it’s clearly based on Gibson’s ES-335 concept, over the years the design has been refined to the point where it is unmistakably Ibanez. The cutaway horns are considerably more pointed than on a Gibson, making for a more aggressive looking instrument, and the lower bout has more of a squashed-oval shape compared to the Gibson’s more circular outline.
All of the current AS models are of semi-hollow construction, with a solid centre-block, and feature two humbucker pickups and a tune-o-matic bridge. With the exception of a couple of Bigsby-equipped models, they all feature a stop tailpiece.
The AS-63 has traditional violin-style f-holes, rather than the wave-shaped holes on some of the pricier models. Personally, I prefer the traditional look of the f-holes. It has master volume and tone controls and a three-way pickup selector switch. The control layout is somewhat unusual, with the switch positioned in between the two potentiometers. This is a departure from the arrangement usually found on hollowbody guitars, which traditionally have a volume and tone for each pickup. Some may prefer the simplicity of just one switch and two pots, whereas others may miss having the ability to control the blend of pickups, or pre-set their rhythm and lead volumes. One advantage of the Ibanez design is that the volume knob is much closer to the picking hand than on a Gibson.
The AS-63 has the same Infinity R uncovered humbuckers as on the cheaper AS-53, with which it also shares the same dot fingerboard inlays, single-ply cream binding on the body and neck, chrome hardware, and the aforementioned simplified control layout. The AS-53 and AS-63 also feature the same choice of woods. The body is made of laminated sapele, whereas the set-in neck is nyatoh, a timber which is native to Indonesia where these guitars are made. When these models were introduced at the 2019 NAMM show, their fingerboards were made of laurel – as on this review instrument. In 2020 the fingerboard wood has been changed to walnut, and the standard stop tailpiece has been upgraded to Ibanez’s Quik Change III unit which, admittedly, does make changing strings a little quicker.
So what are the differences between the AS-63 and the cheaper, base model? Why would you spring the extra cash?
It’s all about the finish. While the AS-53 comes in a choice of three transparent satin finishes, the AS-63 comes a range of glossy pastel shades. Our review model is Coral Pink (which looks very similar to Fender’s Shell Pink). Other colour options are Mint Blue (akin to Fender’s Daphne Blue), Sea Foam Green, and the somewhat Gretsch-inspired Twilight Orange. For 2020, Ibanez have also added the option of Lemon Yellow. Also the AS-63, unlike the AS-53, has headstock binding and a pickguard.
For a modest upcharge the AS-63 is also available with a Bigsby vibrato – but only on the Sea Foam Green. If you don’t like green, you’re stuck with a hardtail.
Fit and finish
Let me start by stating the obvious: This is an inexpensive guitar. Street price for the AS-63 is around the AUD$600 mark. You might even do better if you shop around.
For a guitar in that price range, I usually expect to find a few minor issues – some binding over-spray, maybe some sharp fret ends, tuners installed a bit crooked, etc. In fact, considering the price point, none of those issues would be a deal-breaker.
Well, this guitar has none of those problems. It’s quite remarkable just how well put together this guitar is, considering its price. The finish is flawlessly applied with not a speck of over-spray to be seen and no bubbling or “orange peel” anywhere. I have looked very, very closely for faults in the finish, and there just aren’t any.
The fret ends are smooth and nicely rounded off. While the set up is not quite as nice as on the Ibanez Pat Metheny model that I reviewed last week, the fret job is none the less very well done. Straight out of the box, the frets were level and the neck had no dead spots. It was possible to bend all the strings anywhere on the neck without any fretting out. The action was low and fast without any buzzing. The medium size frets were in need of a polish, though. To be honest, that is the only criticism I could make about the setup. On a guitar at this price point, that’s really saying something.
There is one criticism I’d make about this guitar, however, and it’s purely cosmetic. The black plastic parts seem like an odd choice. While the guitar is a pastel pink with cream binding and a white pearloid pickguard, the pickup bobbins, pickup rings, knobs and switch tip are all black. I feel that cream coloured plastics would have been more in keeping with the colour aesthetic. In fact, even the bright white pearloid pickguard seems out of step with the cream binding, which has an aged vintage tint to it. It’s all a bit of a mismatch.
It’s easy enough to swap out the black plastics – although swapping the pickups may entail some expense – but I can’t imagine it would have made much difference to the production cost for Ibanez to fit the AS-63 with cream coloured parts in the first place. As I said, this is purely cosmetic, and others might not mind the black parts, but I found it irritating.
The AS-63 doesn’t come with a case, which is to be expected of a guitar in this price range.
Played acoustically, the AS-63 has the bright twang we expect from a semi-hollowbody. As expected, it’s a good deal louder than an unplugged solidbody, but not as loud as a full hollowbody. It’s certainly loud enough for quiet home practice when you don’t want to annoy the people in the next room. The AS-63 has a pronounced mid-range, giving the acoustic tone a nasally twang. Time to plug it in and see if that transfers to the electric tone.
The Infinity R pickups have flat head slugs on both coils, which means you can’t adjust the height of individual polepieces, as you can on many humbuckers. What’s more, the slugs are all the same height, so there hasn’t been any attempt made to pre-set the individual string volumes. Having said that, when plugged in the string to string balance is fine. Listening very closely, you might perceive that the B string is slightly louder than the others; but really, it’s such a subtle difference that I doubt you’d notice it in normal playing. As you’d expect from any decent humbuckers, the Infinity Rs are quiet and free from any extraneous noise.
These pickups are voiced to have a middle of the road tone. They are neither particularly warm, like many Gibson humbuckers, nor are they overly bright like EMGs or similar pickups designed for metal players. They have that slightly scooped quality that is a trait of all Ibanez pickups – pronounced highs and lows with a little less midrange. Having said that, the Infinity Rs are not as scooped as other pickups I’ve played on more expensive Ibanez models.
Through a clean amp the Infinity Rs give a variety of usable tones. The neck pickup is warm but not overly so. It retains clarity even when playing chords in the low register. Jazz players will probably want to roll off the tone control a little to get those classic Gibson-esque sounds. The bridge pickup is bright and spanky, but not harsh – perfect for country licks.
Dialing up the gain, the Infinity Rs really come into their own. The neck pickup has a warm, creamy overdrive that sounds great for Texas blues and chunky rhythm. The bridge pickup provides a great distorted lead tone – bright and punchy but not lacking in bottom end. It’s a great sound for classic rock and ’80s metal.
The Infinity Rs are versatile PAF-style pickups that provide a range of good usable tones. They are as good as any stock pickups I’ve played on other sub-$1000 guitars, but they are somewhat generic, lacking unique personality traits that might set them apart from the hundreds of other pickups that are available. That’s probably a deliberate move on Ibanez’ part. You see, the more unique the personality of a pickup is, the more divisive it will be. You’ll win some fans, but also lose some. With a guitar in this price range, the aim is to have a wide appeal by covering as many bases as possible. These pickups do that. You could play most musical styles on the AS-63 with success. Of course, you have the option to swap the pickups out for your preferred high-end boutique model – and with a guitar at this price-point that’s a very appealing option – but anyone could get a decent sound out of the AS-63 in it’s stock configuration.
Feeling around in the f-hole, I notice that volume and tone pots are the mini size. These days, that’s pretty much standard on all lower-priced guitars from Far East factories. The general consensus is that full size pots have a more useful taper and are just generally…. well…. better. Despite their smaller size, however, these pots have a very smooth linear taper. It’s really easy to dial in the slightest variations of volume and tone. They work really well and are free of any scratchiness or noise. The same applies to the three position switch.
It has always been possible to buy inexpensive guitars. When I was a kid learning to play, my friends and I could only afford cheap instruments, and they were horrible. Many were downright unplayable. The difference today is that with CNC machines, CAD technology, and the ever-increasing quality of Asian manufacturing, inexpensive guitars are now good guitars. In some cases, the value to price ratio is actually amazing. The AS-63 is one of those guitars.
The setup exceeds expectations. Give it a fret polish and a new set of strings and it’s a dream to play. The pickups sound good, if a little generic. Some might want to buy an AS-63 as a platform for modding, which is a great idea. Pop in your choice of pickups, upgrade the tuners, and you’ve got a killer guitar for a modest outlay.
Of course, a $600 guitar is not going to be as good as an instrument costing several thousands. I’m not claiming the AS-63 is going to be as good as your vintage Gibson. But to be honest, considering the price difference, it’s not that far off.
I wish I had been able to buy a guitar this good when I was a kid. This is a great step up guitar for a student looking to get into playing a hollowbody electric, and for a professional it would be a good inexpensive backup guitar. The AS-63 might even be good enough to make you think twice about your next pro-level guitar purchase.
- Fantastic value for money
- A great playing guitar for the price
- Comes in a fantastic range of colours
- Excellent fit and finish
- Some will prefer a more traditional four-knob control layout
- Black pickups and plastic parts look out of place. Cream coloured parts would have been a better choice.
- It would be nice if the Bigsby option was available in more than one colour
I have not been paid monetarily or in kind for writing this review. The thoughts and opinions expressed within are entirely my own.