Masterbilt AJ-500M Review

manufacturer: Epiphone date: 07/17/2008 category: Acoustic Guitars
Epiphone: Masterbilt AJ-500M
Expert luthiery to rival Epiphone's classic 1930s guitars is evident in precision top, back, and fretboard binding. A light guitar with great volume, projection, and natural warmth enhanced by solid mahogany back and sides. Nickel hardware, stickpin inlay, and offset notch headstock add visual elegance.
 Sound: 10
 Overall Impression: 10
 Reliability & Durability: 9
 Action, Fit & Finish: 10
 Features: 8
 Overall rating:
 Reviewer rating:
 Users rating:
review (1) 7 comments vote for this gear:
overall: 9.4
Masterbilt AJ-500M Reviewed by: unregistered, on july 17, 2008
4 of 4 people found this review helpful

Price paid: $ 450

Purchased from: Guitar Center

Features: Made in China (under direct American supervision). 20 Fret (standard acoustic) Rosewood fretboard. Solid spruce top, satin finish. Mahogany body and neck. Jumbo body (like a dreadnought w/ a curved back). Bone nut. No electronics. Old style open gear Grover tuners. This guitar is all business. No expensive useless flashy binding or inlays. No gold tuners. If it does nothing to make the guitar sound better, it's not on the guitar. It's no ugly duckling, but I don't think anyone would walk by a window display of this guitar and stop in their tracks either. That said, the features it has are great in regards to making this one sweet sounding guitar. // 8

Sound: I decided to go check this guitar out after reading some reviews that compared this guitar favorably to much higher priced guitars. Well, I would say the comparison isn't bogus. I played a couple Taylors and Martins and compared them to this, and this guitar really sings. There is clarity across the range of notes. The highs are crisp and musical without being overwhelmingly cutting, and the lows don't have a muddy or overly metallic sound. The middle does not get lost in the shuffle either. I play a little bit of everything. Last night I was smashing out some Killswitch Engage on my SG, this afternoon some Nick Drake on this guitar. Everything I play on this guitar sounds great. It has fine projection, and sounds wonderful played loudly or softly. With finger picking it has a subtle but sweet sound, flat picked it comes on strong but still retains it's balanced tone. // 10

Action, Fit & Finish: As far as construction, this is a very well crafted instrument. The top is made from a fine cut of sitka spruce with a great satin finish that has no imperfections. The binding is even and well crafted. The fretwork is perfect for lack of a better term. Inside the guitar the bracing lives up to the name 'Masterbilt'. The nut is cut from bone and they did a fine job. The saddle is fit correctly and there's no pulling up at the bridge or any nonsense like that. The tuners work great. I tuned the guitar down to Drop B just to see how it would hold up since I've played other guitars that will stay in tune fine at standard but tend to go out once you try other tunings, but this guitar didn't have that problem. // 10

Reliability & Durability: I would definitely play this guitar live. This is a quality instrument and I wouldn't be afraid of anything breaking on it while playing. The strap button at the bottom seemed solid but as soon as I got it home I swapped it for a locking strap button since it's such an inexpensive upgrade that can save a lot of trouble down the road. I can't say how durable the finish will be in the future, but it looks to be a quality finish. It's not laminate so I'm sure eventually it will wear, but hell, that just adds character. This is a players guitar, not a showpiece. It is light and made from wood that would crack if not kept in proper humidity and what not. It's not a laminate so I wouldn't just throw it in the back seat and Drive around on bumpy Pennsylvania streets like I do w/ my other guitar. Still, I don't get the impression that it's cheaply made and wouldn't stand up to regular wear and tear. The bracing is excellent and everything about the guitar screams quality, so I have confidence that this guitar will be in the family for decades. As far as gigging w/o a backup, I'm not very quick at changing strings and I don't have a crew so when I do take this out to an open mic night or something like that I would have a backup with me. But then again, I would say the same for any guitar. // 9

Overall Impression: I just bought this guitar today after reading reviews on some other websites. My previous acoustic is an Epiphone DR-100 laminate acoustic that is probably made out of plywood and a prayer (although I did a lot of work to it to make it at least tolerable while playing out) so this is a big step forward for me. I'm not a professional musician. I've only been playing 5 or 6 years, mostly electric (Epi SG Faded and a Gretch Brian Setzer Hot Rod) in a not-even-close-to-serious classic rock band. I occasionally play solo acoustic at open mic nights when I'm feeling confident, and that's becoming frequent enough that I needed to get my own guitar and stop borrowing my stepfather's Hummingbird. My stepfather has played most of his life and my parent's house is like a guitar museum, so despite my relative inexperience in regards to playing, I have a good ear for guitars and the subtle differences between them. I've played a lot of guitars, from cheapo korean and chinese crap to high end custom guitars and everything inbetween. I play well enough that I can pick up a First Act Wal-Mart guitar and get it to sound good enough to impress people in a bar for an hour or two before smashing it to bits. I know how to compensate for a guitar's deficiencies as a result of playing cheap junk for the majority of the time I've been playing, and knowing what a good instrument sounds like from being at my parent's house. This guitar convinced me of it's value within an hour of playing it and comparing it to others. In this price range you would be hard pressed to find a better crafted instrument. I played a $475 Taylor that sounded fine, but didn't have the sparkle that this one has. It sounded like a cheap Taylor instead of a great instrument. This guitar doesn't sound like an expensive Epiphone, it simply sounds like an awesome guitar. If they would have somehow covered the Epiphone branding w/ Taylor or Martin and charged $750 for it, I wouldn't have felt like a sucker later on if I found out it was really an Epiphone. It's just that good. // 10

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