Purchased from: Sweetwater.com
Features — 8
Undeniably, this will be the highest rated segment of this review. With that said, I'm only going to give it an 8/10. The guitar is packed with features, some are awesome, some are mediocre and one in particular is downright gimmicky. Let's get into it, shall we?
To start with the awesome features, the flame maple veneer is gorgeous. To me, it seems like the back of the neck was stained and oiled, but not coated in polyurethane, which makes it silky smooth and not at all tacky - probably my favorite feature of this guitar. Another really wonderful feature is the ability to split the Shadow Nano-mag acoustic pickup to one amp and the humbuckers to another amp. Really great things can happen with that if you have the equipment to make it work. The on-board tuner is also a really cool addition as well as the LED indicator for your current pickup configuration. It's tidy and I like it.
Moving on to the less impressive features, the Shadow Nano-mag pickup is not quite what I had hoped for. The stock humbuckers (Epiphone ProBucker 2/3) also didn't quite meet my expectations. I'll get into those in the next section, but overall, all three pickups could perform worse.
Now.. let's talk about this USB connectivity. Gimmicky just about sums it up perfectly. Sure, you can plug your guitar directly into your computer to enjoy sub-par guitar tones while you fight latency issues. Do you really want to? I doubt it. If you don't have an amplifier or something quiet to practice with, maybe this would be worth your time. If you are thinking it's going to be a solution to recording awesome sounding guitar tracks, you will probably be disappointed. My advice? Skip it. Onto the next section!
Sound — 6
Alright... here we are at the meat and potatoes of a guitar. How does it sound? Let's start with the Shadow Nano-mag.
I was really, really looking forward to the Nano-mag and sadly, it didn't deliver as I'd hoped. I tested this pickup in an Egnater Tweaker 40, EVH 5150III and through a pretty nice PA system and I was not quite able to dial in an authentic sounding acoustic-electric tone on any of them. Needless to say, the PA system was the better of the three (5150III is not known for it's clean channel!), but I was really hoping for better. Perhaps running an acoustic simulator pedal in front of the amp/PA would help or even just putting the guitar through a decent acoustic amplifier. I'm sure there is a way to get it to sound authentic, but I was unable to with my resources and I don't plan on spending more money to make this guitar sound better. Enough about that.
I was also hoping for a little more out of the humbuckers. Again, I was using the Tweaker and the 5150III, both are wonderful amps by my standard. The neck pickup sounds pretty decent on a clean channel, but when you start adding even a mild distortion, the tone seems very loose and muddy. The bridge pickup is definitely brighter, but it seems so thin - clean or otherwise. I've played through a LP with Burstbuckers and I was hoping for something a little closer to that, especially since that is most likely what these pickups are trying to emulate. I will say that when I started compensating with the amp settings, they started sounding a bit better, but they still weren't very inspiring to me.
Probably the best combination I was able to find was running the guitar through the mono output with the neck pickup and a little bit of the nano-mag to brighten it up. I felt like that was getting closer to the sweet spot that I was looking for.
I'll give this guitar a 6/10 in sound. It could be worse and I'm sure to some players, the sounds are usable. However, if I keep this guitar (not convinced) I will invest in some new pickups before I gig or record with it.
Action, Fit & Finish — 7
The fit and finish of this guitar is pretty solid over all. It's a beautiful instrument, the binding is great, top looks wonderful, neck looks and feels like a quality guitar. I do have a couple of gripes though.
The controls for the Nano-mag pickup feel incredibly cheap. I can see those little tiny cheap plastic excuses for knobs breaking and getting all chewed up with very little effort. Plus, they aren't marked, so you don't really have any clue what they are set to. You just have to guess.
Also, to change between the Nano-mag, the humbuckers, or both, you press in one of the tone knobs. I don't mind that so much, but it is set up in a cycle. In other words, you get A -> B -> A+B and you are screwed if you want to go from B -> A or A+B -> B seamlessly. I think another 3-way toggle would have been better.
7/10, mostly because of how beautiful the guitar looks and it really does play nicely.
Reliability & Durability — 7
I don't know about the reliability of this guitar, since I've only had it for 5-6 months now. My guess is that it will hold up well enough. I could see those crappy plastic knobs for the Nano-mag controls getting messed up pretty quickly and maybe the stain rubbing off of the neck after awhile, but that's about it. The tuners are made by Grover, so I trust those. The finish on the body is spectacular. Tone and volume knobs are the standard speed knob style, which hold up well.
I would trust it on a gig and if I ever get around to switching in better pickups, it will probably become my go-to backup guitar.
7/10 for Reliability and Durability based purely on speculation.
Overall Impression — 7
I feel like giving this a 7/10 is maybe a little more than fair, but I'm going to stand by it. The guitar plays very well and looks amazing. It has a ton of features, unfortunately, some of those are less useful than I was hoping for. All of the pickups are a little lackluster in my opinion, but they are usable.
At the end of the day, I think my rating of this guitar would probably be higher if it didn't cost $750. I'm certain that if I spent that amount on an Ibanez, I would have gotten much more bang for my buck.