Price paid: $ 300
Purchased from: Music Workshop, Brownstown, MI
Sound — 10
Typical of humbucker pickups, it takes very little relative volume, when run through a decent amp, to bring some serious sound out of the guitar. The AR300, as well, suits my own particular style and sound needs well enough, I have to admit. Both humbuckers were already set up to the perfect height, by my guys at Music Workshop, in my opinion, for the kind of music I play, which is mainly 50s through today's rock and blues-rock in all its variety. I may eventually swap them out for a pair of Seymour Duncan '59/JB humbuckers (or SH-5s...but it's not a big priority because I think the guitar actually sounds fine as is), but there's no hurry on that. The guitar is suffused with great diversity in tone all-around, anyway. I'm a big fan of the modern DSP stuff from Crate and I use a 10-year old Crate GX-40C practice amp with two 8-inch speakers as well as a Crate Flexwave 120w 212 (two 12-inch speakers) combo amp for my gigging needs. The only electronics I use comes from the amp (the DSP things) itself as well as it's three-switch stompbox and that's about it. I depend on my fingers to do everything else, though the guitar's also run through a DigiTech Vocalist Live2 unit before making its way to the amplifier. The guitar's almost preternaturally quiet and that can be disconcerting to somebody not familiar with how humbucker-equipped guitars work, but Ibanez really did a fine job in laying out what it wanted from those craftsmen at the Korean plant where this one was made. The guitar was set up with .11s, with the 'G' string being wound, too, so I had Jerry (at Music Workshop) put on a set of .10s (the pure nickel Slinky Rock ones) and loosen the neck to allow it to relax and accommodate to .10s after being under pressure from those .11s. That's now given this guitar the kind of rock/blues-rock sounds (a bit of bite and some brightness that .11s just can't deliver) that I like, though--because of the humbuckers and the dual-tone control knobs--I can also get a fuller sound if I like. As I said in the features section, though; this guitar is extremely versatile and capable (with a little experimentation) of delivering everything from straight-up metal to smooth jazz (which is why it came set up with .11s, I suppose).
Overall Impression — 10
As I said earlier, I play a variety of styles. I like most eras, including Big Band, the 50s Buddy Holly/Chuck Berry stuff, the Beatles/Stones/Zeppelin/Steppenwolf/Airplane things, so-called "classic rock" right up through grunge/alternative (Soundgarden, Concrete Blond, Nirvana etc.) and up through today (Muse's "The Uprising" is a current fave of mine), and the AR300, so far, has been a perfect compliment to those styles. I'm also a percussionist/drummer, playing percussion and drums about as long as I've played guitar (I also play blues harp, piano, alto sax and sing lead and backup, especially when we do three and four-part harmonies), and I'm kind of a fan of music gear, in general, so I own a lot of expensive "boy toys." However: I NEVER solely judge a piece of music gear by how much it cost. This particular axe, in the grand scheme of things, is piddling inexpensive, especially as a NOS and at just $350.00, but it plays nicely at well above its price point for all that. If it were stolen or lost, I think I'd try to find another, though with solid bodies with through necks or set-in necks or set-necks, each one tends to have just a bit of a unique sonic and tonal quality all its own, so I'm not sure I'd be able to replicate the sound of this one exactly. But I appreciate quality, and the AR300 seems to have that in spades. Basically, I saw the guitar, sat down and strummed it a bit and found that I really liked what it could do. I wasn't out looking for one and I don't "love" or "hate" things about guitars. They're tools, after all, and the players are the mechanics. And it's a poor mechanic who'd blame his tools for his lack of ability in fixing an automobile engine, right? Bottom line: Great guitar that provides excellent sounds and ease of use at a price that was hard to pass up! If you see one, you might want to think about grabbing it, because whatever they were putting in the water fountains at the Korean plant where these AR300s were made really turned those folks into guitar craftsmen, at least when it came to this particular Ibanez model.
Reliability & Durability — 10
As far as whether or not the AR300 will stand up to live playing, I don't think that's going to be an issue. It's solidly built, with a great deal of attention paid to strengthening all the critical joint points and whatnot, and I'm fastidious about watching where I move the guitar when gigging with it. Hardware-wise, again, it all looks solid enough, though we'll see how those pearloid or ivroid tuning pegs/keyheads do, but so far, so good. This guitar isn't actually going to be my main axe, as I'm more of a Strat man, and I tend to play my Deluxe Players Special (it's a MIM of uncommon quality, with gold hardware and everything) more but, I'd gig live with just the AR300 and no backup if I had to, it's that solidly made. The guitar's finish also seems built to last, and I don't think there's going to be an issue with wear and tear in that regard, though I always take care to polish my guitars and keep their finishes up because, frankly, I detest that relic'd look that seems to have captivated the younger players among us. I just turned 50 and I've been playing off and on since the late 60s, and if I wanted a used, junky-looking guitar, I'd head to a flea market and buy one...LOL!
Action, Fit & Finish — 10
Given that I had the strings replaced with .10s when I bought it, I had to have Jerry do some tweaking for intonation and action, though it was already butter-smooth with those .11s on it. The folks at Music Workshop just got the thing in last week from a jobber who'd gotten it from a distributor that had been sitting on it for some time (yah...it being a 2005, that's fairly obvious), so they gave the truss rod a twist or two and went over it prior to my taking it off their hands. As I said, the pickups were nicely adjusted and the top's book-matched in an attractive 'burst flame maple kind of look. I haven't found a single flaw as yet, and the fret dressing work looks to be first-rate across the board. This guitar actually exudes quality of craftsmanship, in fact.
Features — 10
2005 NOS (new old stock) Korean-made Ibanez AR300. Still had the plastic covering the dual chrome humbucker pickups, the backs of the Gotoh-style tuners and the back plates covering the electronics access ports. This particular Ibanez features 22 usable frets, though the 23rd does, in my opinion, deliver a nice, very high, tone when fretted properly. Fret wires themselves appear to be medium-jumbo and they sit in a rosewood fingerboard. The neck and body are pretty much a single "through-neck" (though it's actually probably a set-in neck with a seamless exterior appearance, as near as I can tell). The body itself is an archtop make. The neck also features a Standard 3x3 (machine head-wise) bound headstock with an inlaid "Ibanez" logo at the top of the figured semi-open book-looking stock. The fluer de lis in the center is more of a decal or applique or something similar, though, and definitely not inlaid. The guitar features an attractive mahogany body, though I'm told the neck itself is maple (don't ask me how a supposed through-neck guitar is supposed to be able to pull that off, but see my above observation about it possibly being some sort of "set-in"). There appears to be a flame maple cap (it's book-matched, as well) sitting atop the body, which is attractively bound in a nice cream-and-pinstripe motif. The neck itself is bound, as well, in the same cream-colored binding, with that fingerboard featuring rectangular (and highly attractive) inlays of either abalone or Mother of Pearl, starting with the first fret and going all the way down in the traditional pattern right to the 22nd fret. The backside of the guitar and neck, starting from below the binding that runs around the top of the guitar, is an attractive reddish-burgundy color, with black electronics covers, and the neck is finished in the same gloss lacquers that the body's done up in. I've really tried to make the back of the neck sticky (that glossy-ish finish had me worried about that), but--happily--I haven't had any luck in doing so. As far as body style goes, this solid body axe is done in the classic LP double-cutaway style, making it extremely easy to dive into the frets right down to the 22nd/23rd area. The thing's no lightweight, either, and its heft really helps Drive the variety of tones that--combined with the maple/mahogany body and neck setup--this guitar's capable of delivering. The AR300 also comes with a typical LP-style Tune-O-Matic bridge (though it employs some sort of proprietary Ibanez design, obviously) and a stopbar that has six (6) grooved-looking channels that are pushed obliquely to the right at about a 15 degree offset. It looks to me to be more for appearance and I have to admit that it definitely helps to contribute to the overall somewhat unique appearance of the guitar. Electronics are purely passive and Standard LP-style, as well, with a three-position Switch set up near the upper bout, or horn, of the guitar. That Switch is also very easy to use and it's apparent that some attention was paid to ergonomics and ease of use for a player when it comes to using the rhythm-middle-treble switch. There are also four knobs near the lower left-hand (as you're looking at the guitar) body of the guitar, with the forward two being volume controls and the rear two being tone controls. Again, Standard LP-style all the way. The guitar's input jack is securely screwed into the side of the body, down near those knobs and it features a quality metal cover plate (not plastic, like you tend to find in the Epi versions of these sorts of guitars). Two solid-looking strap pegs, one at that upper bout and one at the end of the guitar body, in the center of the side panel, finish things off. The Ibanez AR300 comes with two (DeMarzio, maybe?) chrome humbuckers that sound nice enough. Typical of humbuckers, it takes very little relative volume, when run through a decent amp, to bring some serious sound out of the guitar. The machine heads that came with this guitar are very good-looking. From the back, they look like some sort of Gotoh-style, and there are no exterior screw heads to mar the look of the back of the headstock. The keyheads, or knobs (whatever you call them) are also very attractive, presenting an ivory-like, or pearl-like (take your pick) translucent look that compliments the overall appearance of the headstock quite well. The keyheads actually look like those Grover types you see on just about every mid-range Epi, Greg Bennett etc. guitar out there nowadays, by the way. In addition, they (the machine heads) also turn nicely and smoothly and they look to be solid enough, to boot. For some reason, to me, they're both vintage-y in one way, yet completely modern in another. That doesn't make much sense, but it is what it is, at least from my viewpoint. My guess is these were made to spec for the Ibanez Korean plant higher-line guitars, which is most likely one of the plants there that turn out spec-order guitars for Epiphone, Samick/Greg Bennett and other makers today, and who are also trying to take advantage of the cachet of the "Korean-made guitar," especially in light of how the Chinese-made stuff is still getting (somewhat unfairly, in my opinion) a bit of a bad rap among the so-called cognoscenti. I was able to score the special hard shell arch-topped case with the stamped Ibanez logo on the top with this guitar, and it was included as part of the purchase price, so I had a good buying day last month. It's black with several gold latches and a key, the interior is plush-fur lined, also in black, with a small accessory compartment beneath where the neck rests. It's heavy, just like the guitar, so this one may be something of a grind to transport, but the case also looks extremely solid, so if you're worried about dings and dents to the guitar--which is a very attractive beast, I have to say--go with the case. If you're worried about schlepping the already heavy guitar around, opt for a nicely padded soft gig bag or something similar.