Price paid: $ 400
Sound — 9
The sound is amazing for such an inexpensive guitar. I play everything from blues, jazz, reggae to heavy metal. But this is mostly a blues/jazz axe. You can push it and get classic rock but watch out for the feedback. After two years of ownership, I've figured out all it's quirks. Clean, for any style, it's my nicest sounding guitar. Very resonant and with natural reverb. Warm and clear. For jazz, with flatwound 13s, it sounds very legit. Perhaps not quite as woody or warm enough for a seasoned jazzer, but totally acceptable for an ensemble. The pups are somewhat low output and give you a mellow, balanced sound. But IMO, where this axe really shines is blues with slight overdrive, a subtle clip. The neck pup is much nicer than the bridge, hotter and warmer. But with the bridge, it's easy to get an Allman bros type thing going. But for that you need to scrap the flatwound strings, which are strictly for jazz. I have Ernie Ball 11s on it now, and I think I'll keep those. All things considered, very impressive sounding axe. I get as many useable tones out of this "budget" guitar than some Gibsons I've owned in the past. The only real disadvantage is the feedback, which can get pretty uncontrollable if you don't take measures. I used to have foam in the box but took it out cause it altered the sound. Now I rely on a Boss noise suppressor as my gate. But even with that you can't treat this like a solidbody, either on stage or rehearsing. You have to be extra careful about where you stand in relation to the amp. The plus side is with not much gain and some careful positioning you can get singing feedback sustain. With my PRS solidbody I have to crank the overdrive into hardrock mode. With this I can get it with a much rounder, more natural tone. I'm taking off one point just cause of the moderately sterile jazz sound and the feedback. But honestly, I couldn't be happier with the sound on the whole.
Overall Impression — 9
I play a wide variety of styles but as said before, I use this mostly for blues and jazz, and it also is my backup axe when playing classic rock. My main axe is a solidbody mahogany PRS, which obviously has a much wider range of versatility. But anything softer than hardrock and this Ibanez can really keep up with it. If stolen I would surely buy this or another Ibanez Artcore guitar. I've been playing more than 15 years and have owned dozens of guitars, some of them top quality high profile brands. This axe, if you forget the cheap plastic look it's got, holds its own remarkably with all of them. With guitars like this on the market, I would think twice about spending five times or more on a Gibson. This is a total steal.
Reliability & Durability — 10
Perfectly reliable so far, nothing else to say about it. The neck does shift a little with the weather, but no more than other steel-string guitars I own. This guitar has gigged plenty and will continue to. I use a backup guitar always anyway, but this is as solid as any other I've had.
Action, Fit & Finish — 9
The factory setup I can't comment on because it was with weak 9 gauge strings that I scrapped immediately. But since then I've set it up dozens of times, with different types of strings as I experimented and have yet to try another electric guitar with lower action while at the same time clean. This is nothing short of astounding to me, since I've had Gibsons before and can get a slicker setup on this Chinese axe. Really. The finish is perfect as far as I can tell. But it does have this plastic look to it. But hey, it cost 400 dollars, and I think I bought it expensive actually. I can only take off one point because of the cheap look, as it affects in no way at all the playability or sound. And on stage, you can't tell it's a cheapy either. I get compliments on it all the time.
Features — 10
Made in China, don't know when. 22 frets, thin vintage-style maple neck, rosewood fretboard, maple laminate body and sides, etc. All the features are great. The hardware might be a little on the cheap end but it all works just fine.