Posted by Adam Perlmutter
Ibanez is perhaps best known for its electric instruments—high-performance solid-bodies played by the likes of virtuoso rockers Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, and fancy hollow-bodies favored by jazzers George Benson and John Scofield—as well as for such effects as the Tube Screamer overdrive pedal. But the Japanese company, which started building Spanish guitars in the mid-1930s, also offers a complete range of acoustic instruments, from steel-string to nylon-string guitars and mandolins to ukuleles. New for 2013 is the AEG10II, a cutaway acoustic-electric that, like a typical Ibanez solid-body, was clearly designed with playability and comfort in mind.
The AEG10II is built with a selection of laminated materials: spruce for the soundboard and mahogany for the back and sides. The top is fine-grained and perfectly bookmatched and the mahogany, also used for the neck, has pleasing figuring, while the rosewood fingerboard and bridge have an appealing dark and even coloration.
Unlike some of its electric counterparts, the AEG10II has a handsomely traditional appearance, with its tobacco-sunburst finish (it’s also available with a racier blue sunburst or in black). The guitar’s ornamentation is tasteful, with a simple abalone rosette; multi-ply crème-and-black body binding, back strip, end strip, and heel cap; single-layer crème binding around the fingerboard and headstock; and small pearl dots on the fingerboard. The headstock is emblazoned with a nice cosmetic flourish: a streamlined take on an old-school torch inlay, along with the retro-looking Ibanez logo.
For an imported guitar in its price range, the AEG10II is impeccably built—the craftsmanship measures up to a typical domestically built guitar costing several times as much. The frets are smoothly polished and well shaped, as are the nut and saddle slots. The body is finished to an unimpeachable gloss, and the neck has a perfectly even satin surface. A quick look inside the guitar reveals that no shortcuts were taken in sanding the bracing and kerfing or in gluing everything together.
Slim & Playable
The AEG10II has a slim body, 3 1/4 inches at its deepest compared to more than four inches for a standard flattop. At 19¼-inches long and 15-inches wide, the body is closest to a grand-concert size. With these dimensions, the guitar is comfortable to cradle—it’s well balanced and feels equally good to play seated or standing.
The moderately thin neck on the AEG10II comes factory set with low action and plays like a dream. There are no dead or buzzy spots on the neck, and it is just as easy to play swift single-note lines on the guitar as it is to play barre-chord-rich fare for extended periods of time. And the Venetian cutaway is an obvious plus for those who like to spend time in the highest regions of the neck.
Given its laminated woods, I was somewhat surprised at the AEG10II’s fairly robust and clear sound. While understandably not as richly detailed as that of a fine all-solid-wood guitar, and slightly lacking in bass response, it’s plenty useful for a range of flatpicking and fingerpicking approaches.
Something about the guitar seemed to call for jangly coffeehouse-style playing, so I auditioned the guitar with some add9 arpeggios in open position. The notes rang together sweetly, whether played with pick or fingers, with an evenness marred only slightly by the lessened bass response. Strumming these chords, the guitar had a decent amount of headroom and a tight, clean sound that would be perfect for backing a singer without overwhelming the voice.
Natural harmonics on the AEG10II sounded particularly vibrant, even at less commonly played locations like the second and fourth frets, so it worked well to exploit the harmonics as part of chord voicings for an ethereal effect. And the guitar’s excellent note separation and intonation made it pleasing to play cluster voicings and other complex chordal configurations.
I tried single-note lines in approaches from Gypsy jazz to straightforward blues to two-handed rock tapping and found the AEG10II to have a sturdy presence, even on the high E string, which can be somewhat lacking in response on this style of guitar. Not only did the smooth action make speedy passages easier, it also encouraged legato approaches, making this a perfect acoustic guitar for a player who ordinarily plays electric.
The AEG10II comes complete with a Fishman Sonicore undersaddle pickup and Ibanez’s AEQ-SP1 preamp. Powered by a nine-volt battery, the electronics feature intuitive controls, including the usual bass, midrange, treble, and volume knobs, plus a phase switch and an onboard tuner with lights that are clearly visible on a dimly lit stage. I plugged the guitar into a Fender Acoustasonic via the 1/4-inch plug on the lower right bout and was pleased by what I heard. It was easy to bolster the bass without having the AEG10II sound too tubby, and chords sounded richer and single-note lines more powerful than when played unamplified, all with a naturalness and minimum of unwanted noise, making the guitar gig-ready, for sure.
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With the AEG10II, Ibanez has a finely made acoustic guitar that looks traditional but has a decidedly modern feel. Some players will be deterred by the guitar’s laminated construction, but others will appreciate the cost savings in a guitar whose handsome unplugged voice only improves when amplified.
AT A GLANCE
SPECS: Grand concert “AEG” body. Laminated spruce top with X-bracing. Laminated mahogany back and sides. Mahogany neck. Rosewood fingerboard and bridge. 24.96-inch scale. 1.7 inch nut width. 2 3/16-inch string spacing at saddle. Gloss Vintage Sunburst polyurethane finish. Chrome die-cast tuners. Fishman Sonicore pickup. Ibanez AEQ-SP1 preamp with onboard tuner. D’Addario EXP strings. Left-handed version available. Made in China.
PRICE: $449.99 list/$299.99 street.
MAKER: Ibanez: (215) 638-8670; ibanez.co.jp/usa.