A Closer Look: Ibanez AZ
Published on 11 June 2020
What type of guitarist are you?
Are you a dedicated shredder?
Are you a hardcore Jazzer?
Are you an Alternative Rocker?
You may be all of these things, in fact. If so, it’s likely that you’re an Ibanez fan. Ibanez are one of the three or four most successful guitar brands in the world, and what’s interesting is, Ibanez means different things to different people. They are a chameleonic company with a strong brand identity, something that’s almost unheard of in the industry.
To shred fans, Ibanez are the pre-eminent brand that makes iconic instruments for Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Nita Strauss and Polyphia. For Jazz aficionados, Ibanez’s artist models for George Benson, John Scofield and Pat Metheny represent a huge indication of quality and credibility. It’s almost like an entirely separate brand, though it very much isn’t. On top of that, there is also the Iceman, beloved of both Kiss and White Zombie, to bring some stadium-sized riffing to the process, and Punk-Pop signature models for Noodles from the Offspring.
No matter what style they try, and whichever price point they pitch it to, Ibanez are masters of creating successful, enduring instruments.
Today, we want to give some space and praise to their relatively new AZ series. With the AZ series, Ibanez takes on the style of what we’d call the ‘boutique performance S-type’, for want of a catchier description! You’ll have seen this style of guitar coming from many major US boutique builders in recent years. It’s a high-functioning, less shred-centric Superstrat, basically, with top level hardware and features to entice cutting-edge players.
As ever, Ibanez have synthesized what’s out there and built a version that’s unique, high-quality and packed with value. There are a few models in the range, and with a few exceptions, most share the similarly excellent specs. So, what does the Ibanez AZ series bring us?
Ibanez Prestige & Premium Quality
Ibanez have three different quality tiers in their production instruments: Ibanez, Ibanez Premium and Ibanez Prestige. All Ibanez guitars are excellent quality, from the cheapest upwards. We sincerely think that’s the case, from years of personal experience. The Premium range is made in Indonesia to a higher spec than the standard instruments, including extra labour and attention on the fret ends and dressing. Basically, time is money and the greater time spent in these guitars improves the instrument greatly and so costs a little more. On top of the man-power, Premium instruments tend to have higher quality woods (such as 5-piece laminated necks and decorative tops) and upgraded electronics.
Ibanez Prestige is another step up again. These instruments are built in the famous Fujigen facility in Japan, with a greater emphasis on hand-building. Outside of the fabled (are relatively rare) J-Custom department, who make limited runs of high-end models, Prestige Ibanez guitars are the highest quality available.
Pickups are always a major talking point, in terms of guitar hardware. In this mid-pro price bracket, branded pickups are a real selling point, and exclusive branded pickups even more so! Seymour Duncan are industry titans, leading the way with the JB and the Duncan Distortion, which were some of the most popular after-market pickups in the world. They are one of the two biggest names in the business, and they make pickups for Slash, Billy Gibbons and a great many more world-class players.
The pickups used in the Ibanez AZ range are Seymour Duncan Hyperions. These are exclusive to this range, and are not available to buy separately. This is fantastic for Ibanez, obviously, plus it’s a little bit of a talking point for whomever chooses these fantastic guitars: none of their guitar buddies will have these pickups! The Hyperions are passive units made with alnico magnets. The humbuckers clean up extremely well, and both those and the single coil variants (on such models that incorporate them) are very rich and articulate sounding.
There’s more to it than just great, USA-made pickups, though! Ibanez have developed a special circuit, known as the Dyna-MIX. Using a 5-way blade selector and a two-way ‘Alter’ switch, guitars with two humbuckers can have ten different pickup settings, including both humbuckers on a t once, inner coils together, outer coils together and so on. H-S-S configured guitars get nine tonal options.
So what’s it doing? Simple: the Alter switch acts like a coil tap, except, instead of disabling one of the coils of a humbucker completely, it ‘taps’ that coil, resulting in a single coil tone that doesn’t immediately drop in volume. As you may or may not know, a single coil pickup is not usually half as powerful as a humbucker, it’s normally a little more than that. Halving a humbucker’s output tends not to give true single coil sounds, plus that volume drop still persists. The Dyna-MIX circuit is an ingenious method of truly getting the most out of these fantastic, high-end pickups.
High Spec Across the Board
On top of all of this, the Ibanez AZ range still have more to offer! Looking at Premium range guitars like the AZ242 and AZ224 alone, the quality racks up. Roasted Maple necks – surely the de rigueur feature on modern guitar building at the moment – are featured here, with oval C profile necks and, importantly, stainless steel frets! These are expensive additions, and benefit the players by being hard-wearing, strong and light. Graphtech nuts are fitted as standard as well, which is something no guitarist should overlook.
The bridge is a top quality, machined mechanism by Gotoh, known by all custom builders to offer some of the best, most solid, most reliable bridges in the business.
What else? Locking Gotoh tuners and glow in the dark Luminlay side dots on the neck, so you can rely on your tuning to hold true and your hands to find the right notes on a dark stage. Superficially (though still importantly), these guitars have beautiful finishes, from the Deep Espresso Burst of the AZ242BC-DET, to the Black Ice-finished flame top of the AZ224F-BI. Whichever model of AZ you go for, you’re getting a handsome axe!
As you can tell, these changes are all things that instantly benefit the player. These guitars look gorgeous, but that’s taken for granted: these are carefully designed, highly engineered instruments that are designed to improve your playing, your performance and your music. Check them out today!