The AZ Series has proven a monumental success for Ibanez, re-establishing it as the go-to brand for modern shredders. Until recently though, AZ guitars had only been offered within its Indonesian-built Premium and Japanese-manufactured Prestige ranges.
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Late 2021, however, saw the launch of the affordable AZ Essentials series, which includes the hardtail three-single-coil AZES31 and our vibrato-equipped review model, the AZES40.
Ibanez is marketing the Essentials series towards beginners. Recalling your first guitar might well send a shiver down your spine but the AZES40 has none of the drawbacks that likely beset your first squeeze.
There’s no vintage radius, and it sports a modestly curved 250mm/9.84 inch ’board, as well as ‘comfort round’ string saddles that provide a comfortable surface for the picking hand, plus a slightly shorter scale of 25 inches to make stretches easier for beginners. Ibanez’s all-access neck joint ensures comfort and playability at the higher frets too.
The affordable AZ Essentials models are inevitably subject to construction and material compromises that help reduce their production costs. The AZES models feature a cost-effective poplar body, maple neck and jatoba ’board.
Jatoba, sometimes referred to as Brazilian cherry, is a low-cost wood that’s tonally similar to rosewood. At first glance our ’board looks a little dry and pale but a dab of lemon oil darkens its hue and improve its appeal. We credit Ibanez for not applying stain to the ’board to disguise its paleness.
The C shaped neck is slim and, while we don’t have perfectly rolled fretboard edges here, we still find eminent comfort and support on both sides of the neck. The vibrato is stiff at first, but soon loosens up without disrupting tuning stability.
Plugged into our clean Suhr Badger, we select the neck position to find that it packs a pleasing punch. We measure a DC resistance of 6.6 ohms, which isn’t far from vintage territory. For beginners, the extra push will be ideal for sustaining delicately fretted notes.
With overdrive engaged, the bridge humbucker is suitably midrange-voiced, while the neck single-coil proves a tad muddy. Thankfully, we have a total of nine tones to explore with the dyna-MIX9 system.
As the name implies, the five-way pickup selector and Alter switch nestled between the volume and tone provides access to nine pickup permutations, some achieved by wiring the single-coils in series and some by splitting the humbucker to combine with the neck or middle.
Since we’re not enjoying the neck pickup, we flick the Alter switch while in position five and now have the middle pickup wired in series with the neck, cancelling hum and introducing some higher frequencies.
At £279, the AZES40 is laughably inexpensive for an instrument that, in terms of playability and build quality, rivals guitars five times its price.
This may be the ideal instrument for beginner players. Unlike those we experienced in our own youth, the guitars of the AZ Essentials series should facilitate and not encumber progression. Now, if we could only get our hands on a time machine…
- PRICE £279
- DESCRIPTION 6-string double-cutaway electric guitar, made in Indonesia
- BUILD Poplar body, bolt-on maple neck with 9.84”/250mm radius, jatoba fretboard, 22 medium frets
- HARDWARE Ibanez machineheads w/ split shaft, T106 bridge
- ELECTRONICS Accord humbucker (bridge), 2x Essentials single-coils (middle and neck), 5-way selector switch, dyna-MIX9 switching system w/Alter Switch, volume, tone
- SCALE LENGTH 25”/635mm
- NECK WIDTH 42mm at nut, 51.9mm at 12th fret
- NECK DEPTH 20.5mm at 1st fret, 22.5mm at 12th fret
- STRING SPACING 52.9mm at bridge, 36.2mm at nut
- WEIGHT 3.3kg/7.28lb
- LEFT-HANDERS No
- FINISHES Purist Blue (reviewed), Mint Green, Black
- CONTACT ibanez.com, andertons.co.uk