Flame-Maple with Sweet, Syrupy Sounds

Everyone loves a good semi-hollow, whether it be the classics (ES-335's and the like) or the more recent interpretations (Thinline Tele's, for example). And while most people think of Gibsons and Gretsches when they think of semi-hollows, it's easy to forget that Ibanez has a pretty solid foot in the game of not-so-solid instruments. The example I'd like to enthusiastically pick apart today is a new addition to our shop in the way of flamey, mapley, hollowy goodness. May I present, the Ibanez AS103!

 Used Ibanez Artcore Custom AS103NT ($599.99):

Let me start by saying, “holy flame maple, Batman! That’s a purdy guitar!” Ibanez has been making fancy-schmancy semi-hollows for their Artcore series since the early 2000s, and the “Custom” series, to be specific, popped up around 2005. Think ES-335 with a modern, Ibanez-y edge. The cool thing about the Artcore and the Artcore Customs is arguably the same thing about a lot of Ibanez stuff that has made a name for themselves over the years: affordable without skimping out of the higher-quality elements in form and function. In this case, we’ve got a great example of a modern emulation of the vintage high-end kind of instrument we’ve come to know and love in semi-hollows of yore.

The AS103NT is a laminate shell with a maple/bubinga/maple sandwich veneer all built around a big, solid block of…you guessed it, maple. The incredibly sturdy five-piece neck is comprised of another hearty helping of maple/bubinga sandwich all topped off with a rosewood veneered headstock to cosmetically compliment the rosewood fretboard and abalone inlays. Basically, this thing oozes class (if “class” comes across as oozey, I guess). Also features all gold hardware, Ibanez’s Quik Change Ultra tailpiece complete with fine-tuners for the sake the precision, and a flame-mapley pickguard to bring it all together. But now that we’re done oogling it, let’s talk about the more kinesthetic features…

I’d probably play nothing but semi-hollows if it weren’t for the fact that most of them are a bit cumbersome and…uh…voluptuous in the body department. And if you read the blog regularly (ha! Right!) you’ll know I have a trademark bias against heavy or otherwise bulky guitars. And I won’t sugarcoat anything about this guitar: it is HEFTY having been wrapped in layers of dense maple and sporting a good, manly chunk of the same stuff in the core. In spite of the fact that it is technically mostly air on the inside, this is not a guitar for the faint of heart. Or, arms.

On the other hand, I can’t help but love playing this thing due to its pleasantly fast neck and its more modest medium frets, allowing a player to get more intimate with the fretboard. As far as playability goes, it is a guitar made for all the noodlers out there who want to explore the extent of what their guitar can do (also, being that you have access to all frets considering its double-cutaway, ES-335-style design).

Speaking of ES-335’s, let’s allow us to use the well-known Gibson semi-hollow as a general yardstick while we talk about sound and tone in the AS103NT. Again, stressing the fact that this thing is a giant resonating box of maple bearing maple, the guitar is noticeably brighter than a mahogany-laden 335, though not necessarily night-and-day different if you’ve got a soft spot for the classic, semi-hollow tones. The folks at Ibanez had sense enough to put darker, warmer sounding pickups with medium-ish output, which gives a great balance to an otherwise treble-heavy sound. The Super 58’s produced a very warm bottom end, which sometimes requires a little bit of a fiddling with the mix if you're looking for extra clarity and definition on the bass side. However, combined with the more intense brightness of the maple, you can still achieve that classic twangy-honky thing reminiscent of some of the best semi-hollow music out there.

One of the best advantages of keeping to a more conservative pickup style is that the AS103NT is ultimately a versatile sound machine, capable of sweeping all around the frequency band. If you’re like me and have rather eclectic taste and playing style, this guitar may be highly complementary for you, being able to bounce from hard rock and heavy blues riffs to a more subdued jazz to a bright-clean or warm-ambient sound. Guitars that can do a lot with a little bit of adjustment tend to strike my fancy more than the ones that tend to only do one thing, even if they do that one thing really, really well.

That being said, I plugged this guy into two different Bassmans, a Classic 30, anda Blues Jr, all sounding great! Though I have to say, the best combo was found in mating the AS103 and the Blues Jr: arguably the best sounding blues/rock/jazz tones for the semi-hollow player of discriminating taste. But that’s hardly a surprise, is it?


- Flame Maple top, back, and sides

- Five-piece maple/bubinga set-neck 

- Rosewood fretboard and headstock

- Custom abalone inlays

- Medium frets

- Gold hardware including tuning heads, ART1 bridge, Quick Change Ultra tail-piece with fine tuners

- Ibanez Super 58's (Alnico magnets) in both Neck and Bridge


All said, I highly recommend this guitar and encourage ya’ll to come in and give it a run for your money! And speaking of money, it’s only six-hundred bucks for a like-new Ibanez Artcore Custom, so consider that a great deal!

Stay excellent and have a great week!

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