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This article was originally published in issue #42
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Over the last few decades the acoustic guitar has gone through a complete revolution in terms of the technical and stylistic diversity with which players have approached the instrument. Many guitarists have adopted advanced performance techniques (think of Jon Gomm!) and all manner of diverse tunings, with extended low or high end ranges that push the sonic limits of traditional guitar design. In the electric guitar world this has resulted in a whole slew of extended range instruments with multi-scale length designs and extra strings and these are now being made to suit all budgets. But the acoustic world is still playing catch up, with the vast majority of extended range and multi-scale length, fanned-fret instruments costing as much as a family car. The Ibanez AELFF10 aims to fill this gap in the market by offering large body, fanned-fret acoustic at a very affordable price without compromises that affect the tone or playability. Ibanez has achieved greatness at this price point before, by making advanced electric guitars at 'real world' prices, so does the AELFF10 live up to these aims and can it possibly compete with fanned-fret guitars costing many times more?
The AEL is the largest body size in Ibanez’s range, featuring solid rosewood back and sides with a spruce top, matched to a mahogany neck and rosewood fretboard with a 680mm scale length at the Low E string and 635mm at the high E. The fanned fret design looks superb and is reflected in the compensated rosewood bridge and bone nut/saddle, giving the guitar an unusual and striking look, especially if you’ve never seen a fanned fret guitar before! Ibanez has opted for decent hardware at this price point with die-cast Grover tuners and a Fishman Sonicore pickup, paired with an Ibanez AEQ-SP2 pre-amp, featuring bass, treble and volume controls, a tuner and balanced XLR and ¼” outputs. There are no visual bells and whistles with the AELFF10, Ibanez choosing to keep costs down and produce a plain, but good looking, guitar that gives the player just what he or she needs in order to keep the guitar affordable.
The AELFF10 is very nicely put together too, with the usual level of quality that we’ve come to expect from Ibanez, even from their budget instruments. The gloss finish is very nicely achieved and the choice of satin for the neck aids playability and feel. Fretwork is excellent with no sharp fret edges and a great factory set-up offering superb playability all the way up to the cutaway at the upper register. It’s surprising how easy fanned fret guitars are to play, even if they look a little daunting upon first inspection and this Ibanez is no exception. The slanted fret design ergonomically follows the player’s left hand finger angles more closely than a normal guitar, making chords and lead work less strenuous and takes far less time to adapt to than one might expect. Tuning stability is very good too thanks to the solid components and Grover tuners and intonation is also very solid across the guitars range. Despite the AEL’s large body size this is also a very comfortable guitar that never feels over-sized or bulky.
The Fishman Sonicore pickup is a good tonal performer that we see on many budget friendly acoustics. Matched with the Ibanez pre-amp you get a very usable amplified tone that is more than adequate for live or basic studio work. The two band EQ is a little limiting but an external pre-amp can solve those issues and the inclusion of a balanced XLR output is fantastic at this price point. The onboard tuner does a reasonable job of keeping you in tune. It’s not the most accurate tuner we’ve seen in an acoustic but it does the job with no fuss and helps to keep the cost down, although a dedicated external tuner may well be more accurate for most people’s needs. You will also definitely need to factor in the cost of a decent case, as one isn't included.
Fanned fret designs should be more than a simple visual gimmick to sell guitars, the tonal idea being similar to that of a piano design where the lower strings are far longer than the higher ones in order to facilitate the best tone, sustain and resonance at each frequency. Extended the bass register scale length whilst shortening the upper register on the AELFF10 is designed to achieve a similar result that has been employed very successfully by some of the super-expensive, boutique acoustics on the market. Ibanez has done a remarkable job of translating this effect onto an affordable acoustic, producing a guitar with excellent bass and treble tone, response and feel that, whilst it won’t scare the boutique builders too much, offers a very legitimate and great sounding alternative to those who can’t afford a four figure, hand-made instrument and are interested in trying a multi-scale length acoustic. Highly recommended.