The Ibanez AZ Essentials guitars were designed to be the best you can get when it comes to affordable beginner instruments. Today we take a look at all of the features that make it worth the extra money.
Ibanez AZ Essentials: The Perfect Step Up?
It is really hard to think of Ibanez as anything but the company that has all of the virtuoso shredders under it’s roster. I mean, we have Steve Vai as the tip of the spear when it comes to Ibanez. The Vai guitars, and subsequently the RG Series, are the best selling artist guitars ever. No other signature guitar even comes close to the sales numbers that the Jem and the RG have accumulated over the past 35 years.
The RG Series in particular is the quintessential “Super Strat” guitar. Most of the RG Series are dual humbucker guitars with floating bridges. Many metal guitarists are absolutely fine with that setup, especially the metal players that Ibanez seems to attract. The brand attracts shredders, and heavy players of all genres of metal. Well…that is, until recently.
When Polyphia blew up, the band was known to be faithful Ibanez endorsers. Tim and Scott from the band had been playing Ibanez RG guitars for years, but they had a new sound in mind that required single coil pickups and a total redesign of their usual Ibanez models. What we got, was the AZ Series.
There has been this weird revival of more classic guitars the last few years, and I really like this idea. For example, the Nick Johnston Schecter is based on a classic style, but with modern features you would never find on a Fender. The same can be said of the newer Ibanez series. These are classic styled guitars, with single coils and traditional bridges. But the catch is that the Ibanez AZ Series is made in Japan, and very expensive.
The brand new Ibanez AZ Essentials guitars this year is supposed to close the gap in price tiers. These are meant to be beginner/intermediate guitars that are easy to play and maintain. But the best part, is the price. These are going for under $400 and have been designed from the ground up… with the beginner in mind.
But just because these are beginner guitars, doesn’t mean that they are lacking in features. I actually got to try these out for a couple of days, I and I have a lot of thoughts regarding the Ibanez AZ Essentials guitars. Today we are going to take a look at what these guitars have to offer the beginner and the more experienced guitarist.
Ibanez AZ Essentials: Features And Specs
So the whole idea behind the Ibanez AZ Essentials guitars is that it has all of the essential parts of a basic guitar. This series actually reminds me of a Yamaha Pacifica more than anything. There are a few different models of the new Ibanez AZ but they all share similar features. You have:
- Fixed Bridge Version
- Classic Trem System Version
- HSS Variant
- SSS Variant
You also get a choice of 5 different colors, that vary across the different models. It’s important to note that even though these are Ibanez guitars, they are not a shredder’s guitar. These are geared towards a more classic sound, and really aimed at the intermediate guitarist that is “trying to figure out their sound”. Since these guitars are sort of “do it all guitars” with the pickup options you have available. But we will get to the sounds later, the features go first:
- Maple neck
- Jatoba fretboard
- Poplar body
- 25” Scale length
- 22 Frets
- Flat 10” Radius
- Mono output Jack
- Classic C shape neck
- Essentials/Accord S-S-H pickups or S-S-S Essentials pickups
- T106 tremolo/Fixed bridge with Comfort round steel saddles
- dyna-MIX9 switching system with alter switch
Welcoming yet another expansion to the highly successful AZ series, Ibanez is proud to introduce the AZES or Ibanez AZ Essentials line. The philosophy behind this series is to bring the tone, versatility and, playability of this celebrated lineup to a wider array of beginner and intermediate players. However, AZ Essentials are also equipped with series-specific features such as a Mono-unit output jack, a 250mm fingerboard radius, and Comfort round bridge saddles, all designed to make the beginner’s learning process a streamlined, enjoyable and fun experience.Ibanez.com
The Ibanez AZ Essentials Series is designed from the ground up by Ibanez and Tomo Fujita who is most famous for being a Berklee professor (the one that taught John Mayer). So the basic idea is to make a guitar that you can learn on, effectively. Many beginner guitars can be really poor quality, and make even the most talented players give up. There is nothing worse than trying to learn guitar and the guitar won’t hold tune… or keeps fighting you.
So the Ibanez AZ Essentials is designed to take the quality problems out of the equation. I like the idea of keeping the guitar pretty simple and traditional. This is basically a Stratocaster, let’s not fool ourselves here. But the modern features make it a little easier to learn on than a Fender Strat. But what are these features and how do they make things easier for the player?
The Ibanez AZ Essentials electric guitar is part of the highly successful AZ series of guitars. Made to bring tone, versatility and playability to beginner and intermediate players, the AZ Essentials guitar includes series-specific features like a mono-unit output jack and Comfort round bridge saddles. This is a new player's dream!
The first thing I want to talk about is the neck. This is a slim, flat neck and it feels absolutely wonderful. The 25” scale length puts you between a Les Paul and a Stratocaster scale-wise, and this will help you learn how to do bends easier. The frets were also well done on the two models that I tried, and there were no sharp ends to cut your hands on. The satin finish on the back feels great, and it actually feels like a much more expensive guitar.
The neck connects to the body with the famous Ibanez “All Access” neck joint on all of the Ibanez AZ Essentials guitars. This allows you to get to the higher frets without running into a square heel joint. This can potentially help new players that are struggling with the higher scales, and octave scales.
The body is a lightweight Poplar wood, and next to my girlfriend’s Stratocaster, the body is a little bit smaller than usual. This is really cool, since a heavy guitar can be a problem for beginners. The Ibanez AZ Essentials body has all of the comfort cut-away spots that you would expect on a “Strat Style” guitar. You still have a forearm bevel, and a tummy cut, the body is just a tad bit smaller than your usual Strats.
All of the hardware is pretty good. You have standard tuners, a decent nut, and the plastic knobs are a classic design. The bridges of both models is where things get interesting. The string saddles are designed to be lower profile, and omit the set screws poking out of the top of each saddle. This is super comfortable for a new guitarist learning how to palm mute. The controls are also out of the way, which is a problem I constantly complain about with Fender Strats.
Not only are the bridge saddles designed to be more comfortable, they are also functional. These are easy to adjust whether you choose the Trem version, or the fixed bridge. Personally, I would suggest the fixed bridge for beginners, and the trem system for more intermediate players. Just because a trem system can be a pain in the ass for beginners to set up. But either way, both are easy to set intonation and string height.
The control layout on the Ibanez AZ Essentials guitars are pretty cool. Whether you prefer an HSS, or the standard triple single coil layout, both have the Dyna-Switch function. So each guitar has up to 10 sounds, with the 5 way blade switch mixed with the Dyna. This might actually be a little confusing for a brand new player. However an intermediate player might be able to do a lot with this function. Each position gives you a different sound/pickup blend.
Which speaking of, the Ibanez AZ Essentials Pickups are all really great. I was a little blown away by how good these pickups sounded through the BOSS Katana I was using. The single coils have a real snarky punch to them, and the humbuckers can handle high gain really well for what they are. I would not say that these pickups are for metal, per se. But they can do that if you want! There are a lot of different sounds you can get out of these pickups, especially with the Dyna-Switch.
The clean tones I was able to get sounded amazing with the single coil pickups. Under a little bit of gain, these could be perfect for doing some heavy blues jams. When you turn on the Dyna-Switch, you get some combined humbucker tones between the pickups. The humbuckers themselves were great under some high gain, but lack a lot of definition. Honestly, I don’t ever expect cheaper humbuckers to sound amazing, but these sound decent.
I feel like the Dyna-Switch might confuse the hell out of some new players because it is actually kind of complicated. I have to mentally visualize and actually think about what I was doing for each position. But for the intermediate players, the Ibanez AZ Essentials can easily expand their sonic palate. This might really change how they play, and may influence the style they decide to play later on.
The “Mono Output” on the bottom of the guitar is kind of genius. With most outputs, you have a jack that is held on by four screws and a nut. This new jack design takes out the nut and makes it easier to repair the guitar just by removing the 4 screws. This is a problem that plagues cheaper guitars, and this makes it easy to access the output jack without any fuss.
Ibanez AZ Essentials: The Verdict
As much as we talk about how much nicer beginner guitars are these days, there are still some really bad ones out there. In most cases, you certainly get what you pay for. That being said, I think the Ibanez AZ Essentials is a step in the right direction for beginner/intermediate guitarists. In fact, this might even be a real “first”.
I mean, I honestly cannot think of a major brand that has said “these guitars are specifically enhanced for beginners” before. Some cheaper guitars like Squier we assume are just better for beginners, but the brand never explicitly states this. Ibanez have specifically designed these guitars to be great for the beginner. I think this is really cool!
You also get a whole lot of guitar for the price point. Sitting at $350, this is right in the zone of some other brands that offer way less. I think Ibanez really wants to convey that while this is a beginner guitar, this is not a cheap beginner guitar. This is not a toy by any means, it’s legit in every way.
Ibanez really thought about what a guitarist needs when they are first starting to play. Small touches like the scale length, and the fret job really make all the difference for new players. These are features that seasoned guitarists prefer as well. Pros enjoy these quality features just as much as beginners…
Which brings me to another point: If you are not a beginner, and you really need a single coil sound for the studio or live applications, then you would probably really love this guitar. It would also make a nice backup guitar for professionals. The tones that I got with the Ibanez AZ essentials guitars are more than usable for studio work. So before you buy that Squier as a backup...maybe give one of these a shot.
Are the Ibanez AZ Essentials Guitars Worth The Price?
For about $350, you really can’t go wrong with these guitars. These were designed by Ibanez to be perfect for beginners/intermediate players.
Are Ibanez AZ Essentials Only For Beginners?
No way! These are great for players of any level. While the pickups might not be great for a pro player, these can be changed out. This is a great guitar for modding!
Do Ibanez AZ Essentials come with a case?
They do not come with a case. These will fit great in just about any Strat Style case.