|Posted on Monday, February 06, 2006 - 3:28 am: |
First let me say that I am a player, recent collector, but not much of a luthier. This review is mostly from the player standpoint. I do know that the blond AS-200 is moderately rare, and may have only been sold in Japan, but I'm not sure of that fact. What say you, collectors?
Second, let me give you some background so that you'll know that I am quite partial to these guitars. Therefore I am not an impartial judge. Also, I can only compare them to 335's that have played in music stores all these years. I have never owned a Gibson of any sort. I won't go into why, but most of you can probably guess why I've avoided them.
Ok, on to the history. As a teenager my first "real" guitar was an '81 sunburst AS-200 and a 100 watt Rickenbacker solid state amp. My main guitar heros were Ted Nugent and Eddie Van Halen. The AS-200 caught my eye, mostly because my untrained eye saw something close to a Byrdland. I thought the guitar sounded pretty good, but then again, I didn't know tone from a hole in the ground. For the next few years I beat on that guitar pretty regularly. The usual happened: the gold came off everything (You mean you need to wipe down the guitar?) so the bridge, tailpiece and tuners were all replaced. The pup switch started acting up and crackling, so this got repaired, and the finish around the jack cracked (why doesn't someone move that jack to the edge? :P ). Anyway, this guitar grew to be my best friend, and the one that my muscle memory was built on. Unfortunately, it was stolen from my office about 1 1/2 years ago.
As far as other guitars I've owned for comparisons, those would be a Kramer Pacer, Charvel Koa strat, G&L Legacy, various Fender strats (including a recent Eric Johnson) both MIA and MIM, a Tele, and other lesser guitars...mostly with P-90's in them. My strat kick was because of the man....SRV. And, let it be said that I love the strat vintage single coil sound, and also the growl of a P-90, but that the super 58's translate the sound of the guitar purity-wise the best.
'89 AS-200: I have only had one day to play this, as it just came in the mail. Fit and finish are as expected from this era Ibanez. I can't find a flaw that is not due to post-factory factors. The blond is beautiful on its own merits, but some of the intrigue also comes from the fact that it's a color scheme that is not seen often. My best analogy is that the sunbursts are like regular tigers and the blonds are like white tigers. As far as the hardware, the only gold that is missing is on a few screws and the low E side of the bridge. The electronics and wiring is a little easier to see than my old AS and seems to be a bit more substantial. I'm not taking the guts out, but the wire guage and the solder points that I can see with a dental mirror are fabulous. The switches are quiet. The tone rolls off pretty linear to my ear and the volume does as well. This may have been an improvement from '81, since what I remember is a more rapid roll-off and a quick muddiness in the past. The pups are just like I remember them, a perfect combo with this semi-hollow body. There's the whole range of tones, but they are smooth and almost seemless going from one to the other while still maintaining their separate bride and neck character. This is different compared to say the radical changes across strat pups. The bridge can be a bit trebly and harsh, but easily controlled with the tone without a sacrifice in clarity, at least to my old ears. The coil switch added almost a "presence" feel to the pups. I never much used it before, and I can't see that it does much good now. YMMV. The pickguard binding is loose near the bridge pup. This is common on many/most AS-200, and easily repaired with superglue. The frets look original, but I know they have been dressed (I found a receipt for this). They have plenty of life left in them. The neck is straight and the action is low. My fingers fly on this neck. The width and larger radius, and I assume the scale, all contribute to runs that are rapid fire compared with my Fenders. Even my Eric Johnson, which is my "perfectly set-up" strat doesn't have the action and speed this neck has. (To be fair, again my muscle memory may play a role even though I have been almost exclusively strat for a few years). The whole guitar fits well and is comfortable to a point, but I must admit that I have grown accustomed to the strat body contour. I have better luck with right arm comfort with the guitar worn higher, but, alas, my left hand must accomodate this new wrist position. This isn't easy for me, so it's back to the lower slung guitar. Overall the sound is mature. I do believe that many times you can hear quite a difference between a new guitar and an old one. The old, settled guitars seem to resonate as one piece and have a complexity and depth to their tone. Although this current AS-200 falls slightly short (very slightly) of my old stolen AS-200 in complexity of the bridge pup sound, it more than makes up for it in what I believe to be better pots. Maybe I'm wrong in my recollection, but there you have it. This a great guitar I will never part with.
JSM-200: This, I'm sure has been reviewed over and over. Let's just say that I agree with most of the improvements over the AS-200, especially moving the jack to the edge. The tuners are better too. I'm neither here nor there on the partial brass nut. I like the larger headstock than my Artist series AS-200, because the greater mass adds to the tone in my opinion. But, this headstock is the same size as my old AS-200. The fit and finish are impeccable, as expected from Ibanez Japan and a guitar of this expense. This is truly a beautiful guitar. One has to stop gazing at it long enough to start playing. The electronics also look to be high quality and are quiet. The metal hardware is an improvement in its general look of precision. We'll see how long the gold lasts. The pups are a little higher output than the AS, but clarity is very close. The depth and complexity is really remarkable for a guitar this young, almost to the point of making me question the validity of my statement about old versus new guitars. This guitar plays very "tightly". My best analogy is how a new technology-laden Mercedes drives...like precise, fine German engineering....you can't help but drive better. The JSM allows/makes one a better player. The AS-200 is a settled in coupe that has been driven many miles and for which one knows every nuance and from which one can push and pull all sorts of tricks. Overall, this guitar is also a keeper. It is a keeper as much for the improvements as the lineage. Ibanez Japan looks to have maintained quality. So, in that reguard, I can look forward to my JSM maturing in sound complexity and having that sound translated even better.
|Posted on Monday, February 06, 2006 - 10:55 am: |
Tnadr~Great review. You and I have similar taste in semi-hollow Ibanez's. Last October I too scored one of the rare, (Japan market only) blonde Artstar AS200NT. Last month an '03 JSM100 followed me home!
I agree with your descriptive comparisons of the tone and construction of these fine instruments. After spending more time with the AS200, JSM100 as well as a Super 58-loaded 2630, the JSM is the clear winner IMHO. It feels most similar to the 2630, but edges out the others with its compound radius fretboard, tall frets, super high quality finish and tone. Gorgeous, complex tone!
There are a couple of threads here where we discussed these guitars. Do a search for either 'JSM' or 'Blonde AS200' for more reading.
Congratulations on your two winners.
|Posted on Monday, February 06, 2006 - 11:54 am: |
Thanks for the great review. Good analogies. I've only had my '80 AS200 for a few months, and it has quickly become one of my favorites. Everything you say about the JSM makes me want to get one. I totally get the analogy about the new Mercedes. Some older cars have a raw energy that can make up for some mechanical shortcoming, but a new car (BMW in my case) is so refined that you can concentrate on just driving, not the car's quirks.
|Posted on Thursday, February 09, 2006 - 3:19 pm: |
Just changed the slinky 9's that were on the blonde to 11's (low E is a 58). Lowered the action and then had to straighten the neck.
Wow! This guitar is even faster. I hadn't realized how much this neck improves my speed and accuracy. It is other-worldly. This is set really low by eye (don't have a measurement for you), but no buzzing whatsoever and no dead-spots. And the flat radius makes for absolutely no fretting out.
There is just one drawback....the action is so low now that I find that radical SRV/Albert King meaty bends I like to do on my strats are much harder to do on the blonde. In other words, its difficult to "dig in".
That's ok though, when I'm looking to do some speedy jazz-type of things, this guitar will be the one I go to. It also forces me to play a little differently, which is a good thing in my book.
|Posted on Thursday, February 09, 2006 - 4:22 pm: |
One thing I noticed about the AS200NT is the relatively low frets. They still have a bit of crown left, but it's almost like an old Gibson 'fretless wonder' feel. As you stated, that combined with the flat radius makes for less than ideal bends, and great for jazzy chordial runs and lines.
Sounds like you are enjoying yours very much.
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