REVIEW: Ibanez Artist ARZ800

Ibanez may not be particularly known for their single-cut guitars – the iconic nature of designs like the RG and Iceman series tend to selfishly draw the eyes towards them during a casual flip of the catalog – but the company has made it’s fair share of such beauties over the years. In fact, in the 70s Ibanez made copies of a particularly well known single-cut that were so accurate and revered that they got slapped with threats of legal action and had to stop. The Artist offers occasional hints at this history but the series is always undergoing refinement and it’s now very much it’s own family of guitars, not trying to reflect any particular design by another company but not shying away from those sexy curves either.

One aspect that particularly separates the ARZ800 from most other single-cuts is its scale length: 25 inches, halfway between the 24.75″ of traditional single-cuts and the 25.5″ of so-called ‘superstrats.’ This gives the strings a slightly looser feel but not so much that you’ll get weird pitch drift if you pick super-hard. It also makes the guitar a little better-suited to lower tunings, such as Drop D or Drop C.

Many of the guitar’s other specs are more traditional but with a distinctly Ibanez spin. The maple-topped mahogany body has a deep scoop cut at the neck join area to allow unfettered upper-note access, and the Tight-Tune bridge and tailpiece lock down to prevent movement, thereby increasing the transfer of string energy. The guitar has 24 medium frets instead of the standard 22. The neck is set (ie: glued in), and has a bound rosewood fretboard with no front position markers of any kind (although side dots will help you find your way around). The fretboard radius is 305mm (12″), flat enough for shredding and un-choked bends but round enough for comfortable chording.

Controls are stripped back to master volume and tone controls and a 3-way pickup selector switch. The pickups are an EMG 81 in the bridge position and a 60 in the neck, the same set favoured by the likes of Metallica’s James Hetfield.

The model is available in Deep Violet, Deep Black and Deep Red. The review model was Deep Red.

I plugged the Artist into an Australian-made Sherlock Fat Head all-valve head and matching cabinet, as well as IK Multimedia‘s AmpliTube for iPad, and let her rip. Somewhat surprisingly for a single cut guitar but not surprising for an Ibanez, the Artist is a real shredder. Its relaxed string tension, palm-friendly neck and well-dressed frets conspire to make it a sweeping, string-skipping, tapping machine and I found myself flawlessly pulling off licks that I’ve found to be a challenge on some of my own axes. The neck shape really seemed to encourage my hand into the shred-correct ‘playing right on the fingertips’ position.

The EMG humbuckers are ideal for metal tones, and their high headroom means you can clean up the tone nicely by simply playing softer, whether youre using a tube amp or digital modeling. The bridge pickup packs plenty of wallop for palm muted thrashy rhythms and it has a distinctive sizzle for sustained power chords. Excursions up to the screechy end of the neck seem to prompt the pickup to reduce some of this treble and instead replace it with a clear, horn-like cut. The neck unit has a somewhat reduced treble, looser bass and rounder midrange, all qualities which make it a great lead pickup for either sustained, bluesy bends or for alternate-picked flights of fury. There’s no mistaking that classic EMG distorted tone, and it is a pickup that imposes much of it’s own character on the instrument it’s attached to. Having said that, the Artist wouldn’t sound as good if it was made of lesser woods and parts.

The slightly extended scale definitely makes for chunkier Drop D riffs, and I also tuned to Drop C, Drop C# and CGCGCE to explore the more extreme depths. If I actually owned this guitar I’d put heavier strings on it for lower tunings.

The ARZ800 almost carves a niche of its own: a shred-happy metal axe that happens to have a relatively traditional shape. But this is not your granddad’s blues axe – it’s built to destroy, and it’s really at its best when you’re flinging hyper-precise shred licks and metal riffs at it. By the way, the series also includes the ARZ307, a 7-string version sporting Ibanez Axis humbuckers and a more traditional Full-Tune bridge.

LINKS: Ibanez, Australis, EMG

[geo-in country=”Australia” note=””]This is an extended version of a review originally written for Mixdown magazine.[/geo-out]

[geo-out country=”Australia” note=””]
CLICK HERE to buy the Ibanez ARZ800 (Deep Red) from Musician’s Friend.

CLICK HERE to buy the Ibanez ARZ800 (Transparent Deep Violet) from Musician’s Friend.[/geo-out]