The Ibanez AZ first launched in 2018 and I picked up one of the early production models – the AZ2402-TFF.
After spending quite a bit of time with this guitar and buying a second AZ recently AZ2204B-BK, I thought it was about time I shared a real “hands on” customer review with you.
Want to learn what the Ibanez AZ is all about? Keep on reading…
The AZ presents a departure from what most have come to expect from Ibanez
Ibanez have been a mainstay of the metal world for years now. Their most popular line being the RG.
Originally based on the Steve Vai JEM signature series that launched in 1987, the RG has become one of the best selling super strats on the market.
Now, while Ibanez has done models that do appeal to some blues and jazz players, they didn’t appeal to everyone. And whenever the typical new releases at NAMM came around, these models seemed to receive very little focus from Ibanez.
So how does the AZ fit into all of this?
The AZ was born out of a question that was asked to a bunch of popular session players such as Martin Miller and Tom Quayle. That question was something along the lines of: “why don’t you all just play RG’s or something similar?”
So, Ibanez went on to ask these session players – “what would you change?”
There was some back and forth, many prototypes and adjustments. The result was the Ibanez AZ series – a very different feeling guitar to what most players might expect from this brand.
How does the Ibanez AZ shape up?
Both of the Ibanez AZ’s that I own are prestige models built in Japan so they are on the higher end of the price spectrum.
There are a number of signature models available so some of the specs will differ from the core line.
One of the staples of the AZ line is the roasted maple neck. There are no alternatives here. It’s a one-piece maple neck or nothing.
All models have the typical roasted neck treatment. Prestige models come with an additional treatment process called ‘S-Tech’ which is designed to further improve neck stability.
This makes the neck darker. There are around 2 years between the production of each of my guitars. The newer AZ2204B-BK model has a much darker neck. I’ve played my original AZ a lot so this could be a contributing factor since it’s only an oiled neck.
The neck shape is slated as an oval C with a fretboard of radius just shy of 17″. If you’ve played Ibanez necks before you’ll be used to the somewhat flat fretboard but the neck is quite a bit chunkier than a typical Ibanez ‘super wizard’ neck. That’s something I very much like about the AZ series.
The majority of the range will come with an alder body, but some have other woods. There are a number of signature models available that come with somewhat more exotic woods (or less exotic in some cases).
On the fretboard, we’ve got jumbo stainless steel frets. Some players may find them a bit too ‘zingy’ but they’ll have a lot of life in them.
We’ve got a bone nut and a set of Gotoh locking tuners.
Locking tuners work by having a pin that locks the string through it. Most locking tuners have a rotary control on the back so you can lock them in place as required.
The locking tuners that come with the AZ are different. They are a work of genius but if you’re used to the more common style of locking tuners – they work differently.
Instead, you simply thread the string through the tuning peg, then tune up the guitar as you would normally. With enough turns, the pin will lock into place by itself.
Another staple of the AZ series is the Gotoh T1802 tremolo bridge. Some signature models like the Andy Timmons model do have different bridges but this is standard across the core AZ line.
This dual-point tremolo is smooth and can be used up & down. The bridge has a 10.5mm string spacing and intonation is easy to adjust.
One particularly nice detail are the pieces of rubber around the springs in the tremolo cavity. This is particularly nice for playing at home through a practice amp or unplugged since it does a good job of removing some of the unwanted noise.
And the upper fret access is exceptional. Reaching those high frets won’t be an issue.
Moving on to the pickups… The AZ typically comes with a duo (or trio) or Seymour Duncan Hyperion pickups although some signature models can differ.
The Hyperion pickups come with Alnico-5 magnets and have been specifically developed for this line of guitars and can’t be purchased separately (at the time of writing this post).
They are slated as ‘medium output’ pickups but they do sound somewhat hotter than I expected. They are well rounded pickups. They sound great clean or with a bit of breakup and they handle large amounts of gain well.
It seems the idea behind these pickups was to develop a set that could be used across a large spectrum of genres. Quite the tall order, but they’ve managed it.
A rather nifty feature is the dyna-MIX10 switching system – there’s a toggle switch that changes the wiring of some of the pickups from parallel to series (or vice versa). This opens up a bunch more tonal options.
And to round out the package, we’ve got an Ibanez hard case.
AZ2402-TFF vs AZ2204B-BK
There’s not much between the two.
The first Ibanez I purchased (AZ2402-TFF), has two humbuckers and 24 frets. The AZ2204B-BK has one humbucker and two single coils, with 22 frets.
The only other difference is the AZ2204B-BK comes with a scratch plate and lacquered body.
Both play brilliantly and there’s not much variation in quality at all. Both are well built guitars.
Prestige vs premium?
Ibanez has a more affordable ‘premium’ line built in Indonesia. There’s quite a price difference between the two.
I haven’t played a premium AZ but I have played a number of premium RG’s – the quality is excellent.
The prestige line does have a few differences which includes the S-Tech treatment and a hard case (compared to a soft case or gig bag).
But you can’t go wrong either way.
Final thoughts on the Ibanez AZ series
It’s evident that a lot of time, money and effort has been spent on the R&D of this guitar.
While it might not seem like much, all of the little details that go into the Ibanez AZ really matter.
The result is one of the most versatile guitars that I have ever played. Sure, it will not be to everyone’s liking, but it’s rare to find a guitar that is so versatile. I highly recommend trying one for yourself.
2021 Update: Ibanez have announced new AZ models. This includes several 7 string models and traditional variations on the existing platform. The traditional models typically come with a HSS pickup configuration, Seymour Duncan Futura pickups, and a more traditional fretboard radius.
Image credits: Tone Island // Adam Connell.