Ibanez AR2619-VV 2014 Prestige Guitar Hands-On Report

Ibanez AR2619-VV Guitar Hands on Report by Glen Cianciulli 9/2016

Ibanez literature says: “The AR is a classic among Ibanez guitars. It was one of the first original designs produced by Ibanez and continues to be a sought after guitar. The AR series continues that legacy with pride.”

That is all true.

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In 1974 Ibanez began to stop being a copy-guitar manufacturer by releasing its first electric guitar with a body shape that didn’t clone another brand’s guitar. The non-clones were the Ibanez Artist #2611, #2612, #2613 and #2614 . Each guitar featured symmetrical double cutaway bodies with carved, contoured tops. The first attempt by Ibanez was legit. These models were work-in-progress with their rounder cutaways, peculiar shaped pickguard and bolt on neck. The Ibanez “Artist Series” were their up-scale electric & acoustic guitars, unnamed and designated by a model number.

Huge first steps with more to come. Ibanez would release another original body design a year later in 1975 called the… wait for it… Artist #2663. This was briefly called the “Flash” (according to “The Ibanez Untold Story”) but we all know & love it as the “Iceman”.

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Original AR guitars from 1974 with slightly rounder cutaways, bolt-on neck & pickguard. These appear to have a subtle top contour.

In 1976 the AR2619 was Introduced

It was impossible to know at the time, but this axe would be the “AR” the guitar world would remember decades later. As Philadelphia Freedom topped the US charts during its Bicentennial, Ibanez created a classic – the AR2619 – perhaps its first historic axe.

For the Artist #2619 Ibanez further refined the symmetrical body design. The visually peculiar pickguard was eliminated, allowing more of the maple top to show. Removing the pickguard was an invitation to the burst finishes and nicer figured tops of future models. Judging from the body binding, it appears that the arch & contour was subtly improved. The horns were an obvious enhancement, both cutaways were made slightly more pointy. The transformation was set in stone by replacing the bolt-on neck with a set-in neck, a desirable feature for a guitar of this caliber. In two short years Ibanez completed a rapid & successful evolution for their first original electric guitar. Ibanez was indeed serious about not being a “copy guitar” maker.

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1976 Ibanez catalog listing.

As a historical footnote, in 1977 Ibanez re-branded the “Artist Series” by removing the acoustic guitars. This highlighted the transition of the company who began as an acoustic guitar manufacturer. Going forward the “Artist” nomenclature would be reserved for electric guitars such as the 2619 and the newly introduced #2630 semi-hollow body guitar.

The #2630 semi-hollow body & it’s simpler #2629 twin were tributes to the Gibson ES-355 & less ornate ES-335. In 1979 the #2630/2629 would become the Ibanez AS200 & AS100 the former sold today (& one I need to add to my collection of player axes).

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1979 Ibanez catalog page with the first AR models. The AR-300 is actually the guitar that would be re-released in 2014 as the AR2619.

The Decade of Hiatus

Over forty years later it’s important to understand and appreciate the history of these beloved guitars. The 70s & 80s brought huge cultural, political & worldwide economic changes. Like any company Ibanez would evolve or die.

In 1986 the AR120 (Basswood body) & AR300 were produced along with an absurd AR350T compete with a non-recessed Edge tremolo! With the lack of focus and clarity visible for the world to see, it’s no surprise this would be the end of the line… the last ARs made for 11 years.

Steve Miller was no longer cranking out AM radio hits and Ibanez had a one-track endorser mind after courting shredder upon shredder before and after their 1987 rebirth. Maybe it was the sting of having Eddie record much of VanHalen with the Ibanez Korina (Ash) Destroyer and failing to capture upcoming commercially successful artists. In all fairness, companies like Gibson were making Les Pauls with Floyd Rose tremolos & Fender building shred MIJ Strats (made by Fujigen)! You could summarize the industry strategy at the time as this: throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what sticks.

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1977 Ibanez Artist Series Brochure Cover

What’s Old Becomes New Again

In 1998 Ibanez brought the “AR” back into production by introducing the AR2000. The new AR line was just one model in just one color the AR2000-VV (Vintage Violin). It was both a magnificent & subtle re-launch. With all the used “copy era” Ibanez Artists from the 70s and early 80s selling online it was good business for Ibanez to reintroduce the AR to a new & expanded audience wanting these classics.

The AR2000 was a guitar for players and oh yes it could play. This was probably the right AR at the right time; not too heavy, not too ornate. It’s a fantastic model that players call keepers (you can see my old hands-on report on jemsite.com for more).  Still, AR players would grow to want a return of the more grandiose models, even beyond the upscale AR3000 that followed. These wishes would eventually be granted.

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1999 Ibanez AR2000 catalog page

 

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AR2000-VV & AR2619-AV. Note the AR2000 was modified/upgraded recently by the fine folks at Hoshino USA to include the tri-sound switches. To do this the Flying Fingers (4-conductor) pickups replaced the non-engraved originals

2014 Ibanez Artist 2619

In 2014 Ibanez completed it’s a long & windy road back to yesteryear with the re-introduction of the AR2619. This was offered in two colors Antique Violin (AV) and Cherry Sunburst (CB) with a list price of $3066.65. A tribute to the original No.2619 with a few niceties added such as the cloud ornament addition to the Quick Change tailpiece, two tri-sound switches and the sustain block. These are the features found on the 1979 AR300 guitar but it’s no surprise the 2619 naming was used. AR300 sounds like a lower-end (non-Japanese) model in today’s lineup.

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2014 Ibanez AR2619-AV

 Ibanez AR2619 Guitar Specs (2014-present)

  • Body Shape: Symmetrical double-cutaway shape with contoured top & 7-ply binding
  • Body Wood: Flamed Maple top w/ Mahogany body
  • Bridge: Gibraltar bride w/ Sustain block. The faithful reproduction of the original – AR2619 model
  • Bridge Tailpiece – Quick Change Classic Tailpiece (with cloud adornment which was not included in the original 2619)
  • Bridge Pickup: Super 80 “Flying Finger” (H) bridge pickup (Passive/Ceramic)
  • Case included
  • Color: AV Antique Violin
  • Controls: volume (neck & bridge ), tone (neck & bridge), Tri-sound switch (neck & bridge) , 3-way pickup selector
  • Fretboard: Bound Ebony w/ Acrylic & Abalone block inlay
  • Frets: Medium frets w/ Prestige fret end treatment provides tight response and smooth left-hand fingering.
  • Hardware color: Gold
  • Knobs: non-slip Sure Grip III
  • Machine Heads: Gotoh with pearloid knobs
  • Neck Joint: AR Smooth heel for superb playability
  • Neck Radius: 305mm
  • Neck Scale : 628mm/24.7″
  • Neck Type: AR 3-pc Maple set-in neck (smooth heel)
  • Neck Thickness at fret-1: 20mm
  • Neck Thickness at fret-12: 22mm
  • Neck Width at Nut: 43mm
  • Neck Width at fret-22: 57mm
  • Neck Pickup: Super 80 “Flying Finger” (H) neck pickup (Passive/Ceramic)
  • Nut: Bone nut
  • $3066.65 List Price case included
  • $2299.99 Minimum Advertised Price

 

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Ibanez Case (included)

 

Electronics & Controls

The AR2619, like many ARs have the Tri-sound switch for each pickup. This allows you to choose from series (normal wiring), parallel & coil-tap wiring for each pickup, giving a wide variety of tones. The 4-conductor Super 80 pickups allow all of this to happen.

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Beautiful to look at and play, but never intimidating.

The Sure Grip III knobs of the past are used & welcome again. Ibanez literature says “non slip Sure Grip III knobs support accurate volume & tone control”. In actuality, the grippy knobs are useful since the the pots are rather stiff  (creep free).

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The controls of the AR2619

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3-way pickup selector switch as per Les Paul including placement on the upper horn. Tri-sound 3-way mini-toggles allows you to select parallel wiring (up), coil split (middle position) or normal series wiring (lower position).

Astounding Level of Detail

The attention to detail on the AR2619 needs to be seen & felt in person. If a picture is worth 1,000 words then holding this axe is worth 1,000 pictures. When you have this guitar in hand and give pause, it’s almost laughable to see the list price on some Ibanez signature guitars (Prestige & non-Prestige) and other brands in comparison to the AR2619.

Let me take a minute to list some of the details featured on the 2619.

First, the AR has an arched/contoured body made of real hard wood (Mahogany with Maple top) not Basswood. The curved top adds to the CNC routing time as well as making the hand finish, burst & clear that much more difficult. The body is wrapped in a 7-ply binding (the Les Paul typically has one ply bindings). Then after the hand staining is applied, the burst finish is created by hand airbrushing the edge of the body to create the gorgeous contrast. Each of these bursts are of course unique to a certain extent. For good measure the neck and headstock have a 3-ply binding as well. Would you expect less? The fretboard has the classic Artist parallelogram block inlays which are Abalone surrounded by Acrylic. The headstock has the elegantly classic “castle” shape and inlayed into the black headstock is a gorgeous Mother of Pearl application. The Prestige truss rod cover is 2-ply and engraved. The Super80 pickups are also detailed with the classic “Flying Finger” engraving on the covers.

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Les Paul Standard Heritage Cherry Sunburst for comparison

I’ve always been a “less is more” type of guitar connoisseur… especially in terms of maple tops and gaudy details that offer no benefit to playability or tone. Lets be honest, the plainer Les Paul Standard bursts resonate more with players then the AAAA quilted top versions. Anyone not want a GoldTop over a AAAA top?  The Ibanez 1999 catalog page above states this eloquently. Which would you really want to play onstage or at an open mic… the clinically built museum piece or the model it was originally intended to be?

The AR2619 blends significant & subtle details with an additive effect. No one feature is overwhelming or frivolous yet at the same time no detail is lacking or half-baked. There is nothing on the Artist that makes you second guess or say “I wish it had a tri-sound neck switch” or “the inlays are gaudy” or “why does it have these annoying frets” or “the top is too nice to play”. To the delight of the owner & player, the AR avoids the trap of becoming a visual mishmash or being silly with decoration.

The AR2619 is a guitar in rare company of models with a visually sensible harmony from head to tail. The Les Paul Standard is one such guitar. The natural wood Fender Strats – while vastly different – also must be included. The AR2619 has a space reserved at this table.

Heavy to Hold but Effortless to Play

The axe is quite substantial (heavy) to hold and will require a premium strap (DiMarzio clip-locks won’t cut it). Once you move past that you can’t adequately describe how well the AR2619 plays. Really. No BS. Sure you can get a bolt-on neck superstrat to play well but it will buzz and choke out and sound like a puking dog at times too. That is inevitable if you want a floating tremolo. The AR doesn’t suffer from those ails.

The AR2619 neck & fretwork is fantastic right out of the box as expected. Like most Prestige instruments the fret edges are well dressed (not 110% round & over-crowned) with smooth edges. The less aggressive tapering is appreciated as it gives plenty of room for vibrato on the low and high E without narrowing the fret’s overall width across the fretboard. Sure my axe was the Ibanez 2014 Winter NAMM Guitar purchased from ibanezrules.com but it came many months later “as-is” pretty much untouched after being photographed and listed for sale. The setup would have been a 15 minute job max either way.

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This one is 9.5lbs due to the Mahogany back, Maple neck & Sustain Block. The original 1979 ARs were listed at 9.5lbs too.

I don’t subscribe to the notion that a new guitar needs PLEK-like fret dressing to cover for shoddy work at the factory. These guitars arrive with tension holding the wood relatively stable, once acclimated you should only need to set the neck relief (truss-rod)  based on the current climate and set your bridge as desired for action height.

This should be obvious but if fret levels were needed something is seriously wrong with QC at the guitar factory & distributor level. Wood should not shift that meaningfully in transit so as to cause raised frets either. If this were to occur then expect to encounter gross problems later with the finish & fretboard due to poor manufacturing quality control (i.e. the wood not adequately dried before assembly, frets not properly glued & installed, etc.). Spring, summer, fall & winter will cripple such a feeble and ill-constructed instrument, so would simply turning the air-conditioning on and off in the summer.

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Gibralter Bridge w/ Sustain Block & the Quick Change Tailpiece

The Sustain Block

The AR2619 doesn’t just have two body studs that anchor the bridge to the body like many similar (and dissimilar) guitars. The Gibraltar Bridge of the AR2619 is paired with (attached to) a Sustain Block by means of two large anchor bolts. To understand this, reference your favorite double-locking axe for a minute… picture the Edge tremolo studs (one shown below) that screw into the anchors which are glued into the soft basswood or alder body. The studs might lock with a tiny set screw to reduce wobble of the stud within the insert. This is a tone robbing setup that is necessary since floating tremolos must rightfully prioritize their tuning integrity. This tradeoff is desirable for a  double-locking floating tremolo guitar.

Ibanez-Trem-Height-Adjustment-Bolt-and-Anchor-Base-300x300

Ibanez Edge body Anchor and Stud for comparison

On the other hand on the Ibanez AR2619, the Sustain Block is a large brass block “anchor” (approximately the same height, width & depth as the Gibraltar bridge) that is fixed into the hard wood body. The Gibraltar Bridge is then anchored to this block, thus making a larger surface contact area between the bridge and wood body. The sustain block replaces what is typically two small hollow anchors (see picture).

gibralter_sustainBlock

Original brass Sustain Block bottom view. This one is plated for Chrome hardware.

Gibraltar Bridge & Quick Change Tailpiece

The Gibraltar Bridge (made by Gotoh as per most Ibanez premium hardware) can be adjusted up and down for great action without losing any tone & sustain. To set the action first loosen both 8mm lock nuts. Then use a flat screwdriver to raise (counterclockwise) or lower (clockwise) the bridge. Tighten the lock nuts when the bridge is at the desired height. Intonation of each string can be set with a thin flat screwdriver.

The Quick Change Tailpiece holds the strings behind the bridge. The strings are inserted with the ball ends intact. The tailpiece can be raised and lowered as desired. Raising the tailpiece reduces string tension for a softer feel & easier bends. Some like to keep the tailpiece all the way down, tight against the body for altered tone, either way choice is good. The AR2619 lets the player setup the guitar to sound and feel exactly how they want it to. The player is empowered & should be enthused by the “have it your way” approach that Ibanez offers AR customers.

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Those players used to double-locking bridges will find the Gibraltar Bridge comfortable for hand rest & palm muting. It is very similar to the feel of a Les Paul bridge. The visuals match its premium design without going over-the-top. It’s also good to see the “cloud” adornment return to the AR, it brings some character and a near perfect visual balance that doesn’t look out-of-place on this instrument. It should be clarified that the cloud ornament makes no contact with the strings and has no tonal benefit.

The “Smooth Heel Set-in Neck” is Sweet

Some players simply don’t like set-in necks for whatever reason. Probably as many don’t like bolt-ons for their set of reasons. Either way, the AR neck & fretboard have the classic dimensions that players have loved for decades. Think Les Paul but with a less clunky heel which gives the player slightly improved access to the upper frets. The AR2619 neck has a 305mm radius, 24.75″ scale, ebony fretboard and a smooth heel set-in neck joint.

The neck thickness from first fret to it is just right. The medium wide frets of the AR2619 feel great under your fingertips and leave you wanting for nothing else.

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To no surprise the AR2619 dimensions closely match the highly desirable Gibson 60s Slim Taper neck. It’s said the designer of the Artist Fritz Katoh copied his favorite 1959 ES-355 neck. Old habits die hard and all. At that time of hand-made & measured instruments, Gibson & every other manufacturer had notable variation in their neck dimensions of course. The human process & finishing allowed larger tolerances “within spec” and clearly Fritz’ favorite neck was on the thinner side. The measurements tell you as much.

The AR2619 is 20mm at the nut & 22mm at fret-12 whereas the Gibson 60s Slim Taper is 20.3mm (0.800″) at the nut and 22.2mm (0.875″) at fret-12. Note the current Gibson 60s Slim Taper neck is asymmetrical (center line moved 0.05″ toward the bass side). The 2014 Gibson Heritage Cherry Sunburst shown has that neck.

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It seems that instinctively many “shredders” look for the “Wizard” neck. This highlights the effectiveness of good marketing & branding by Ibanez since the late 1980s. Every so often as a player you are well-served to review & rethink what applies today though. While the AR neck profile has a similar feel to the Gibson neck above it’s also very similar to the JS neck profile (20 @ nut / 22.3mm @ fret-12). Of course the JS fretboard is 1mm narrower at the nut, has 250mm radius and is 25.5″ scale.

The Arched & Contoured Body is Exceptional in both Looks & Feel

The attention to detail on the guitar body is staggering. From the design to the finish, no detail is overlooked. The thickness of the body is a 2″ making it solid yet comfortable to play. You can see the body arch by looking at the binding below. The body arch allows the guitar to maintain all the center mass in the neck joint and bridge yet be more comfortable in the upper and lower horns. Without the contour simply put the guitar would be a bear to play in terms of thickness & weight.

The Mahogany is pretty much finished over thus emphasizing the burst flame maple top. perhaps AAA the grade of the top is moot, the axe looks classy but not over the top with too fancy a wood that looks absurd. It’s inviting …. it looks like it should be picked up and played, which of course anyone owing the guitar will do over and over!

For better or worse the clear is poly-acrylic, not nitrocellulose of course. It’s got the impeccably smooth clear coat that we have appreciated from Ibanez for decades.

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Body arch & contour can be seen here. The arch is visualized easily by referencing the binding thickness change since the bottom of the binding is straight (not arched).

The sustain block & bridge keeps the guitar body heavy as opposed to being neck heavy. The AR2000 for example is neck heavy, lacking the sustain block. On the AR2619 the upper horn strap holder is well positioned & usable keeping the guitar balanced nicely. On the AR2619 there is no need to reposition the upper body strap holder to the rear of the body near the neck joint.

The consistency of Ibanez Prestige instruments date back to the original 2619 model back in 1976. Ibanez describes a process where the “Deluxe Artist neck has received 6 extra steps of hand finishing and feels like a neck you’ve played for years“. This attention to detail is evident when you play this guitar. It’s not just six extra steps applied in a color-by-numbers approach by a guitar sweat shop in China or Indonesia. It’s more. It’s getting this care in harmony from experienced luthiers, not some trainee at said cost-saving factory where management doesn’t want to reside. Again the Prestige (made in Japan by Fujigen factory) instruments are highly desirable classics because of technology used by these workers to assist in their craft along with their sweat, heart & soul. It’s the human element blended with technology and applied by the luthier that gives actual life to these guitars. Consider this as you rationalize an Ibanez instrument made elsewhere whose intrinsic value – now and later – is far less than the sum of their parts.

There is guitar tone and there is AR Guitar Tone

This axe has awe-inspiring tone, all over the fretboard, with any pickup & control setting! The tone knobs are…. super useful. Imagine this but the volume knobs actually change the tone, output & overall volume unlike many axes that just muddy the tone. With the AR you will be playing a melody or lead with the volume on 6 and tone on 5 then realize you can seriously boost “sustain” and output even further with just knobs.

Obviously we all expect really good tone from a guitar with fixed bridge, Mahogany body & Maple top. This combination is well-known for sound & sustain and the AR2619 offers in spades. The AR2619 maintains these timeless elements and bolsters them with quality pickups and individual volume knobs, tone knobs and tri-sound switches. This lets you have either humbucker wired in serial (normal wiring), coil split (inner coil only, no hum cancellation) or parallel wiring for a thinner trippy sound with hum-cancellation.

If you are a player using mostly double-locking axes (RG, JEM, etc.) your jaw will hit the floor when you start exploring the knobs & switches. Simply take a double-locker and loudly ring an open chord… clean, slightly distorted or full-on. Then repeat with the AR2619 for a listening treat.

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The Ibanez Super-80 pickups are hum cancelling and an Ibanez original design. They replaced the Super-70 by adding potting to further reduce noise. The potting offers protection (of the thin wires over time) and reduces microphonic feedback. The Ibanez Super-70 pickups were widely regarded as the closest to the Patent Applied For (Gibson PAF) models. The Super-80 pickups, like their Super-70 predecessors have Ceramic magnets & 7.9Kohm DC resistance.

There is little point trying to explain what the Super-80 pickups sounds like other to say awesome.  The neck and bridge both deliver the same awesome. They are a versatile pickups with plenty of output too… they sound better in this guitar than any Ibanez signature model double-locker.  Don’t confuse these with the rather muddy PAF Pros for example. You can  get almost “sustaniac-like” sustain yet avoid the brutally stupid harshness of DiMarzio Evolutions for example (what a terrible pickup ugh).

With today’s amps & modelers you can pretty much get any tone out of any guitar (within reason) it’s just that these sound great with no effects, little effect and/or a lot of effects. You can play Burning Love (Elvis twang) or Motorbreath with the 2619 and represent.

The quality of materials & attention to detail during assembly is useless if the sum of the parts (the guitar) are incongruous in its sound and feel. The heart of the AR2619 ultimately lies in its amazing tone with endless voicings. It’s just astonishing that one guitar can do so much. One could litter the page with buzzwords or catch phrases about the tone coming out of each setting but simply put you have to plug-in and play and soak it in.

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Superb fretwork, inlays, binding, figured top, burst, etc. are visible here

Where Do You Try One?

The AR serves a wide, wide range of audiences. Unfortunately they lack promotion so without the famous musician endorsement or history going back to the 1950s, the AR line lacks hype if not distinction. In the US they’re often not “vintage” enough at their price point so many local shops & superstores do not have these Prestige instruments regularly on display. For non-vintage axes, it’s often easier to try to sell upscale signature axe or cheaper axes made in China, Korea or Indonesia… even more costly “cheap” axes if a guitar hero endorses & promotes them.

The Ibanez sales strategy works around this dynamic, offering a wide range of axes at all prices and styles though.

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Thankfully Ibanez has the good sense to keep producing its first original body electric guitar and doing it at the Fujigen factory in Japan. There is a market for quality instruments such as these; made for players who value craftsmanship & the resulting tone. Offering this quality over quantity (unencumbered by endorser approval) represents a win-win for the player and maker. The players are the endorsers of the AR2619 and these folks matter the most.

Vintage “name brand conscious” shoppers would be well served with this guitar. A comparable Les Paul is several hundred dollars more (if not thousands more) with a clumsier switching scheme (4 pull up knobs if any at all) and a clunkier neck joint as stated previously. This audience is exactly why Ibanez owes it to themselves & players to keep the AR in production for years and years to come. As the Ibanez shred generation matures the AR represents the Ibanez classic guitar for them.

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Those who play 80s shred axes would really have an ear (& eye) opening experience playing the AR2619 exclusively for a month. Also well served would be fixed-bridge players looking for more tone & maybe a wider variety of tones in this “keeper” axe. Strat/Tele players would have a problem with the weight of this guitar but would be floored after plugging in.

As the first original electric guitar body shape from Ibanez, the AR seemingly lost its way in the mid-80s only to come back better than ever. Credit to Ibanez for making this happen. Hopefully some AR owners are reading, or maybe some of you are saving up or trying to demo one. If you haven’t yet then do yourself a favor and make it happen sometime soon! Embracing instruments such as the AR2619 will ensure these models continue for years to come.

Ibanez AR2619-AV @ ibanez.com link 

Discussion link on jemsite.com

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