The Ibanez ASF180 is a fully hollow body version of the AS200 semi-hollow body guitar we’ve admired and loved since 1977. The AS200, as mentioned in the AR2619 hands-on-report here began as the #2630 semi-hollow body which in 1979 was renamed the AS200. Of course, these were and still are very much Gibson ES-335 derivatives with subtle improvements by Ibanez. The tri-sound (parallel & coil-split options) neck pickup wiring, ’60s Slim Taper profile neck and ebony fretboard are the notable differences between the Gibson and Ibanez.
The body construction is the primary difference between the Ibanez AS200 and ASF180 electric guitars. Specifically semi-hollow vs hollow. The hollow-body ASF180 has just a small block of wood directly beneath the bridge for it to attach (the thicker AF200 does not). One large continuous body cavity. The semi-hollows such as AS200 have two distinct cavities seperated by the wood block runnong down the center of the body from the neck under the bridge, tailpiece and beyond. This block adds mass and obviously is used to anchor both the bridge & tailpiece making it semi-hollow. It should also be noted that back in the day before quality potted pickups the semi-hollow body maybe helped eliminate feedback at high volumes.
The other differences between the AS200 & ASF180 are simply the body & fretboard inlays. The Ibanez ASF180 comes in Antique Violin for it’s maple top while the AS200 features a Vintage Yellow Sunburst perhaps to emphasize its flame maple top.
Ibanez ASF180 Overview
Let me preface with some info provided by Ibanez of Japan and USA. I referenced it so that you can see how they have described and marketed the hollow-body guitar in different marketplaces (keeping in mind the ASF180 is not sold in the USA).
Ibanez AF Series – After decades of building guitars for the likes of George Benson, John Scofield and Pat Metheny, Ibanez has proven its dedication to jazz guitar luthiery.
Hollow Bodies of the Highest Order – Artstar Prestige. The parallel histories of Jazz music and hollow-body electric guitars have been manifested in the Artstar. The influences of these legendary instruments are immediately apparent with bone nut, ebony fretboard, and Ibanez’s signature Super 58 custom pickups. The critical eye will appreciate the details like the smoothness of the fretboard and a skilled crimping technique generally found on instruments costing twice as much. The Artstar is a pure jazz-box that embodies the continual innovation that is Jazz. – Ibanez.com
Ibanez Japanese website – rough translation
The highest peak of the Ibanez box guitar, ARTSTAR. This series was born to describe a new page of Ibanez jazz · guitar, inheriting the feeling of jazz weaving together with musicians such as George Benson, John Scofield, Pat Metheny since the late 70′ s.
An addition to its ARTSTAR concept, the AF180 / ASF180 is a full hollow model pursuing richness, certainty and fidelity that can be realized because of Japan’s manufacturing. Please enjoy the traditional jazz tone and the high quality full-bodied warmth.
Both of AF180 / ASF180 are full-hollow structure* with no center block to seek richness of raw sounds. *The ASF model has a wood block embedded in the lower part of the bridge as a necessary structure to embed the bridge anchor.
ASF 180 is a well-known Ibanez AS shape in John Scofield’s signature model. It adopts a full hollow structure rather than a semi-hollow to acquire even warmer sound than other Ibanez AS models.
Built from wood with wood processing, coating, all processes such as Electronics Assembly with the manufacturing spirit unique to Made in Japan for “solid results” and “a certain finish”.
Ibanez ASF180 2013 Hollow Body Electric Guitar Specifications
- Finish: AV (Antique Violin)
- Body: Maple top, back and sides
- Body type: Full hollow structure with wood block embedded only directly below the bridge.
- Body size & shape: depth: 43mm (1.69”) at tail, original AS shape.
- Neck: 1-pc Mahogany set-in neck with volute
- Fretboard: Ebony w/ Artstar Fret Edge Treatment & acrylic rectangle inlays. Ebony Fretboard provides tight response and smooth left-hand fingering, increased tone with excellent reproduction of nuances.
- Bone nut – provides rich tone from low to high. (USA). Cattle bone nut – for a particularly natural BOX guitar with a little natural harshness. (JPN)
- Scale: 24.7”
- Fingerboard radius: 305mm (12”)
- Neck 43mm wide at nut, 20mm thick at fret-1
- Neck 57mm wide at last fret, 22mm thick at fret-21
- Volute – Contributing to ensuring the strength of neck back volute finished with an elegant curve unique handicraft products
- The headstock logo mark expresses the candlestick symbolizing the ARTSTAR series with pearl, the position mark adopts Acrylic Mother of Pearl Shell for ASF180. A simple yet regal design.
- 2 Volume, 2 Tone, 3-way pickup switch, Tri-sound for neck pickup
- Super 58 neck & bridge – with Alnico Magnet these have gained a reputation from professional musicians as a classic pickup of Ibanez Box guitars since the late 70’s. It has excellent sound emission and enough power that will not lose its presence even in the ensemble (JPN). The Super 58 pickups deliver the smooth, nuanced tones and the biting growl of blues (USA).
- Aluminum foil shield – For reduced noise, the aluminum foil shield is applied to the pots, switches, jack.
- Gold hardware
- Gotoh SG381 machine head with the original shape peg button that is easy to grip with super precision & smooth feel.
- Gotoh 510BN Bridge height adjustable with intonation for each string.
- Tailpiece ASF Original – Both AF180 and ASF180 adopt the original design “trapeze style” tail piece.
- Sure grip knob that combines ease of control and high visibility. A rubber grip is attached to the top of the knob on which numbering (graduation) has been applied to prevent slippage (JPN). The Sure Grip III knobs are designed for precise control with nonslip functionality, along with smooth and classic looks (USA).
- Excessive decorations made as simple as possible, providing a style like a flagship medal, with stately designed decorations and parts encrusted with “a commitment”.
- Multi-binding so you can sense that it is handcraft made without sparing detail on the headstock, fingerboard, body.
- D ‘Addario strings – The AF180 adopts a flatwound string, and the ASF180 adopts a round wound string 010-046.
- Hard case included
- Weight 6lb11oz
Sleek Body & Shape Pt 1.
When you think of Jazz Box you might think of rather bulky guitars that have little to no application for your routine playing. Maybe the type of guitar you have that hangs to use on rare occasion in the studio. I’ve heard players describe them as “an acoustic guitar with real pickups”. As you continue reading it’s beneficial to clear your mind of any misconception. The ASF180 is a sleek electric guitar. Since it’s really sleek it feels great for basically any guitarist. It is thin & comfortable, yet light, solid & sturdy. On the other hand, the larger/thicker hollow body guitars often do feel more like playing a medium thickness acoustic guitar. In comparison the Ibanez GB10 is 3.375” thick, the “little George Benson” LGB300 is 4.25” thick, the PM200 is 4.25” thick, etc.
The comfort in playing the ASF180 cannot be overstated. It has fine balance with a strap pin at the body heel joint (body rear) and another on the body edge. This puts the guitar in exactly the right spot when standing . The weight of the guitar is distributed perfectly, keeping the headstock and body right where they belong. The ASF180 is light enough to prevent fatigue & discomfort when playing for extended sessions.
For all these reasons, as a player when you pick up the ASF180 you will truly appreciate its weight & balance. To be specific, this particular ASF180 weighs 6.85 pounds. Clearly it is much easier on your neck, shoulders and back than a solid-body guitar such as the AR2619 or Les Paul. While I realize many bedroom/basement guitarists play mostly (only?!?) sitting at some point – barring physical handicap – guitarists should be able to play standing with equal proficiency. The ASF180 – like it’s AS200 & AM200/205 siblings – fully allow for this.
As they are referred to in this review, it’s useful to note that the Gibson ES models – including the famed ES-355 – are semi-hollow body electric guitars. Gibson has over the years released a few fully hollow body ES models however. Typically the fully hollow body Gibson’s have the thicker single-cutaway body ala the Ibanez AF200. One exception is the Gibson ES-330 which is the model the Ibanez ASF1800 most closely resembles. The most recent 2015 limited run by Gibson was the 1964 ES-330 (list price $4,199 USD – click here for product page at Gibson.com) which featured a thin double-cutaway body, rosewood fretboard and thicker Traditional C-shaped neck (20.5mm thick @ fret-1, 24.6 @ fret-12).
It’s unlikely that Gibson would add the Ebony fretboard and tri-sound switching but maybe sometime in the future Gibson will release an ES-330 with the ‘60s Slim Taper neck and fill the void in the US market where the Ibanez ASF180 is not sold. Gibson ES-330 click here
Bridge & Tailpiece
Both the Ibanez ASF180 and AS200 guitars feature the Gotoh GE510BN Bridge, a tried and true premium quality fixed bridge. This has the standard vintage post mounts (74mm post spacing) so it’s a direct retrofit for the Gibson ABR-1 Tune-o-matic. The Gotoh is 100% rattle-free with hardened notched zinc saddles while offering more intonation adjustment than the ABR-1. Saddles are height adjustable – to match the fretboard radius – unlike the Tune-o-matic.
The semi-hollow AS200 has the Gotoh GE101A tailpiece directly attached to the solid portion of the body beneath it. The ASF180 features a similar yet entirely different body design. The ASF180 features the “Original AF tailpiece design” whose “trapeze” look floats over the body with attachment only to the edge of the body (near the strap pin). The strings of course hold tension & connect with their ball end to the AF tailpiece in a straight pull. The ASF tailpiece looks great but like many gorgeous blondes is a real PITA in other ways. Looks here compromise ease of use. Due to the ornamentation, it’s a bit difficult to pull the strings through the tailpiece when restringing the guitar so patience and care are needed when re-stringing. To reiterate, the tailpiece does not contact or rest on the top of the body, thus allowing the wood top to resonate in the single, continuous hollow body cavity without dampening of sound. This is wonderful for guitar tone.
Typically, Jazz boxes have acoustic-style bridges such as the AF200 with ebony bridge attached (glued) to the body top shown in the picture above. This creates a wide contact surface area of attachment on the thin wood top. Remember, the ASF180 has a wood block embedded directly beneath the bridge as a necessary structure to anchor the tune-o-matic style bridge. For reference the maximum body depth of the AF180/AF200 is 4.25” whereas the ASF180/AS200 body thickness is 2.625”.
What is the exact reason for the use of the Gotoh GE510BN bridge (and block beneath it) instead of the ebony acoustic-style bridge? Truth be told with Ibanez there is little chance of knowing why. The most likely & obvious speculation is that Ibanez simply copied the ES-300 style verbatim adding a few niceties (ebony fretboard, tri-sound switch). Perhaps they tried both bridges and came to the same conclusion as Gibson; that this bridge was a beneficial tradeoff for the ASF180 since it wouldn’t resonate as much as the thicker-body Jazz Boxes. Either way using the Tune-O-Matic style bridge is one of the best features on this guitar, a welcome addition!
The phrase Jazz Box is obtuse
While Ibanez conforms to the industry labeling of these guitars as “Jazz boxes” I think the term is constricting if not suffocating. Does lingo like “Jazz box” help Ibanez gain possible sales or inhibit it’s core customers from even considering a purchase? But calling them Jazz Fusion guitars would be even worse.
Unfortunately, Ibanez has heavily leaned on endorsers for selling it’s Prestige guitars. The endorsed artist has a “model” and the similar non-signature product line gets less attention. In early 2017 Ibanez has three Prestige Artstar semi/hollow body electric guitars (AF200, AM200 (RIP AM205) & AS200) and yet six (6) Prestige Artstar Signature semi/hollow body electric guitars (GB10NT, GB10BS, LGB300, EKM100, PM200, JSM100). That could be considered peculiar to completely absurd… you make the choice! What can happen over time is the player (customer) might not value Artstar but instead you learn only to value Benson or Metheny or Scofield or Krasno. This is quite limiting and detrimental to building brand appeal, especially for the Ibanez Artstar product line.
We must be honest with ourselves and recognize that as a Japanese maker, Ibanez is never going to be considered “vintage” or aspirational. Any purist or closed-minded creative with brand loyalty might not consider such alternate brands like Ibanez, especially at higher prices. It’s not surprising to see players totally dismissive of non-American built guitars. Unfortunately these consumers represent a sizable chunk of the demographic for an instrument of this type and price.
Ibanez has settled into a new comfort zone of selling super “expensive signature models”. Instead of getting trapped under ice, Ibanez must recognize that it has three decades of loyal customers too coddle and more fully embrace. Ibanez built good will reserves among players by ushering in the “floating tremolo & thin neck” era with the RG/JEM in 1987. As such they should consider offering these players a steady production of guitars such as the ASF180, free of the signature model association, artist peculiarities and 50% up-charge. Minus the copy-cat marketing and feature set of American vintage axes too. Give Ibanez players reasons to consider alternate Ibanez guitars, not just the cheap ones.
60’s Slim Taper Neck by Ibanez
Let’s get down to the neck because as pretty as a guitar might be, or as good as the specs it is the neck that makes or breaks a guitar. Guitarists want a neck that feels great in our hands, doesn’t get in the way while leaving nothing to be desired in fit & finish. You get that here.
The ASF180 continues the Ibanez tradition of using essentially Gibson 60’s Slim Taper neck and fretboard dimensions . This is fantastic. The size and profile gives just the right amount of neck without the unnecessary girth of the “Rounded C” neck featured on many Gibson ES models. Other Prestige Artstar models such as the AS200, AR2619, AM20x, etc. use this same neck/profile. The neck construction is one-piece Mahogany with a volute (no scarf joint to become problematic over time) and it’s set-in to the body.
The Ebony fretboard is a positive asset to this guitar, its look and feel is fine addition. Ibanez says the “Ebony Fretboard provides tight response and smooth left-hand fingering, increased tone with excellent reproduction of nuances”. It’s subjective to argue the tone part but the fretboard is indeed wonderful. While I can happily live without Ebony, it’s a nicety in terms of looks and feel and comes without the grain & texture found in even the highest quality rosewood available today. The takeaway is that Ibanez players get an “upgraded feature” – that Gibson doesn’t include – which is widely regarded as a superior wood for look & feel if not sound. That is Ibanez showing consumers some love.
The fretwork is typical Artstar quality Fujigen luthiery. Nicely finished frets & ends excellent to the touch. Other than adding decoration, there is nothing more the builders could actually do to improve this guitar.
Gibson Profile: 60’s Slim Taper
- Neck 42.863mm wide at nut, Thickness at Fret 1: 20.57 mm
- Neck 52.375 cm at end of board, Thickness at Fret 12: 22.48 mm
- Gibson ES-355 with “Slim Taper” neck – click here for Gibson.com info
Gibson Profile: Rounded “C”
- Neck 42.863mm wide at nut, Thickness at Fret 1: 21.59 mm
- Neck 52.375 cm at end of board, Thickness at Fret 12: 24.13 mm
Ibanez ASF180 neck dimensions
- Neck 43mm wide at nut, Thickness at Fret 1: 20 mm
- Neck 57mm wide at last fret, Thickness at Fret-21: 22 mm
Controls & Pickups
Ibanez Super 58 neck & bridge pickups are hum-cancelling Ibanez original designs. These are made in Japan & were first made available in the late 70’s. The Super 58s feature Alnico 3 Magnets and ~7.5Kohm DC resistance. These have a little less output than the hotter Super 80 pickups (ceramic magnets, 7.9Kohm DC resistance) found on the AR solid-body & other Ibanez guitars. While listed as “neck” and “bridge” pickups these are the same except the bridge is (likely to) have 2-conductor wires and neck 4-conductor wires since the neck has the tri-sound switch (parallel/single/series).
- Neck Pickup 3PU12A0025 Super 58 custom humbucker neck 4 conductor (Gold)
- Bridge Pickup 3PU1H58BG Super 58 custom humbucker bridge (Gold)
The Super 58s are not the same as the Chinese made “Super 58 Custom” pickups with Alnico 5 magnets (sometimes called Custom 58) featured in non-Prestige Artstar Ibanez guitars.
What Ibanez says above about these pickups is pretty much accurate. The Super 58 pickups are great for blues rock or anything tamer. You can read more about the Super 80 pickups here in the Ibanez AR2619-VV 2014 Prestige Guitar hands on.
I won’t wax poetic about the awesome tri-sound switch only to say it’s exclusion is the deal breaker for even considering the JSM semi-hollow. Having more tonal options is always better for the player in my opinion.
The Sweet Body Pt 2.
The Ibanez ASF180 body shape & size is a classic design with curves for the ages. Having turned 40-years old in 2017, it’s timeless beauty will remain forever gorgeous. As previously mentioned this is the AS200 body that is also used by the derivative JSM Signature model. Ibanez’ other Prestige semi-hollow thin body guitar – the AM series – features a smaller sized body of similar looks with the same thickness. The only recently sold thin Ibanez Prestige (quality made by Fujigen in Japan) hollow or semi-hollow bodies sold are the AS200, AM200, AM205, JSM100 and if you can import one the ASF180.
As mentioned in the AR2619 review these upscale Prestige guitars like the AS200 sadly aren’t showroomed in many places. You might find a used one online or new one on auction from Japan however. Jump on it.
If you’ve never had the pleasure to experience one (yet) first-hand just let it soak in that Ibanez Prestige semi & hollow electric guitars are highly crafted, finely made instruments. The quality of the ASF180 exceeds the Fujigen built Ibanez signature guitars (JEM, UV, JS, etc.) which might pleasantly surprise Ibanez enthusiasts.
These guitars are not gaudy, not cheesy & won’t fall victim to lame passing trends. These deserve to be played by more guitarists which is unfortunate since their availability is restricted. It’s really up to the readers and informed players to seek them out. The superstores don’t often carry the North American Ibanez Prestige AR/Artist guitars but mail-order outlets will gladly re-box them if distributors have them in stock.
In recent years, Ibanez has not offered in the USA a thin hollow-body electric guitar such as the ASF-180, nor have they offered any made in China or Indonesia. This is odd as their choice of “Artstar” and “Artcore” hollow-body electric guitars are quite repetitive and extensively limiting. These feature the thicker single-cutaway body which probably doesn’t help sales, creating a catch-22. Why bring in more models if the ones for sale aren’t jumping off shelves. The reality is that looks & playability matter to guitarists but the traditional thicker single-cutaway Jazzboxes or “contemporary archtops” probably have less appeal to the Ibanez player than a thin body double-cutaway! Is Ibanez trying to gain new customers who typically buy American Vintage axes or are they truly appealing to the Ibanez Generation of guitarists looking to broaden their horizons?
Semi-Hollow or Hollow Body?
It can be confusing trying to determine if a guitar is a “hollow body electric guitar” or a “semi-hollow body electric guitar” right? Especially for those used to looking at and playing guitars without F-holes. Simply look at the tailpiece.
The tailpiece anchors the strings over the guitar body opposite the tuning pegs. On the guitars with the sound-holes, the hollow-body electric guitars always have the trapeze tailpiece that floats over the top of the guitar connecting to the edge of the body. It’s semi-hollow body construction if the tailpiece is attached directly to the front of the body with two studs/bolts or if you see a Bigsby-style roller vibrato tailpiece tremolo (which requires solid body mounting).
Headstock & Inlays
The headstock of the ASF180 (and AS200) has the queen shape which is typical of Ibanez non-solid body electric guitars. In contrast, the “castle” shape Ibanez headstock is common with solid-body electric Artstar Prestige models yet is found on the Signature JSM model semi-hollow body.
The ornamental headstock inlay on the ASF180 is a sword-like application (Ibanez Japan calls it a “candelabrum” maybe it’s a candlestick. Either way it looks great. This is unique to the non-solid body designs and nicely matches the queen shaped headstock. The “Prestige” lettering is omitted from the truss-rod cover, likely because the ASF180 was not exported (to the USA thus far) so why have “Prestige” on the cover especially when the term is not really used for marketing the Japanese audience. If this model was readily imported into the USA (someday maybe!) I’m confident the “Prestige” trussrod cover would be used.
The ASF1800 fretboard features solid – and less busy – mother of pearl acrylic rectangular inlays. These lack the alternating Acrylic/Abalone/Acrylic slash pattern featured on many Artstar Prestige guitars, including the AS200, AF200, AM205, JSM100, PM, GB, etc. The rectangle inlays look classy & refined to match the understated beauty of the ASF180 and its wonderful, non-figured top. Interestingly the new for 2017 AM200 with black satin finish uses these same inlays. The contrast against the ebony fingerboard is striking to the point where I believe many would actually prefer this inlay style to be used more often. The slash pattern created by the Abalone center is flashier and yet visually distracting in both a good and bad way. In terms of their shape, the ASF180 inlays look a hell of a lot better than the squatty “block” inlays of some Gibson ES guitars shown below. To me those create a disharmony between the ES body, fretboard and headstock. Ibanez designed a nicer looking guitar from head to tail.
As you can see in the photographs the ASF180 features binding basically everwhere. There is front & rear body binding, neck binding, pickguard binding, f-hole binding & headstock binding. It looks great and is complimentary to the chosen ornamentation of this particular guitar.
Playability Grade: A+
The ASF180 plays as good, if not better, than the average $2,500 LesPaul. That is a very serious allegation and quite literally almost mind-blowing. Of course it won’t have the sustain of the ‘Paul (or it’s Ibanez siblings such as the AR), but it has enough. It brings even more tone and versatility and quite often more pickup switching options. In a lighter package that is equally if not more fun to play. While these are two seriously different guitars it’s just worth pointing out.
You will feel right at home picking up the ASF180 and putting the strap over your shoulder. The knobs & switches are in the right places, just as you expect. The Prestige neck treatment (see AR2619 hands-on) is right on the money, once again delivering just what you expect. Even the pickiest, banally compulsive observer would be unable to nit-pick and find fault. You can dial in the action via the Gotoh GE510BN Bridge up or down based on your style of play and gauge strings you prefer. The strings are individually adjustable for intonation but not height. Two wheel knobs allow you to raise or lower the bridge from the high-E or low-E side of the bridge.
It’s important to remember this is not an acoustic guitar. Just like most Artstar non-solid thin electrics this guitar comes strung with D’Addario 10s (EXL110 .010-0.46 with round G strings). Unfortunately for me the rock & bend ability with 10s is painfully frustrating with seemingly no sonic benefit. 10s make this a rather stiff guitar. Within a few minutes of plugging in the ASF180 I restrung it with 9s (EXL120 .009-0.42) giving the guitar a complete “rock n roll” transformation. My advice here is to definitely think outside the box instead of getting stuck inside it. With 009s you can bend, double-stop and apply vibrato with no loss in tone or pick attack. I know many use 010s, but I’m not understanding why anyone wants to fight with heavier gauge strings on this guitar if you’re using standard tuning.
Everything about the ASF180 is “just right” except availability.
Who Would Want to Play the ASF180? What is the Market?
Anyone who plays guitar is the simple and truthful answer. This is one of the most versatile guitars you will have the privilege to plug in and play. One of impressively high quality, fit and finish. It’s a type of guitar each of us should own. Don’t take “versatile” as a negative either… this is not a jack of all trades, master of none. Everything about the ASF180 is “just right” except availability. The body size & feel as mentioned above is right on. The neck & frets are great, 22-frets and 24.75” scale just perfect. The pickups, switches, tri-sound switch combined with two volume & tone knobs allow for a huge variety of sound & tones. With any type of amp from the simplest of combo to the most complex rack & stack. It’s just hard to find a particular sound that you can’t coax out of this guitar thanks to these options and the legendary Super-58 pickups. All these ingredients make the ASF180 a lot of fun to play whether it’s playing alone or jamming with others.
Where Do You Get One?
This model was a limited production run by Fujigen for the home market in Japan. It showcases the quality product Ibanez can produce and even better, at relatively reasonable cost. It’s hard to figure out the strategy of Ibanez but we must remember they ultimately create what Ibanez distributors world-wide commit to purchase to immediately resell to local Ibanez dealers. Looking at the lineup of Ibanez Prestige Artstar non-solid-body electric guitars it seems there is room for the ASF180 every few years to supplement the AS200 and smaller body AM200/205. But Ibanez often takes the safer passage. You know the formula by now… Signature branding, Artwork axes like the Universe PAW swirls & JS-ART2 or new 777 30th remakes. Pricey indulgences for long-time Ibanez endorsed artists released in limited quantities to guarantee sales to a small group of rabid enthusiasts with no risk to distributors or dealers. This puts guitars such as the ASF180 on the back-burner and out of sight of guitarists in America leaving the market to Gibson primarily. That is a real bummer.
Fortunately, the signature excess likely affords Ibanez the opportunity to take some real risks and still offer some high-quality semi-hollow body electric guitars and the thicker body hollow-body electric axes too. Consider expanding your horizons with one of these Ibanez guitars. They’re a real treat, a hidden treasure that will serve you well for a lifetime of play-ability & great tone. What guitarist doesn’t want that!?!