In the past several years, many import guitar brands have improved their build quality while continuing to offer their goods at very friendly prices. They’ve included a variety of semi-hollow guitars priced to attract solidbody devotees interested in testing the waters. We recently had a look at two examples.
Ibanez Artcore AGS73FM
The Ibanez Artcore is a single-cutaway semi with humbuckers and (more importantly) a stop tailpiece in lieu of a jazzier trapeze. It has a set mahogany neck and laminate body with a flame-maple top, back, and sides. The rosewood fingerboard has block acrylic inlays and 22 frets. Hardware includes two Classic Elite ceramic humbuckers, chrome tuners, two Volume and Tone controls with Sure Grip III knobs, a three-way pickup toggle, and the ART-1 bridge with Quik Change III tailpiece. The tester came in a gorgeous Violin Sunburst, revealing extensive figure under a high-gloss poly. Given the guitar’s $500 price tag, it’s easy to see why tongues are a-wagging.
Plugged in, the AGS73FM is a versatile performer. With its stop tail and wood center block, it can handle higher-volume rock applications with ease – go ahead and crank the gain. Naturally, the guitar loves cleaner textures, too, and its fat humbuckers provide plenty of warmth. In the hand, the neck carve is on the bigger side with a large, shallow-D profile. If you have larger hands, this might not be a problem, but keep it in mind if you have smaller mitts.
The AGS73FM is a contender in the $500 semi-hollow class, with its outstanding finish and good playability and tones. More-accomplished players will likely upgrade the hardware or jump to one of Ibanez’s excellent $1,000-plus semi-hollows, but this axe is a tremendous value. Those looking to make a move from solidbody to their first semi won’t go wrong here.
The Vintage VSA500HB has an asymmetrical ES-335 shape with a top horn that protrudes further than the classic shape. Our test axe had an attractive Honeyburst finish and two Wilkinson Vintage Voiced humbuckers with Volume and Tone control for each, and a three-way toggle. The classic configuration.
The VSA500HB body is laminated maple with a mahogany neck and 22-fret/12″ radius fingerboard. Its GraphTech NuBone XB nut and saddles are ostensibly engineered to enhance the instrument’s bass dimension. Other hardware includes vintage-styled Wilkinson Deluxe WJ44 tuners, a tune-o-matic bridge and stop tail, black pickguard, and gold tophat knobs.
The VSA500HB feels durable, weighing about 8 pounds, 5 ounces. Its neck has that shallow D-shape profile you find on many imports, and it sported impressive, low action; if you like low, fast playability, this neck is plenty quick and the tester did not fret-out. Also, its fret ends were very smooth. In fact, blues players may want to raise the action a bit.
The VSA500HB is a solid combination of finish and performance at a very reasonable price, boasting vintage looks with modern playing characteristics.
This article originally appeared in VG May 2018 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.