Every once in a while, you come across an 'oddball' instrument that calls out to you. (By "every once in a while", read: "bi-weekly"! *wink*) More often than not, sadly, these instruments tend to get played less than they are admired as a wall decoration. This particular impulse purchase turned out to be a justified expenditure however!
Ibanez makes an extremely affordable line of archtopped hollow and semi-hollow guitars and basses. This 'Artcore' line is surprisingly varied and one of the most consistent values in the current new instrument market. This AGB140 bass cost me less than $300 brand new! What first attracted me to the bass was honestly purely aesthetics- the bound f-holes, single cutaway and transparent rootbeer finish all just plain looked cool & different. The single humbucking pickup in an odd position also intrigued me as to how the instrument might sound...
As it turned out, the bass has a very cool, roots-rock tone! The humbucking pickup is very powerful (it's entirely passive but has a much lower impedance than typical humbuckers) and has a strong midrange emphasis. Honestly, the instrument is a bit of a 'one-trick pony', but it's a good trick! The artcore fits well in rock contexts and works particularly well with overdrive and distortion. Being a semi-hollow instrument (there is a solid centerblock) it doesn't feedback uncontrollably & howl - but it does sustain more and interact when you get up close to a loud amp. Bitchin'!
The Artcore line's construction at these extremely low price-points really is remarkable. The finish, binding and hardware were all perfect off the showroom floor. You really get a lot for your money! I did, however, need to overhaul the electronics with a proper bridge ground, better pots and a higher value tone cap. The last 4 or 5 frets in the treble register also needed to be leveled down a bit (typical with glued-in set necks).
Speaking of the neck - it's worth noting that playing this bass feels, well,... weird! It features a standard long scale (34" from bridge to nut) but the body is somewhat compact and the neck joins it at the 17th fret. The archetypal Fender style bass joins at approximately the 11th fret (based on the upper horn extension). This adds up to make this Ibanez feel very long. I doubt a shorter or younger player would really take well to this Artcore bass. I'm 6'4" with particularly gangly limbs & I still feel like I'm stretching to play a low 'F'!
I recently tried some D'Addario Half Round strings on this bass & I love them! They retain the same rocking attack with a pick, but lend a slightly darker response when plucked fingerstyle compared to regular round wounds while sustaining more than true flat wound strings. This AGB140 was just a tad too 'bright' sounding & the Half Rounds compensated perfectly!
The AGB140 is no longer made, but there are a couple of short-scale basses currently in manufacture: Ibanez Artcore Basses
Sporting a set of D'Addario ENR71SL Half Rounds: At D'Addario.com