March 12, 2011 - ModGuitar Senior Editor
Ibanez SZ320 Sunburst Carve Top Review
The Ibanez SZ320. New twists on a classic recipe reveals a modder’s paradise out of a toneful sleeper.
The SZ320 has been discontinued, but don’t let that stop you. As of this writing, there are still a lot of them around as closeouts and on the used market. It’s safe to say the SZ line didn’t live up to Ibanez’s expectations unlike the RG and S models. I shied away from them myself for awhile. I think the initial price point and the gaudy appearance of some of the higher end models was a turn-off for me. Finding one, then another of the baseline models in Black and Brown Sunburst with the low key cosmetics of the 320 series, plus closeout pricing pulled me in for a closer look.
The first SZ320 I found was a black model on clearance. Which upon arrival was in perfect shape. Aside from one misaligned seam on the taped faux binding, it was immaculate. A decent player out of the box, with a wide fast neck.
The black finish is shinier than you’d think from Ibanez’s official photos, which made it appear almost matte. The natural binding looks OK, but I’m not entirely sold on it’s necessity. The effect is diminished a bit when viewed on edge a 6 piece top is revealed by the seams. The Brown Sunburst model featured in this review appears to be book matched. Here’s where the sleeper factor really comes in. This guitar really has all the classic appeal of the Les Paul recipe, with some obvious PRS influence thrown in.
Mahogany body and neck, 25″ scale length, wide fat neck, double-cut body with a carved maple top and a belly cut. It’s really got a lot going for it on paper. So where does it stand in person?
Having two SZ320s side by side to compare is kind of a luxury for a reviewer. They both play about the same out of the box. There are some high frets, but overall the fret work was adequate. The frets are high and slightly narrow, a more vintage spec wire than we are used to seeing in Ibanez’s typically spec’d with Jumbo wire. But it’s a nice departure, the SZ’s neck can burn when set-up to your preferences, facilitating fast licks and comfortable chord work if anything I think these have a sort of jazzy feel to them.
The pick-ups are kind of middle of the road. They aren’t really hot, nor are they particularly funky. The rhythm and lead pickups use different magnet types. The lead is ceramic, and the rhythm an Alnico model – designed in conjunction with Seymour Duncan®. They are well designed and, I think, make a good matched pairing in this instrument. I have a feeling that the slightly lower output will make these good recording pickups – a situation where many players tend to go over the top with gain. With distortion these pick-ups felt like they needed a push to really sing, but clean they felt right at home and I found myself exploring jazzy riffs and even some finger style playing that electrics can have a hard time inspiring.
Tuning is stable enough with the stock tuners, which follow a grover pattern. I was tempted to mod them out and put on something more stylish, but I’ve held off. The nut was well cut, in the fat and deep Gibson vein, though I have tweaked the string height at the nut for a slightly more relaxed chording feel. With two SZ320s around I can say that there are some slight variances across the line – as you would expect with most production line guitars. The Brown sunburst model is a bit lighter, which makes it seem to favor being played clean. While the heavier black model feels a little more rock and roll to me. Tiny differences, truly. But it may be worth it to hand pick one if you’re buying.
In the end I have done only a few minor mods to them. The black one I am trying out a Epiphone® Elitist® Bridge pick-up in. The Elitist pick-ups are made by Gibson in the USA for the import Elitist line. I have to report that as Impressed as I have been by the Elitist pups in my Elitist’s, I’m not as thrilled with this one in the SZ320 as I thought I would be. I’m no sure if it’s the slightly different position of the pick-up on the 25″ scale guitar versus a 24.75″ scale, or just this particular guitar’s resonance not “gelling” with what the Elitist pups have been good at in my experience – which is capturing a nice Gibnson-esque distorted tone that is deep and rich. Think Led Zeppelin style tone. So in the end, I think I’ll be putting the stock bridge pick-up back in. The trade off in grit for tone is a fair one to make in this case. Sometimes they do get it right at the factory.