The Fender Standard telecaster is a key guitar designs that has inspired generations of guitarists to pick up thine axe and play! Designed by Leo Fender, introduced in 1949 as the single pick-up Broadcaster and later the dual single coil pick-up Telecaster or “Tele”, as it is often called, was put into full production in 1950. Favored by country pickers and indie rockers alike, even ‘The Boss’ Bruce Springsteen plays a Telecaster – incidentally his is one of the very first off the production line.
Our review model is from around 2002 and was made in Mexico. This one has that classic mix of an Alder body, a one piece Maple neck, vintage style frets, a modern bridge assembly, sealed Fender tuners and standard controls and pick-ups. The color is Agave blue, which was used on Made in Mexico instruments by Fender for several years. It’s a light shade of blue with just a hint of metal flake. As you can see from the pictures below the Fender logo is the outlined and filled type found on MIM instruments from this period.*
*As opposed to Squire instruments of this period which had solid logos, earlier American made Fender logos and the current import standard line logos.
The serial number tells us a bit about the age of this instrument, as well as dates stamped on the neck heel, under the pick guard and in the neck pocket. These dates represent when individual components where manufactured or inspected and usually range a few weeks or months.
As musical styles shift and change from hard rock and heavy hum-bucker fueled tones to twangier single coil tones, the Telecaster finds a frequent resurgence in popularity. Make no mistake, the stock single standard Tele style pick-ups can bring the heat, but the end result is a bit less meaty than the Gibson Les Paul’s dual hum-bucker tone.
At the same time the Tele stands on its own when compared to the three single-coil equipped Fender Stratocaster. The Stratocaster has a little more tonal variation due to its three pickups being controlled with a five-way switch compared to a standard Tele three way switch. A lot of the telecaster’s charm is in its simplicity and the variety of tones that a good player can irk out of what is considered by many to be a bullet-proof guitar.
Our model lives up to Tele expectations. The Mexico manufactured Standard Telecaster does vary a bit from the American model, and some of the traditional Tele design ideals. When compared to more expensive American made Telecasters you’ll find that visually the quality of the wood may be better cosmetically and beyond that the selection of the wood for it’s tonal characteristics varies widely – what you get is still that tried and true recipe for success.
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.
The Elitist line was manufactured by Epiphone in Japan, which include Casino, Sheraton, Rivera, 335, Brydland, Broadway, Country Deluxe, and a range of Les Paul models, are high quality counterpoints to Gibson’s American made instruments. “Made in Japan” is synonymous with high quality in the guitar world. Epiphone and may other high quality intruments are made in Korea, China, Indonesia and Japan. The Elitist line is now out of production or discontinued.
Our review guitar is a Les Paul Standard in a Honey-burst finish with a solid ‘plus’ top of book-matched flame Maple. The ‘Plus’ top designation signifies higher quality cosmetically than the plain top standard models. This particualr instrument was built in 2004 in Japan and was purchased as a special deal – Probably due to it’s ‘Plus’ top being not the most figuered. This guitar might fit the bill for those seeking traditional tones in a sturdy, high quality instrument built to vintage specs.
Figuring is the grain pattern of the wood. The more appealing the grain pattern of the Maple top, the more expensive the intrument.
Elitist Les Paul Standard Features At a glance.
Gibson manufactured pick-ups and USA electronic components.
Durable Polyurethane finish
Long neck tenon
Grover tuning machines
African Mahogany back (book-matched on early models according to literature)
Solid Book-Matched Maple top (not a veneer)
Vintage style hardware (American Standard Spacing & Size)
Matching Deluxe hard-shell case – included with original purchase.
The Agile brand name has become synonymous with high quality imported guitars. For the price they are hard to beat.
Agile branded guitars are the import guitar to look at, particularly for Gibson inspired designs. Agile guitars peaked in popularity due to exposure and praise from message board users. In the gorilla marketing world, Agile is the 800lb silverback. Since that peak in 2006 new brands have emerged as contenders, as well as familiar brands making the changes required to compete in this new phase of imported guitar sales.
In Depth Review
The model we have in for review is an off the rack (or out of the box) 2004 Agile AL-3000M in Honey Sunburst. A transitional instrument, it has an older headstock design and a rounded lower horn. Newer Agile guitars have a more attractive redesigned headstock
The AL-3000M has a nice set of features, offering a blend of vintage styling and custom options not found in other brands at this price point.
Agile AL-3000M features at a glance
3/4″ carved Maple top (solid, multi-piece)
Mahogany back (solid, multi-piece)
Abalone Inlays (laminated)
Flame Maple veneer on the face
Slightly thinner neck width
Vintage style pick-ups
Straight out of the shipping packaging this instrument is adequately set-up. The fret work is comparable to any other import we’ve played including Epiphones and Ibanez.The neck is readily adjustable via the truss rod and the supplied hex wrench. This guitar has a hex bolt at the headstock for truss rod adjustment
The 3000m features a real flame maple veneer over a solid (multi piece) Maple top. The back and neck are Mahogany.
The neck on this guitar has a fairly flat profile, and like most of the Agile line has a slightly slimmer width at the nut 1.67″/42mm compared to vintage instruments. Comfortable for younger or smaller hands. The frets are jumbo, so bending is a breeze and fretting chords are easy.
The bridge is a Tune-O-Matic style with individually adjustable saddle inserts. The stop tall is a standard design. The hardware for this guitar is Gotoh brand. The finish is blemish free, aside from a few tiny specs under the clear coat. The Honey Sunburst is more of an Amber Sunburst to our eyes. The pick-guard and truss-rod cover are both cream plastic with a pearloid top layer. The back and neck are tinted a reddish brown.
We were just a little disappointed to find that the maple top is in three pieces, clearly visible since this model has a natural maple edge binding. We’ve seen other imports with up to seven pieces making up a maple top, so this isn’t a big deal, though it’s not ideal. The neck has black binding on the fret board with white side position markers. The abalone inlays are colorful and seem to be cleanly installed without excessive filler.
We reworked the nut for a perfect custom feel and look, with optimal slot depth and a rounded and polished surface.
The Ebony fingerboard isn’t as smooth as we’d like it to be having a definite graininess that is difficult to address once the frets are installed. The fingerboard radius is 12°, a comfortable middle ground between flat shred and rounded chording profiles. The strap buttons are fairly large and can probably hold a strap almost as well as strap locks. The nut is bone, and is shaped in a traditional slanted top style. The nut slot depth was a little high from the factory making open chords a little uncomfortable to play and making the action seem stiff overall. (see note, above)
This particular model shipped with Wilkenson, vintage style Alnico magnet pick-ups with metal braided single conductor shielding. At the time this review is being written the Agile guitars are available with stock and Seymour Duncan branded pick-ups, as well as pick-ups similar to the one tested. They have a pleasant clean sound with leads and chording standing out nicely. Distorted, they tend to have mid range overtones. We found ourselves turning down the mids, and turning up the treble a bit on our test amp. The bass comes across clean but a bit muffled even under distortion. You could compare these stock pups to a Seymour Duncan Jazz/JB set with a little less sparkle. Good for clean sounds, jazzy licks, on into classic rock tones, but falling shy of modern crunch or deep metal tones. Definitely a Mod worthy guitar. In fact, we had a Jazz/JB set in this instrument for awhile and found it still lacked something, so back to stock it goes as we keep it in mind for that perfect pick-up combo to compliment this guitar’s tone. Played unplugged the tone is a little thin, probably due to the heaviness of the guitar overall. This guitar isn’t very loud acoustically.
The electronic components are of decent quality. In the years since this guitar came to the studio the three-way switch has occasionally developed intermittence, which we will eventually need to fix. The pots have worked fine, and haven’t developed any scratchiness or noise. Being standard import quality the feel isn’t the same as you would get from CTS or similar components.
Before we pass verdict on the Agile AL-3000M, let’s consider some of the reasons this particular guitar, and others like it from other brands, tend to sound – how to say it, worth their price?
Wood: Yes it does affect the tone of electric guitars, the weight and density of the wood, including the fingerboard affects the tone of the instrument, however subtly.
Finish: The thicker poly finishes found on just about every import instrument tend to act like a plastic shell which effects tone. It’s not always a bad thing, but it’s there.
Quality of the components: The metal parts, the material they are made out of, their weight, all these factors effect the sound. For good or bad.
We’re not out to knock the Agile AL-3000M, far from it. These guitars are great all around instruments worthy of professional use and affordable ebough to be first guitars, back-up guitars, gig, and practice instruments. They are definitely worth a look, compared to other guitars in the same price range.
Check out our youtube review-jam of the Agile 3000M
The Agile AL-3000M can stand on it’s own, delivering a tasty version of a traditional look and sound for a reasonable price – while also offering many stand out custom features. When compared to similarly priced Epiphones the competition gets stiff, the differences are cosmetic as much as anything. Compared to the premium Epis’ such as the discontinued Elitist line, the gap widens due the higher quality over all of the Epiphones.
Follow up – After the Honeymoon
We’ve had this guitar around for awhile and we’ve done a few mods to customize it to our liking.
At one point we swapped the pick-ups from the stock ones to a set of Seymour Duncan (jazz/jb), while the tone improved a little, we decided that much of the ‘character’ of this guitar was inherent in the build (a thicker dark mid-rangy tone), so the stock pups went back in, and we’ll live with it.
Please note that individual guitars vary quite a bit, and our particular reviewed instrument may not reflect the exact tone of another from the same line. Our hands on reviews are mean to reflect our general impression with one particular instrument, in comparison to others we have had access to.
The thick poly finish can hinder tone a little. One of our standard mods for imports is to thin the poly a bit by re-sanding, and then using rubbing compounds to bring up a fresh deep gloss. This can really improve the look and feel of factory poly finishes. Thinning the finish generally improve the tone of the guitar by slightly altering the resonant frequencies that are dampened as the instrument is played.
The stock nut had the vintage style long deep slot that you can find on Gibsons, which in our opinion is one of the main reasons for tuning issues. The nut was re-profiled, the nut slots adjusted and then polished.
The fret work from the factory was adequate but not ideal. We did a level, dress and polish to even things out and improve playability. We took this fret dress as an opportunity to sand down the fret board a little to get rid of some of the unsightly grain the stock ebony fingerboard had. Sanded smooth, and treated with a fingerboard finishing oil, it looks better than ever.
The pick-up covers have shown a tendency to tarnish over time, to the point of developing some pitting and stains that don’t polish out easily. We’ve settled for polishing with a modern guitar polish and just living with them showing their age. We haven’t had this problem with any other guitar, so we have to conclude that it’s an issue with the pickup’s materials.
Conclusion: If you’re looking for that Les Paul recipe at a budget price, and are willing to give an Import a try, the Agile line of guitars are worth a look. Many thousands of satisfied customers can attest to Rondomusic.com’s customer service and the Agile brand being a high quality import, suitable for just about any player looking to add another guitar to stable, or starting out with an affordable alternative.