Although Gibson was a much bigger and more popular brand than Ibanez at the time, jazz virtuoso John Scofield simply couldn’t resist switching to the Japanese brand in the early 1980s. In his recent chat with Guitar World, Scofield was open about his admiration of AS200, the old Ibanez model manufactured from 1979 to 2003, which he fell in love with back in the early 1980s.
Recalling how everyone else around him thought that nothing beats having a guitar like the Gibson ES-335, he still couldn’t resist the Ibanez AS200 when he gave it a go.
“I have two Ibanez AS200 guitars that I’ve had for many years – since the ’80s,” said Scofield when asked to reveal the guitars used on his most recent album “Uncle John’s Band.” “One is black and one sunburst.”
The AS200 was officially discontinued in 2003 and it was more or less a direct copy of Gibson’s ES-335. Although Ibanez doesn’t make that model anymore, in a way, it lives in form of Scofield’s three signature models that he has with the brand.
“I was originally given an Ibanez guitar in 1981,” he recalled. “I think it was when I was in Japan. There was a period when the Ibanez company was trying to get American artists to switch over and play their guitars.”
Ibanez was one of the brands that, back in the 1970s, was known as the “lawsuit guitars.” Japanese brands were so keen on making cheap replicas of both Fender and Gibson, the biggest players in the game. This went to the point of these copies becoming increasingly popular in the US, and Norlin Corporation, the owner of Gibson at the time, had to start a legal battle. Everything was settled out of court in 1978, but Ibanez still had some models that clearly resembled Gibson guitars.
At the same time Scofield was having troubles with his own ES-335. Although a highly prized instrument, there was a major issue with it. As he recalled:
“So I was there in Japan with my Gibson ES-335. I have one that is now considered to be from the classic era of 1963, although somebody changed the fretboard, so it’s not exactly original, but that was before I bought it.”
“So I had my Gibson, but the neck had warped because it was summertime and the neck really had a bow in it.”
A bowed neck may not entirely be a deal-breaker since you could adjust the truss rod. However, Scofield admits that he “was still chicken to do neck adjustments with a truss rod.” And, besides, a guitar getting so easily affected by not-so-extreme conditions does sound like a reason to retire it.
“I was just getting through on my Gibson, just playing it anyway,” Scofield added. “Ibanez gave me this AS200, and I loved it and started playing it. It just played great. So I played it for a month on the tour and I’ve never stopped playing it.”
These days, Scofield has JSM100, JSM20, and JSM10 models, all three heavily inspired by the discontinued AS200. Of course, the AS200 is still taking most of its basic traits from the Gibson ES-335. So when asked to explain how these two guitars compare, he replied:
“I’ve gotten my old Gibson out and people have said, ‘Oh, man, you gotta play the Gibson, that’s the real deal.’ And they’re different, but there’s something about the Ibanez that I am really used to, and I prefer the evenness of it that’s not there on the Gibson.”
His collaboration with Ibanez and the use of the AS eventually led to him working on a signature guitar. But that road wasn’t as simple since a lot of things have changed. He added:
“When they asked to make a John Scofield model, the AS200 had evolved – it was like 20 years later or more – and they weren’t making them the same. I didn’t like it as much, and I said, ‘Could you guys go back and figure out how to make it like you used to make it?’ And they said, ‘Well, we can try.'”
And then, another bump on the road happened:
“But then they got back to me and said, ‘We’ve lost the schematics to that original guitar, [so] when you come to Japan would you let us take that guitar and scan it to figure out the exact dimensions?’ Which they did.”
“They tried to get the pickups to sound like they’re from ’80/’81, and they were successful. I’m not a guitar tech, and I don’t know that much about the guitar. I tend to just play guitar, and it either feels good or it doesn’t.”
As far as his guitar amps go these days, Scofield said that he’s using Magnatone – a “boutique” brand that has recently partnered with Guns N’ Roses legend Slash and that’s been working with ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons for a while now.
“I actually had one when I was a kid,” he explained. “It was the famous Lonnie Mack amp he played on the tune Memphis  and had this wild vibrato. The company started up again – somebody bought the name – and they’re really good.”
“Great amp, man. I just liked it. I don’t even know if it’s the same as the old Magnatones, but it has a beautiful sound and that’s what I used. It’s their combo, you know? 50-watt combo, one 12-inch speaker.”