If you fancy a semi-acoustic that's not necessarily from the Gibson stable yet offers a solid guarantee of quality without the prospect of breaking the bank, Ibanez is a definite option to consider, with this model - the other being the AF105 - rising straight to the top of the heap.
Of course, these are far from the first semi-acoustics Ibanez has produced in its illustrious history. Current Ibanez models include contemporary versions of AM, AS and big-bodied AFS guitars amongst others, but there's no doubt the pale, all-maple look of these two bears little resemblance to anything we've seen from the company before.
This is a fairly thin guitar with a body depth of 43mm at the tailpiece and although it may seem at first glance to be a bedfellow of the ES-335, the two cutaways are slightly sharper in profile; no Mickey Mouse ears here.
The construction, as you'd expect, is a laminate that comprises a solid maple centre block with equally robust bases that connect to the top and back.
Connected to these maple bases is the three-piece laminate top and back composed of a flamed-maple sandwich with a bubinga filling, topped by a substantial layer of clear lacquer that allows the nicely flamed top layer to shine through.
The rims are also a maple laminate, although we were unable to confirm whether bubinga has a part to play here.
Another plaudit afforded by the construction is the subtle dishing to the top and back around the neck pickup and the heel. This practice adds stability to the area around the neck join and has been expertly done.
We've taken the guitar apart to really get to grips with the construction and we can report that this is one of the cleanest semis we've ever experienced.
There are no glue blobs, wavy lines or obvious cut corners to be seen anywhere and, with some high-quality pinstripe binding also on show, we're more or less sold before even picking the thing up.
One of the differences between both of these instruments and their siblings that reside in the standard Artcore range is with the neck construction.
Here, it comprises a five-way laminate of maple and thin strips of bubinga in addition to a further two pieces of maple that act as flares for the rosewood veneered headstock. It's further bound in white, with a 43mm Ivoroid nut and split abalone and mother of pearl block inlays, complete with a subtle volute behind the nut.
With medium frets, the AS103 is actually easier to get to grips with than you may have thought, set-up with a standard gauge of just heavy enough .010-46 strings. On a first try the neck does feel a tad wide - this is a semi, remember, not a JEM - but this is balanced agreeably by the expansive D-profile that fills out slightly the closer to the body you go.
The action is low enough to ensure the path of least resistance towards your stylistic goals and, needless to say, the fretwork is faultless.
All hardware is gold, from the six Ibanez tuners, complete with pearloid buttons, to the unusual ART-1 bridge that bristles with fine-tuners, and although such a look can at times be a tad tacky, with the AS103 all seems to fit together seamlessly.
That bridge may seem an anomaly on a guitar such as this, but it does continue the Ibanez tradition of designing and using bridges and tailpieces that differ from the far more widespread tune-o-matic/stud tailpiece array.
Remember such constructions as the GII/QCII, ProRock'r or Shortstop? These were all designed by Hoshino Ibanez and used throughout the mid- to late-eighties on semi-acoustics and featured their own idiosyncrasies that are increasingly uncommon these days.
Pickups are new Ibanez Artcore Super 58 Custom humbuckers controlled by a three-way toggle and individual volume and tone pots, and the woody, organic feel of the guitar as a whole is extenuated by the provision of turned rosewood control knobs and a natural wood pickguard. Very classy.
Ibanez describe the humbuckers as medium output, which is always a sensible option considering how harsh some all-maple guitars can sound when given full license. With a clean amp and the bridge selected, that classic nasal honk made famous by similar semis is apparent from the off.
We're obliged to use the ES-335 as a yardstick as far as the tone here is concerned and, yes, the Ibanez is lighter and more trebly than the Gibson classic, almost certainly due to the lack of mahogany within the former's construction.
Many of the world's greatest players have made their mark with an ES-335 and it's difficult not to launch into Cream classics with gusto. The good news is that if you do so, the tone will be just what's required.
Admittedly tighter than Clapton's wonderful late-sixties wall of sound, chords are subsequently more focused, thereby counteracting any talent chasms between Slowhand and the rest of us. It is possible to add more gain in order to recreate the smooth singing sustain of Larry Carlton and even Carlos Santana, a deed that benefits from the low string action.
We found that the toggle's middle position offered the roundest tone in this scenario, a setting that also softened the edges of the amp's preamp drive.
So is heavy rock an option? Not really, to be honest, although at low volumes an ersatz Brian May cello sound offers a distraction. But for all realistic settings, clean, indie, blues and more, the AS103 sounds as good as it looks.