Wednesday, April 23, 2014

2014 Ibanez F Style M522S-BS Mandolin Review


Today we are looking at a classic-looking mandolin, the Ibanzez M522S-BS (catchy name, isn’t it?). This is probably the best value on the market for an affordable solid-wood mandolin.

Ibanez is a Japanese company that has been building guitars since 1957, and over the years I have played quite a few of their acoustic and electric offerings. I currently own one of the 1970s lawsuit-model mandolins, and this was my first opportunity to play ones of their modern mandolins, and it was an interesting experience.

This is instrument has the classic F (Florentine) styling and distinctive scroll on the body. It has a glossy sunburst finish over its solid spruce top and flamed maple body. It is equipped with a blindingly white body binding on the top, back and edges of the fretboard. Whoo!

The 13.75-inch scale neck is mahogany and it capped with a very flat rosewood fretboard. The 24 frets are nicely finished, though I had a hard time imagining them ever wearing out with the size and tension of these strings, not to mention the string height. The 1.18-inch wide plastic nut is well cut, and the pearloid block fretboard inlays are flush.

The headstock is neat with a flowerpot inlay and two sets of 4-in-line gold open-geared tuners with pearloid knobs. They match the gold tailpiece and the adjustment screws on the compensated rosewood bridge.

Overall this Ibanez is a handsome instrument, but I have a few nits to pick. The binding is crummy around the scrollwork, and it looks like they just did not spend enough time finishing it up, or that they forgot to take care of it at the factory. This is not what I expect from a new instrument, and it was not marked as a factory second. The finish is clear and well applied, but the coloration is gaudy and way too orange, and the effect is that it ends up looking kind of cheap. Also, the tailpiece is flimsy.

But worst of all, for a new instrument this mandolin came terribly set-up with a cheap set of strings. The action was sky-high and it was unplayable. But, after replacing the strings, adjusting the neck and lowering the bridge nearly all the way, it turned into a good player. It has plenty of volume and a pleasant (but thin) tone, but it is not really anything special and it would be a suitable starter instrument. By the way, it weighs 2 pounds, 4 ounces.

Ibanez does not make the M522S in their Japanese factory, instead it comes from one of the factories in China. Apparently there are some quality issues there as this one was not quite up to snuff, so I would be careful if I was looking for one of these, and would certainly not buy one sight unseen. I will go a step further and recommend to only purchase one of these from a good dealer so it can be properly set up before delivery. Of course a good set-up is essential for any mandolin.

Because it is imported from China, the Ibanez M522S very affordable for a solid-wood mandolin, with a list price of $449.99, and a street price of $299.99 (case not included). This is a great deal, but remember to be diligent while you are shopping to make sure you get a good one.


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