It’s easy to stereotype Ibanez as the creators of the sultry shred machines seen in the hands of Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, but doing so ignores the company’s long history of creating fine semi-hollow axes. George Benson, Pat Metheny, and John Scofield have relied on the Japanese company’s beautifully crafted archtops for decades. Those adventurous sensibilities have been passed down to a new generation of jazz-funk players, including Soulive guitarist Eric Krasno, who collaborated with Ibanez to create his signature EKM10T.
Krasno’s musical ethos is as rooted in the sophisticated blues-bop of Grant Green as much as the hard-driving funk of Sly Stone and Tower of Power. To cover such a broad musical landscape, he needs a guitar equally comfortable with smoky minor blues and ripping “Maggot Brain” leads.
The Chinese-made EKM10T clings to classic style without coming off as a tired rehash. Visually, it’s nearly identical to its pricier predecessor, the EKM100. Its appointments and attention to detail are remarkable for an instrument that streets for under $1,200.
At first grasp, the guitar just feels solid—it’s obviously a tool for hard-working players, not a watered-down version of a marquee signature model. Straight out of the box, it was ready for nearly anything I could throw its way.
As I slipped into a funky East Bay groove, the frets felt smooth and polished. While the neck is a bit larger than I tend to prefer, it’s immensely fast and comfortable—a longtime Ibanez hallmark. Krasno requested an Ibanez VBS80 vibrato for some retro wobble. The bar’s tension is perfect for expressive playing, but not so tough that you need to fight to get some movement. One minor gripe: The excess ringing that emanates from the section of string between the bridge and the vibrato is distractingly loud when unplugged. A bit of foam would be a quick studio fix, but it rings through a bit when plugged in as well.
Sco to Go
Our review model came loaded with Ibanez’s Super 58 humbuckers, also found in the Scofield, Metheny, and Benson models. (It’s testimony to each player’s touch that such a wide variety of sounds have come from the same pickups!)
To hit a variety of tonal touchstones, I tested the guitar with both a reissue Fender Deluxe Reverb and a Vox AC15. Through the Fender, I could get a biting (but not shrill) rhythm sound on the bridge pickup. It had enough presence for a Jimmy Nolen “chicken scratch,” but lost a bit of low-end muscle when I moved to the bass strings. The vintage-style output was a great match for the Deluxe’s blackface 6V6 vibe.
It’s difficult to plug a 335-style guitar into a Vox and not try and cop some Sco licks. I was able to dial in just enough dirt to let the bridge pickup blossom into a clear and robust lead tone. Even complex jazz chords neck-deep in #9s and b13s come through with enough presence to impress the most jaded jazz-rocker.
The neck pickup is the jazzer’s bread and butter. I found the neck Super 58 a bit darker than expected and sought a brighter amp setting for balance. After a bit of tweaking, I obtained a beautifully warm, soft tone that could easily become my go-to for solo guitar brunch gigs. I’ve always admired Larry Carlton’s compressed, singing lead tone, so I added a Truetone Route 66 overdrive/compressor to the mix. With added grit, squish, and EQ, I got pretty close to Mr. 335’s namesake setup.
In an ever-more-crowded field of pro-level guitars under $1,500, the EKM10 stands out as a highly worthy option for players who dig the timeless lines and mojo of the 335. While it doesn’t come with fancy gizmos or over-the-top adornments, it’s a tastefully designed workhorse that can fit myriad situations without seeming dated or out of place. The pickups lean a bit more towards blues and funk than jazz, but even with its slight shortcomings, it’s a hell of an axe for the money.
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