|Body And Neck:|
Epiphone’s image has gone through some changes over the years, and some may think that the models they offer may not be high quality when compared to some of the bigger names on the block. With the Epiphone Masterbilt AJ-45ME, any preconceived notions you may have about Epiphone might just get turned around into a positive light.
The Masterbilt line is Epiphone’s higher-end product line, and the body of the AJ-45ME certainly demonstrates a quality level above many guitars in the under $1000 price range.
The jumbo dreadnought body features a solid Sitka spruce top, and it uses solid mahogany for the back and sides. All solid tonewood construction is a characteristic that’s typically found on top-shelf models, due to the increased resonance. Having that feature on the AJ-45ME shows Epiphone’s intent for this to be considered a pro-level instrument.
Mahogany is used for the neck, and the fingerboard houses 20 medium frets with Pearloid dot inlays for the fret markers. The headstock has the distinctive shape and vintage Epiphone logo that is a feature on most Masterbilt models.
Epiphone uses the Shadow Nanoflex under-saddle pickup, which houses the pickup elements in a flexible material that will conform to any irregularities between the bridge slot and the bone bridge saddle. That helps to maximize vibration transfer as much as possible.
The Nanoflex pickup is coupled with the Shadow Sonic preamp, which is mounted inside the soundhole instead of on the upper bout. It features a master volume dial, a 2-band EQ, and a Phase switch that helps to fight feedback. Battery life on this unit is exceptional (rated at 250 hours), as it uses the coin-shaped 2032 style units instead of the 9V battery you tend to see on many other preamps. It has a low battery indicator, too, which is certainly handy, but it’ll be a while before you’d have to worry about it.
High-end Grover Sta-Tight tuners are loaded on the headstock, with an 18:1 gear ratio for precise tuning adjustments. Unfortunately, it does not come with a case, but you can purchase one in addition to the guitar.
You certainly won’t have a problem being heard with the AJ-45ME, as this thing really projects! The proof of any good acoustic guitar is how well it sounds when it’s not plugged in, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. Its bass response is amazing, with a good amount of thump without being booming. The high end sparkles, and playing full chords are rich, with each note being distinct and not mushy.
Plug this bad boy in, and the Shadow system really shines. The EQ is fairly responsive for only being a 2-band setup, making dialing in ‘your’ sound in any live situation a painless process. We would have liked to see an onboard tuner just for convenience’s sake, but overall that is a minor thing to deal with.
With the SlimTaper D-shaped neck profile, the action and playability are impressive right off the rack without any additional setup. Chords – even barre chords – are very comfortable to play, and playing single-note runs is borderline effortless.
Our overall opinion of the Epiphone Masterbilt AJ-45ME is simply this: it’s a very impressive model that keeps the J-45 tradition alive, and it does it very well. It’s an acoustic that we would have no problem with having in our own collection.