Ibanez George Benson GB10SE Review
George Benson is simply one of the greatest jazz guitar players of all time. And like many famous guitar players he has his own signature model guitars. The Ibanez GB300 and the GB10. The GB300 is a full size hollowbody and GB10 is smaller body hollowbody designed to be more comfortable to play and fight feedback. The problem for many working musicians or part time jazz players, however, is the price. At $5000 and $3500 they are out of reach for many players.
With this in mind, a few years ago Ibanez released a less expensive version of GB300, the GB30. It had a smaller body by an inch, but was similar in many respects to the GB300. And it came in at around $1200. A more realistic price point for many wanting that Benson tone. And now Ibanez has done the same for the GB10 with the GB10SE for about $1300 street price.
Let me begin by stating that I could not physically compare the GB10SE with the more expensive GB10. Expensive hollowbody guitars are rarely carried at music stores outside of New York and a few other select locations, so I had no access to one. I will be judging the GB10SE on its own merits and tone for its price.
The Chinese made GB10SE features most of the same hardware as the Japanese made GB30 including the same GB Special pickups, half bone/half brass nut, volume and tone knobs, and tailpiece. The only visual difference I could find comparing the two online, is the GB10SE doesn’t have the signature truss rod cover. I would imagine the finish, inlays, and gold plating on the more expensive model are also higher quality. The Ibanez website says the GB10 has Prestige fret edge treatment, while the GB10SE has the Artstar fret edge treatment. I am not sure what the difference is but the fret edges on the GB10SE and rounded and very smooth. No complaints there. The volume and tone controls are easy to grip and the taper is smooth across the whole range.
The GB10SE has a Spruce top and Maple back and sides, and a Maple neck. Also Ebony fretboard and bridge. The GB10SE is a very nice looking guitar in my opinion.
The neck is chunky. Not uncomfortable but thick. It makes for a solid playing foundation. I find it comfortable enough, but I have larger hands. If you play a lot of barre chords your hand may cramp faster than with a slimmer neck. Those preferring thin necks will definitely want to try it before buying. The Maple neck is a three piece neck. This is perhaps one of the cost saving methods. However, I have a Les Paul Custom with a three piece neck and it is one of my favorite necks. I have never had issues with it. Some may not like the look, but how often do you look at the back of the neck? And engineers can tell you that three pieces of wood glued together properly are stronger than a single board of the same thickness. So I am fine with it.
I have always wanted a hollowbody jazz guitar, but most hollowbody guitars in my budget have been a disappointment. Many had a boxy or muffled tone. Not this one. The GB10SE is bright and notes are well defined. They almost seem to pop out at you. This may be due to the Ebony fretboard and half brass/half bone nut, I’m not sure, but the overall tone is bright and crisp, yet it still has warmth. Fingerstyle players will probably like the extra brightness. Pick players may be surprised at the brightness. If you are looking for a really dark jazz tone, the GB10SE may be too bright for you. Personally I prefer a slightly brighter tone than many jazz players. You can always make it a little darker with amp and tone controls if desired. It comes with flat wound .11 strings. So going to .12s would probably thicken the tone a bit more.
There are two floating mini-humbuckers. Most people will use the neck pickup exclusively for jazz. The bridge pickup by itself is a little tinny sounding at its location to be of much use. But the combination of both pickups actually has a nice rhythm tone for chords. Maybe having two pickups was designed for the R&B songs in the Benson catalog. The both pickups combination could be used for a decent blues tone also. Ibanez could have lowered the price a little and left the bridge pickup off altogether. But the having two pickups does open up more tonal options.
Unplugged the GB10SE is loud enough for practicing, but you probably won’t be thrilled with the unplugged tone. It obviously doesn’t have the rich acoustic tone of a full sized, carved top hollowbody. But it also doesn’t cost five or ten grand. The GB10SE isn’t really designed for acoustic playing. It is made to be played through an amp. And this is where it shines. The smaller body makes it less susceptible to feedback. Certain notes will feedback if you play loudly and point the guitar at the amp, but it will not howl as easily as full sized hollowbody guitars. The smaller size also makes it slightly less “woody” sounding than a larger hollowbody. It is really more of a hybrid tone. Fatter than a semi-hollow but not quite as fat as a full size hollowbody guitar.
Right out of the box the action was low and fast. It plays great. The first thing I did was play Affirmation from the Breezin’ album. It sounded great and the fast runs were easy to pull off with the low, easy action. The thick neck could be an issue for some. Personally, I have no problem with it. I find it comfortable to hold and play.
The GB10SE comes with a nice hard case.
The only real disappointment for me is that the neck strap button was not installed on the guitar. I found it in the case accessory compartment. For a guitar costing over a thousand dollars, this was disappointing to me. Many gigging guitarists will want to play standing up with a strap. While not installing it does give you option of placement, I feel the strap button should have been installed at the factory.
If you are in the market for a reasonably priced jazz guitar you should consider the GB10SE. For the price you are getting a great deal on a good looking, good sounding jazz box with an Ebony fretboard, floating mini humbuckers, and a very fast neck. Sadly, the neck strap button is not installed on the guitar, which is disappointing at this price point. Working jazz guitar players, part-time jazzers, and those not wanting to take very expensive guitars on gigs should definitely check out the GB10SE. Overall, I have little doubt that guitar playing fans of George Benson will find this one hard to resist.
These are mp3 audio sample designed to give you a rough idea of the tone of the GB10SE through a clean tube amp. Obviously amps and settings will make huge differences in tone.