I have been playing an AM73b for years, and I love it. Recently I bought a second Ibanez in a pawn shop for $100, a GAX70. I bought it because it had been modded with EMG active pickups and I liked the sound. It does not play as well as my AM73b, which plays "like butter." I am wondering whether a professional setup can bring it up to the same level, or whether it's a cheap guitar which is simply not going to play all that well no matter what I do. Maybe a replacement neck is the answer?
While a professional setup will probably help, I'd be leery of pouring too much money into a budget guitar.
Can you put a finger on what aspect of the guitar doesn't feel right? Is there something wrong with the neck that you think a setup is likely to cure (i.e. are you getting fret buzz? Is the action too high?) or is it the overall neck profile/thickness that you're responding to? A replacement neck is going to be hard to find and I'd be surprised if it solved your issues completely.
It has a few solveable problems. The nut is too high, which makes it a bit tricky to play close to the nut. I think the truss needs adjusting, which I have never attempted to do. I have adjusted the bridge height to get rid of buzz.
A truss rod adjustment is definitely not as difficult nor as scary as many folks have let on through the years. Just take it slow and easy and adjust it in small increments (a quarter to half turn at a time) and allow the neck time to adjust.
Adjusting the nut is a little trickier both because a set of proper nut files is quite expensive and because if you happen to go too deep your only real recourse is to get a new nut and start over. But, you can make due with a $5 set of acetylene torch tip cleaners, and you'll be fine as long as you take it slow.
If you don't feel like you want to try tackling it yourself, a decent tech should be able to resolve these issues. What's not certain is whether the AX is going to feel as good as the AM once it's done, but it will definitely be an improvement.
I got a pro setup, and it fixed the bad nut, truss rod, etc. The intonation is great now. But I notice something strange -- the tension on the strings and the strength required to bend them is greater than on my AM73b, even though it's exactly the same D'Addario 10s, and the frets and action look the same to my untrained eye on both guitars. It feels a bit like when I used to play a Tele with a longer scale. Any insights on this?
That is odd about the tension, because both guitars should have the same scale length (24¾"). Maybe the neck thickness/ profile is different enough that your hand registers a difference in tension just because it's positioned a bit differently? Maybe try a set of 9s (or 9.5s) the next time you change strings?