The Ibanez RG: Super Strat Shred Machine
The Pharos Lighthouse, one of the original Seven Wonders of the World, was a beacon of hope for the wayward sailor. It's said its flame could be seen from nearly one hundred miles away, beckoning ships into the busy ports of Egypt's capital city Alexandria. Construction on the lighthouse took twelve years, was completed around 250-280 B.C. and stood until 1323 A.D.
While the Ibanez RG didn't take nearly as long to build, its legend in rock and extreme music has certainly earned it a place as one of the Guitar Wonders of the World. Impressive as the Pharos Lighthouse may have been, I do have to wonder if an original RG- in that incredible bright yellow or astonishing orange- could perhaps be seen from even further than one hundred miles.
Even though I'll never own as many books as the Great Library of Alexandria or construct a lighthouse or pyramid with my bare hands, I'll always know I had one thing those ancient Egyptians never could call their own: an original 1987 Road Flare Red (later fading to orange/pink) Ibanez RG550. And that gives me great joy indeed.
From Gold to Metal
Gaining popularity after a few years of shady guitar imitations in the 1970s, Japan's Ibanez Guitars quickly changed directions and started making a variety of unique and affordable instruments. From their Lawsuit Era they quickly transitioned into their Golden Era and by the time the mid 1980s arrived, they already had a number of solid winners on their hands: the Artist, Musician and Iceman series were successes with big time stars and bedroom players alike. While models like the Destroyer and Axstar were obviously aimed at the hard rock/heavy metal crowd, they weren't as popular as other models some competitors offered at the time.
Enter 1987, a year that would later be looked upon as a moment of incredible genius for Ibanez Guitars. Merging the old with the new, Ibanez set out to build the ultimate Super Strat. Touting two models that were somewhat similar, the Steve Vai co-designed JEM and it's scaled back little brother, the RG, Ibanez Guitars would now be solidified as a leading guitar manufacturer in the rock to extreme metal realm, a title they still firmly hold today.
Since its release in 1987 the RG has remained relatively unchanged in design through the years. Basswood is the most common body wood found across the various models, a tonewood that tends to be slightly warm with a strong mid-range presence. The RG is a much loved guitar for lead guitarists for this reason. Mahogany, a heavier and darker sounding tonewood, has been used regularly, and alder is a rarer wood used that's good for players more familiar with a traditional Strat tone.
The RG had its start using a pickup configuration of humbucker-single coil-humbucker. This provided a wide range of tones, from piercing leads to chunky rhythm tones, as well as airy clean tones. Currently, the humbucker-humbucker configuration- similar to a Les Paul- is most popular, with a five way selector switch designed to give more tonal variety than a traditional Les Paul style guitar. The late 80's and 90's saw the occasional humbucker-single-single configuration, somewhat similar to a Deluxe Strat.
While these features have the most significant impact on the RG's tonal qualities, the first feature that makes the RG truly stand out is the neck. Referred to as the Wizard neck (with multiple iterations through the years), it differs from other necks in that it is incredibly thin and flat, making it an ideal choice for guitarists drawn to fast playing styles.
The other feature that caused the RG much fan love upon its release, and still today, is the inclusion of a Floyd Rose style tremolo referred to as an Edge system (with multiple iterations through the years). While the Fender Strat incorporated a tremolo, it was notorious for going out of tune easily. The Floyd Rose tremolo was a redesigned take on the popular bridge but by the mid to late 1980s slightly outdated, according to Ibanez designers. The Edge was a licensed Floyd Rose system with the inclusion of locking studs, spring retainer in the guitar cavity and a whammy bar/arm that could be easily removed instead of screwed in. With the inclusion of locking clamps near the headstock, players quickly fell in love with the tremolo that was finally usable without the fear of going out of tune.
So who out there has been known to sling an RG over their shoulder? Here is a list of a few notables who have been caught in the act:
Steve Vai, Chris Broderick (Megadeth), Tosin Abasi (Animals as Leaders), Dino Cazares (Fear Factory, Divine Heresy), Dave Navarro (Jane's Addiction), Jon Petrucci (Dream Theater), Paul Gilbert (Racer X, Mr. Big), Brian "Head" Welch and James "Munky" Shaffer (Korn), Wes Borland (Limp Bizkit), Rocky George (Fishbone, Suicidal Tendencies), Dexter Holland (The Offspring), Audley Chisholm (The Wailers), Richie Kotzen (Poison, Mr. Big), Reb Beach (Winger) and quite a few others.
Deciphering the Models
Ibanez regularly adds, subtracts and reintroduces RG models to their lineup every year. While you can normally look at it's model number and know a few things before picking it up or looking at the price tag, sometimes the changes they make can throw things for a loop.
Generally speaking, a three or four digit model number follows the initials RG. Quality goes up with the value increase of the number: thus, an RG220 is a lower quality guitar than an RG550, which is in turn of lower quality than the RG950. With a four digit model number beginning with 7, i.e. the RG7420, the 7 tells you it is a seven string version of an RG420. Other RG models with a four digit model number, aside from a 7000 range number, are considered Prestige models, such as the RG3520. While Prestige models in the past were exclusively Japanese made, most of these today are made in Korea. The highest quality RG's today are still made in Japan and fall under the J-Custom series title.
While there are some recent changes to the numbering system, this is a fairly safe method in judging quality among the different RG guitars.
In addition to the standard RG model, recent years have seen the inclusion of the RGA (arched top design), RGT (neck-thru design) and RGD (longer scale neck for down tuning) designs.
Aside from specific RG models, there are quite a few notables that would technically be considered as based on the RG itself. Most of these would be artist models adapted with extra features not usually found on other RG models:
- PGM Series: The original Paul Gilbert signature series has since been replaced with the reverse Iceman FRM series, but these original models are famous for the dual faux f-holes.
- AT Series: Looking more like the child of an RG and a vintage Strat, the Andy Timmons model appeals to those who appreciate a more subtle looking guitar with top of the line components.
- TAM100: The new Tosin Abasi signature series 8 string guitar is quite impressive and intimidating to look at. Aside from having 8 strings, the neck is made from wenge, a thick grained wood more common on high end bass guitars.
- Universe: The first mass produced 7 string guitar made it's appearance in 1990, disappeared for a few years in the mid 1990s and resurfaced with the increased customer demand when bands like Korn, Dream Theater, and Fear Factory were seen using seven string guitars on tour.
- K7/Apex: 7 string guitars used by Korn guitarists "Head" and "Munky."
- JPM: Before John Petrucci jumped ship and headed to Music Man, he used his own signature series Ibanez guitars. While they were excellent guitars, they were quite famous for their original and uniquely artistic finishes.
- M8M: These are the current 8 string signature guitars of Meshuggah. Unique to this model is the neck-thru style neck, single pickup, simplified electronics and longer scale neck.
Final Shreds of Truth
While there aren't too many constants in life or in the world of musical instruments, one thing you can pretty much be sure of is the steady pulse of the Ibanez RG. Although the RG and Ibanez themselves have seen more targeted competition from other manufacturers such as Schecter and ESP, Ibanez still remains the king of the mountain for hard rock to extreme guitarists. The RG has withstood the test of time for many reasons but the primary one is quite simple: it's a well-made, great sounding guitar.
Your life depends on it. Which color?
© 2013 Robert Allen Johnson