I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was 1990. I was 12 years old, sitting in the lounge room watching a short-lived music show called Countdown Revolution, filmed at Melbourne's then Metro nightclub. They cut to a filmed interview segment shot on the steps of the state's Parliament House, just up the road, with one Mr Steve Vai.
I immediately recognised him as that cool dude swinging his guitar around his neck in a few David Lee Roth videos that had made a huge impression on me when I was 9 or 10. The interview was about his then brand-new solo album, Passion & Warfare, and he described the process of designing his 7-string guitar, the Universe. I remember him saying it was especially good for rock, blues, jazz or heavy metal, and that he took the idea to "Ibanez, the company that makes guitars for me."
I immediately filed that away in the mental piggy bank, sure it would pay off later.
I still remember the first Ibanez guitar I ever played – a used JEM7PBK at Custom Music in Lavington. Christmas was approaching and my dad said I could get a good guitar that year. It was now 1993 and my first electric, a Status brand Stratocaster copy, had served me well for a few years but it spent as much time in pieces getting repaired as it did as a whole being played. I was now way into Vai, and I immediately recognised the sound of that guitar's PAF Pro pickups as being a big part of his tone on several key Passion & Warfare cuts.
But alas, even Santas' generosity has its limits and the Jem was just a few hundred dollars out of his reach. So I looked at the other guitars on the rack. After very briefly perusing a Washburn, I seized upon a pair of Ibanezes just to the left of the Jem. One was an EX series, which to me looked showy and tacky, with fake gold parts and what even I could tell was a fake flamed maple top. I'd seen one of those at school and I knew they were made in Korea and were cheaper models. Hell, the headstock didn't even have that awesome Ibanez 'swoosh' logo. But next to that, I saw her.
There was no model number on the tag, but on inspection I gleaned a few things: This was a Japanese-made Ibanez, with the same Edge bridge as the Jem next to it, and with the 'swoosh' logo. It was the same colour (which I later learned was called 'Jewel Blue') as the cool pink-pickup-loaded Paul Gilbert model Ibanez I'd seen in Melbourne a few months earlier. I checked the price. I checked with Santas' helper. Approval was granted, and I marched out of the store with my first Ibanez.
After a while, I started to learn a bit about Ibanez guitars, and I noticed that this one didn't really fit in with anything I knew about its contemporaries. It had an unsculpted block heel neck joint – completely square like a Strat, not contoured, carved or otherwise streamlined like other models. The neck plate said 'Made In Japan.' It had a genuine Edge bridge, even though I knew it probably should have had a LO TRS. And the pickups were probably not the V7 and V8 series I'd seen on RG470s at a few local guitar stores, because they didn't have anything stamped on them and the pole pieces weren't black – six were steel-lookin' Philips screws and the other six were steel-lookin' slugs.
It wasn't until a few years later, after I had discovered Jemsite, that I learned I could find out the model number by removing the neck and seeing what was stamped there. I was surprised to see that it was an RG370, a model number I had associated with cheaper, Korean-built models. Occasionally a skeptic will tell me my guitar can't possibly be an RG370 if it's Japanese and has an Edge, but I've seen the proof myself and I kinda like having a slightly unusual Ibanez, even if it's not exactly one of the top-shelf models.
Since then I've had a few interesting and/or noteworthy Ibanezes: an RGR480 with reverse headstock and deep wine finish (like a reverse sunburst, with purple on the outside fading to black in the middle); a sparkly silver Talman TC825 with Bigsby tremolo; an RG7420 with the neck stamped RG7620, which has an extremely thin neck compared to my actual RG7620; an RG550MXX roadflare red 20th anniversary reissue; and a Charleston model flat-top acoustic with jazz guitar-style f-holes. Then there are my Jem (7VWH) and Universe (777BK), and my first-year 1987 RG550BK. All great guitars, all with their own sentimental stories.
My poor old RG370 is now in need of an electronics overhaul and a fret job, but I still drag it out every now and then and am always impressed by how the guitar's character has evolved and enhanced over the years. There's a tightness to the bass frequencies and smoothness to the attack that are unique to this guitar compared to others in my collection, which I can only attribute to the thicker neck joint. One day, if Ibanez ever makes my signature model (hey, it could happen, right?), I'm sure I'll take a few design cues from that guitar. Although I'll probably make sure the model number is printed somewhere that's easily visible, to avoid a lot of confusion for some poor kid some time in the future. Peter Hodgson is a guitarist and journalist who runs the popular I Heart Guitar blog out of Melbourne, Australia.