Hands On Player Reports
Hands on player reports for instruments, gear and anything Jemsite related.
Feel free to submit a player's report in the Forum.
last updated 4/24/2003
1989 Ibanez AM200-AV Semi-hollow body
Ibanez 1989 Ibanez AM200-AV (Antique Violin)
April 4, 2003
by Glen G. Cianciulli (Jemsite.com)
Features Overview: Semi-hollow body, Burl Mahogany top/sides/back, solid center section (under bridge/pickups) with hollow cavities, 3-pc. Mahogany set-in neck; 22-fret 24.75" scale neck, Ebony fretboard w/ Abalone Block inlays, Gold hardware, Gibralter-II w/ Quick Change-II bridge/tailpiece, Super 58 pickups (neck & bridge) w/ 3-way switch, two sets of volume/tone controls. Slightly smaller body than the Gibson ES335 or Ibanez AS-series, slightly larger than a LesPaul or Ibanez AR.
catalog page | photo | body photo | neck & headstock | Ibanez JPN site
In 1982 Ibanez introduced the Artstar Stagemaster Series, which was comprised of the AM small-body semi-acoustics. -"The Artstar Stagemaster Series is the perfect answer for semi-acoustic lovers who dislike the bulk of a larger thin line body. The Stagemaster Series is comfortably sized and lightweight so you can move around at will with the ease of a solid body and the sweet sound of a semi-acoustic. And don’t let the size fool you! The entire Stagemaster Series has been carefully designed and constructed to sound full, warm and sweet and to sustain like a full bodied semi-acoustic. Ibanez gives you the best of both worlds in the Artstar Stagemaster Series!" (Ibanez 1982 Catalog)
The AMs (also known as the Stagemaster Series) were part of Ibanez’ Artstar line of semi-hollowbody guitars. The AM-series is similar in appearance to the Gibson ES335 or Ibanez’ own AS series, but with a smaller body. For reference, the AM bodies is still slightly larger than a LesPaul or Ibanez Artist AR (solidbody) guitar. The AM guitars feature a solid section in the center with hollow cavities on either side with two humbucking pickups.
Let me start the review by pointing out something obvious... the fit & finish on the Artist AM-200 is simply incredible. Some call this the golden era of Ibanez guitars, and when you see an axe like this in person, it is a difficult to debate otherwise. As of this review, the slightly revised AM-200 was still available in Japan but is not imported in to the USA. The pricing reflects the marketplace realities of "vintage" instruments not made in America. In Japan the new JEM7VSBL lists for 240,000 yen whereas paradoxically, the AM-200 is 30% cheaper at 165,000 yen. Supply and demand economics sets these prices, as on a level playing field with unbiased consumers you would expect the pricing to be reversed.
The AM-200 is the type a guitar that is a breeze to just plug in and play. As you can see from the photos, it is a semi-hollow body electric guitar, but is not a Jazz-box by any means. For reference, Jazz-boxes are typically fully hollow and much bulkier, being deeper with an overall larger body. The Ibanez AM has a timeless body shape with very good balance. This provides you with a high comfort level playing this guitar - something that many semi-hollow body guitars lack in spades. Many of these guitars might sound great, with a tradeoff being a chore to play. The AM body shape is definitely not too bulk nor is it too petite, instead it feels just right. With it's standard Artist 22-fret 24.75" scale neck, the AM has a silky-smooth and loose feel... even when strung with appropriate gauge strings (10s, 10s bottom heavy or 11s). I guess you could use thinner strings on such a guitar, but I would recommend against it.
The Super58 humbucking pickups are a longtime favorite of Ibanez players; they are perhaps the perfect fit to this guitar. You will be hard pressed to improve upon them, unless you require pickups with a very specific characteristic and tonal range. The Super58 pickups respond nicely to the pick/attack, pickup switching (3-way) and especially the volume and tone controls (1 vol/tone per pickup). You really can pretty much dial-in any sound you want by using the 3-way switch and individual volume/tone controls. As you play this guitar, your amp/rig will probably sound much more versatile than what you have been hearing from your traditional JEM/RG/Superstrat... and that is good thing.
As stated earlier, the attention to detail found on the AM-200 is exceptional... BRAVO IBANEZ - BRAVO! Some examples include the matching mahogany pickguard, to the bindings (body front & back back, neck & headstock) to the headstock inlay to the correctly balanced placement of the neck/body strap button. The machine heads are so accurate and fine, they make the JEM/RG tuners feel like the ones on your first Yamaha student acoustic guitar. It's nice to have a guitar where you know that the little things and small details were given full attention during it's crafting. All too often these small details are overlooked and taken for granted, figuring the discerning player will replace them or turn another cheek. The ebony fretboard is inlayed with the classic abalone blocks which are used on many Ibanez guitars over the years. They nicely compliment the overall look by adding subtle but not overpowering ornamentation to the guitar. Used guitar shoppers will note the AM-50 & AM-100 models (and all AM models below AM-100) are similar axes from this time period that instead feature dot inlays, rosewood boards and chrome hardware.
No doubt, finding a 15 year old guitar still in great shape can be a daunting task in the used market. That said, a quest for this type of guitar can prove to be quite rewarding. Unearthing an AM-200 or similar Ibanez guitar would take a little bit of time and patience but remember these two ingredients ensures that you'll pay a lot le$$ then if you are a impetuous and compulsive buyer. Not to stereotype, but these semi-hollowbody guitars target more of a mature audience, one that is less likely to be a Spandex-kid who abused their 80s Ibanez superstrat on a daily basis. Given the state of the guitar market today in the USA, IMHO the used "vintage" market is a useful option and avenue to explore. When you think it through, it is almost mind-boggling that you can pickup a guitar of this caliber in the sub-$1,000 price range - a fraction of the price of comparable new axes.
I'm not sure of the need to go on about the wood and fret types, except to say they are exactly what you would expect from this type of guitar. The stunning burl mahogany body looks to be made of just 3 pieces large pieces (top, back and side) and coupled with the ebony board give the guitar an even-keeled, yet BIG and substantial tone. The set 3-pc mahogany/maple/mahogany neck is rock-solid and unwavering with it's thick, yet unobtrusive finish. It would be interesting to compare the tone of the AM-200 to the same year AM-100 w/ rosewood fretboard, as well as the AM-300/AM-400 varieties with painted maple top (FYI - painting a maple top is a lesson in bad judgment in my book). The true Gibralter-II and QuickChange-II bridge/tailpiece is a tried and true combination that is second to none in functionality and ease of setup.
Some would consider the AM-200 from this era to be a "collectable" guitar, being that they were expensive new, and relatively underproduced compared to most MIJ Ibanez guitars from the time. Even if that is true, I personally could care less. The AM-200 is a guitar that will diversify your arsenal and is meant to be played over and over. It is the type of guitar that remains one of your best friends. If you purchased one, you'd be a fool to sell it... mark down the AM-200 as a "keeper". Good luck finding yours.
Ibanez Prestige 2002 RGT3120TV (Transparent Violet)
Ibanez 2002 RGT3120TV (Transparent Violet)
January 15, 2003
by Glen G. Cianciulli (Jemsite.com)
Features Overview: The new neck-thru RGT3120 Prestige features a 3-piece maple neck (5-pc headstock) through body w/ thin AAA Flamed Maple Top & Mahogany body sides. Features include the Ultra neck-thru, Jumbo frets, LoPro Edge bridge, Violet Chrome hardware, DiMarzio PAF Pro (neck and bridge), Colors: Transparent Dark Brown (TDB) and Transparent Violet (TV). Announced at Winter NAMM 1/2002, List price $1999.99 USD without case.
The RGT was announced at Winter NAMM 2002 much to the surprise and delight of Ibanez players. It is the first neck-thru RG style guitar available since the American Master series from the late 80s/early 90s. It is said to be Ibanez' answer to the upscale Jackson Soloists, and other guitars that migrated from simple bolt-on Superstrats.
To listen to some, neck-thru-body guitars offers godly sustain, tone from heaven and nirvanic experience that will redefine what you come to expect in a guitar. I will not propagate that myth here. Instead, I will show some reasons why this Prestige Ibanez is a first-class ride that should be strongly considered when shopping similar guitars in this price range or the lower priced bolt-on RG3120 (list price $1499.99).
The RGT3120, as a Prestige level Ibanez, has the important "three Fs" of quality guitars... fit, finish and feel. The guitar is minimally ornamented, focusing it's attention mostly on a decent AAA-grade flame top, subdued, yet classy offset-dot abalone inlays and the clean "violet chrome" hardware. The Transparent Violet is gorgeous, yet a bit dark as it masks the figured maple top when viewed from a distance. The fit and finish are well above average, and beyond what you will see in a standard MIJ (made in Japan) 500-series RG. The frets are well manicured, sitting on a better grade of fretboard wood than what is found on the lower-end Ibanez guitars. The "Prestige" neck has a glossy (yet not too sticky) finish on it's rear, along with a nice, beefy feel. The neck is said to be "Ultra Thru-Neck", yet it's width has been increased 1mm from the prior "Ultra" specs, if you believe the Ibanez 2002 literature (42mm nut of yesteryear vs 43 mm nut of the RGT). The Ultra neck, is one of my Ibanez favorites, as it has a nice meaty feel. Using the Ultra neck was a smart move, and it is a nice upgrade to the Wizard neck in which many of us find lacking in substance, tone and stability. Any guitar with the Wizard-II or Ultra profile is a welcome addition to the Ibanez lineup.
I should note the singular area of attention to detail that needs improvement. The headstock has a nice look with the Ibanez/Prestige inlay, that unfortunately is marred by a poorly (un)finished (and uncovered) and messy trussrod adjustment cavity. If Ibanez chooses not to properly sand and finish that cavity, they are best served to include a nice cover, preferably an inlayed or engraved one. Even a plain black plastic one (ala JEM/RGs - but smaller) would have been welcome. A guitar at $1999.99 list price should have be missing such a $5-10 item. Luckily, these can be purchased by aftermarket vendors.
When you look at the guitar from the back, you will see the neck as it extends from the headstock all the way through the bridge to the edge of the body. In the past, many neck-thru's suffered from this "3-piece body" appearance on it's FRONT, so thankfully Ibanez put a thin flame maple top to give the guitar a classy modern look, instead of a "retro" neck-thru appearance. The maple neck-thru body serves up a significant impact on tone. Since the guitar has the perennial classic PAFPRO pickups, it is natural to have some tonal preexpectations about this guitar. It is advised to wipe the slate clean leave those ideas at the door. When you plug in the guitar, you will notice a significant "treble" shift, where the guitar will be very bright (trebly/twangy) on your current rig. This is undoubtedly due to the maple neck-thru design, as the decreased mahogany mass does not offset the somewhat colder properties that can found with maple wood guitars. The good news is that once your ears adjust, you will easily tweak your amp/effects and come to enjoy the tone of this guitar. Since the pickups are body-mount, there is minimal adjustment possible with this guitar, so you would want to possibly lower the pole-pieces if the pickups are closer to the strings than what you typically prefer. Either way, I would highly recommend playing the RGT for a few weeks before even considering swapping out the DiMarzio PAF-PROs. I feel these are some of the best pickups overall made by DiMarzio, being well rounded and versatile in both neck and bridge positions. Yet experimenting with other pickups will be something you might do anyway if the RGT were to remain in your guitar rack for the long term.
A lot of the appeal of a neck-thru is what many will claim to be "unlimited sustain" since the elimination of a neck joint allows the guitar to resonate better, etc. If you have not heard the hype, consider yourself lucky, as that is about as realistic as the tooth fairy. The RGT, like the RG, JEMs, and similar Ibanez offerings, has substantial body routing (i.e.. removal of wood) to accommodate the tremolo, which happens to float on two thin knife edges that sit on two posts anchored to the body (neck-thru in case of the RGT). I don't think it takes much application of logic to realize that "Zen-like sustain" will really be more a function of player touch, technique, guitar setup, effects and amplification than it will be the "neck-thru" properties of these guitars. The RGT does offer nice, rich sustain (the PAF-PROs don't inhibit sustain provided the PUs are not too close to the strings) but honestly I have played Ibanez JEMs and Prestige/UCEW RGs with equal amounts of sustain... never mind fixed bridge Prestige Artists and other guitars that will "sing" rather nicely too.
Pricing is a mixed bag, in that compared to a LesPaul or JEM7VSBL is a bargain, but compared to a used UCEW or even a new Prestige RG3120 it is unnecessarily expensive. The list price of the RGT3120 is $500 more than the RG3120, which is quite a stretch of logic. The Prestige guitars are marketed towards mature, advanced Ibanez players and as a result the RGT's price probably falls just on the high end of the price range where it belongs. Any pricier, and the RGT would fall into the K7 and to some extent the RG7620 category, where a guitar clearly misses the mark of it's target audience. Hopefully Ibanez dealers will be smart enough to populate showrooms with the RGTs, as they make a cool impact and can easily be hyped with a hang-tag that boldly says "neck-thru construction", in hopes of capturing spontaneous sales. A well setup RGT would lend itself toward gaining easy sales, as guitars like this tend to sell themselves if priced right. If a customer picks up an RG550 then immediately plays an RGT, the guitarist will immediately say to themself "I really prefer the RGT". Even if the customer stretches to purchase the less expensive bolt-on Prestige RG3120, Ibanez would be a winner. Ultimately, that might be why the RGT's list price is $100-200 more than what would have been expected.
Any Ibanez guitar, upon receipt from dealer, is subject to proper setup and inspection. As with any new LoPro/Edge equipped Ibanez, the knife-edges need to be examined and filed thinner if tuning stability is compromised upon subtle trem pull-up. The neck-thru guitar limits setup to some degree, since you obviously cannot shim the neck to set/tweak the trem height/angle, yet this should be a non-issue. Once you let the guitar acclimate and settle for a few weeks, I'd recommend doing the typical setup and adjustments to get the RGT playing to your liking.
In my mind, when looking to purchase an RGT, it strictly comes down to desired feature set of the guitar, it's looks and price. The RGT is 100% worthy of a purchase, as it's Prestige quality and construction is the best offered by Ibanez. Sure, many other Prestige/Signature level guitars have more ornamentation and detail, but that does not effect the "3 Fs" of evaluating a guitar, it only adds possible aesthetic appeal. The RGT has a classy, yet subdued look, offering a nice balance of both, ultimately making it a very safe purchase. The guitar will not be "dated" or appear from the wrong decade any time soon, as it pretty much has a classic-meets-superstrat style. Regretfully, Ibanez does not have a large offering of figured-top guitars, regardless of bolt on, set or thru-neck. Instead, Ibanez focuses it's attention and marketing mostly on signature series and low-end "beginner" type guitars, introducing guitars like the RGT (and now discontinued RG2027) on somewhat of a trial basis in the USA, with requirements of brisk sales for Hoshino to keep importing them to the States. When push comes to shove, if a neck-thru guitar with a floating trem is something you want to explore, Ibanez gives you very little to choose from. Which is not such a bad thing, because the RGT clearly stands on it's own as a viable, solid guitar which will please any "Ibanez player".
NAMM 2003 is days away, and the RGT lineup will be expanded to what looks like a quilt top and possible new colors. Perhaps a surprise or two awaits, since the Prestige line is being expanded dramatically. Credit to Ibanez for releasing the Prestige RGT and now expanding it further. The RGT will serve a nice niche and provide yet another option for the serious Ibanez player. A test drive is highly recommended. It is difficult to find a new Ibanez floating-trem guitar that offers as much character, yet still offer a reasonable bang for the buck.
Ibanez 1998 Artist AR2000-VV (Vintage Violin)
Ibanez 1998 Prestige Artist AR2000-VV (Vintage Violin)
October 15, 2002
by Glen G. Cianciulli (Jemsite.com)
Features Overview: The new Artist Prestige features an AAA-grade flame maple top (that makes it lighter as well as gorgeous) on a mahogany body for full sustain. The set-neck Deluxe Artist neck (24.75" scale) has received 6 extra steps of hand finishing and feels like a neck you've played for years. The hardware is the classy Gibraltar-II bridge with die-cast Gotoh tuners. Two Super 58, Pickups (neck/bridge), 3-piece Maple neck w/ volute, 22 Medium Frets, Bound Rosewood fretboard w/ Abalone Dot inlays. List price $1999.99 USD. Click here for photo(s).
Ibanez Artist Series Returns -- AR2000 -- January 29, 1998 -- Ibanez announced that after a nearly ten year hiatus, the Ibanez Artist is returning as a regular series in the U.S. market. "People have been asking us for years to bring the Artist back," said Bill Reim, Senior Marketing and Advertising Manager of Hoshino. "But the whole point of the Artist when it was introduced over twenty years ago was to offer a better and more affordable alternative to the very expensive classic humbucking guitars. Now with a return to more favorable exchange rates and even more efficient manufacturing, we can bring the Artist back." The new Artist is available in a high-end Prestige Model, the AR2000; several working professional versions, and the most affordable Artist model ever, the GAX70. (Ibanez press release, Winter NAMM 1998)
The Ibanez Artist solidbody is a popular "vintage" guitar that has been around for three decades. It's longevity and popularity should be no surprise, since it meets all the prerequisite's required to be a guitar staple... double-cutaway solidbody, mahogany w/ maple top, set neck with medium frets that play itself. This type of guitar proves to be popular year after year, despite current musical trends or marketplace fads. Credit goes to Ibanez for reintroducing the Artist in 1998, as the upscale Prestige AR2000 (note the lower price Korean-made AR250 was made available too).
Many of you, like myself, have probably kept an eye open for used Artists, looking for the "right" one to appear. Reliable info on the vintage Artists is somewhat difficult to obtain, especially from a player standpoint, as opposed to that of a "collector". Who cares about inlays, rarity, condition and color if they old axe doesn't play near as good as the new ones? Not me. When asking about the "old" Artists and the reissued AR2000, it was often recommended to not "overpay" for the vintage Artists from the 70s and 80s. The reason being that the new AR2000 Prestige is a better constructed instrument, and that perhaps the old ones were more on par with the Korean AR250, nostalgia aside. I must say that it was really nice to stumble upon a new, unplayed 1998 AR2000 at a reasonable price. It made a very easy decision to purchase a new Ibanez AR2000 Prestige at the same price of a "vintage" one... a "no-brainer" :-)
The Artist AR2000 brings you back to a time of perhaps the "simpler" guitar that featured more workmanship and detail, with less computerized whos-e-whats and overly complex features that sound great in print but add very little to the guitar's appeal as you're playing. It's the type of guitar which is very easy to plug & play quickly and without hassle. There should be no need to learn your way around this axe, as it will be like going "home" with it's comfortable balance and silky smooth feel. The mahogany body w/maple top gives it a solid mass, but it's not a clumsy guitar, or as bulky as your favorite LesPaul might be. Of course, being a double-cutaway, it's not really appropriate to compare these guitars, even if they do share the same (or similar) combinations of woods, pickups and 24.75" scale set-neck.
The Artist Prestige has one great feature that is often missing on guitars of all price ranges - when you plug this guitar into to your current rig, it will immediately come to life. The two pickup, two volume, two tone knob with 3-way configuration of this guitar is brilliant in it's simplicity. Yet it still offers a wide range of tonal variety when you venture to use the knobs. Just one example of the attention to detail of the AR2000 is the actual wooden pickup rings that are used to mount the Super58 Alnico magnet humbuckers. The gold covered Super58s are a dual humbucker configuration (neck and bridge) and provide for a wide variety of guitar tones. You should be able to recreate just about any solidbody guitar sound with the Artist, except the twangy Strats sound (single coils) or way overly powerful humbuckers ala the X-2Ns, EMGs, etc. When playing this guitar you will find yourself utilizing the volume and tone knobs like never before, since they function well and provide for a countless variety of sounds in all three pickup positions.
I need to state that every piece of this guitar makes it feel like a premier instrument that was crafted with tender, love and care. Better yet, one that spares your bank account from taking an insufferable hit. The machine heads (tuners) are gorgeous, yet more importantly, their operation is smooth, tight and without slippage or free-play. The mahogany headstock features the holdover Artist inlay, which compliments the guitar's visual appeal. The rosewood fretboard is nice and has the vintage ("cream colored") binding with genuine abalone dot inlays. The soft rubber tipped knobs have a smooth feel, as does the exquisitely dressed fretboard. No attention to detail has been spared or overlooked with this guitar, which is something all of us would welcome with open arms.
Even though the Artist is a set-neck guitar, it's neck-joint is non-obtrusive... solid yet comfortable. The finished neck back, often the blight of super-strat guitars, is really a non-issue with the AR2000. The rear of the neck is nicely finished, yet does not really obstruct or hinder the guitar's playability due to it's medium frets. While the Artist is anything but a "shreder" guitar, you just might find yourself flying up and down the fretboard on occasion, since the neck is very comfy to the touch.
If you have never played an Artist then you should realize this... if your JEM, RG, S or whatever feels good in your hands, then so too will this guitar.
The Prestige Artist has a rightful place back in the Ibanez lineup and with a list price of $1999.99, it probably classifies as a real bargain. For comparison, the AR2000 list price is five hundred dollars less than the vastly different 2002 JEM7VSBL ($2499.99) and compares quite favorably to similar offerings from other guitar manufacturers, such as the PRS McCarty (double-cutaway) which start at $3,200 list. No doubt, to keep the cost contained and bolster product availability, the AR2000 comes in exactly one color, Vintage Violin. Ibanez offers the customer zero options, except the choice you have to purchase a hardcase with the guitar or not. Some will find this limiting, but not me... the Vintage Violin (VV) color is a perfect match for this guitar, where less is more. Unfortunately, as with many upscale Ibanez guitars, it can be a daunting task to actually find and playtest an AR2000 at a local showroom. Sadly, the guitar buying public is probably just as much to blame as the sometimes "clueless" store owners and managers. How and why people would pay 2-3x more for an "American made" guitar of near equal quality and superfluous options, is beyond me. Yet this further highlights that perceptions and "brand names" are still very important in retail... quality and value be damned.
The Ibanez Artist AR2000 is a timeless classic that not only lives up to it's past, but takes it to places beyond. It happens to be a guitar which is truly worthy of a purchase. More importantly, it's a guitar with appeal that will strengthen over time, remaining as a treasured part of your players collection.
Ibanez RG421 Hardtail
Ibanez RG421 Fixed Bridge - Hands on Report
July 3, 2002
by Glen G. Cianciulli (Jemsite.com)
Features Overview: Basswood body, Wizard II neck w/ 24 frets and bound Rosewood fretboard, Jumbo frets, string-thru fixed bridge, v7 neck pickup, v8 bridge pickup, 5-way switch, black or royal blue. List price $629.99 USD.
July 25, 2001 Summer NAMM - Ibanez players and retailers who have been clamoring for a new Ibanez RG guitar with a fixed bridge got their wish with the debut of the RG421 at Nashville NAMM. "When people think of heavy rock guitars, the first guitar that comes to mind is the RG" explained an Ibanez spokesperson. "And when people think of the RG they think locking tremolo because so many heavy rock players—even those who don’t use the tremolo arm— like the stability of the RG’s Edge and Lo-TRS bridges. But there are still plenty of players who want the simplicity and sustain of a hard-tailed axe, especially those playing rhythm or using alternate and drop tunings. Plus many existing RG players have told us they want to be able to switch back and forth between locking and fixed bridge axes without making a major style adjustment. For all those players, we’ve got the new RG421."
The RG421 was announced at Summer NAMM 2001 as a gift from Ibanez for enthusiasts looking for a high quality, yet simplified fixed bridge RG guitar. Ibanez' press release states that "many existing RG players have told us they want to be able to switch back and forth between locking and fixed bridge axes without making a major style adjustment. For all those players, we’ve got the new RG421." Having finally purchased an RG421, I'll get right into the hands-on report.
Let me start by saying Ibanez should continue to improve their product line with guitars such as the RG421. With a street price around $450, this guitar is a much needed diversion from the midrange line of Ibanez RGs... you know the ones... the weedly-weedly axes that year after year feature the same locking tremolos and paper thin Wizard necks and offer little variety. While there is nothing wrong with "sticking to a good thing", at the same times it leaves you a bit hungry for a bit more or something different. The RG421 offers a string-thru fixed bridge body for those of us who want an RG type guitar without a tremolo too. The basswood body is coupled with the Wizard-II neck, which is 2mm thicker and 30mm less radiused (430mm vs 400) than the venerable Wizard neck. While the choice of only two colors seem a bit mundane to the catalog shopper, the Royal Blue (RB) has some pizzazz and proves itself to be a remarkable finish when viewed in person. There is no doubt that many people will order this guitar sight unseen based on a few JPGs and reports, this might even be necessary if local Ibanez dealers do not stock these guitars for the showroom. While Black is both the safe and boring choice of finishes, the RB has more character and is visually distinguished with it's metal flaking, which is a treat to the eyes. The quality of the finish is a testament to the Ibanez Japan factory, in that a guitar can have an exemplary finish while it's cost remains well under $500.
The rosewood fretboard is best defined as servicable... nothing more, nothing less. The tonality of the rosewood board cannot be easily compared from one model to another, nor should it be, given it's intended price range. More importantly, the neck itself is rock solid and well manicured over the maple back. The neck has a light satin finish that provides a markely improved "wood" feel, as compared to some other pricier Ibanez models. The JEM7DBK and RG5xx models for example, feature necks (remember, we're not talking fretboards now) where you feel more polyacrylic than wood. Granted, that problem can be easily remedied (see the TECH SETUP area of jemsite) but at double the cost, the signature guitar's neck finish should be markedly improved over the RG421... and that is not always the case. The body routing is exquisite, showing a precise and tight neck pocket with no play or gaps in the all-access joint. The inlays are exactly what a buyer should expect in the $400 range and are the only thing that detracts from the guitars asthetics in my opinion; smaller offset inlays would be a huge improvement to my eye. When you factor in the neck binding and nice "jumbo" fretwork, the whole of this neck adds up to far more than the sum of it's parts. To my hands, this neck has a better feel than many Ibanez guitars at 2-3 times the price, granted some of this has to do with the Wizard-II dimensions & profile. Either way, it would be nice to see more upper end Ibanez RGs offer the Wizard-II and/or Ultra necks for those of us who want them.
I don't want to dwell on the electronics, because guitar pickups are a very personal choice. They are truly the area of guitar reviews where one mans trash is the next man's gold. The RG421 features a nice choice in stock Ibanez pickups (V7 neck, V8 bridge) that will no doubt service a wide spectrum of potential buyers. These Ibanez V7/8 pickups are well balanced and offer diverse tones, a perfect fit for the stock guitar. It would be disappointing if the RG421 came with less diverse and one-dimentional pickups (Evolutions come to mind). Regardless of pickup types, I much prefer the 2-1-2 pickup configuration on RG body guitars. Still, the RG421's two-humbucker setup with 5-way switch works nicely for this guitar, while allowing the sticker price to remain very affordable. The pots and switches perform as expected, with no noise or static.
The RG421 certainly lacks the sexiness of my fixed-bridge Ibanez USRG10, but this is expected since the list price would be double that of the RG421, if it were offered today. That is also not a bad thing. The RG421 is a widely available hardtail RG-body guitar offered at a very fair price. While affordable to beginners, its features will accomidate bedroom through professional guitarists. The RG421 is almost a no-brainer purchase for someone looking for a fixed bridge Ibanez RG. While no guitar can please every player, this one will come close when you factor in the inviting price. Hopefully these will get a warm reception in the marketplace so production will continue and a more upscale "prestige" brother can be released.
Credit to Ibanez for implimenting almost the exact "wishlist" of an expected buyer for this guitar.... kudos for tapping into the brains of the target audience.
Ibanez JEM7VSBL Hands On Report
Thursday, June 20, 2002
by Mike 777 Haug
Ok, folks-here we go. We've finally got ourselves a new standard production model since the 7DBK's introduction in Winter of 1999. To the relief of many, Ibanez has brought color back into the line after tending to gravitate towards very basic color schemes over the past couple of years.
Well, let me start by stating that, in pictures, it may, at first, look like an over-priced Japanese Strat copy but this is way more than that (especially in person), so let's go with the appearance aspect, first:
The finish is a nice and well-saturated Sparkle Blue finish (SBL) which is not to be confused with the Blue Sparkle (if I recall correctly, the code was BLS) that was available on the RG-517 of the mid 1990's. What's the difference? Well, the BLS finish used to be an all-glitter (with clear coat) finish that was a nice, bight blue. The new, SBL finish on this new JEM is a little more detailed. First off, it's a standard metal flake finish with glitter pieces scattered through out. At first, this sounds like an old vinyl bench seat that you'd find in an old greasy-spoon diner or even on the covering of an old Kustom amplifier. Not so here. This is rather impressive. I don't know the exact finishing process for this model but my guess is that a silver, metal-flake base coat was used, then the silver glitter flakes were applied, then a transparent blue was applied, and lastly a clear coat. This is more traditional rather than using a pre-made colored metal-flake finish over primer and working from there. Well, my guess was correct-it shows and they really did an excellent job. The basic color is a nice, consistent, and well-saturated Bright blue. The glitter flakes blend in well so that the finish from the average distance blends in with the uniformity of the rest of the finish they are easier to spot close up and there is no difference in color between the glitter flakes and the rest of the finish. The result is numerous places on the finish that reflect beautiful, blue light. Also, the flakes are well spaced apart so that they do not appear clumped in some places and absent in others and it also doesn't look cheap and dated (like those old vinyl seats). It's a great finish and it really stands out-like a true JEM always has. Pictures don't do this any justice.
Also, the entire logo on the headstock is actually under the clear coat unlike other many other models in the past. The "Ibanez" portion of the logo is actually some sort of thin metal (brushed aluminum, perhaps-not sure). It's not a pearl, abalone, or chrome as many would've expected.
The hardware is a bit different. It's antiqued and quite uniformly, too. It doesn't have a bad appearance as if someone had it for many before I did. This new finish if hardware will probably wear very well from play and that wear will blend with the antique look. The bridge below the saddle pieces have a brushed-metal feel and an almost unfinished, raw feel (hope it's just as corrosion resistant over the years and that this is only cosmetic). This antique hardware is on the knurled metal knobs, the entire bridge assembly, the nut (not including the pressure pads), the tuning peg heads, and the tuning peg grommets. All other hardware is gloss black. It really looks cool-even to me and I try to keep everything in "like new" condition for as long as I can.
The fret board is amazing. The fret bob they did on this guitar is the best I've ever seen Ibanez do. A very smooth fret-dressing job, indeed. Also, the vine inlays were well done-virtually no filler in mine. I really looked carefully. The vine is a little dark. It seems to be a darker blue than that used on the vine inlay on the JEM7BFP's. If it were the same, one would think it would appear lighter since, this time around, it is placed in contrast with the darker, rosewood fingerboard. Also, THE SCALLOPED upper four frets ARE BACK. Ibanez hasn't introduced a new JEM model (excluding the DNA's) with the scalloped 21-24 frets since the 7VWH. These were very well done and a noticeably better job than I've seen in a while.
Don't let the alder body and the 7VWH-based profile neck fool you. It's not just another finish. The 7VWH had an Ebony finger board while this new, JEM 7VSBL has rosewood. This offers a more traditional feel than some of the other JEMs did since it has the more recently-used smaller frets and this neck profile. These three specs differ since older Jems did have a slightly bigger D-shaped neck in many cases and with larger frets. The smaller frets used recently have been featured on the Wizard-like necks or the ebony-boarded smaller, C-shaped neck of the 7VWH (I haven't had much experience with the 7BSB so I didn't include this in mind in my comparison. Also like the 7VWH, the new &VSBL features a satin-finished (no skunk stripe) C-shaped neck. It feels great. The combination of the rosewood fingerboard with the Dimarzio Evolution pickups gives a slightly warmer sound than that produced from the harder ebony on the 7VWH (very slight difference).
My set-up out of the box was fabulous, although I will eventually be setting it up for .010"-gauge strings (standard factory set-up is .009"). My alder body (I cannot confirm whether or not it's a sandwich of alder/basswood/alder) is extremely resonant. It's great. Cosmetically, the white pickups and pickguard, at first looked too much like a Strat copy but it really grew on me big time. The H-S-H pickup configuration on this pickguard give this guitar a very powerful appearance to be just a Strat copy and it plays and sounds like a dream. For a change, I may, in the future, buy a black pickguard loaded with blue DiMarzio PAF Pro pickups and a single coil and blue knobs for a change of sound a JEM777V-style appearance.
I really dig this guitar. I LOVE IT. It stands out like a JEM always has but offers something different and traditional for everyone. I have named mine "Charlize" after the actress, Charlize Theron. This will be the last Jem I'll be able to buy before I get married and probably for quite a while. The JEM 7VSBL turned out to be a great guitar to commemorate this. Best wishes to all!!!
7DBK hands on report
I purchased an Ibanez JEM7DBK used on E-bay for about $750, with a case and tools provided. I am a big Steve Vai fan, and if i had the money, i would go for the master's axe; the 7VWH. But like many other musicians, i'm on a budget, so the 7DBK seemed like a good alternative.
When the guitar arrived at my home, i was very excited. And when i opened the box, i was even more excited. I had never seen the guitar in person before i ordered it ( not recommended ), and was reluctant to order it, but when i took it out of the box and had a look at it, i was very impressed. Some might think the paint job is tacky, but i think it's really cool. With the combination of the screw inlays, and the mirrored pickguard, this guitar looks awesome!
After doing some minor adjustments to the tremolo and replacing the strings, i plugged it in. I was pleased and relieved when i heard that the guitar sounded and played great. The Breed pickups arn't as hot as the Evolutions, but they easily make up for it with personality and tone. You can play everything from jazz licks, to fast speed metal riffs, to soloing like a pro. I was also very surprised that there was no string choking. The strings are super lower, the neck is very thin and the action is perfect all the way up and down the neck. And the Lo-Pro Edge stay in tune very well.
This guitar is a whole different animal; and i was very surprised to see that it's quality is superb. You defenitly get what you pay for. I can see how some players wouldn't like the paint job. You'll have to decide for yourself. So if you are on a budget like me and want a JEM that's as good as all the others, this is the guitar for you. I've played many JEM's including the next step up, the 7VWH, and this guitar is of equal quality. A+
Review by: Jimi D
March 25, 2001
It seems that one of the most frequent questions here on Jemsite is "How do the Korean JS/JEM/RG's compare to the Japanese ones?" Certainly, this question can generate some passionate responses; though there's no question that the Korean Ibanez models - in particular the JEM555 and JS100 guitars - are built to a lesser standard with cheaper hardware than their Japanese equivalents, I've often wondered just how much "less" guitar you get for your money when you choose one of the models closer to the bottom of the IBZ food chain. As the owner of a number of Japanese Ibanez guitars, I was somewhat leary of buying my JS100BK, but chose to do it for two reasons. First, I got it for such a reasonable price ($250US) that I figured if I didn't like it I could always sell it off for more than I paid for it. And second, I really love the Satriani body shape, but was unsure as to whether or not I could get along with the neck profile, and I thought that the JS100 would give me an opportunity to try a reasonable facsimile of the real thing over the long term without the sort of $$$ commitment a JS1000 would require. So I bought it.
Now the main reason I picked it up for only $250 is that it had been sitting in it's case for 4 years in a damp basement after being played by someone who never cleaned it for a couple years - basically, it was filthy and looked awful when I picked it up. Also, the 3-way switch was shot, and the rusty four year old strings did nothing to add to the guitar's sale-ability, particularly coupled with a 3 mm relief in the neck. That being said, the frets were hardly worn at all, and there was minimal scratching from picks or belts buckles on the front or back. Of course, under these circumstances, I HAD to strip it down to clean it and set it up fully, which gave me the chance to see just how well this poorer cousin of the JS1000 was put together.
This JS100BK from the model's introductory year, 1994. Let's start with the outside - the finish. One of the first things I noticed with the JS100 I own is that the finish is dimpled in a couple places, and despite a few years wear and tear, it's painfully obvious that this was never a particularly well applied paint job. There is a very obvious rough spot on the back (under the finish - this is a factory flaw) and the various cavities - including the visible trem cavity - are sloppily done around the edges, although to its credit, the bottom of the trem cavity is padded with soft black rubber that's well cut and placed, and has worn well over the years. If I was being really picky, I would also note that though the control cover is recessed on the back, the route isn't particularly well done - there are a couple of areas around the cover where the gap between the cover's edge and the body are wider than necessary... The neck finish on the other hand, is a light satin that is very well applied. The medium frets are well seated and the fret ends well rounded, though you still know they are there, which is not my experience with my Jem or Universe necks. The fretboard itself is well shaped and the inlays are expertly applied - no filler to be seen here, which is a nice change of pace from many Korean guitars I've seen over the years. The "Joe Satriani" inlay at the 21st fret is well set, though in my opinion unnecessary, and even somewhat embarrassing.
On to the hardware - and lets start with the Lo TRS II trem. My impression from reading various articles on the web was that Edge players generally revile the TRS tremolo, and I was curious to see exactly why. The tremolo on this guitar was absolutely filthy, so I got to take a good long look at it as I pulled it apart into tiny bits and cleaned it up. First, the chrome has held up well over the years - there's not much pitting where your hand rests on the tremolo. However, the steel is far too soft for a good trem, as evidenced by indentations in the chrome where the hex bolts screw into the saddles to set intonation, and the considerable wear on the knife edges on both sides of the trem. Shims have been welded to the bottoms of inside four saddles to ensure they follow the low-radiused curve of the Satriani-spec'd fingerboard. The posts are pretty much as basic as they can be - they screw straight into the body, and if you've come to appreciate the stability afforded by the locking posts on the Edge trems, you'll sorely miss them here. The fine tuners are large, ungainly looking things, though they seem to have a fair range of travel they're rough and uneven in use. At the other end, one of the hex bolts that tighten down the lock nut blocks was stripped where you set the key to turn it - I've had this problem before with cheaper Floyds, and though it's easy enough to solve by buying some good replacement bolts, it's irritating none-the-less. The nut itself is very well set into the neck - perfectly in fact, offering low, non-buzzing string clearance over the first fret without shimming... But the deciding factor for any trem will be how it feels in use, and though the Lo TRS II seems to hold the tuning passably well considering it's wear, it has a very stiff action that completely lacks the smoothness and subtlety I enjoy with the Edge tremolos on my other Ibanez guitars. Using this tremolo feels more akin to using the vintage trem on my Fender Strat than a Floyd! Applying enough strength, you can push the trem down till the strings are loose or pull up a full 5 semi-tones, but it requires far more work than the equivalent whammy action with an Edge. In the final analysis, I don't like the Lo TRS II tremolo at all, and will be replacing it with a Schaller Floyd if I choose to keep this guitar.
On to the pickups... The AH1 and AH2 are Ibanez marque Korean pups. They are relatively inoffensive and utterly uninspiring medium gain units. They are - to my ears - flat, fairly thin and characterless, unless the tendency to mush out at high gain settings can be called "character". When the tone pot is pulled and the coils are split, they lose what little body and umph! they have; the middle position tone, for instance, can't even begin to compare to the tone of my JPM in the middle position. I fully intended to replace these stock pups with a pair of Evans humbuckers I've had lying around homeless for the last few months, but even if I didn't have anything on hand, finding better pickups isn't really an option here - these might suffice for bedroom practice, but not much else.
Other hardware: the tuning machines are somewhat bulky Gotoh clones - functional and smooth. The volume and tone control knobs are simple gnurled black metal and work fine. The pots are fair quality - I figure I'll get another couple of years out of them - but it was easy to see why the original, el-cheapo three way switch was fried.
Overall, I think the JS-100 is a reasonable quality Korean instrument. The wonderfully ergonomic body and highly playable neck bely the Satriani connection, but I'd be hard pressed to come up with a compelling reason why this instrument should qualify as a signature guitar, and with a list price in excess of an RG550, I can't understand why anyone would buy one new - the Japanese RG's are clearly superior instruments on virtually every count. These guitars really aren't that different than the other upper-end Korean models in Ibanez line, and I hardly see how a "signature" inlay on the 21st fret can command a several hundred dollar boost in list over guitars of similar quality. Issues concerning the market aside, I'm quite happy with this guitar for the price I paid, and if you can get one cheap I encourage you to check it out. But don't expect too much - these aren't in the same league as their Japanese cousins. In fact, they're distant relations at best, and in my opinion the line would be none the worse for their loss.
Ibanez USRG30 - USA Custom Prestige
Review by: Kirk A. Slossar
January 28, 2001
1996 Ibanez USRG30 (TP)
I am by no means a technical genius when it comes to anything guitar, so this review is basically coming from a novice player/techie. If I have incorrectly stated information, please let me know, because I am just as curious as you are.
Unlike it's USA Custom brethren, these guitars were made completely in the USA, with exception to hardware and electronics. They were not made by Ibanez, although they do sport the Ibanez name. [Editor's Note - these were made by PBC Guitar in Coopersburg, PA USA]
The neck is Maple, and is a PBC "Tension Free" neck. The tension free neck was designed to increase resonance from the neck. There is a notable difference in sound that comes from this guitar. The notes from the neck seem to resonate a much richer tone than those notes from a "conventional" guitar neck. The neck is not adjusted from the headstock, but from a small hole which is drilled through the back of the body of the guitar. The hole is located in the AANJ, and in it can be found the adjustment screw which will provide relief or back bow to the neck. Another unique feature of the neck is a small hole drilled through the treble side of the neck. It is through this hole that a pin was placed to hold the neck and fingerboard in place, to help distribute tension where it belongs - in the "truss rod." I have been told not to mess with this unless I like pretzels. The neck is very comfortable, not quite as fat as a Wizard, but not quite as thin as a Wizard II. The finish on the back of the neck is a matte lacquer, which I could do without.
There is a significant difference in the tilt of the headstock, the degree of which I am not sure, but it is less than that which is found on most current production Ibanez RG & Jem guitars. The headstock is not "part"of the neck. It is attached to the neck, with a brass "bushing" in between the neck and headstock. In this brass bushing there are two holes, in which the string retainer rests. The headstock is finished in a Trans (Purple) Quilt with a Chrome "USA Custom" Ibanez logo.
From the tip of the headstock to the end of the fingerboard, the neck measures 28" which is one inch longer than the standard RG series guitars. This obviously doesn't affect the length of the fingerboard. The fingerboard is Rosewood with offset dot inlays.
The body is Alder, and is finished in gloss black. The top is a AAA Quilt Maple, with a Trans Purple finish. A "Tone Zone" in the bridge position and a "PAF Pro" in the neck, both of which are controlled by a 5-way "Mega Switch," a volume and tone control. Not having a "trained ear" I would venture to guess that the pickup selection is identical to that which is found on the modern day Prestige RG3120. This guitar is equipped with Cosmo Black hardware, including a Lo-Pro Edge trem.
All right, we know what it looks like and what it comes with already....it's everything I had hoped it would be. As I mentioned before, I am not crazy about the finish on the neck. I would prefer a raw or oiled finish, but this is something that is easy to overcome. I have always been a fan of the TZ and PAF pickups, they are a great match. It is very easy to be articulate with this guitar. Notes played are deliberate, and resound easily.
I've droned on for far too long, but I hope that I have been able to give an accurate account of my experience with this guitar. Your best bet is to try one yourself. You won't be disappointed.
JEM2KDNA Hands on Report
Mike Haug- Owner of JEM-VAI2K-DNA
Kevan Geier- slobbering all over Mike's guitar when not typing this up.
Once again kudos to Darren and Steve for the color choices- my guitar came out great and is much more vivid than in any of the pictures I've seen thus far. It's much more fluorescent, intense and vibrant in person. The 6-color choices makes for a wild pattern and, with Steve Vai's blood mixed into the paint, well, that makes it even wilder. Think of it as the big brother to the PMC. This is really only the third time I've ever seen a swirl in close proximity and pictures really don't do these guitars any justice. When I said vibrant, I REALLY meant VIBRANT!!!!!!!
The fingerboard is a nice deep rosewood with the "DNA strand" design inlay. It consists of the "vine stalk" on the vine-necked JEM's, and the second "helix" of the DNA strand is made of a glow-in-the-dark material. The "histones" and the top dots also glow. The main fret dots are cut from beautiful abalone. The dots at 12 and 24 are NOT doubled; they are offset. NOTE: The green & black humbucker coils on this guitar do NOT glow; they're just REALLY bright, as are the green knobs and green switch tip. The red single coil cover works very well with this swirl pattern. The pickguard refracts light into a nice bluish/lavender color, but does not glow. Blacklight test coming soon. :-)
This JEM features a Wizard neck; not the standard JEM neck. For added stability, they added a bubinga stripe on the back. The neck has a normal S/N as well as an stamped Series Number. The Y2K Ibanez Icons are also imprinted on the back of the headstock. Contrary to rumors, it is a standard Wizard neck- NOT the Wizard 2 neck (which is found on RG-4XX and below, as well as the lower S-Series guitars). This JEM is also missing the truss rod cover. Kooky.
The case lining is a deep and luscious purple velvet, and the guitar comes in the "JEM Sleeping Bag" with the Y2K Icon Logo silk-screened on. Case included has the three Y2K Icons on the plaque located by the locking latch. The latches are much more "heavy-duty" than on the UV1000C. The Tole x on the outside of the case is closer to elephant skin than the regular texture of the standard UV1000C cases. If you REALLY want a flight case, keep your box (see the edges of the Hoshino box to get that joke). NOTE: No logo on the top/front of the case.
The COA is a brushed aluminum-looking plastic plaque with irridescent lettering and comes in a neato presentation folder. NOTE: On the box from Hoshino it's labeled "JEM2K-DNA", but on the plaque it's labeled as "VAI2K-DNA". Go figure. :-)
The guitar was setup by Jim Donahue, as per Darren Johansen. (BTW- thanks to both of those guys for checking to make sure everything was setup nicely. Also, a quick thanks to Darren for the personal phone call congratulating me on my new guitar and making sure I was EXTREMELY happy with the finish- that was super-nice of him to do that.) My DNA came with 9's and was setup with super-low action. There was some SUPER-minor buzzing, but that's to be expected considering UPS guys aren't exactly graceful. A string change and some SUPER-minor tweaking alleviated that problem. I might change to 10's next string change.
Much like the other Wizard necks, this one is nice and quick. The finish on the back is very "satiny" and smooth. It's constructed from 3-pieces (one being the bubinga stripe) and comes with the standard 14 degree scarf-jointed headstock. I'm glad to see that frets 21-24 are scalloped. There is one shim under the nut. This JEM has smaller frets than on my other JEM's; close in size to those on my JEM7DBK, and the smooth, well-rounded fretjob is Immaculate.
The pickups are the DiMarzio Breeds with the matching JEM single. Compared to the Evolutions, they're nice and fat, but not as much "over-the-top" gain. They have a nice, good punch, but still smooth and responsive (is this a frickin' Lamborghini or a guitar? LOL). I like the direct mounting the p/u's as it definitely adds a fuller tone.
The body is just like my other JEM's- very comfortable. The AANJ is a welcome addition to the swirl family. The LoPro edge has the new dark powder-coated finish, so it works nice with the loud colors; not too bright, but not too dull. It performs just like my other LoPro's- perfectly, even after a "Crossroads Duel"-type trem usage. The guitar is balanced well and feels wonderful standing or sitting...just like all the other JEM's do. Truthfully, and not to get too mushy, the sensation holding it is worth every dime.
This JEM has the Breed pickups with the matching JEM Single coil that work quite well with each other. Going thru my Marshall's, they kick much ass. I have complete control through the full spectrum of gain; nice and "crystaly" when running clean, and they can push some nice bottom end. The basswood body resonates wonderfully, and don't worry- the finish has little or no affect on the tone.
With a list price of $5000, it's definitely a bit steep, but for a JEM player/enthusiast/collector, it's definitely worth the thrill of looking down at the swirl finish, and savoring the sensation of playing it. NOTE: When you recover from the shock of the list price, realize a few things:
- This is a limited edition (only 300 made)
- It's a Y2K model.
- The "blood in the finish" is not something you find in any other guitar out there.
- Each design is an original; none can ever be truly duplicated. With these factored in, the STREET price (right around $3800) makes it a little easier to handle (pun FULLY intended.)
JEM7DBK Hands on Report
Review by Jemsite.com
The JEM7DBK is Ibanez' answer to those wanting a more affordable JEM beyond the compromised 555. The guitar was introduced over a year ago but in that short time, the JEM market has experienced changes-o-plenty. JEM list prices have risen, the JEM7VWH by $200 and DBK by $100. The used market, buoyed by uninformed buyers, has also experienced a disturbing price increase. From the DSY to the DNA, the used and new market has been rough sailing - fasten the hatches and grab hold of your wallet. For this reason alone the JEM7DBK is a welcome entry into the JEM lineup. You can simply go any Ibanez shop (or online vendor) and grab a brand new JEM at a reasonable price.
Questions abound though. Is the DBK a real JEM7? Is it a "worthy" replacement for the JEM7BSB which it pinch hit for? Is it a step up from the dreaded JEM555. Would Steve Vai proudly play this guitar? Yes, Yes and Yes. Steve could answer the last question better but he has approved it top to bottom.
The first thing you notice about the JEM7DBK is it's black textured finish. Instantly recognizable, it is another unique & distinguished member of the JEM family. While not as classy as the machine-like JEM90, the textured paint drippings are pretty damn cool too. The textured finish is a whole lot easier to contend with for the player; this guitar will not cling or grab onto your clothes.
The typical, quality JEM fit and finish of this guitar screams out at you. The various hardware, electronics, pickguard and covers are installed neatly and without defect. On this guitar, everything functions as expected, with no warts or blemishes. The LoPro Edge tremolo was dead center to the posts and the neck, which is always a good sign. Given some personal tweaks and minor setup, this guitar could comfortably fit just about any player. There were no problem signs or slipping quality control with this guitar. Make no mistake, you would be hard-pressed to find even subtle improvements on other manufacturer's guitars selling at double the price.
If you have prior experience with a JEM, UV or RG, you will feel right at home with this axe. Owners of other brand guitars will have no trouble either, as the DBK is a smooth fit. As with it's past brethren, the JEM7DBK is a forgiving guitar that suits players of all caliber. From the casual player to the professional musician, everyone can benefit from this JEM.
The guitar neck, for many players, is the most crucial piece of the puzzle. Not surprising, the neck of this guitar will thrill you. Ibanez literature states the DBK neck has a "JEM" profile. That is odd since it feels more like the Wizard neck, vintage JEM7PBK with narrower frets. It would be nice to take a caliper to several DBKs to get a true reading. Approved by Steve Vai, in actuality, the DBK neck is a cross between the JEM & Wizard profile. It seems Steve likes thinner necks for 2K. Over the years the JEM neck has lost it's D-shaped profile and has gotten flatter and flatter. This is demonstrated with the VWH and BSB; neither are a dead ringer for the original 777 necks.
Personally speaking, I'd like to see Ibanez remove the poly acrylic finish on the rear of the neck and use an oil instead, ala the UV777BK. Whatever the reason for the finish, it paves the way for an afternoon shop project; a somewhat easy modification for the owner to remove the acrylic. The DBK neck, like the JEM90HAM, features the bubinga skunk-stripe reinforcement which will eventually appear on most Ibanez guitars. Unfamiliar looks aside, in no way does the skunk stripe get in the guitarist's way. It should be noted that in front of the neck, the fretwork feels just fine and is mediculous by all accounts. Some can take or leave the hex-screw plastic inlays but I'll take them. A good fit for the DBK.
Would it be a surprise to say the playability of the DBK is virtually unrestricted? Featuring the DiMarzio Breed neck and bridge pickups along with a single coil JEM exclusive pickup, versatility is the middle name of this guitar. More powerful than the PAF Pros but less harsh than the Evolutions, the Breeds are "just right" for my tastes. Plent of punch but minus the assault on your eardrums. When you roll back the volume or tone knobs, the guitar will take on a different personality. Changing pickup positions, via the 5-way, is a treat since you can squeeze a huge variety of tone from the DBK. Personally I would prefer a coil tap (push/pull pot) but as a signature model, this is not something Steve Vai had in mind. Typical of Ibanez JEMs, the controls have a good feel to them and are completely noiseless. Introducing these pickups gives the buyer yet another choice and the multi-JEM owner with another alternate set of pickups. It is nice to see the JEM evolve and move forward with it's sound.
Bottom line: those shopping for a shiny, new JEM have no reason to overlook this guitar. The price is right and the look is cool. The whole package just screams "take me master, I am forever yours". In 2000 there are less JEM options; the BSB and Floral are retired, leaving the VWH or DBK for the players. A win-win for anyone buying a new Ibanez JEM.
Glen G. Cianciulli
Line 6 POD Effects Unit
Review by Paul "Goldboy" Urizar
Hey folks! I had started typing a little review for the POD myself and realized it was pretty daunting because I had so much to say. My friend pointed out that there was a pretty well written article on it already out on the web at Harmony Central right here . I read this and it pretty much says what I wanted to say in a nutshell and I would rather expand on the settings as it is what most of you might be interested in, DOES IT SOUND REAL Tthe answer is an emphatic YES!
The pod is really, really, really cool! No really, the POD's emulations are just dead on and when you read the history behind the POD in their manual you can see why. Tone fanatics and electrical design engineers exclusively studied the effects of gain structure balanced with tone and harmonics and how it affects the overall sound produced through various cabinets. From that information they were able to make a program that emulates those same real world effects of how tone controls and tone levels are different and unique to each amp. Essentially they made the "tone" of an amp into an editable algorithm in the POD.
What does that mean..well, with the Sound Diver software that comes w/ the POD you can choose a head, say a Dual Rectifier and then a cab, a 4X12 boogie closed back. The tone would react the same as the characterstics and nuances of a real Half Stack and it's controls, and I am a Boogie man, and it NAILS the tone dead on. What Ginsu there's more!!?? yep, with that same program you can edit via MIDI delay time, reverb presence, compression, and even better mic placment. Say you wanted the mic off axis from the cone and the other dead onto the baffle? Well, dial it in. And can you hear the difference..YES!! I cannot emphasize enough how INTRICATE the algorithms are in the program. Here was a test I tried on my own with a JS. I wanted to make that feedback that Joe Satriani does for Flying in a Blue Dream. And I was able to do it!! I chose a JTM-45 head on a 1960 4X12 Marshall Cabinet. I turned up the controls Mid's midway, Treble at about 8, and bass around 7. Now this is "emulating" a head at THOSE levels realistically so imagine that I have those level on a half stack in my studio, pretty loud huh?!! But of course the gain structure will be emulated at such but at heard at monitoring levels through my mixer and monitors. Well sure enough I was getting feedback and it sustained and NO CLIPPING!! There are no digital dropouts..ALL the algorithms have been written to decay naturally in respect to its given volume, gain, tone structure that you create. Very intuitive indeed. How bout something more evil. I tried a Universe plugged into a Drumble 100 Watt head through a Boogie 4X12. For those who don't know, Drumbles are boutique amps that are made exclusively for the big players and easily run in the $3000.00 range for just a head!! Well you can have one through the POD! I set the gain to about 7, the mids 5, treble 6 and a slight delay with large room reverb. Can I say that it was the closest I have ever sounded to VAI!! I own an Eventide even..and I really mean that this thing nailed a heavenly tone..the 7 string just roared through the mix and was so well balanced and the harmonics were so true. It was just eye opener that the effects do not get "muddied" because of lower frequency response. You 7 string players know what I mean, it takes a bit to find that tone that does not muddy out your bottom end to keep it well defined. Well I had so much control over it it sounded like the tone from "Audience Is Listening".
Well, how bout a Bluesy tone...well how bout this setting.
Took the JS (because of the coil tap and hi pass filter!) and chose a Fender Blackface 4X10 Combo. Settings, bass around 8, treble at 9, mids at 6. No gain...used the rotary speaker emulating a leslie at a slow vibrato speed. Can we say Chris Duarte...Stevie Ray Vaughann!! I kid you not...it was extremely thick and incredibly smooth. With the Cakewalk Pro program you can see the input waveform as it comes in once you record it. I have recorded w/ the JMP from marshall and saw it CONSTANTLY clipped and my dissapointed was the headroom...no headroom at all unless you have a hell of a compressor but that would mean spending more into your rig. Don't get me wrong..if used smartly and effectively the JMP dials up some MEAN tone..but in my honest opinion it is a one trick pony. The Algorithm on the POD makes for a great reproduction .. the proof was in the waveform. All nice even distortion with TONS of NATURAL harmonics. It is that responsive.
Well there are some settings in a nutshell, if you have specific questions, just email me.
JPM100P4 Hands on Report
Review by Jeff Moore
Hello again, I did a players report months backs on a P3 (black/white) JPM. Since then ,like an ass, I sold that guitar and acquired a P4. As stated in my last review I was not happy with the finish on the P4 and this still stands, but after owning the P4 for several months now, I feel better prepared to give an overall review of this soon to be discontinued model ( too bad).
First off let's recap on the guitars looks. The P4 comes with a camoflouge flat matte finish. The back,headstock, and whole underlying theme of this guitar is painted in a black matte color hue. Over the top of course is the Picasso graphic which looks like some type of parchment paper our Constitution was written on, it looks kinda neat. So in general ,if your accustomed to those shiny Ibanez top notch finishes this guitar does'nt have that. That is my biggest disappointment with this guitar.
Hardware is all black, not Cosmo-Black like on the P3's or various Jems. Also has AANJ, LO-PRO trem, Air Norton and Steve's Special direct mount pick-ups with 3-way toggle switch. Neck and headstock are bound in white (nice touch of class) and the craftsmanship looks flawless. Everything looks like a nice tight, clean fit thanks to highly automated manufacturing. Some frown on the fact that Ibanezs are produced like this but manfacturing guitars this way insures a consistant quality that surpasses the possibility of human error, thus being able to bring you a guitar that is flawless. So don't buy in to all the hoopla about handmade guitars. You or I really don't want to spend the amount of money for an "authentic handmade guitar" and you really don't wanna know what they cost either. The sacredness of a guitar comes from owning it for years, breaking it in to fit your style and knowing all the little naunces about it as you get to know it, and in time it will reveal to you it's secrets. Wow that was deep! Did'nt mean to get that deep on you.
Well anyway lets move on to another aspect of the P4. The playibility is awesome. This is what these higher end Jem/Jpm models are known for. I compare this model to the Jem because the playibilty rivals the Jems. I've played several Jems and I love them but I soon became partial to the Jpms because they better fit my style, technique, sound,etc. One of the things I'm talking about is the volume knob being placed out of the way. I did a speech at college and it was recorded on video. When I saw the video I noticed I was constantly fiddling with my volume knob. I never knew I did this as much until I saw myself play on video. Playing the Jpm helped me to correct this problem and concentrate more on my playing and I have become a better player. The trem can be lowered deep into the cavity and the trem can also be pulled up sharp like on the Jems. Locknut comes with the thin brass shims underneath to further dial in your playibility preferences. Neck is smooth and traditional except for the fact that it has a taper as you move up to the higher frets. This works out great and the taper meets the AANJ at a perfect transition. You'd be hard pressed to find a better playing neck. I prefer these necks over the "super thin" Wizard necks and Jem necks because my hands get in very akward positions and I have to fan my fingers and suspend my hand out causing fatige. But with the JPM I can go all day. So the playibility is excellent (plays like silk ) but the neck is not for everyone.
Sound? Where do I begin? It's loaded with a Steve's special at the bridge and an Air Norton at the neck position. After playing this guitar for a year and getting used to these pickups there's only one beef I have with them. I cannot find a use for the center position on the toggle. With the toggle in the center position it coil taps the two humbucker's outer coils only. When you hear it, it sounds total Petrucci. I don't personally care for this tone but it is somewhat original to the Petrucci sound. I would have much better of had a single coil tap in the neck, I don't know if this was possible or not but I would have gotten more use out of it that way. But as for the Air Nortons themselves they are cool and out character for this guitar. The tone is real bubbly and clean, almost like an old hollowbody or something and if you have a tube amp the Air Nortons will really talk to you. They're also direct mounted for that earthy tone. Lots of air for fat sounding jazz. I like em.
Steve's special pickups? These babies are HOT. Great sustain and not too gainy and overbearing. Harmonics scream out this guitar, and they're so easy to get. The brochure for these pickups said "harmoniclly rich overtones", boy they got that right. Anyway these pickups have got a perfect blend of tone and sustain. Petrucci knew what he was doing when he had these pickups installed into these guitars. I'm playing through a 5150 combo and I usually set my Lead Gain at 5 1/2 , anything more than that begins to sound rediculously overdriven. It's not the amp either giving me my sustain because I had a Yamaha RGX guitar of the same type and a Washburn and neither would begin to sing until I cranked the Lead Gain up to 6 1/2 to 7. Lately I haven't been using the lead channel at all. I've been using the rhythm channel for both rhythm and lead playing (just don't need it). One thing about this Ibanez I've noticed is that it has that same Steve Vai tone in the higher fret range whenever you do something fast. You know what I'm talking about. That brite, brittle, chimey sound you hear on all those Vai records. Oh well must be the basswood or something.
But to wrap things up, I love this guitar, and unlike my previous P3 I won't sell it. The way it sounds, looks (shape), feels. I'll just stick to P1s, 2s, 3s,and 90s in the future. Yes the P4 might not be what I expected in the looks dept. but it does make up for it in playibility and sound. Besides it's already become a part of me and I can't sell it if I had to. If you want one better get one of the few left quickly.
Ibanez J-Custom RG-ART Hands on Report
Reviewed by: Kevan Geier
Guitars Owned: JEM77FP, UV777BK, Belshe Custom Telecaster, TUNE fretless bass. Rig: 1968 Fender Bassman Head, ZOOM 3000S Effects Unit, Shure Wireless, Marshall 4x10 Cabinet.
This is my fourth Ibanez guitar. Even though it took me a little over 2 years to find one and purchase it, I can not explain how happy I am with this guitar. I'll try though...
All of the J-Custom line that Ibanez showed off at Summer NAMM 1997 brought the crowds to the booth. I wasn't physically there, but I was on the Ibanez website drooling over the RG-ART (If you were at that NAMM show you saw *this* guitar- no kidding; same one). It wasn't as kooky as the "geared" top on the RG-GEAR, or "asphalt textured" like the RG-METAL, and wasn't an S-body like all the other J-Custom's. It's geometric shapes and thick flame maple top attracted me the most. Upon closer inspection (my eye about .5" from the body), I can see that the top is hand-etched (patterns drawn); there's no way a machine could make SLIGHT errors like the ones I found...it just makes the guitar more human. Does that make sense? :-) Each of the individual shapes in the pattern are hand-stained. I can tell this by the SLIGHT "spill-over" from one shape into the other. From 3 inches away, you can't even see it. The one shape that struck me when I saw it for the first time in person, was the "right angle" that comes into the "full circle" just above the trem and bridge p/u- in all the pictures I've seen (total: one), it looked dark orange. Today it's VERY red! It's the one contrast that tells you this wasn't a finish thought up by a computer. The blue stain is much like that on the Prestige RG-3120, and the dark brown is close to the color stain I've seen on the RG520QSTK's. The yellow satin is a little closer to light orange and is on a few of the other Ibanez guitars. I think the guys who stained these, went around to all the other benches in the shop and grabbed a jar of stain from each person staining guitars. :-) Fabulous color scheme. Think of it as the analytical brother of the swirls.
Having owned an RG550DSY for a long time, going back to the Wizard neck was NO PROBLEM at all! I had forgotten how fast these necks are! It's BARELY thinner than my JEM neck, but I have no problem switching between the the two. The Wizard's headstock joint has been updated (un-noticable when playing) with a contoured thick head-to-neck joint to prevent the truss rod from popping out the back of the neck- I'll show ya a pic of my 550 where this happened (oops! LOL). Kudos to Ibanez for solidifying that part of the neck AND making it comfortable! The lack of inlays is kind of kooky and took me about 30 seconds to get used to. :-)
The body is basically the same as my JEM and Universe, so there's no problems there. I'm super-comfy with it in any playing position (standing, sitting, rolling around on the floor, etc.)
Well, here's where it's definatley different than my JEM or UV- the Tone Dept. Now, when I first got the UV777BK, I wanted it to sound just like my JEM, but upon playing it for several (ok- MANY!) hours, I realized that it's NOT a JEM and shouldn't sound just like one. Now I really like the tone on the UV. I think it takes some time for your ears to get used to the sound. Same thing with the RG-ART- it's different than my JEM and different than the UV. Actually, now that I think about it, it's kind of a combination of the two- the availability of high end of my JEM, and the low air-pushing tones of the UV. I like it.
If you've played the JPM, you've basically heard this guitar. The RG-ART's have the same pickups (Tone Zone & Air Norton) in the same configuration, body mounted. The only difference is the wiring: The RG-ART has 5-way wiring where as the JPM has the 3-way toggle. Switching the pickups is more of a "noticable" change as opposed to a "drastic" change. The sustain is great...not LesPaul-type, but then again, I'm not playing a LesPaul. :-)
With an original list price of $2499.99 (includes J-Custom case), this guitar was not really designed for the "masses". It was designed for those with discriminating tastes...and guys like me. :-P It's as much a work of art as it is a beautifuly playing/sounding guitar. Don't be afraid to show it off to your friends. I sure as hell do!
- Body Material: Basswood with 1/4" (7mm) flame maple top.
- Body Shape: RG
- Color: Custom graphic; hand-etched and each section is individually stained.
- Neck: Original Wizard (with updated headstock heel); 3-piece.
- Headstock: Flame Maple top with abalone Ibanez logo. Note: missing the
- "check mark" under the logo.
- Inlays: J-Custom-12th Fret only: circular part is dark purple mirror; rectangular part is light purple mirror. Top Dots- black.
- Fretboard: Maple
- Fret 21-24 Scalloped: No
- Fret Wire: Dunlop 6100
- Neck Joint: AANJ
- Hardware: Cosmo Black
- Pickups: Neck- DiMarzio "Tone Zone"; Bridge- DiMarzio "Air Norton" Black;
- body mounted.
- Pickguard: None
- Knobs: Cosmo Black- (1) Volume, (1) Tone
- 5-way Tip: Black, plastic
- Tremolo: LoPro Edge
- Years: 1997 only
- Quantity: Unknown by Hoshino, U.S.A. My guess: Less than a dozen worldwide.
- Note: Visually stunning and a super player. VERY limited numbers make them difficult to find. ALL J-Custom guitars (should) come with a J-Custom case which is included in the price. Consider charging admission for friends to play this one!
JPM100P3 Hands on Report
Review by Jeff Moore
I bought my first Ibanez approx. 2 years ago. Not knowing what to expect, I decided on a JPM100 p3. I had come to this decision by pricing many models by other manufacturers and had it narrowed down to a Jackson Soloist and the Ibanez.
So I went to the local Ibanez dealer down the street and ordered the JPM for several reasons. First off, I have a problem of hitting the volume knob when I play and on the JPM this isn't a problem because the volume knob is placed out of the way.
Second, I wanted something with a fatter neck and binding for " the look". Also, I wanted a high quality tremolo unit and high output pickups (direct mount if possible). I had finally received word from the dealer that my guitar was in! So off I went to see what I was forced to live with. The tension was mounting as the dealer went to the back to retrieve my NEW axe (am I over- dramatizing?) and now the moment of truth was upon me. As he opened the case all I could think about was the empty wallet in my back pocket. Would what's inside the case justify this empty wallet of mine. I am glad to say yes, it definitely did. This guitar is simply a beauty to look at (unlike the new p4 came finish which is at best UGLY). The paint is a mile deep and the colors aren't actually black/white but black/creme or black/ivory. To anyone who has seen the higher quality Ibanez' knows what I'm talking about when it comes to the finishes they put on the more expensive models. Catalog pictures do them no justice.
But anyway now was the time for the real test. THE HOME TEST. Sound? the guitar has lots of sustain. I run through a 5150 combo and with gain at 5 1/2, this guitar has more in reserve than I'll ever use. The direct mount pickups help to give this guitar a real earthy tone, its very noticeable and I've come to favor this sound over free-floating cavity pickups. The neck is the best neck I've ever played on hands down! It is thicker than most necks made by Ibanez and when you play the guitar you hardly have to move your fingers because the size of the neck helps to support the rest of your hand. I realize some "small guys" won't like this but isn't Petrucci like 5.9 or 5.10 ft. tall? Not a tall guy (I'm 6.1), remember what I said earlier about the volume knob? It never even came close to my pick hand! Of course the Lo Pro trem is the best at staying in tune as I was told and this turned out to be true (after my strings were stretched out)
Oh, I almost forgot, the Air Nortons (neck pickup). Coooooool ass jazz tone, very flexible, except for strat tone. No strat tones coming out of this baby. I'm OK with that. This just gives me a reason to buy a JEM (could anyone ever have enough guitars?). This review was done using Super Slinky .009-.042 strings, low action (who buys a guitar like this and sets it up with high action?), Also, I ran no effects on my initial HOME TEST .
Over all I'm very pleased with my decision to purchase this guitar, but very unpleased with my decision to sell it. Yes , I have 3 children, and many bills forced me to do the thing I most feared. But just a few months ago I scraped enough money together to buy a new JPM 100 P4 and as for play ability the guitar is identical to my previous black/white one, but in the looks dept. it is lacking BIG TIME.
If anyone is interested in this type of guitar I highly recommend this guitar. However you might want to wait till next year until that ugly ass came color scheme is hopefully over.
RG520QSTK Hands on Report
Review by Ryan Kim
First of all, let me say that this is my first Ibanez guitar (technically second) and I chose this one after seriously considering several other models. I'd also like to say that this isn't the first Ibanez I've played...
Well... it looks like an RG. haha... no, it does, but it looks classier. The neck and hardware on it are no different than an RG570. The body is where the beauty is. It's true that from just a few feet away (light angles are important as well), the quilted top just looks like solid blue (more of a dark aqua blue). When in hand or if the light is proper, the quilting really shows through. Very pretty... I also like how you can see through the finish and right into the mahogany back. As stated on the forum, the top is a seperate piece of wood, albeit a rather thin one. Anyway, if they used a lighter stain and did a sunbursting effect or something, the quilting would really show.Overall: looks great (although the finish is a subtle beauty)
It feels a lot like an RG570. That, to me, is a good thing. After playing someone else's RG517 for a while, I'm glad to say my guitar's neck feels exactly the same. It should because it is. Super thin, super fast. Here's where it differs though. The body is heavier (only by a very wee bit...) due to the mahogany. I should have said this earlier, but I jumped at the chance to pick up a 1998 model from a local store after an unpleasant experience with a 1999 RG Prestige and then I heard Jim McCloskey's story about Ibanez changing mahogany for the 1999 line (call me superstitious). Also, I was never a fan of a single coil in the middle... main reason for picking up an RG520 of any kind. Overall: feels great (AANJ, Wizard neck, etc. etc.)
The sound was quite surprising. As you probably know, the guitar is outfitted with V7 and V8 humbuckers and has a five way switch. The neck position has a nice smooth lead sound to it... works pretty well clean too. The coil tapped neck was a disappointment though... instead of sounding straty, it sounded more like a quieter neck pickup... no real twang there. The both humbuckers on position... well I never really use this. The coil tapping (outside coils of both humbuckers) position, to me, does what the coil tapped neck should have done. Much more straty! The bridge position, I thought, could use a ton more definition. It works for crunchy rhythm sound, but it's muddier than I'd like it to be. We'll see what happens with new pickups. Anyway, I can honestly say the mahogany has a pretty big impact on the tone. Being much more used to brighter woods, I noticed how much darker this guitar sounds than a standard RG. Sort of a harder sound... it's hard to describe, but so far I'm liking it. Overall: good, but needs work here and there (i.e. new pickups, though I think the V7 and V8 work great in basswood bodies) Well, I can honestly say I'm very pleased with this guitar. I've got some JPM pickups I'm going to drop in soon and I've already dropped in a Lo Pro Edge (seriously don't see why you guys like this one better... I'm convinced I just bought a spare bridge). After pickups, this thing'll be a beast!
Addendum: I forgot to mention the sustain... I've never actually experienced a mahogany body's sustain. When you hit a note, not only does it hold for such a long time, you can really feel it in the body.
JEM77FP Hands on Report
Review by Mike "777" Haug
The Jem 77fp is a guitar suddenly seems to be under appreciated these days. While it may be understood that it has been in existence since 1988 (I just got a hold of a 1988 Ibanez catalogue-what a nostalgic trip back.), it isn't the most rare. As you may be aware from Jemsite spec pages, the Jem77fp undergone some changes in recent years which makes this guitar even better.
For starters, the All-Access Neck Joint (AANJ) was not added to this model in 1997. I purchased mine in November of that year and it has the same block-style joint. This isn't bad or good, but it does keep this guitar different from the other jems. It maintains a more traditional feel. A change that was made that I feel really improved this guitar was its direct-mounted pickups. This allows more of what comes from the neck and body to shine through. There's also a nice "bite" obtainable from this and yet remains smooth and versatile like the other Jems. It seems like many I've met have the pickguard-mounted pickups so if you try out a new Jem you will have a different impression of this model. I was expecting the traditional mounting but this was a nice surprise.
Visually, this is a true Jem. It has this classy floral pattern with a very-noticeable mystique. Since it's quite different looking it's a Jem that represents the guitars we've all come to know and love. This guitar and my 777dbk are my best sounding Jems (actually, my best sounding guitars, period). What is nice is that more recently the different Jems are in fact more different from one another than they were in the past. I miss the colors of yesterday. The Blue floral patterns turned out to age nicely and if the same changes were made, this would've made a nice maple-board alternative if it were still in production.
By feel, sound, and look, this guitar (especially a current version) is a must-have for any Jem-lover.
RG520QSTK Hands on Report
Kirk A. Slossar
It has a 24 fret Wizard neck, which is made from Maple with a Bubbinga stripe, and a Rosewood fingerboard with Jumbo frets and dot inlays. It has the AANJ. I never noticed the advantage of the AANJ until I got this guitar! This is a very "fast" neck, it was easily played right out of the box. A very thin and flat neck, I was actually impressed with the feel of it, and had difficulty putting the guitar down because of it. I have it set up with low action, and am using 9's on it. I would change only two things, although they are not big issues, I would like to sand the back of the neck a bit and I would prefer a different type of inlay (maybe the ovals or none at all.)
The body has a Quilted Sapele top with Mahogany back. Although it is a Mahogany body, the weight of the guitar is a non-issue. The finish is obviously a quilt top, and Ibanez calls it Transparent Black (TK) but it has more of a brown or chocolate tone. Pictures do it no justice, it is a truly beautiful guitar.
The guitar comes stocked with an Ibanez V7 in neck and a V8 in the bridge. However, the guitar which is being reviewed was customized with a DiMarzio Tone Zone (TZ) in the bridge and a Humbucker from Hell (HFH) in the neck position. The pickups are ring mounted, and although some claim that this may affect the tone, I do not notice loss of tone. There is one volume and one tone control, which were originally barrel type knobs, but were replaced with black plastic knobs because the barrels did not fit properly and spun like a Goose's neck. It has a 5-way pickup selector. The five way allows for some sweet configuration, tones ranging from a strat to the metal shredder. This is actually the first guitar which has moved me to use the tone control mid-flight! The HFH name is deceptive, as I would have figured it to be a bridge pickup. It is a "humbucker" but also does a great job of impersonating a single coil pickup. Roll back your volume on the HFH, or cut back on your distortion and this thing will sing sweetly. The TZ compliments the HFH nicely, and is a high output and very sensitive pickup. Great for overdriven/distorted tone, lots of lows and just the right amount of mids. I don't particularly care for the clean tone the TZ produces when it stands alone. When combining the two, or using the single coils, the pickups operate very quietly.
The hardware is cosmo black and originally came with a double locking Ibanez Edge trem, which was replaced with a Lo-Pro Edge. The body has been routed for the trem to give a wider range of tremolo effect. As can be expected, the Lo-Pro is a superior trem, capable of taking abuse with little or no effect on the tuning of the guitar. The pickup mounting rings are cosmo black as are the tuning pegs/machines. I also replaced the strap studs with a DiMarzio clip-lock system (effortlessly BTW.)
This particular RG came with a flight type Ibanez molded case, which protects the guitar just as well as a Jem case, and is actually more convenient due to it's compact size.
Enough of the BS. This is an excellent guitar, and cannot be compared to a Jem because there are only a couple of similarities. I have been a slave to the Jem 7VWH, because until the time I had gotten it (7VWH), I had never found a guitar that made me want to play. Now, I have played many RGs, but none have ever struck me the way the RG520QSTK has. It is a slight departure from the H-S-H pickup config, but it is a welcome change. I do, however, miss the bright high output which can be found in the single coil on the Jem or other RG series guitars. The neck isn't as large as my old RG550, and that is a good thing. Actually the neck on the RG520 is very similar to that which is on the Jem 7VWH. Don't let the pictures or first impressions fool you, LOOK at this guitar.
This hands on report may sound like an ad for Ibanez, but it isn't. I am completely satisfied with this guitar. It's quality and playability is much more than I had expected. It's nice to know that you can spend under $800 (after mods) and still have a superior guitar. I got all caught up in the Jem thing, and turned a blind eye on the other great guitars out there. PLAY ONE! Not for five minutes, I mean really sit down and put it to the test. I need only two guitars now, my Jem 7 and my RG520.
JEM7DBK Hands on Report
Review by Ken Burtch
This is my first JEM. I've played others, but I am by no means an expert on them. I suppose I could write some long spiel about the guitar, but it seems to me that it is what Vai wanted all JEMs to be; like all the others in playability.
The JEM7DBK is the least expensive JEM ever produced, and the look is where the savings are. It almost seems as if I'm playing a piece of asphalt. The guitar was obviously sprayed with a flat black paint and then glossy black paint was allowed to clump over the top of it. Looks much like someone splattered hot black candle wax over a flat black finish. The headstock is also flat black. The contrast between the black finish and pickups and platinum hardware is nice though. The neck is similar to the JEM90HAM, in that it has the truss rod reinforcement insert. None of the upper frets are scalloped.
Feels like an Ibanez right down to it's machine heads. Ibanez quality is everywhere you look. Stays in tune great, and plays like butter (literal translations not recommended).
I don't own any other JEMs, so I can't give a comparison to others. Besides, I'm not really finicky about pickups anyway. The guitar sounded fine when I plugged it in at the store. Anyone seriously considering this guitar should not order it sight unseen. It is a great playing guitar, but the jury is still out on the overall look of it. I'm a bit disappointed in the finish, but others may find it cool. Besides, you get what you pay for. If you want a superb finish, pay the extra $500 and get yourself a VWH.
Initial Hands on Report: Ibanez AX-7521CF 7-string
Review by Mike "777" Haug
Ibanez ax-7521cf (cherry fudge) This guitar was just recently put on display at Sam Ash Music in Huntington Station, Long Island, New York, USA. Of course, after noticing a new Ibanez 7-string, I had to try it.
I plugged into a Marshall TSL100, connected to a Marshall 1960a 4x12 cab for a familiar sound. The AX-7521cf is not a bad playing guitar, but doesn't blow me away, either. The rear part of the body is quite large and makes the guitar body-heavy and quite unbalanced. The neck itself played a little better than I thought it would but it did feel a little chunkier than what I'm used to. The overall sound wasn't bad but not impressive.
There's not too much to be said. Anyone whose played any Universe or an RG-7620/1 has definitely spoiled themselves and this is a step back. If you're looking for affordability and a quick purchase, then I recommend this. I believe it was selling for about $650.00 if I remember correctly. It definitely beats the Schecter c-7 in the affordable 7-string market.
My overall feelings about the expansion of the seven-string Ibanez's are:
- Another or more UV's (& of course we would all like to spend a little less on them).
- If Ibanez wishes to manufacture a solid-body seven-string of non-RG origin, they should reissue the s-series (colors, I say, Colors) or a JS-based seven-string would be cool, too.
- As far as any 7-strings are concerned, nothing beets a Universe!
Hands on Report: Marshall JCM-2000 series heads
(TSL-100 and DSL-100 or 50)
Review by Mike "777" Haug
Marshall JCM-2000 series heads (TSL-100 and DSL-100 or 50)
If you love Jems and Universes then you will love the flexibility of Marshall's new JCM2000 series. Actually, let me put it this way: If you already love Marshalls, when you hear these, you're gonna explode! If you're not a big fan of Marshalls (make a list of all of your favorite players and their gear and get back to me. There will be a Marshall used at least at some point(s) in their careers if not exclusively), anyway, if you're not a big fan of Marshalls, you will be now, AND you'll explode!!!
In the Summer of 1997, Marshall introduced the first JCM-2000 amps: the DSL-50 (50 watts) head and its big brother the DSL-100 (yep, 100 watts.). Marshall's intent, reportedly, was to improve on the existing clean sounds and offer an intense amount of gain. They did it. They were also modeling the amp after the poular, and still well sought after overall tone of the JCM-800 series amplifiers from the '80s.
This amp is awesome! Very flexible and simple to operate. There are two channels: Classic gain and ultra gain. Each channel has a mode button for different gain types. Basically you can preset the amp channels. Each channel's mode selector allows you to choose two sounds: Classic Gain: Clean or Crunch Ultra Gain: Lead1 or Lead 2 (way hot)
Each channel also has its own volume, reverb, and gain controls. The amp has one master EQ section fitted with two buttons labeled DEEP and the other TONE SHIFT. Deep enhances the bottom end and really fattens up the sound. Tone Shift offers a scooped-midrange sound but it also reconfigures how the bass and treble controls work. This is almost like having an alternate master EQ. IT took me a while to achieve my own setting of choice because I liked every sound I got.
The clean is absolutely sweet, rich, and sparkling. Not a traditional Marshall characteristic. The higest gain (Ultra gain-Lead 2) is a hot-rodded-with-a-pedal type of distortion but the notes are super-clear. Not many amps, if any other, can do that.
The TSL-100 (also available in a 2x12 combo-TSL-122) was released in the summer of 1998 and replaced Marshall's model 6100 which was their 30th anniversary head originally released in 1992. The TSLs offer the same sounds as the DSL only with more features and more user control. This amp's sound is shaped over three channels which are smartly laid out to prevent confusion. Each channel has it's own gain controls and EQ. The channels are Clean, Crunch, and Lead. The minimum gain settings on each channel picks up where the lesser-gain-level channels leave off, resulting in the ability to precisely tailor the basic sound. The Crunch and Lead Channels both have Identical EQ layouts with a tone shift control and share a reverb in the master section. The clean channel is similar but instead of a tone-shift, it has a mid boost control. This channel also has its own dedicated reverb control in the master section. Also in the master section, there are two deep knobs: one for the clean channel, the other to be shared by Crunch and Lead.
This amp offers more flexibility with an included 5-way footswitch and two effects loops which can be used in more ways than just two. I own a UV and 4 Jems to date and play through these amps using a Marshall 1960a 4x12 cabinet. I play many different styles and I constantly go from one style to another when I practice. That's one of the reasons why I play Jems and UVs because they are built and designed to conform to sudden changes in styles and sounds. So are the Marshall JCM-2000 series amps. They will let me sound like me (a guy in serious need of more practice) and let me get any sound I want at any given moment and clear as a bell, too. This is an important concern when playing lower notes like on your low-B string! Both 100-watt heads are outfitted with four el-34 power tubes (two on the 50-watt) and four 12ax7 preamp tubes (A/K/A ecc-83). The amps are not overly heavy and are durable. They also have a 5-year parts and 3-year labor transferrable warranty. If you want older and more tradional Marshall sounds, they can still be achieved from these amps. These amps offer something for EVERYBODY. If you are looking for a new amp, especially something to compliment a Jem or UV, you need something equally as versatile. So go out out and get one now! You needed one last year!
(I wrote this assuming that anyone else who is a reader is just as much a player, as they are a collector, whether the reader is a professional or plays for personal amusement).
Hands on Report: Carvin Steve Vai Legacy Amp
Manufactured by Carvin
Review by Worth Davis
During December 1998, there was some buzz on the web about a line of amps and cabs from Carvin that were designed by Steve Vai for his use and for public sale. I found this to be very exciting since Mr. Vai is one the most demanding and exacting musicians in the music world.
After about 10 seconds of thought I knew I was going to get one…so when Carvin had a bit of marketing about it – I started some research. Carvin is selling the system direct or from their own stores at a price that is just incredible. After hearing a 5 minute sound clip at www.carvin.com – I knew the time to buy was now.
After a 2 minute phone call – A 100 watt head (VL100) and a 4 speaker slant cab (412W) were on the way via Ground UPS.
I brief overview of the rig that I have been playing the Legacy equipment with:
- Ibanez Jem 90HAMM and Ibanez Jem 77GMC
- Alesis Midiverb 4 (mostly for delay)
- Morley Bad Horsie Wah – pedal
- Marshall Powerbrake (so I won't get divorced)
- Included Carvin foot pedal
Well once all 140lbs of it came in the front door – I unboxed and hooked it all up. Carvin includes all the cables and footpedal with the base price of a head and stack ($1199 USD). This is really nice because many times you need to buy extra cables or a $50 footpedal to run your system when its brand new.
Straight through playing:
I hooked the Jem90 straight into the cabinet and was stunned at the volume this unit was achieving. I had previously played on Peavey 5150 EVH amps and some Crate amps – this simply blew them away in control and raw volume. The distortion channel was simply the best distortion I have ever heard – tube or processor. It was perfectly controlled and loud, as I wanted it. The control for treble, mids, and bass made a huge difference in the sound. With this amp you are actually able to achieve many guitar tones and feedback levels with the control on the front face. By far the most versatile I have come across. It is actually worth some time to play with the front controls and get a tone that you like – the clean and distortion channels have separate controls. The clean channel was perfect – the presence button for the clean channel added many of the high harmonics of an acoustic guitar – giving it a very natural sound. This is the first amp in which BOTH channels were AWESOME! I have usually had 2 heads – one for dirty and one for clean. After playing until my bones were turned into jelly by the volume, I wired in the Powerbrake to see what kind of sound the tubes had full blown. I cranked the amp up to about 9 on the master volume for distortion and was amazed an how much control the amp still had – I was tempted to take out the Powerbrake…but I need my ears and I had no plugs in sight. I have never played an amp that could control itself at the highest output points – until now. The G12M Greenback speakers really have good sound in the cab and it has a external cab connection off the main cab. One word – WOW!
The selection of the tubes in the system is really excellent – the all tube design creates a great sound and gives tons of power for high volumes. It comes supplied with 4 EL34 power tubes and 5 12AX7A for distortion. You have the ability to change out tubes with a switch on the back of the amp. You can also cut the system down to 2 EL34's for a 50 watt power drive
Guitar Magazine rated the reverb unit in the Legacy the best it had ever heard – I have to agree – it just rocks! Nothing on any amp or processing gear I have played had the natural sounds of this reverb unit. I found my sweet spot about level 6.5.
Standard stuff – Power, Standby, Reverb, Clean (Treble, Mid, Bass, Presence, Volume), Lead (Presence, Treble, Mid, Bass, Drive 1, Volume 1), and an input.
2 Speaker Output, OHM switch 4-16, 2 or 4 tube power switch, Tube bias (COOL) , Line Out Cabinet Voices (SWEET), Send and Return Effects Loop, and a plug.
- Tube power switch – for toning down the output without decreasing quality
- Tube Bias – for using different type of tubes
- Line Out Cabinet Voiced – for direct recording
- The Steve Vai 'Hidden Feature' :
At about volume 6 – Steve had the designers put in a feature that if you turn your guitar volume down via the knob – the signal is CLEAN! It actually works very well and is really kind of cool. Most amps when they have a low input just sound weak instead of clean…This is actually as clean as the clean channel of the amp. Try it out – I have never heard anything like it in an amp without changing anything but your guitar volume.
The only gripe I have is the footpedal programming. It has 2 buttons – Clean/Dirty and Reverb/Effects. The footpedal comes with it (cool) and has a nice long cord. The problem is that I want to switch on and off my effects – not turn off the Send signal of the reverb! I do not know if there is a way to change the pedal to effects control – but there is no switch or any mention of it in the manual. I thought the boxes the equipment shipped in was very weak. There was no padding except for cardboard corner pieces. I can tell that my cab came within about ½ inch of getting totally mauled by a forklift. BUT for 49.95 for shipping 140lbs of equipment direct to my door, I can not complain too much!
Buy it. Buy it right now! Check out the site www.carvin.com or www.vai.com and listen to the sound file and check out some of the specs about the amp. This is the best amp I have ever played and will not be changing for a very long time. It has the sound and volume for everything from practice to a good size concert. It's got a lot of features that you only realize you want after you own an amp that does not have them. The fact that you can only get it direct means you get it from a great price without running around town trying to find a new one in stock.
VL100 HEAD & VL212 COMBO AMP • Dual channels (clean & overdrive/sustain) • Separate Volume, Bass, Mid, Treble & Presence for each channel. Master Reverb for both channels • 50/100W output switch • Bias switch for 5881, 6L6GC¹s or EL34 power tubes (supplied with EL34) • Cabinet voiced line output • 4, 8 or 16 ohm speaker imp. switch • Effects Loop • All tube: 4EL34, 512AX7A • Hand crafted 7-ply poplar wood cabinet • Optional FS22 foot switch for selecting channels & reverb • VL100: 24.25W x 10.5H x 9.5"D, WT: 40 lbs. • VL212 Combo with VL100 head & 2Celestion™ 12" G12M Greenback speakers in a closed back cabinet (or open). 26W x 10.25D x 17.5"H, WT: 62 lbs. • Warranty: 1 year.
Hands on Report RG7621 7-string hardtail
by Marty McConnell
I've been admiring this site for a while. It "talked" me into buying the only Jem10 I've ever seen, and demo-ing for the Generation Ibanez Project. So, here's my un-professional opinion after only 3 months of practice with a RG-7621. I picked up an RG-7621 after several months of testing and thinking about an RG-7620. I remember saying to a salesman, "man... this would be a great guitar with a fixed bridge." Then, low-and-behold, Ibanez produced one.
First let me talk about playability and tone. After all, those are the most important features of a guitar (atleast to me). I have fairly small hands, so I was apprehensive about tackling a 7-string, given that it has a slightly wider neck. It plays very well and the seventh string has proven easy for me to reach. String tension feels pretty much the same as on I would expect from other six string guitars and the action is great. I've always liked Wizard necks because they seem comfortable to hold. Thick necks, like a Les Paul, are so much wood that I lose dexterity for playing. They sound wonderful, but my hand doesn't wrap around them as well. With the Wizard neck and an extra string, playing scales and runs are no more difficult than on a six-string. As far as tone, it might not be as bright as a UV or a Jem, but let me tell you there's meat there. The extra magnetic field provides some great growls, and lots of chunk. Everyone who's heard my guitar always comments on how thick it sounds.
In comparison to other UVs and the UV777BK, I can only say that it feels every bit as good as any UV I've played. I had the chance to sit with a new UV777BK in a store, and from the little bit of time I've had with it, I would still pick the RG. First of all, because of the price. Secondly, because I want the fixed bridge. Six strings are a big enough pain-in-the-butt with a floating trem., I didn't want the extra hassle. Plus, I wanted the ability to drop tune the guitar without affecting the other strings. I sometimes tune to G-D-A-D-G-B-E. It still sounds pretty clean, with a little tweaking of your amp.
The final reason I didn't get the new UV is because it looks too much like my other guitar, the Jem10. If you want to experiment with a seven string guitar, save some money and buy an RG. Look at the Ibanez specifications, they are nearly identical to the UV777BK. The pickup arrangement is the most significant difference. I am completely in love with mine, and maybe some day I'll give it a custom paint job. Thanks for listening. - Marty
Hands on Report JEM90HAM
by Gabe Nickelson
At last! I finally got my JEM 90th yesterday. Here is my review. Unfortunatley, I only had about an hour to mess around with it, so I guess this would be a 'first-impression' review. If I have any additional comments, I will post them.
I noticed when I grabbed the large package from the UPS driver the box was squished on the top and beat up on the sides. Fearing the worst, I snatched the package and returned it to my living room floor. I got the razor knife out and sliced the top of the package. Thankfully, the guitar was safe within another box, surrounded by foam peanuts. I slid inner box out and hundreds of foam peanuts followed. The peanuts were caught by the wind of my ceiling fan and were pushed violently around the room. What a mess! At this point, I did not care. I wanted this thing open! I opened the nice inner Hoshino box, reveiling a unique JEM case. The first thing I noticed was the large, soft handle. I grabbed it and set it on the floor next to the boxes. I examined the case for damage and there was none. I quickly unlatched the case and opened the case. As I did, I smelled that 'new-guitar and case' smell. The JEM 90 was lying in front of me! I grabbed the guitar and strummed. It was tuned-down 1/2 step. As I strummed, I noticed this neck felt a little different than all my other JEMS. I looked on the back of the neck and I saw what it was--this neck has a stripe on the back. Supposedly, this is supposed to re-inforce the neck. When you play the guitar, you can feel it.
I closly examined the guitar and noticed no flaws in the finish (I guess this would be hard to spot anyway!) or on the neck. The neck was suprisingly stright and smooth. The fretboard does not have inlays on it like the other JEMS. Only at the 12th and 24th frets. At the 12th fret, there are two 2 abalone dots at the top, and the 24th fret has the words: '90th Anniversary Model 1908-1998' with a blue Hoshino logo in the background. No truss-rod cover, similar to the JEM 10th. After close examination, it was time to get it set up. It took about 20 minutes to get it set up. The only thing I needed to do was adjust the tension on the springs and tune it up. The tremolo was sitting fine and the neck looked good. I sat in my leather chair, plugged it in, set my preamp to clean sound, and switched to the neck pickup. I played away and the sound was awesome! Very loud and clear. I switched to the bridge pickup and listened... very full sound! The other pickup configurations were very bright and 'Strat-like'. I switched to a slightly-OD 'Vai-ish' setting on my preamp and played the beginning to 'The Crying Machine'. WOW! I'm impressed at the sustain on this thing! After a few minutes of playing I looked at the arm of my leather chair. The guitar scratched the leather surface and left a 'blue haze' on the arm. I got a soaked towel and wiped away the blue. The scratches are still there. BEWARE! The surface of this guitar can do damage!
Overall, I still like my JEM10th the best, but you will definately LOVE the JEM 90 if you buy it. I feel the sound of the guitar is equal to or better than any of my JEMS. I like the neck of my JEM 10th better, but like the slick fretboard feel on the 90th. I do recommend this guitar highly to any JEM player/collector.- Gabe
Hands on Report JS10 "Chromeboy"
by Loic Peoch
Short hands-on-report for the JS10th : Just after opening the cool chrome-colored case that comes with the guitar, the first visual impression is astonishing. Even if I had seen pictures of the JS10th almost everywhere, there's nothing like to have this baby right in front of you, reflecting all over the place: the chrome finish is really unique.
After putting the black whammy bar (the only think that is not chromed !) and taking the JS10 in hands, the second impression is a bit weird : the guitar is cold because of the chrome finish and most of all very heavy (especially when you're used to the light weight of a guitar like the JEM7VWH). The other thing very different from a Jem is the neck which is larger and a thinner fretboard. The strings are less close to the fretboard and the floyd setup is very stong. But just after being plugged (on a 2-bodies Marshall JCM 900), the JS10 appears to have a GREAT sound, very crunchy. The guitar has got a good sustain and feedbacks very easily with a very pure feedback-sound. I found the playing very pleasant, but a bit more difficult than on a Jem, except all the tapping and THT techniques which are made very easy by the string tension. The guitar sounds particularly well for harmonics (even in 2,3 or 4th position -even better than the JEM7VWH), semi-harmonics and all raking and sweeping techniques.
The position of the 3-way switch is not very convenient (behind the volume knob), it makes a bit difficult to switch quickly while playing. What I found really great is the high-pass filter (even if the push-pull system is not very practical...) which produce a incredible sound and allows the guitar the keep its high frequencies and gain even with the volume turned down with the knob. Even if this guitar is not a Jem or an UV and so not as perfect in conception and playability , I personally think that the JS10th is an incredible guitar, with a completely unique and astonishing chrome finish and a great sound with lot of personality. Peace, Loic
Hands on Report JEM90HAM
Ever since this quasi-anniversary guitar was announced I was a bit skeptical. My initial thought was that Ibanez cashed in on the collector's market with another high priced, limited run JEM. My second thought was that the guitar was a dead-ringer for the 1997 J-Custom "RG-Metal1" (since discontinued) with the addition of a monkey grip and lion's claw routing. Was this a real Steve Vai JEM, or an Ibanez custom repackaged for more sales?
Fortunately it doesn't really matter - if you ordered a JEM90 before 2/28/98 you will have stuck gold! This is because you will own one of the finer JEMs ever made as the JEM90HAM is an all around dynamite guitar - they don't get much better than this folks.
Upon first visualizing the guitar you will be amazed at the appearance and overall attitude of this instrument. The metal-flake green/blue sparkling finish (and bright mirror pickguard) immediately commands your attention. Look closely at the body, and it's shimmering metallic finish will mesmerize you. Underneath the pretty coat is a 3-D "cratered" body that looks akin to roughened, ruins of concrete slab. Not only is the moonlike surface indented to appear like patches of stucco but it's texture is course and rough - strap the 90 on and the guitar will be clinging to and grabbing your T-shirt! To contrast it's unique finish, the JEM90 has a bare ebony neck with two inlayed frets. The 12th fret is marked with two abalone dots and the 24th fret inlay reads "90th Anniversary Model 1908-1998". Side dot-markers are present to aid those unfamiliar with classical type plain fretboards. Amazingly, the headstock and rear covers also share the same stucco finish as the body, giving the guitar an unparalleled fit and finish - every detail has been covered.
Strap the guitar on and JEM players will feel right at home. Aside from the rough body, it's contours and balance match the other JEMs perfectly. You will notice a few differences as you proceed though. First, the neck wood is slightly different, featuring a skunk-stripe truss rod "reinforcement" insert on the rear. Visably noticable, the stripe is slightly evident upon playing being palpable with your fretting hand thumb. Neck dimensions are the same as other Jems but the lightly oiled and unfinished neck is welcome as a significant upgrade from the current JEM7VWH and JEM77FP with polyacrylic coating of gunk on the rear. If the guitar wasn't so rare and expensive I'd recommend using some 0000 grade steel wool on the back for the final touch of perfection. The frets also differ slightly from previous JEMs - they are "jumbo" type frets that Ibanez lists as "SBB216-195". Look closely and they're rounder than those found on the 1998 JEMs. (which amazingly each have their own fret types you'll notice). Sharing an unwanted feature of other JEM/UVs, the locking nut is overshimmed (too high) from the factory so prepare to remove the brass shim for better action.
Nitpicks aside, when you plug in & play the JEM90HAM you will feel right at home. The overall precision and attention to detail is really evident to the guitarist. Tune it up and it stays that way perfectly, as expected! The Gotoh tuners, another J--Custom (non-JEM feature), work wonderfully and the tremolo has a great feel to it - mine allows for some flutter that is unusual in a "stiff" new guitar that is not broken in. The neck feels slippery and smooth... it seems to play itself. As to be expected, the frets contain no rough edges and the famous All-Access-Neck makes it harder and harder to play the vintage 777s. I guess the most telling feature of this guitar's superiority is that the guitar feels as good as your broken-in favorite... just 30 minutes removed from it's packing carton. That is a testament to the guitar. The tone, as per every JEM7 and above, is immense. Using the DiMarzio Evolution pickup set, this guitar can pack a wallop, yet get vintage-type sounds out of the middle 2-3-4 positions. I could go on and on but again if you like any other JEM, you will like this one.
A few notes on packaging of this obvious collectable. The guitar ships with a J-Custom case, featuring all the JEM goodies such as gold hardware, combo lock, inner compartment but has nicer, padded handles. It is adorned with a J-Custom logo on the outside and the case is about a half-inch shorter than the current JEM cases - a throwback to the early 777 cases which are slightly smaller in size. Inside the case you will find the certificate: a white folder with gold lettering, opening up to show the JEM90 Certificate of Authenticity, safely protected by a plastic cover/insert. A nice touch and huge improvement over the JEM10's homemade type, laser-printed certificate (can you say www.paperdirect.com)! For the list price Ibanez charges for this guitar, it is nice to see these amenities and finishing touches present.
As you can tell, Ibanez has done a fantastic job with the JEM90HAM. This guitar is a real charmer that will impress even the harshest of critics. While it still appears the JEM90HAM is more of a J-Custom than a JEM7, I am no longer troubled by that. The melding of two fabulous guitar lines, the JEM90HAM stands out as a world class guitar. Each owner will feel privileged to have a fine piece of Ibanez and JEM history in their hands.
Glen G. Cianciulli, DC
Hands on Report JEM90HAM
by: Alexander van Engelen (Netherlands)
(Webmaster, please note that my English may be faulty here and there)
I used to be a fanatic guitar player, dedicated to my band at the time, and had great ambitions in the music industry. After university I got a job (government jurist), developed an time-consuming interest in
computer technology and got three kids. Time got sparse and so did my dedication to playing guitar. I still have a gig every month with a great cover band and enjoy that very much, but I don't invest much time in enhancing my playing skills or keeping up-to-date with developments in guitar building
I bought an all-black Jackson Charvel (Kahler tremolo, active electronics) 11 years ago and have played it ever since (I previously also owned an Ibanez Steve Lukather, two Les Pauls and some others). The Jackson did the job and I didn't worry about it much. For my sound I was primarily concerned with amps; I spent a considerable amount of time changing amps (Vox AC30, Roland Jazz Chorus 120, Rivera Knucklehead and now: Line 6 Ax2).
But after walking into a music shop a week ago, my attenton was grabbed by a shining JEM90. I played it for a short while and liked it immediately. Because I hadn't been interested in other guitars for over a decade, I didn't know anything about JEMs. So I picked up an Ibanez folder and read about it. The Ibanez Web site also offered some -but not that much- information. I then searched on and saw the light, also known as JEMSITE. This site surely provided me with all the information I could wish. I read it all, of course keeping in mind that this is a "fan site", set up by an enthousiastic supporter of JEM guitars. Nevertheless, the information provided was convincing and supplemented the first impressions I got when playing the JEM90.
So I called around and ordered a JEM90HAM from Klomp Muziek in 's Hertogenbosch (try to pronouce that!). Price: around 3500 Dutch Guilders (roughly about half that amount in US dollars). I traded in my Jackson which didn't count for much alas. The guitar arrived about three days later. Note that this report is written after having played the guitar for only two days yet.
First thing I noticed that it comes with a Ibanez Signature case, no J-Custom case. I'm told that this is standard over here and don't worry about it. The case contains a set of Allen wrenches (known here as "inbus sleutels"), the Ibanez certificate, the Ibanez manual (handy) and extra tremolo bar rings.
Then of course the main thing: the guitar itself. Having not owned JEMs previously, I cannot compare this one to other models. But it sure plays fantastic, right out of the box. The tone, sustain and output are great. For the first time I learned the possibilities of a tremolo of this type (my Kahler tremolo was reliable but not as flexible as this Lo-Pro Edge), mainly the ability to pull strings quite a bit upm, while staying in tune perfectly.
The neck makes me play faster and smoother. Its 24 frets and the ability to effortless reach the highest notes really open new terrain to me. I discovered that it is far easier on this guitar to create (non-natural) harmonics and to hammer rifs with two hands on the fretboard than I was used to. The string tension is also okay, it's easy to push up to a third or fourth.
The 5-way pickup setup covers most sounds. The bridge pickup really bites without shreeking. I get beautiful funky and blues Strat sounds from the middle three positions (although with noticably less volume than at pickup positions 1 and 5) and a nice round but powerful tone from the neck pickup. Really everything I need. The bottom end, where many guitars fail in my opinion, is fine (enough bass while still articulate and clear).
One complaint: the volume control knob doesn't turn smooth enough for "swelling notes", probably just a matter of time. I would have preferred metal knobs anyway. But on the other hand, the tone stays great when lowering the volume on the guitar.
I then began to tune it a little. This was absolutely not necessary since the guitar already felt great. But the whole tremolo system was new to me so I had to discover the workings of it. I followed the
JEMSITE setup guidelines while keeping an eye on the Ibanez manual sheet. Some trial and error here. For example I loosened the saddle fastening screws, thinking that I needed that to do for another purpose. So all the saddles slided forward and I had to intonate the strings all over again. I screwed the string end holder too far out, and almost lost the little black holder inside. I learned for the first time that new strings have to be castrated to fasten them. But I spent most of the time adjusting tremolo position and string height. Since these influence each other and you must always keep on tuning the strings, this is a job that costs time. I also loosened the tremolo bar fitting by removing the
two plastic rings because I like a swinging bar (and that goes beyond guitars). And I lowered the bridge pickup a little to level volumes somewhat.
A couple of remarks. After experimenting I didn't follow JEMSITE's advice about leveling tremolo position, because I think it makes me give up too much pull up-space and because the distance between the bar and the strings gets too large. I can't get the action on the bass strings side as low as I really want, though I lowered the bridge as much as possible (I don't won't to fool around with the locking nut mechanics). And I hate the use of Allen wrenches; it must be possible to think of a
more user-friendly type of mechanism for the locking nut, saddle fasteners and string end holders. Well, I don't know if the current setup of the JEM90 is any better than its original setup, but I sure learned about its workings.
the discussion about its looks however is not ended yet. See the other reports for a desciption of it. I think it's a cool thing but I'm probably influenced by the quality of the instrument itself. My
girlfriend thinks it's awful, too much "glitter" and too shiny (with its mirror pickguard). I haven't done a gig with it yet, so I'm still waiting for other opinions. It will sure draw some attention I gather.
The fact that it only has one (double) inlay at the 12th fret, means that I have to pay more attention to positioning my fingers on the neck. That's not a bad thing because it'll improve my playing, but I could
have lived with a nice vine inlay. It's also a very light guitar (which is kind of important with a three hour set list).
Conclusion: what's most important is that this fine guitar has brought back the pleasure of playing it. It makes me want to play it as much as I can and makes me come up with new ideas. And at the end of the day, that's what counts. Have fun.
met vriendelijke groet, Alexander van Engelen
JEM90HAM In Store Demo
by Walter Mac
Hey there! I'm feeling strange that there's no review on the JEM90 yet, I've try different source and can't get any comment on this guitar, I'm always interesting in how it feels and look like since it was announced.
OK cut the crap, I've finally saw this babe at the music store 2 days before, it just caught my eyes and make me start shakin', it looks a lot much better in person than on any photo I saw before, you won't find a big contrast on the painting but sure you'll fill the texture of the body.
The weight seems lighter than the older JEM (I own a 77BFP myself and proud of it!). Action was set lower than the JEM10 and the pickups were set really close to the string, approx. 3mm I guess, string tension were lower JEM10; Without the damn finishing on the neck, you could play faster on this than the JEM10, it just seems thinner but yet stronger than a wizard neck.
For the sound, it tend to sound more like a UV777BK (the newer one) than the JEM10, scream like a cat with the Bridge PU, warm enough to rang out "For the love of God" on the neck, (even Satch's "Cryin'" work fine), Twangier than any Strat I've ever heard on the 2/4 position, and a really strong single coil soung with the JEM single alone.
I've tried a lot of JEM before (777DY, 77FP, JEM10, UV777 and the 77BFP ofcourse) but this one sure beat them all for the playability and sound, for the time limited condition and an aniversary model, sure it is collectable, in Hong Kong, it sells around USD2,692-, a very reasonable price. But its a damn shame that I'm out of money to get one, I hope there would be nobody would bring it home 'til I got the money for it. (I bought my BFP last year in Hong Kong, ain't it a miricle!) If there's any of you are coming to visit Hong Kong, fell free to write me.
Review: Ibanez 7th Heaven Video
by Scott Andrews
Ibanez is giving away a 35 minute video "7th Heaven" to buyers of new 7 string guitars. The video features interviews with their 7 string endorsees, including Steve Vai, Jerry Sims, John Petrucci of Dream Theater, Dino Cazeres of Fear Factory, James Munky Shaffer and Brian "Head" Welch of Korn, and Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit.
Interview clips with each artist talking about the guitar and playing riffs are interspersed with music video footage of the 7 string studio sound in each group's music. The video demonstrates all of the new Ibanez 7 string models: the UV777BK Universe with the Vai style pyramid inlays, the less expensive RG 7620 electric, the AJ307CE acoustic 7 string, and the AF207 hollow body jazz 7 string. In addition, Petrucci and Cazeres play custom Ibanez 7 strings, and the Korn guys have several rare out of production models, a 540S7 and a UV77MC.
In the first segment of the video, Steve Vai talks about the origin of the Universe and displays some of the general Universe features on one of the new UV777BK models. They show clips of the video for "The Love of God" off "Passion and Warfare" and Vai plays some improvised lead riffs.
John Petrucci of Dream Theater talks about originally getting a Universe 7 string from Ibanez in order to match the low range of John Myung's 6 string bass. They show clips from the video for "Lie" and he plays riffs from "The Mirror" and "Caught in a Web," all from the album Awake. In the Lie video, he plays a UV7BK, black with green pickups, but in the interview he plays a beautiful custom blue sunburst RG 7 with small block inlays along the very top of the fretboard, like his custom 6 string Ibanez JP series.
Dino Cazeres from Fear Factory talks about how he had always played a 6 string guitar tuned to low B, so the 7 string actually allows him to play more high, melodic stuff using the high E string. He plays an example riff of this new style as well as some riffs from "Demanufacture." He uses a custom one-humbucker black 7 string with white binding on the body and dice inlays - he is pictured with this axe in an Ibanez ad in recent guitar magazines. Cazeres has high praise for the 7 string, calling it "the guitar of the future." Even in these small interview settings, with the audio recorded through TV microphones, all of these players sounded like themselves, particularly Petrucci and Cazeres - their riffs all had their distinctive sounds.
In their interview, Munky Shaffer and "Head" Welch of Korn are pretty zoned out, and at times they have trouble putting together coherent thoughts. According to old guitar magazine interviews, Shaffer saw Steve Vai in the early 90s had the idea to use the 7 string for low, detuned alternative music. Welch joined the band later and was not the innovator. The video strongly reinforces that - Shaffer dominates the conversation and Welch can hardly talk or play. Shaffer even rolls his eyes at Welch after he finally opens his mouth and says something particularly vapid.
The other young alternative player on the video is Wes Borland from Limp Bizkit. Their music is strident and noisy, but Borland s interview is funny - he talks about his different tuning schemes for his RG 7620. He uses two high E strings, tuned to the same pitch, as a drone to sound like the grating violin sounds from horror movie soundtracks. He urges young 7 players not to feel restricted by the standard factory tuning of the guitar and tune it to any different tuning that they want.
Andy Timmons, who appears to have shed his 80s glam image from Danger Danger (but not his Ibanez endorsement), plays some stock blues riffs through a prototype acoustic 7 string. The 4+3 arrangement of the tuning pegs on the headstock of his acoustic 7 is backwards from the production AJ307CE in Ibanez photos. In a more traditional vein, a jazz guitarist from South Carolina plays beautiful traditional jazz through a hollow body 7. He points out that the 7th string gives the jazz guitarist access to root notes like E and F# higher up on the neck, allowing different voicings for chords.
The guitarists on 7th Heaven vary widely in style and sound, but each has a unique outlook on the 7 string. Some of them appear to be interested in expanding rock music boundaries, but some of them just seem to be interested in making noise. The best use of the 7 string in rock music, the Swedish metal band Meshuggah, is not mentioned in the video since the band is not an official Ibanez endorsee.
Hands On Report: UV777BK
A hands on report of this guitar seems necessary, as UV and JEM players are always curious about new models. Honestly, it is the first "real" Universe available new from Ibanez since many of us were able to afford these... hence our first shot at a killer, showroom new UV. My player report follows after spending over a week with the UV777BK. If you've read my Collector's Comments you are already aware that I'm in love with the UV777BK. Here it goes:
The UV777BK "fits" perfect, much like all JEM/UV guitars. Seasoned UV players, and even JEM players, will love it's feel and contours. Yes it seems a bit bulkier and heavier than a JEM but it feels good in your hands. Looks aside (this is a player's review) the neck is the biggest improvement in regard to playability over previous UV models. The All-Access neck allows you to actually play the entire fretboard, which was a chore on old model UVs, especially when playing standing. In addition to greater access to upper frets, the AANJ allows you to play the "pocket" more comfortably; even playing at the 12-15th fret seems more comfortable. Yes, the old one could be finessed when played sitting or with the guitar strapped up to your neck (like an '80s reject) but this one is more ergonomic because of the AANJ. This is primarily since there is less wood to interfere with your left hand comfort and positioning. Remember the AANJ shifts the heel joint (and bulky wood mass) of the neck further toward the bridge, really making it a pleasure to play up high. The icing on the cake is the raw, unfinished neck. I don't know why Ibanez coats new JEMs with gunk, but thankfully the UV is left natural, the way Vai and all of us prefer. This combo really makes the UV777BK purr.
The body, bridge, tuners, etc. are identical (except for new chrome color) to previous UV models so I don't need to comment on the high quality of construction and hardware. As per all Ibanez guitars, the intonation is way off as delivered. The trem angle was set horrible... so bad I had to immediately tighten the tremolo block screws to get it "neutral" before tuning the guitar. It should be noted I elected to have the dealer NOT set up the UV777BK, so I cannot blame the dealer. Most Ibanez dealers setup the guitars (or try anyways) upon their arrival. I think Ibanez should do a much better job setting these up for players, from the factory. Nevertheless, within 10 minutes of unpacking the guitar, I had it in tune, ready for action. I wanted to dig in, and thus delayed installing the mandatory DiMarzio Strap/locks for another time.
Aside from the improved neck joint there is not a whole lot to comment about in regard to comparisons to other Universe guitars. The tone of this guitar, like all my UVs, is incredible. I can tell RG7 players this... the 2-1-2 pickup configuration is something you have to envy. Those of you stuck in the humbucker only positions (neck or bridge) I suggest you try the others. Throw the guitar in position 2-4 and your jaw will drop when you hear the sonic variations that are possible with this guitar. Sorry, but two lesser humbuckers of the RG7 can never substitute for the UV's Blaze IIs and it's single coil sibling. If you blindfolded the vintage "purists" their heart would sink when they choose the UV as one of the best sounding guitars ever crafted.
The Lo-Pro Edge-7 Tremolo, used on all UV guitars in the USA, is the same unit, with the stiffer feel than it's JEM sibling. You can't really complain, since the additional low-B string really adds to string tension and thus tremolo stiffness. As usual, the unit tunes right up with minimal fuss and just as importantly, always maintains it's tuning. Anyone with tremolo problems on a UV needs to read the Tech/Setup section. Detuners can block the tremolo movement out completely.
You're probably thinking the only non-cosmetic difference between the UV777BK and all previous UVs is the is the AANJ. Rear routing on the UV77MC aside, you are correct.... however do not underestimate this critical difference. The UV777BK truly is the next generation of Universe guitars. If you like the way the old UVs play, you will flat-out love the new one. Looks and collectability aside, once you play the UV777BK you will not be thrilled to go back to playing your old Universe. There is only one real Universe guitar on the market today and thankfully it is the finest one ever made. The UV777BK comes highly recommended... a perfect "10".
Glen G. Cianciulli, DC
Hands On Report: JEM vs. RG 5xx/7xx (non-Prestige) 6-strings
updated April 24, 2003
by Glen G. Cianciulli (Jemsite.com)
Prior to the forum's widespread popularity, I used to often get e-mail from players inquiring about the difference between the JEM and it's RG 700/500 series sibling. I figured it makes sense to discuss these two guitars, as they appeal to the same type of player. I owned and played daily an RG565 for 3+ years so I am speaking here from a bit more experience than fanaticism. Note this comparison applies only to the non-prestige Japanese made RGs with the Edge tremolo variants. The Korean made beginner RGs with non-Edge tremolos are not relevant to this comparison, nor are specialized J-Custom RGs or the Prestige RGs, UCEW or USRGs intended for a more upscale buyer/player.
The RG500/700 is quite simply the affordable version of the JEM (the poor mans version for lack of a better term), minus the Vai-isms and some of the finer detail, fit and finish. Designed in conjunction with the JEM, the RG was introduced with the JEM in 1987. Immediate differences are the cosmetic ones, since the RG is missing features such as the monkey grip, lion's claw inlays & detailed pyramid/vine inlayed fretboards. Under the hood the RGs also lack the more useful angled input jack & the made-in-USA DiMarzio pickups. The JEM and RG guitars share a similar ergonomic feel, balance and overall body shape w/ pointy headstock. The RGs also feature the same basswood body as the JEM (all except the alder bodied 7VWH and 7VSBL), volume/tone knob placement, and newer RGs feature the all-access-neck. RGs come with and without pickguards (front or rear body cavity routing) but also were made in many pickup configurations (2-1-2, 2-1-1, 2-2 and 2-1). Along with the different pickup configs, some of the RGs have a limited 3-way switch. All JEMs feature the 2-1-2 pickups (humbucker-single-humbucker) w/ 5-way switch.
The lack of the 5-way switch and JEM pickup configuration in many RGs is an annoying limitation which does limit the tonal possibilities of the instrument. The tried and true DiMarzio PAF Pros, Breed and Evolutions of the JEM are missing in the RG500/700s, with pickups designed by Ibanez and DiMarzio but made in Japan by Ibanez. At best, the RG pickups are serviceable, at worst the stock pickups are deficient... it really depends on the model year and pickups included on a particular model RG. One of the best updates I did to my RG565 was swap it's pickups with an HS3 and FRED for the neck and bridge respectively. With these the guitar finally came alive, but there was just too many tones missing without the 2-1-2 JEM config and switching. Nevermind the unbalanced and insufficient output from the single-coil neck pickup... YUK! I would certainly recommend passing on any RG missing at least a dual-humbucker configuration, so as to not limit yourself now or in the future.
Along with it's niceties, the RG is not without drawbacks. The RG has the thin/narrow Wizard Neck (see Jemsite NECK section for charts & dimensions) which does not compare favorably to the JEM or other Ibanez necks such as the Ultra or newer Wizard-II. To many, the RG Wizard neck is just a little too small... not quite beefy enough. Some say it hinders tone - less wood, less tone - but I'd defiantly say it is less comfortable, especially during prolonged periods of play and for chording. Newer RGs feature the same Wizard profile, but the 1-piece maple neck has a Bubinga "skunk-stripe" reinforcement for increased neck stability and prevention of twist. This somewhat helps alleviate the old RG problem where the decreased wood mass makes it more susceptible to falling out of tune. In your bedroom this will be hardly evident (especially if you don't own a properly setup JEM), but in a 2-3 hour rehearsal or gig it will become evident. Once you tune a JEM and lock the nut, you can often leave it unattended for quite a while. With the RG you will more frequently need to unlock the nut and make adjustments, especially in areas with irratic climates & changing humidity. It should be noted that as of late, the JEM7DBK and DNA feature a "wizard-like" neck profile (as opposed to the JEM profile) with the Bubinga stripe.
The quality of construction and "tolerance" are also an area where the JEM (and any MIJ signature model) separates itself from the RG500/700. The RGs are subject to more variability in fit/finish, which is partially a result of the probable lower quality woods used for the RGs, but mostly from the missing tender, love and care given to the Signature (JEM, etc.), Prestige and J-Custom lines made at the same Ibanez of Japan factory. The upscale, and pricier Ibanez models are given extra attention to the finishing details as well as the neck finish and fret dressing and overall setup. It should be noted that the paint finish is high quality across the RG/JEM line, but some JEMs such as the 7VWH with basswood veneer over alder require more finishing steps adding to the final instrument cost.
For 2003 models, Ibanez has shifted production of Japanese made RGs to all be "Prestige" instruments, so the new RG1550/1570 (previously RG550/570 updates) will benefit from the improved neck treatment. Still Ibanez will not dedicate the same man-hours labor to a $700 guitar as they would a $1900 guitar so there seems to be various levels of "Prestige" these days as one would expect in the retail environment. The RG1550 neck might get the "Prestige" treatment but the rest of the body and setup might not necessarily get the extra attention implied.
From a dollars & sense standpoint, the RG is a more attractive guitar to the buyer than it is to the seller. The RGs are relatively cheap new, but suffer from a poor resale due to the glut of these made and typical buyer demographic. You generally will expect poor trade-in and have more difficulty selling the RGs than you would a JEM or any signature/upscale Ibanez. This only becomes problematic if you ever want to sell; if you overpaid for the RG500/700 you will likely take a bath in resale... especially if you invest $150+ on DiMarzio pickups and other modifications which the new owner might not prefer or attach an increased value to.
Some of you have said... "I have a JEM but I'm considering and RG as a practice or beatup guitar". I argue that this makes no sense at all. If you like the JEM stick with a JEM... get a feel for your "favorite" instrument and play the JEM as intended. Picking up an RG500/700 makes some sense if you find one cheap, or want an Ibanez to customize, or use as a backup or if your budget is limited to this price range. Or if you just want a boatload of good playing, plain, yet affordable axes. The RG500/700 series guitars offer a lot to the player, their shortcomings can be overcome more and more with some TLC and full setup by the owner.
Hands On Report: JEM555
I purchased my Jem 555 over the internet from a guy just one state away. He was asking a very reasonable price (under $400) for the guitar, and I knew that it had to be worth more than the asking. But, since I had never bought anything via internet, I was skeptical and decided to do a bit of research about the guitar. After some time, I found the JEM Collectors Site and to be honest, I was a quite disappointed by all of the comments about the 555.
After reading everything on the site about the 555, I came to the conclusion that the biggest complaints about the 555 were the facts that the vine inlays didn't cover the entire fretboard but more so the TRS tremolo. The impression that I got was that the TRS is/was much like the Original Floyd Rose. Well after some consideration, I figured that I would buy the guitar and then probably turn around and sell it for a bit more. As far as the TRS was concerned, I own a USA Jackson that I put and original Floyd on and I have always loved it, so it shouldn't be that big of a deal. Oh yeah, the 555 I compared with the Ibanez RG 550 as far as playability and so on. I really like 550's so I gave it a shot.
When the guitar arrived, I was WAY impressed! The first thing that came to my mind was "SEXY!" This guitar looks good and has just about all of the goodies of the other Jems. The guy that I bought if from didn't have it set up very good at all, so I changed the strings and went to the Jem Site again and got some tips on setting up the 555. Even though not much is there, I managed to get a really good set up. Fast neck, easy to bend, sounds great and the TRS is very much like an original Floyd. This guitar was intended to be a 3rd guitar and instantly it went to 1st-2nd place. The thing about my Jackson with the Floyd is, it isn't recessed (the tremolo) into the body like the TRS, and so the action isn't quite as nice. The 555 plays great!
Now the cons (if you prefer to call them that). The body, like most (or all) Ibanez/Jems, is basswood and so the sustain isn't as good as I personally like. The Evolutions are great PU's, especially the neck, but I don't think the body can keep up with them. Then again, my other guitar is SOLID mahogany and sustains for days... maybe I'm used to that. The TRS is definitely inferior to the Edge tremolo, but again, nothing to scoff at. If you want a Vai guitar without the full capability of doing Vai tremolo tricks (like how many of us can?), then you'll be fine. Another thing is my TRS isn't broken in, so the newness of the springs is a factor in it's stiffness. I have found that it doesn't stay in tune as well either, but again, the newness may have something to do with that.
My overall assessment of this guitar is: it's a great guitar, if it had an Edge on it, it would be better, but I'm not cryin' for the price that I paid. Would I pay $900 for a new one? Probably not, because I can't think of too many guitars that I think are worth that much money, plus, I don't have it any ways. But, seeing as how used RG550's are going for $300-$500, I would buy this 555 much sooner if I could get it for the same price range. As I said before, I was going to sell it, now.... I don't think so. If you're in the market for 555, don't be discouraged by what others say, go for it, you may just be pleased.
Thanks again, S. Scott Shackelford
Editor's note - I get a lot of e-mail about the 555. I specifically asked Scott for a hands on review because of this. Some 555 emailers are people on a tight budget who want a nice guitar in the RG price range. Others are not JEM fanatics, but want an guitar of this style/price to compliment their current guitars. While it is fashionable to bash the 555 for many reasons stated on this site, I would like to go on record that in regard to being a musical instrument, the 555 certainly qualifies as a better than average one. While not a JEM777 in style, quality or construction, it is a tool that a musician can proudly use to create fine music. Finally, Scott's candor and honesty is appreciated... Intelligent flames only.
Hands On Report: Summer NAMM '97
New Universe - UV777BK
I was very nicely surprised at the Summer NAMM show in Nashville. I was having a conversation with my friend before we left to go to the show and he mentioned that there was a new Ibanez universe available with the pyramid inlays in the neck. He said that he had a picture of it in his Music Retailer and he knew that I was rabidly seeking one. I thought to myself that this guitar was just going to be one of the current unembellished models with special inlay. I am very happy that my initial assumption was way off base! I want an Universe not only because they play great, but also because they generally look nontraditional. I was about to buy one of the green\black models because it was a compromise between looks and cost I can afford. I am glad that I did not make a hasty decision because I would have missed out on one of the most spectacular Universes yet!
I am certainly not an expert on Universes, but I have owned close to 30 guitars in my 9 years of playing and I know a fine instrument when I see and play one. I will be honest, I agree with Shadow (who has rated the RG 7-string). If it is between the conservative Universe BK with dot inlay and the RG, buy the RG unless you truly desire the Universe BK. Comparatively the RG seems to be a better deal. With the introduction of the 777 BK, however, my universe changed forever. (pun alert) Here is my report based on my five minutes alone with the 777BK.
WOW! Any picture that you have seen does not accurately represent this guitar. The paint job is the glossiest I have ever seen this side of a car show. I hope that this was not some special finish on the prototype just for the show. Fingerprints did show up very clearly on the finish, however.
The neck and body are bound with luminescent abalone and the effect is truly spellbinding. The neck has the pyramid inlays that are similar to the 7PWH. The binding and inlays glisten as you move the guitar in the light.
One of the coolest (and definitely the most unexpected) things about the 777BK is the design below the bridge. It is a pyramid with an eye in the middle, definitely a Vai innovation. The mirrored pickguard is similar to the ones used on the RG-DX models and looks pretty sharp, though at close range it takes on a "cheap" appearance because it becomes obvious that it is mirrored plastic. I will not complain too much about this because it is the ONLY thing that did not impress me about this guitar. Also, the cost would be far greater if they had gone with an aluminum pickguard like on the JEM 10. The pickguard is a VERY acceptable concession!
Overall it is one of the most beautiful and stately guitars I have ever seen, and I have seen many (as most of us have). In my opinion it contains the perfect balance between decoration and taste. It is not at all garish - it is really classy.
When I picked it up, I immediately started playing. It was then that I noticed that the new neck joint. I am not that familiar with the old neck joint, mind you, but this was incredible! I could not tell where the neck was attached to the body! When I turned the guitar over I thought the AANJ (all access neck joint) looked kind of funny because I had never really seen one before, but it is a very good design. It kind of reminded me of the Parker Fly Deluxe. It seems to be very stable and makes the neck play very consistently from end to end. Ibanez really knows its trade.
The action was nonexistent on this guitar. It was set up for fast and easy playing. There were a few minor buzzes, but it was a very smooth-playing neck. It played better than almost all the 6-string necks that I have tried. In my opinion you have to at least break the $700 dollar barrier to get a guitar that plays as well as this one.
The tremolo responded very well and was very stable. It reacted the way a floating tremolo should.
Finally, I would like to say that I have changed my mind about buying an Universe MC at this point. I still want one (of course), but this guitar is SO classy and SO nice to play that I fell in love with it literally at first sight. It greatly exceeded my expectations. Ibanez says that they will be widely available, so If you want a true Universe that looks as good as it plays then by all means BUY ONE!!! I think the price is extremely reasonable if you buy from a good dealer. Please remember that guitar manufacturers are businesses - if a line does not sell then there will be no further models and innovations. "You don't want that".
PS - I know that this might not be a highly technical report. I was running late at the show and was in a hurry, but I have tried to be as accurate as possible. I would be happy to talk to anyone with questions about the guitar, but I might be slow in responding. Except the information listed here, though, I may not be of much help. I like mail so don't be afraid to write.
Hands On Report: Budget "Universe" the RG-7620
I guess I'll put this in a couple of parts: impressions, playability ( and Vai-ablility), and a comparison against the classic Universes.
The first thing that came to my mind was one word : utility. Maybe I'm spoiled with all the multi-color, floral, etc. that I have around my room but this guitar was just utility. The second thing I noticed is that it has the "good" tremolo on it. I think that is what made the 555 Jem a total flop was that piece of crap tremolo. So this one has the original tremolo and after some digging I find it has the original pickups as the old universes. I am not a big fan of black because it shows use / fingerprints but the Jewel Blue one is not out yet so I had the ole one choice. I have never bought a brand spanking new guitar in the box so once I got over "they come in boxes?!? " I noticed some things that I really liked! First off it has the all-access neck on it that is formed after the famous wizard necks of the past. The recession for the tremolo (See Vai-ability) was much deeper (about an inch) and it didn't have a middle pickup! I always recess the middle pickup as low as it will go and never play it's just a personal thing. I love the 5 way switching with 2 pickups - plays the way I have always played pickup selectors. The pickups are direct mounted and there is no pickguard. I found the lack of pickguard nice because of all that black finish. The action, of course, can be set just as low as you feel like with little or no truss rod adjustments, but they still have the irritating locking nut on top with that funny middle piece found on the Universes (sure would suck to loose that!). The other thing which hasn't been fixed except in the Jems is the "hole for the cord". This one is standard Ibanez; not the recessed angle thingo. I've got 24 frets, whammy bar (the good one), bridge pickup, and a whole lot of grease - time to play!
Well this thing plays very cool. The all-access neck joint makes it the best playing Universe out there right now. I felt like I had stolen the real thing and only paid for a Jem 555. This thing could nail all the notes and pull them all without freaking out. As with all real Ibanez guitars, this one held tune, whammy-ed out, and pulled, tapped, and squealed like it should. I give the stock pickups a 7. In my book EMGs are a 9 and the stocks on a Jem are an 8 (Evolutions are a 10 though!). The pickups could hit the notes but the guitar wasn't as "alive" as a VWH or my modified PMC. I tore out Alien Love Secrets and Passion and Warfare and went for some music. This axe grinds! I have it set up for a low-b because it sucks finding an .05 or .06 for a high A. I have to admit some amps and effects won't like that low note being down there, but who cares? I alternated between the RG-7620, a Jem 7VBK, a UV77WH, and a RG550 w/ EMGs. I think this guitar might spawn another round of KoRN, Dream Theater, Vai, and whoever else has been playing this. I think they will be producing these and the price is below $1300 which is what killed the Universe. If kids and pros can't afford/find a guitar it is not going seriously affect the music out there. I have to admit this thing plays better than other company's 7 strings (except maybe Conklin - $4000) and has the right name on it. The neck is finished which pisses me off and slows me down, but heh! You can't win them all! Now on to what you collectors care about.
If you come across a UV77MC for $1000 - BUY IT! If not don't spend a dime on any other 7-string except this guitar right here. In comparison the LNG and WH models have cooler fretboards - they suck in playing comparison and overall looks. Who still takes bright green guitars on stage? The point is the guitars are very similar but you don't have to cough up the bucks for a Universe with this one. There us no comparison against the 97 and pre 97 black models. Not only are the green pickups ugly but the guitar is boring as hell. This guitar is boring as hell at half the price, besides the missing middle pickup. The bottom line is : THIS GUITAR IS THE SAME DAMN THING! I know there are differences but they are not major. The thing that sells this lower price model to me is the inclusion of the "good" tremolo. Without this it would be in the parts heap right next to a JEM 555 BK. Oh yea - the volume and tone knobs are metal instead of that two dollar plastic. The pickups in this RG-7620 are the DiMarzio Blaze II. All in all if you bought a Black Universe or the new Universe UV7 - go find your receipt and return it & save 400-500 bucks and go pick up the RG-7620.
Thanks for reading - send all flames to Worth Davis
Editor's note - A few corrections. The pickups are NOT the Blaze-II, but are indeed DiMarzio brand, based on the Breed-II. While some players might love the RG7, Steve Vai is not one of them. At G3 aftershow when asked about the RG7, he told me "in no way is the RG7 a Universe... they're not even close".
Jim McCloskey of Hoshino USA adds some more info:
I was reading your commentary/hands-on section, and in the review of the UV777BK, it says that the RG7620 players don't have the same options with their guitars, in terms of tones. Though this is true to an extent, they have their own special wiring & 5-way switch. The UV uses neck / 1-coil neck & middle / middle / middle & 1-coil bridge / bridge selections (our standard "Split-5" wiring). The RG7621 uses the "Special-5" wiring, which gives them neck (hum), neck (humbucker in parallel wiring), both hums, both "inside" coils or each humbucker, and then bridge (hum) only. Some very interesting options, huh? Just thought you'd like to know, so you can enlighten some people. -Jim