I recently managed to get a 2004 555 with an Ibanez hardcase (did they come with one new?) it is a wooden one not the classic moulded plastic version with a metal plaque on it with an Ibanez marketing slogan on it, looks like an old W200C variant.
A few days later (hello credit card!) I came across a 2013 70VSFG with original case in great condition for £700 from a music shop(!). Interested by the colour I read the specs and saw it was the only Premium JEM with a "proper" trem e.g. the original Edge, thinking this was the modern 555 and in the interests of science I bought it.
First impressions: 555
Heavy like my 7DBK the bizarre inlay takes a lot of getting used to, neck is really well made, great fret work rosewood not as good as my 7DBK or 777VDY but certainly a lot better than a modern RG450 I bought a couple of years ago that was very light and not as tightly grained.
No finish imperfections, setup was great, the EdgePro 2 works, better than the awful EDGE 3 but only equal to the LoPro TRS the only better part is the ability to leave ball ends on the strings.
Switch feels same as the modern RG450 a bit loose and has sideways give, not like the Japanese JEMs which has that "thunk" and definite feel of positivity in use like the USA strat.
Pots feel a little "light" but smooth, unlike the taught feel of the Japanese JEM pots.
Unplugged sound, warm and harmonic, similar to my "proper" JEMs no uneven resonance, feels good in the hand, very familiar.
First impressions 70V:
A lot lighter than the 555, finish is good, fittings are good, neck is good, frets are not as good as the 555 in terms of edges and polish for a £1200 guitar would have expected the rolled fretboard edges...
Same cheap pots and switch as the 555.
Fingerboard is a very light rosewood a noticeable drop in all round quality compared to the 555 more similar in look and feel to that dodgy RG450 I bought (and quickly sold), disappointing on £1200 guitar...(but there again the 555 was pre CITES).
Trem is as always superb.
Unplugged tone is terrible, the sound seems to resonate under the pickguard, the A and G strings are unnaturally loud with A string having a horrible hollow ring to it. Again reminds me of the budget guitars I have owned which have this characteristic, and yes it is apparent on EVERY fret on the A and G strings which to me point to low resonance body wood.
Remember the catalogue says this is AMERICAN basswood, not the cheaper stuff they chuck on the standard RG models....
Warm, rich, harmonic, great sustain, this could be attributed to the fact it is 9 years older, but it is a very inspirational sound. The Humbucker + middle pickup sounds are spectacular clean, even with great distortion these pickups retain string clarity - first impressions: these pickups are made to be played live at serious volume!
Warm, harmonic, a little flat, average sustain, not really that much between them, that nagging feeling that the body wood just isn't the same quality as the 555 and its slightly lower sustain keeps going through the brain while playing this.
If I forget about the 555, great playing guitar with a better trem.
So what is point of this?
Well I started with the precept that the JEM 70V/JEM Premium range is basically Ibanez's updated 555, and having now owned both I can say that certainly seems to be true.
What lets the 70V down is the noticeably lower wood quality than the old 555 considering these two guitars where the same price new I think we can see where CITES and other issues are restricting companies access to quality woods, so we the consumer get stuffed.
Is the 555 worth the £650-£800 secondhand asking price? Well the "mark 1" with the LoPro TRS trem not really more £500-£650 but the "mark 2" which I have - yes! The later "mark 3" with the Wizard 3 neck and Edge 3 trem? No! Just buy secondhand 350DX its basically the same guitar for half price!
If the 70V worth £1200? No! The lower wood quality and cheap electronics don't compare or demand such a price tag when the cheaper RG655 (or modern RG550 as I call it) is Japan made and in a different quality league AND has the same trem..
The only future I can see for the 70V is as a collectible (very far) down the line, as the only Premium JEM with the Edge trem maybe the WD would also command attention in this regard?
Is it a terrible guitar? No, it is a mid priced guitar over priced.
Would I buy another Premium JEM? Owning two Japanese JEMs I would say no, from now on I would only consider a pre 2005 JEM simply because I know the wood quality would be a lot better and the aged would certainly would sound better AND from a personal perspective I can get the LoPro Edge which is the best trem I have ever used.
I paid £700 for my 70V which I personally think should be the price new, the included case has a great design and is well made.
I paid £420 for the 555 with an Ibanez case, and it is definitely the guitar I choose to play first out of the two simply because the feel and quality feels so familiar to my "actual" JEMs, the lighter 70V just has that "RG Standard" feel to it which is a shame
Am I desperate now to sell the 70V? Well when I bought it I thought it could replace the 555 as my gigging guitar, but the weight, sustain and quality of the 555 ironically makes me want to keep it as the live guitar even though the inlay periodically confuses me!
The 70V shall be kept, and should a local music shop sell a BSB, a 777VBK, or a 7DBK et al. I shall use it in part exchange.
In summary: Ibanez JEM Prestige guitars, not bad at all just vastly over priced compared to the rest of the RG range.
What are your experiences with the JEM Premium range compared to 555s and Japanese JEMs?