Behind the Ibanez Endorser
Ibanez tried to seize the market by using the endorser... and it worked. The endorsees were selected by Chris Kelly, Ibanez Artist Relations wonderkind. It is said that sometimes the other Case Ave. employees gave their opinions on potential endorsees. As you would expect, Chris would go after the Artist with the most record sales, popularity of the guitar magazines, or newcomer poised to be "up and coming" to the industry. History shows that Chris "nailed" a lot of endorsers, bringing them into the Ibanez fold.
The Ibanez endorsers were put into catagories A, B or C. The A-endorser would get 3 or 4 custom guitars a year, almost anything they wanted as long as the guitar had an Ibanez headstock. The B-endorser got 2 guitars a year and would also have their choice of what they wanted. This would include shape and radius of neck, fretwire, type of body wood, pickups and color schemes. The special art stuff would besend to Pamelina or Pedro. The C-endorser would get one guitar per year. It would be a stock guitars from inventory, with their choice of pickups.
Once the artist had the finalized agreement, they would be assigned to one of the Case Ave master builders. The assigned builder and would have a spec sheet to discuss and fill out with the endorser, doing their best to explain the technical things about the guitar. This was said to be a "pretty interesting" experience for the Ibanez shop workers. Most of the endorsers were said to know what they wanted but obviously some did not; making working with those somewhat aking to playing Psychiatrist.
It was estimated that each Case Ave worker was responsible for bulding at least 4 or 5 custom guitars each month. As you could imagine, sometimes it would be a hectic and stressful schedule, as often the endorser's tours and travel would be an obstacle. Once completed, Case Ave workers had the additional responsibiity for guitars maintainance, repaire and setup for the endorser!
Shred is Dead?
All good things must come to an end. In fact, music was changing and the grunge wave left the Ibanez Custom Shops in it's wake. Starfield sales were not good and before long the USA factory closed to the public. The endorser "Custom Shop" was moved to a smaller location in North Hollywood (and later to Sun Valley where it's found in 2017 ).
Against improbable odds, Ibanez would take one more step into the USA-made guitar arena. It is said that the Hoshino USA guys learned of another local company, called PBC run by Dave Bunker. Rumor is the Ibanez crew heard a PBC advertisement on the Philadelphia FM rock station WMMR - the rest is history. Their collaboration produced the USRGs (USRG10, 20 and 30) featuring the "tension-free neck" design of PBC. These were sold for almost three years and were manufactured exclusively by PBC for Ibanez. Freeing the USA Custom shop to work exclusively with Ibanez artists, PBC could manufacture the USRG under the Ibanez brand name.
"I started building the Ibanez USRG-10-20 and 30 in 1993 and in 1994 started building the ATK Bass line. These several thousand Ibanez were built in Coopersburg, PA by PBC Guitar technology which was my company at the time. All of these instruments featured our special Tension Free neck and other than the electronics and hardware were built to finish by PBC. We stopped building for Ibanez in late 1996. I learned to have a great respect for this fine Hoshino (Ibanez) company for the quality that they demand and deliver". - Dave Bunker, Pres. Bunker Guitars
As it stands, the USRG serves to bookmark the final chapter of the made-in-USA Ibanez history. Around 1997 the Ibanez J-Custom shop ramped up, in Hoshino's homeland. The Ibanez Japanese Custom shop would create some of their own exotic guitars, upscale instruments with limited production. The J-Customs would be based mostly on RG and S series guitars, catering to the lucrative Japanese marketplace. Only a select few J-Customs (about six so far) have been made available to customers in North America.
The Ibanez USA "Custom Shop" operates today to service only their "endorsed artists". The Custom Shop builds, designs and repairs guitars for those who are endorsed by Ibanez. They are helping design other exclusive guitars for the Japanese market, such as those found at Ishibashi.co.jp. Perhaps someday the USA Custom shop will make available guitars to customers once again. Now that many of the Ibanez Generation are at the age where these instruments can be afforded.
Notable Quotes and References
1991 Ibanez Catalog:
Since it's inception, USA Custom has been - and continues to be - an unqualified success. With the input from a multitude of satisfied owners, USA Custom has expanded considerably to include an even greater choice of woods, finishes, necks and pickups by IBZ/USA, DiMarzio and EMG. This year Ibanez proudly adds basses to the USA Custom line.
Ibanez USA Custom Guitars. Built in America - played the world over. In 1990 the Exotic Wood series added our acclaimed All Access Neck joint, transparent finishes and the choice of a mahogany body to the USA Custom line. In 1991, the Exotic Wood line has been broadened with new neck and inlay options and a wider selection of beautifully figured tops.
1994 Ibanez Catalog:
For 1994, Ibanez proudly introduces a new, American-made rock and roll guitar. With a combination of time-tested RG features and unique USA innovations, the Ibanez USA Custom RG guitars set a new standard in a line that has been the unquestioned benchmark for rock guitars over the last seven years.
USA Custom RG guitars feature highly figured flame maple or curly maple tops on alder backs, and are fitted with direct-mount DiMarzio pickups. USA Custom RG tops are carefully crafted to the right thickness to provide the proper tonal balance between the alder and maple portions of the body. And though we've added a maple top, USA Custom RGs still offer the same comfort cuts that make the RG body style so comfortable to play.
In what has to be termed the perfect marriage, the Ibanez All Access Neck Joint has been combined with PBC's ingenious Tension-Free(r) neck. PBC's unique design relieves the neck of all string tension for easier playing and allows the action to be set to a player's exact preference.
In answer to the increasingly varied needs of today's hard rock players, USA Custom RG's are also available in tremolo and fixed bridge versions. All these features combine to make Ibanez USA Custom RG guitars the finest crafted, best sounding American rock instruments ever made.
USRG Tension Free Neck - Explained by it's Inventor Dave Bunker:
The Tension Free neck puts very little stress on the wood and instead of compressing the neck from one end to the other it just pushes the neck up to forward bow or back to back bow in a simple fulcrum method with the rod being pinned through the neck at the 17th fret and adjusted with a screw at the 22nd plus fret.
My attitude has always been since that truss rod necks are old technology in that while they can put back bow on a neck they do it at considerable tone loss and stress which can cause everything from twisting to constantly being out of tune. This was very graphically shown to me by top Boeing engineers who assisted me in the design of the Tension free neck. All wood is very unstable which makes it very unpredictable when stress is applied to it. - Dave Bunker, Pres. Bunker Guitars
USRG Creation - Working with Ibanez:
Ibanez at first was worried about the Tension Free but after Mr. Hoshino inspected and tested it they went with it. The ATK bass [also made by PBC for Ibanez] won bass of the year in 1994 in the retail/wholesale magazine partly because of the [Tension Free] neck design.
The Tension Free neck was harder to adjust on the USRG20 [and USRG30] guitars because of the locking nut being mounted on the neck end instead of the headstock as is common on Ibanez guitars. I still get lots of calls from customers who bought and play the instruments and in 90+ % of the cases they really like the instruments. The only thing I felt lacked about the Tension Free neck idea was people not fully understandings not only how it worked but how to properly adjust it. If people call me, usually in minutes they have their necks adjusted and are as happy as lambs.
One thing that impressed me at the Bensalem, PA Ibanez facility were the number of standard truss rod type necks which were replaced by Ibanez [Customer Service] because of twist and other reasons. Ibanez I'll state again, is one of the finest company's I have ever had the pleasure to do business with. Their inspection and quality control far surpasses any of the other company's. - Dave Bunker, Pres. Bunker Guitars
I was never a tattoo artist on the Sunset Strip or anywhere in Hollywood. As a matter of fact, I only did tattoos for about a year out of my home to tattoo all my friends who were begging for them. To see what I really do, besides guitars, Harleys, etc. see my website FYI - for the past 10 years I've mainly worked for Fender's Custom Shop. I've painted over 1000 guitars to date for several guitar manufacturers. I've mainly worked for Fender's Custom Shop. - Pamelina H.