Join Date: Dec 2000
Location: Cincinnati, OH USA
As much as I hate to say this...
Personally, in regards to QC, playability, tone, wood choice, etc., I have yet to see any significant difference between J-Customs and Prestiges. And I can back this statement, I've had my fair share of both J-Customs (RG6CST, RG1880, RG-ART, soon to come RG1680x) and Prestiges (two RG3120's, RGT3120, RG2020x, RG7CT). While the J-Customs have had something unique that sets them apart from the Prestiges (the piezos on the CST at the time, the flame maple binding/5 piece neck on the 1880, the hand-painted finish on the ART), most Prestiges & J-Customs feel basically the same, look like basically the same, and sound basically the same to me.
That said, why do I even bother with J-Customs? Two reasons. One, there are the little things that set some J-Custom models apart. There is no RG-ART Prestige with a hand-painted top. There are no Prestige models with 5-piece maple-bound necks. Heck, for a long time there were no Prestige models with piezo pickups. Second, I like the variety: Ibanez doesn't crank out enough mahogany Prestige models to keep me occupied... I like to have guitars with lots of different pickup configurations and finishes, and the J-Customs provide that variety I'm looking for. Would I pay $800 more for a 3120 because it says J-Custom on the headstock? Heck no! Would I pay a slight premium to get a 1680 J-Custom instead of a 3120 Prestige because it has a different finish and different pickup configuration? You bet!
To me, it feels like Chevrolet & Pontiac. At the end of the day, they're basically the same cars. They share lots of similar parts. They look somewhat similar. They probably drive somewhat similarly. Maybe they even came off the same assembly line... Vettes only have the Chevy label on them. Those are your high-end, rare J-Customs like the ART, Gear, Metal, etc. But that doesn't mean that everything that Chevy produces is a Vette--there are Impalas and Cavaliers and Monte Carlos. Those are your more frequently occuring J-Customs like the 1680, 1880, etc. And Pontiac doesn't even offer anything close to a Vette, but there's a lot of similarity elsewhere in the product line--like the Grand Ams and Sunfires and Grand Prixs. Those are your more frequently occuring Prestige models like the 3120, 2020, 2027, etc.
At the end of the day, both J-Customs and Prestiges are great guitars. Is there hype? Occasionally. Is there truth to the hype? Occasionally. Is it any different than people hyping up Jems and UV's? Probably not, but until they start making mahogany Jems you can bet your sweet a$$ I'd take a J-Custom or Prestige over a Jem any day of the week.