RG550 20th Anniversary (Road Flare Red) Review - Jemsite
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post #1 of 279 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 10:17 PM Thread Starter
Dee
 
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RG550 20th Anniversary (Road Flare Red) Review

As promised, here's my review of the RG 20th. Lazy people look away now, this could be lengthy, though I will attempt to keep it brief!



This particular beast is the Road Flare Red model, delivered to me on the exact date I got my first one. How's that for timing?! Having owned the original RG550-RF back in the day, I thought I'd stick with it and take a good, long trip down memory lane. I love Road Flare Red. As you have probably heard or read already, no picture can ever capture the effect of this finish, and it's no different with the Desert Yellow. In the images I have provided here, the guitar looks more orange than usual, but actually it's a little more red. You have to see these colours in person to appreciate how visually striking they are. I have tried taking pictures outside in bright sunlight and there's still no hope of my girlfriend's Canon Ixus digital camera recreating the way this colour radiates. Everyone who sees a freshly painted Road Flare or Desert Yellow always comments on how it looks. Seeing this one today, and it's been almost two decades since I've seen a brand new Road Flare, reminds me exactly why I loved and missed my original so much. Ibanez really should bring these colours back somehow, and I don't want to hear anything like "get out of the 80's!" -- great colour is great colour, period. To me, this guitar doesn't look dated at all, it just looks as fresh and vibrant today as it always did. I hate to say it, and I will slap myself as soon as I have typed this, but the RG550-RF looks... sexy. I usually don't use that word to describe an inanimate object, but there you go.

This 550 is pretty much flawlessly finished. After meticulous inspection (and the inability to stop staring at this thing for hours on end) I have seen very little that looks less than perfect, which is great because I'm super-picky about this kind of stuff. I would say this one is painted better than my original, and that wasn't bad by any means. This guitar has less paint in the neck pocket, which, for the anally retentive among us, means better contact between neck and body, and better contact in this area can only mean improved transfer of resonance. The paint is evenly applied, it doesn't look too thick nor too thin, and there's not much else to say except it's close to perfect... where it counts. Now, this review is not the words of an over-enthusiastic fanboy, and I will point out anything I am not happy with. Fortunately, there are very few things, and those things are either easy to fix, improve, or ignore.

The edges of the bridge cavity route are not as perfectly finished as the rest of the guitar, but this is a seriously minor issue and I really am nit-picking. The paint actually does look a little thinner here, plus there's the usual white powdery stuff that always seems present on Ibanez guitars, but there's not much chance of anyone peering into the cavity anyway. It's not like there's basswood showing through, most of the cavity is covered up by the bridge, however, a little fine sanding in this area and a little bit more attention to the paintwork would have been an improvement. Again, this is a very minor issue that few of us will care about and it's barely worth mentioning.



The fretwork is good, but by no means is it exceptional. Many of us were expecting Prestige finishing here, after all, these guitars are found in the "Prestige" section of the Ibanez website, and their cost ($1,199 list, $900 street) places them among the Prestige-priced RG's. These 24 jumbo frets are clipped off at an angle, but the angle is steep enough so they do not become intrusive while playing. I feel that Prestige finished frets are a luxury rather than a necessity and this is another minor niggle, just like the aforementioned trem cavity. Put it this way; the original RG550 didn't have Prestige fretwork, nor did my RG750 which cost considerably more back in 1990 than I paid for this 550 17 years later, and both of those guitars felt exceptional. I am still using the RG750, too, and after so many years of intense playing the fret ends have worn down smoothly, so maybe by the 40th anniversary the RG 20th will feel as good as a Prestige finished neck! The frets on this particular guitar will be polished later using 0000 grade steel wool when it comes to the first restringing will improve playability. It looks looks great! *If you want to try polishing up the frets yourself and have never done it before, please follow Rich's guide here. There's no need to do the whole fretboard, of course. Remove the neck from the body (steel particles get everywhere, they especially like pickup's pole-pieces) and mask off all areas except the frets themselves.

Owning an original Wizard neck gives me a good point of reference to compare directly to this new one. Apparently Ibanez made the RG 20th neck to the exact same dimensions as the 1987 Wizard profile, a neck well known for it's speed and certainly one of thinnest guitar necks ever made at a mere 17mm at the first fret and 20mm at the 12th. Ignore the website, it states incorrect dimensions. Oddly enough, the RG 20th neck feels very slightlly thicker than my 1990 Wizard. I don't have my original 1987 RG550 to compare it to (and I haven't for a long time) but the 750 also features the Wizard. And here's the curve ball I was thrown -- the 20th neck is thinner! Yep, I couldn't believe it myself when I measured it, but this beauty of a neck is around 1mm thinner at the first fret and maybe 0.5mm thinner at the 12th. I am guessing I got a one-off, and this is not uncommon because I've seen such tolerances on a few older RG necks which were based on the same profile. So, the fact that it feels ever so slightly thicker must be down to the setup, brand new frets, etc. Regardless, it is easily as enjoyable to play as the original and just as fast. Construction is without a doubt superior. This baby is 5-piece maple and walnut with dual titanium rods running either side of the truss rod for added strength and therefore has less tendency to warp, as opposed to the 1-piece maple original with scarf-jointed headstock. I am not aware of a similar neck to the RG 20th's being featured on anything except very high-end J Custom's. There's no scarf joint on the new 550. You'll also see there's a front-mounted lock nut this time. It's easy to see where and how Ibanez have improved the Wizard, and in my book the changes are very welcome. Does this all add up to better playability? Yes, of course! A guitar neck that is less likely to warp over time (it happened to my original RG550, unfortunately) and remain straight will play better for a longer period. Simple as that. Some may argue that this neck is not enough to convince them to buy an RG 20th, and that's a fair point if you prefer to save a your money, but if you were to put each neck side by side and told to pick one, which neck would you choose? Good luck finding that mint RF or DY on e-Bay (never mind 1,987 of them). That's if you can beat off the other 40 bidders! This neck feels stiffer, and pushing the neck away from the body while in the playing position I can see that there's less bending. Awesome stuff. This neck is a major selling point.


Last edited by Dee; 04-13-2007 at 08:03 PM. Reason: Added more pics
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post #2 of 279 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 10:17 PM Thread Starter
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Re: RG550 20th Anniversary (Road Flare Red) Review

Then there's the bridge. Ahhh, the original Edge. Is this the best bridge ever made? For me, it's either this or the Lo-Pro Edge, and I'd be happy with either. I prefer the look of the Lo-Pro but the feeling of the Edge. This particular Edge is exactly like the original, only it doesn't have the "Licensed under Floyd Rose patents" stamp on it now because the patent ran out a while back and Ibanez are not obliged to put it there. That's a good thing for Ibanez, finacially, because they don't have to pay a fee every time the install a Floyd-based bridge. Ibanez could have only included the original Edge on this guitar, and I sure am happy they did. Flutter effects are easy to achieve. The arm action, whether pulling up or pushing down, is very positive and solid. This thing comes back to pitch every single time no matter how much abuse it takes. When I received the guitar I noticed a vast pull-up range. I hit a 5th fret harmonic on the G string and pulled it up by a perfect fifth! For those who don't know basic theory, that's a D! This leads me to think the RG 20th tremolo cavity is possibly a little deeper than the old 550's. It's certainly deeper than the ones on my original 550 and the 750. EDIT:/i] This has since been confirmed by own measurements and by Courtney at the official Ibanez forums. Thanks Courtney.[/i] Unfortunately, I had to go and spoil the fun by lowering the action height which is very low right now and there's barely any fret buzz. I can live with a little buzzing anyway, it's almost always a trade off for great action unless you're a master guitar tech who can achieve superbly low action with no buzz at all. Once the guitar is plugged in, any buzz is history anyway. Despite the decreased pull-up from a lower action, I still have a perfect fourth of pull-up. There's actually more pull-up available but it tends to fret out when the strings hit the higher frets, but that's OK, I can live with it!

One point worth mentioning -- the Edge has retained the locking studs (a set-screw inside the bridge height adjustment posts which locks the post into position), just like the original. This is a good thing, especially in a basswood-body which is fairly soft timber. Over time, the post holes can become slightly oval in shape, even if the guitar isn't being used. I know Rich Harris has/had a Loch Ness Green JEM777 sitting unused in it's case for around 15 years which suffered from ovalled holes, so the locking studs won't completely eliminate the possibility of this happening despite thelack of playing, but they will minimise any movement of the posts and ensure superior return to pitch. Thankfully, according to Tak Hosono, Ibanez have plans to bring back locking studs full-time. This will be an improvement to the Edge Pro or any future variations of the Edge using a similar design.



The V1 and V2 humbucking pickups installed in the RG 20th are adequate. I appreciate that many people are happy with these pickups, but let's be honest -- stock RG550 pickups were never exactly known as tone monsters, and they usually ended up being replaced by their owners anyway, but in my opinion, fitting anything other than top-of-the-line pickups is not such a bad thing because it helps to keep the total cost of the guitar down and they are easy to upgrade later if you are not satisfied. It may be my imagination, but these newer versions of the V1 and V2 seem slightly hotter and brighter than previous incarnations. I believe they have been slightly improved upon, although I just came from using my RG750 with a Bill Lawrence L-500 pickup fitted, and in comparison the 550 pickups are slightly dull, flabby, and have very little attack. After some tweaks to the amp's tone controls I am fairly happy with them for now. The neck pickup sounds very nice, actually, though they will all be replaced at some point when finances allow. No complaints about the single coil, it delivers some nicely beefed-up Strat tones when they are asked for. The rest of the controls are nothing out of the ordinary, just regular black Stratocaster volume & tone knobs and an average 5-way selector which would benefit from being upgraded to a Dimarzio model as found on the JEM. One thing I noticed after fiddling around with a screwdriver for a second -- the output jack is different this time. It's smaller than the old barrel jack. No big deal, just a small detail I noticed. Lastly, the guitar is quite noisy when in close proximity to my amp. I intend to look into this later on.

Some of you may have noticed the placement of the volume knob. It's further away from the bridge pickup than the original 550. This is a subtle tweak I am happy about. Actually, this is one way you can easily spot a 20th from an original (from the front view) -- just look at the knob placement and the visible screw heads in the front-mounted nut. The volume knob is now perfectly positioned, I feel, and now allows palm-muting of the higher strings with no obstructions. Yay!

The rest of the guitar is pretty much what you can expect. The trem spring cover bearing the RG 20th logo is a nice touch (and shall be removed for preservation!), as is the chunky black neck plate with the stamped issue number. I am glad these guitars are individually numbered, which, surprisingly, is something the JEM 20th lacks. This one is #843 of the 1,987 RG 20th's being made. See my own registration page here.



As for the matching case, well, first off it doesn't match! It's a regular, bright-ish red, but it does look quite attractive. It is actually a cheap, Chinese-made case, though, including latches don't quite line up perfectly and a lid that doesn't like to stay open. Some of you may also possibly find bumps under the tolex covering, as reported by one owner. To be completely honest, I don't care. I bought the RG 20th for the guitar only and I would have been happy with that alone. The case is a bonus, and one wasn't included with my original 550. What would have been nice is a decent quality case like the one supplied with the Prestige RG guitars, maybe with embossed logo's. Oh, and forget about the (non-matching!) strap -- it has metal parts and you should keep them away from the finish. The special picks are a nice touch, but personally I won't even be opening the accessories anyway.



Overall, this is one great guitar. After a minor setup it plays great, sounds as good if not better than expected, looks amazing, and it has all those features we love about the original RG550 including the superb Edge bridge, maple fretboard which keeps this axe real snappy sounding (and it looks good, too), of course there's the neon finishes which really are stunning in person, and the whole thing is built very well indeed. Depending on which country you live in, it may or may not be worth every penny / cent / etc. Unfortunately it's not so well priced in the UK, but thanks to Rich Harris I got myself one straight from the USA for a great price that I was more than happy to pay. I should also mention that Rich is an absolute pleasure to do business with, he really knows how to take care of his customers, is great when it comes to communication, and as soon as I can afford to buy more guitars I'll be going straight back to IbanezRules.com. Thanks, Rich!



Oh, I have to give this guitar a rating? Well, that'd be easy. It will have to be a very solid 9/10. Sure, the frets could be improved, case could be better, there are some extremely minor issues here and there but the rest of the guitar easily makes up for any shortcomings. If you are waiting for the arrival of your RG550, trust me, it's really worth holding out for, and when it's finally in your hands and set up to your liking I can almost guarantee you'll be happy with your purchase and the fact that this guitar is a great collectors item you will be lucky to own. Just watch those retinas -- your eyesight may not be what it was 20 years ago.

Are you buying one? Don't forget to register your RG 20th! http://www.RG20th.com


Last edited by Dee; 04-13-2007 at 08:25 PM. Reason: Added more pics
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post #3 of 279 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 10:36 PM
 
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Re: RG550 20th Anniversary (Road Flare Red) Review

Excellent review. It really does look like a nice guitar that plays well.
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post #4 of 279 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 10:41 PM Thread Starter
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Re: RG550 20th Anniversary (Road Flare Red) Review

I hope it didn't take too long to read. There looks like a lot of text up there!
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post #5 of 279 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 10:43 PM
 
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Re: RG550 20th Anniversary (Road Flare Red) Review

Freakin awesome review I agree with every nit-pick you pointed out too. My case has very visible bumps along the side just above the handle. I also see what you are talking about in the trem route, could of been a bit cleaner. Yes the frets aren't finished as nice as my Presitge. But its a freaking BLAST to play. The neck is absolutely the heart of the ax IMO. I love the pups, but I've usually always stuck with stock ones anyway. The edge is simply the best rose-type trem in existence. And I've played them all. The edge pro is a little nicer in engineering and how low it sits, but just by feel alone the original wins hands down. Anyway my wife is back from Vegas and I have my Canon S2 now so I will get some better pics up and a much smaller review posted this weekend. I will have to gear my review in the vein of a direct comparison to an excellent RG1570. But honestly I agree with everything Dee has said. Its a solid 9/10 effort on Ibanez's part and I can't imagine anyone not being satisfied with thier purchase. This ax was definitely worth the wait.
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post #6 of 279 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 10:48 PM
 
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Re: RG550 20th Anniversary (Road Flare Red) Review

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Originally Posted by Dee View Post
I hope it didn't take too long to read. There looks like a lot of text up there!
You should be working for a guitar mag or something doing reviews
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post #7 of 279 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 10:48 PM Thread Starter
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Re: RG550 20th Anniversary (Road Flare Red) Review

Cheers Alky and Alfie! Working for Ibanez making guitars for myself is my dream job!

I'll look forward to your pics, Alky.
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post #8 of 279 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 10:52 PM
 
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Re: RG550 20th Anniversary (Road Flare Red) Review

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Cheers Alky and Alfie! Working for Ibanez making guitars for myself is my dream job!

I'll look forward to your pics, Alky.
Lol, I'm going to try every conceivable lighting tomorrow to TRY and capture just how BRIGHT this thing is, but I know there is no way I will get pics to do it justice. I'm also going to scan in the handwritten letter from the manager of the GC I purchased from so everyone can see his comment about hurting your eyes if you start at it
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post #9 of 279 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 11:09 PM
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Re: RG550 20th Anniversary (Road Flare Red) Review

Jeez, I read the first one, I didn't even know there was a part 2!

If you work on the frets mask the sides of the neck to the fret edge and then the full board before you start [1", 1/2", 1/4" tape] and use 00 steel wool. That clearcoat is thick and very tough to get off the frets, and a personal peeve of mine.
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post #10 of 279 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 11:13 PM
 
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Re: RG550 20th Anniversary (Road Flare Red) Review

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That clearcoat is thick and very tough to get off the frets
Thick clearcoat on the frets? I don't know much about these things...

It really seems like a pretty cool guitar. I would love to see one of these in person.
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post #11 of 279 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 11:22 PM
 
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Re: RG550 20th Anniversary (Road Flare Red) Review

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Jeez, I read the first one, I didn't even know there was a part 2!

If you work on the frets mask the sides of the neck to the fret edge and then the full board before you start [1", 1/2", 1/4" tape] and use 00 steel wool. That clearcoat is thick and very tough to get off the frets, and a personal peeve of mine.
clear coat? Can't say I notice that but the frets could definitely use a good polish. The last couple of fret polish jobs I've done was with a dremel and the dremel cleaning compound, using the tapered hard cotton bit and around 400 rpm. Just need to be sure to really mask off all areas, and I mean ALL areas you dont want the dremel to touch. I learned the hard way. BUT that process has produced amazing results. However on the off chance I may slip, I am going to use the 00 steel wool method this time. The strings that came on it are pretty good and on mine at least in perfect condition so I will give it a week or so then restring with my standard boomers. Still not sure I can say there is any kind of coating on the frets however...I'd like to hear more Rich...
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post #12 of 279 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 11:42 PM
 
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Re: RG550 20th Anniversary (Road Flare Red) Review

Just being myself, how long do you take to type those review?
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post #13 of 279 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 11:47 PM
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Re: RG550 20th Anniversary (Road Flare Red) Review

You'll find out soon enough
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post #14 of 279 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 11:49 PM
 
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Re: RG550 20th Anniversary (Road Flare Red) Review

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You'll find out soon enough
About clearcoats or how long it takes to type reviews?
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post #15 of 279 (permalink) Old 04-12-2007, 11:51 PM
 
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Re: RG550 20th Anniversary (Road Flare Red) Review

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Just being myself, how long do you take to type those review?
I write guitar reviews for a living and if I'm excited about a product I can crank out about 1,000 words in half an hour, but there's also the playing/examining, which takes a lot longer.
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