If you’re considering purchasing an Ibanez guitar but still have some doubts in your mind, you’ve come to the right place!
In this in-depth article, I’ll take you through a brief history of the brand, factors that make Ibanez guitars special, famous guitar players who prefer Ibanez guitars, and the Ibanez’s relative pros and cons with respect to other brands.
If you’re simply not interested in their history, you can skip directly to the latter sections where I’ve discussed specific models.
Ibanez is no stranger to the Guitar community. Originally, the Hoshino Shoten bookstore chain in Japan had a division who took care of their musical instrument brand, called Hoshino Gakki.
The Hoshino Shoten company dates all the way back to 1908, but the Ibanez name wasn’t used until 1935. This is when Hoshino Gakki started making Spanish style acoustic guitars in the vein of Spanish luthier Salvador Ibanez.
Over the next several decades the Ibanez brand evolved and grew. It wasn’t until the late 80s that it became the powerhouse it is today.
Ibanez gained serious traction and popularity in the 1980s. Jazz artist George Benson had been using Ibanez guitar for several years by this time, but now younger rock guitarists were joining the party.
The best guitarists to come out of the decade used Ibanez guitars, including Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and John Petrucci. Nothing to shake a stick at in terms of skill and tone.
The trend continued into the 1990s. Korn guitarists Head and Munky have always used Ibanez, and even John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers used an Ibanez instead of a Strat for a short time. In the late 90s and beyond, more and more artists were being found with an Ibenez on stage.
Dexter Holland of the Offspring, Daron Malakian of System of a Down, Herman Li of Dragonforce, and even touring and studio musicians such as Nita Strauss and Jennifer Batten (who have worked with Alice Cooper and Michael Jackson respectively) all use Ibanez guitars.
Clearly, there’s something going on here. With so many well known and amazing guitarists using Ibanez guitars, they must be a great product, right?
As always, there is fact and there is opinion, but there is also the magic factor that makes a guitar speak to YOU specifically. Something that makes a connection in playability and sound.
Let’s look into the facts of these guitars, and discover the also widely accepted opinions of their quality, tone and playability.
The Gold Standard in Playability
Even the best sounding guitar in the world could become absolutely useless if it’s impossible to play. Uncomfortable necks or fretboards and excessively heavy guitar bodies can really put a damper on the playing experience.
Isn’t the point of playing supposed to be enjoyable entertainment and expression? That’s just not possible if the neck is digging into your hand, or your back is aching from the weight of the guitar.
Ibanez have done a lot in the way of making a comfortable guitar to play. Especially with the advent of the RG and S series and the evolutions of both, there are few guitars that play better.
What’s more is that most of these are available in all levels in terms of price, so you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for comfort while you play.
Less is More
Some guitars are excessively heavy. Back breakingly heavy. You can’t play a three hour set with a Buick strapped to your shoulders, and you shouldn’t have to. That's what Ibanez thought, anyway.
1987 could be called the year Ibanez struck gold with the release of the RG and S series guitars, not to mention the Steve Vai signature Jem model.
Though all of these technically fell into the “Super Strat'' category of guitars, they broke some new ground. The RG was lighter than your average Strat of the day by a half pound to a pound, but the S series was a game changer. These guitars were unlike anything that had come out before on the guitar market.
S series models are the sports car of the Ibanez line up. They can weigh in at as little as five and a half pounds.
Almost like holding a feather compared to the average weight of a Les Paul (ten pounds) or even a strat (eight pounds). Not only was it light but it was thin and easy to wear, with rounded edges and smooth features.
Neck Shape and Feel
One of the single most important things about your guitar, the feel of the neck. Opinions start to diverge around this point, as this is a very subjective detail of the guitar.
It is largely a matter of personal preference, but you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t say an Ibanez Wizard neck doesn’t feel pretty good.
The Wizard neck was also introduced in 1987 and was a bit of a revolution in terms of playability. Made incredibly thin along its whole length compared to nearly any other guitar, it was designed for speed and comfort.
It fit nicely in your fretting hand, and the unfinished back was smooth as silk. Several generations of the Wizard neck have come and gone, but they all have the same goal: comfort and precision. Today they can be found on nearly every Ibanez model.
The neck is only part of the equation though, frets are of utmost importance. Ibanez were one of the first to use extra jumbo size frets on their guitars, and the results were astounding.
These taller and wider frets made it almost effortless to play your favorite licks. Less resistance from the fretboard itself on your fingers meant bends and vibrato went off without a hitch.
So, Are Ibanez Guitars Good?
Perhaps what’s best about the Ibanez brand is that it’s never been a one trick pony. Even back in the 70s, they were making excellent guitars for all genres (albeit by copying other people’s designs, resulting in the “lawsuit” era Ibanez guitars, which are highly sought after).
Fast forward to today, and there is literally something for everyone. Rock, metal, blues and jazz - it’s all there! And you can have your pick of features and price, from relatively inexpensive all the way to top of the line.
Features and Configurations
Gearheads rejoice! Ibanez may be THE most versatile brand as far as pickup setups go. Do you love that triple single coil strat sound? Try an AZES model. Maybe you like the singles but with a humbucker in the bridge? Check out the S561.
Ibanez have their own series of pickups as well. Most of the inexpensive models have plain jane pickups but spend just a little extra on your axe and it will come equipped with higher quality named Ibanez pickups.
Pickups and configurations aren’t the only things that stand out in the Ibanez lineup that points to versatility. The overall vibe of the guitar can change with something as simple as a different bridge or body shape.
Ibanez obliges and offers a plethora of options. Floyd roses, standard and floating trems are all available, as well as standard fixed and tune-o-matic bridges. Certain floating trem models will also come with locking tuners to add tuning stability.
Finally, Ibanez brings a lot to the table for styling and intention. The RG and S series’ are excellent versatile guitars that can handle a wide variety of music, but Ibanez still have much more to offer.
For jazz and blues, semi-hollow and full hollow body guitars are available, just check out the AS113 and the George Benson signature GB10SEFM. If you want to get an extreme metal machine, the QX52 will be right up your alley.
Extended Range Instruments
Ibanez weren’t the first to offer 7 string guitars, but they certainly perfected and popularized the idea. Frankly, they just do it right, and they do it the best. The comfort is absolutely unmatched, you won’t find chunky impossible necks here.
An Ibanez 7 string is more of an extension of a 6 string (like it should be) rather than feeling like a 7th string was simply tacked on. 7 string guitars not only ushered in a new era of metal starting with Korn, but changed things on the technical front as well when Steve Vai and John Petrucci started dabbling with them.
Ibanez didn’t stop there. They eventually came out with an 8 string guitar (like this RG8) and later even a 9 string. This led to a whole new wave of metal and fusion players, such as Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders.
The omnipresent question, how do they SOUND? It's an easy question to answer. Any of the players I’ve mentioned here have killer tone.
For nearly 50 years, guitarists have played metal, rock, blues, jazz and funk - all on Ibanez guitars! That’s pretty impressive, especially considering so many of their models can handle multiple genres at once.
Whether you’re out to shred or cry the blues, you’ll find an Ibanez that suits you perfectly. It may take a little research or some time on YouTube to find just the right model, but the guitar is out there for sure.
Even better - you’ll know that no matter what, you’re getting something that’s going to be amazingly comfortable to play right out of the box.
Range of Instruments
The last point I’d like to make is to show how affordable or premium Ibanez guitars can be. Make sure you don’t misunderstand - in this case “affordable” does not mean “low quality”.
Whichever Ibanez you decide on, it’s going to be made to last you quite some time with the right amount of care. The more you spend determines things like special woods, pickups, signature models and guitars made in Japan rather than their imported lineups.
You’ll also find versions of Ibanez’s more expensive models in their lower priced lineups, so you don’t have to break the bank to get the one you really want. For instance, compare the GRG120QASP and RG8520.
At their core they are the same basic guitar. The more expensive of the two has DiMarzio pickups, and likely has a much more stringent finishing process, which accounts for the extra cost. There’s also some extra electronic options and a fancier inlay on the fretboard.
Don’t forget that this does not mean the cheaper one is a bad instrument! It will play just as well with a good setup and you’ll still get an amazing tone out of it.
The same goes for the S521 vs the S6521Q, or RG470MSP vs the RFT1270PB. As you can see, you can easily find an affordable or mid level guitar from Ibanez, but you can also go all out if you want. It all boils down to what you’re after and what your budget is.
They Really Are That Good
There you have it. The definitive answer to "are Ibanez guitars good?".
It’s hard to argue with so much versatility, comfort and tone. Not to mention the vast number of big names in the guitar community who rely on Ibanez to convey their sound and expression.
There really is an Ibanez for everyone, and Ibanez is indeed a good brand. Nearly every guitar player has owned at least ONE since they first picked up the instrument, and many of those who sell often come back.
If you know what you’re after, give it a shot and find the guitar for you. If you’re not sure yet, it never hurts to experiment.
So, which Ibanez will it be for you?