Let me begin this piece with a personal story. I was working at a musical instruments store. I had never opened a Team J Craft case before in my life. That day, a big Ibanez shipment arrived and we had to put guitars for people to see around the shop.
The feeling of opening the case of the JEM and the JS1000 is one I will never forget.
Believe me, these guitars have nothing to envy any other big brand. Furthermore, it was like opening BB King’s Lucille guitar case. In one word, majestic.
Since then, I have owned several Ibanez guitars and the result is always the same: impeccable.
But don’t just take my word on it, we’re about to dive into what makes Ibanez an amazing guitar brand you should try before buying your next axe.
As a word of warning, this writer takes no responsibility if your hair inflates, dyes blonde on its own, or you start favoring colorful, ‘80s-approved leggings!
Table of Contents
Ibanez Guitars, A Synonym for High-Performance Instruments
Ibanez’s history dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. The company started as a subsidiary of a bookstore, selling Spanish guitars in the style of luthier Salvador Ibañez. Hence, the name, Ibanez.
The seventies are what we call the “lawsuit era”. The big news about this period isn’t that they were copying other guitars, but they were doing it so well, they were sued by Gibson. If you want in on a little gossip, it’s said that some Gibson guitars bought in the seventies could be made from confiscated Ibanez parts.
Anyways, old stories aside, after losing the trial, Ibanez was forced to create new shapes and guitars. So, that’s what they did and they took innovation as a path that continues to drive the company today.
As you might know, Ibanez exploded in the hair metal scene of the ‘80s, propelled Nü Metal bands forward in the late ‘90s and 2000s, and established itself as a brand capable of creating the highest-performance six-stringers in the market today.
Indeed, you can expect great craftsmanship, fearless designs, powerful tones, and uncanny attention to detail. Plus, this is something important to say: I haven’t played any guitar with a faster, more comfortable neck, than an Ibanez. Period.
A Larger-Than-Life Catalog
So, you’ve decided you want to check Ibanez out but all of a sudden, you enter their website and there’s a zillion guitars to choose from. I know, it’s mesmerizing because they all look so cool, menacing, and playable.
I mean, just looking at the artist section you have punk legend Noodles from The Offspring next to Paul Stanley from Kiss, guitar God Steve Vai, amazing talent Tim Henson, fusion player Martin Miller, Kiko Loureiro, Nita Strauss, Yvette Young, and even young blues talent Josh Smith!
Let me help you surf this catalog so you can unearth the real gems in the lineup.
Understanding Lines and Tiers
Ibanez is a guitarist’s guitar. What does this mean? It means it’s a performance-oriented brand. They’re not going after just beautiful, vintage instrument looks, but, instead, trying to make a revolution with each model. They learned their lesson in the lawsuit era, I guess.
Well, Ibanez solid-body guitars come in five tiers:
Ibanez Gio are regarded as great entry-level guitars. Yes, they’re Ibanez’s most affordable line, which offers a wide variety of models with humbuckers, pointy bodies, and beautiful finishes.
These are great for beginners but also to add an inexpensive spicy flavor to your arsenal.
You can expect some shortcomings like rough edges on the fretboard, high action, alternative woods, and no gig bag or case. But that’s common for entry-level guitars from any brand.
The absolute star in this range is the necks, which are fast, slim, and have a great feel.
Next in line after the Gio entry-level Ibanez guitars (you can think of them as Ibanez’s Squier or Epiphone), you have the Standard. Here, you start seeing some of the Ibanez quality and craftsmanship on guitars with pure Ibanez DNA.
You can find in the standard line anything from the utterly classic AZ series to the cutting-edge RGM line, the classic RG and S series, and much more.
There’s quite a big price variation between the bottom and top ends of this tier, but you can expect better attention to detail, flawless construction, floating tremolos, and fast, playable, comfortable necks.
If you’re a seasoned player, this is where it starts getting more than interesting. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you can pick up a Standard Ibanez and rock all night long, but when you reach the Premium tier, you begin to understand why Ibanez is a guitarist’s guitar.
These guitars are assembled in Indonesia but feature many parts coming from the Prestige line of handmade Japanese guitars. Therefore, you have superior craftsmanship mixed with top-of-the-line accessories, power, reliability, and the uncanny Ibanez neck feel.
For example, you get the Premium fret-edge treatment for silky, smooth necks as well as Edge-Zero II tremolo systems. These operate with Zero Point Systems giving the instrument a stable, rock-solid tuning stability.
Finally, I think that with the finishes available, they look really cool.
If Premium got it interesting, this is what I call “full Japanese quality unleashed” (Tarantino, you can quote me on that if you want to use it!). Seriously, jokes aside, the Prestige line offers some of the best-made instruments in the market today.
These guitars (and basses) are handmade in Japan featuring top-notch construction, pickups, hardware, and finishes. But that’s not all, because this is the guitar line that made the company as famous as it is today.
Here, you can expect performance, looks, stability, and reliability at a pro level without the bulky Custom Shop price tag.
Limited runs, exclusive guitars, mesmerizing finishes, and more; the J-Custom or simply Custom line by Ibanez is the closest you can get to a Custom Shop instrument from the Japanese giants.
What you can expect here is very limited editions of guitars that are either anniversary models, one-of-a-kind, or very limited runs.
Believe me, it doesn’t get much better than this in the Guitar world.
- Ibanez J Custom RG8870
- Ibanez 50th Anniversary Japan Custom Shop JPCS8
- Ibanez J Custom RG8527 7-string
- Ibanez 50th Anniversary Japan Custom Shop JPCS25 Koa Canyon
- Ibanez 50th Anniversary Japan Custom Shop JPCS19
Why Do Virtuosos Prefer Ibanez?
I think one of the things that got me into Ibanez in the first place was that my heroes were playing them. Yes, I remember the first time I held a real JS1000; it was a dream come true!
But, beyond drooling the case, it got me thinking: “Why do these virtuosos prefer Ibanez over other brands?”
Well, it’s a very simple answer, because they make great guitars. Indeed, the adventure of competing against big brands that have been ruling the market for 7 decades is no easy endeavor. Still, Ibanez won a portion of the cake by making quality guitars for decades.
The portion of the cake the company earned during the past decades is that of high-performance instruments made with the musician in mind. I mean, everything is ergonomically shaped, they are light guitars, and beyond it all, it seems to be a consumer-centric company.
I’ve owned many Ibanez guitars from RG to Talman and they all shared the same butter-like playing experience, comfortable necks, and innovative ideas.
Hollow and Semi-Hollow Guitars with Pocket Sensibility
Ibanez guitars are ideal for beginners. This is because they have a great dollar-to-performance ratio. Moreover, with the addition of semi-hollow and hollow-body guitars, you can buy a guitar to suit your ear regardless of the music you intend to make with it.
Speaking of which, you also have tiers in the semi-hollow and hollow-body lines:
Made in China, these are the most affordable semi-hollow and hollow-body guitars made by Ibanez.
Made in Indonesia, these guitars show more of that obsessive attention to detail Ibanez is well-known for.
As the name implies, these are the stars of the lineup. Completely made in Japan, these guitars are the ones that convinced legends like George Benson, John Scofield, and Pat Metheny to join and stay in the Ibanez family.
According to recent statistics, Ibanez is currently part of the top 4 brands in the world in terms of sales. That place on the podium wasn’t earned overnight, on the contrary, It’s the consequence of decades of hard work and a relentless commitment to excellence.
So, does all of this make Ibanez a good guitar brand? While they might not be everyone’s cup of tea, Ibanez guitars are a great option to consider, especially for those with budget restraints.
Have you ever played an Ibanez guitar? What did you think of it?
Happy shredding and chugging!