The History of the original Ibanez RG series is a curious one. Not least because the Ibanez RG was perhaps the second guitar after the Yamaha SG to really challenge the Hedgemony of USA is best. Ibanez were the first Japanese maker to realise that they could take advantage of the burgeoning 1980’s shred guitar scene & turn themselves into a world leading brand.
While Kramer & Charvel/Jackson were desirable brands of the day. Neither had decent distribution at a world wide level. But for a couple of years in the late 80’s, Ibanez became the number 1 bestselling guitar over $500 in the USA, until the fatal dual whammy of Slash & the Seattle scene, slayed their metaphorical hairspray dragon, and heralded a move away from the technical precision offered by the ubiquitous pointy headstock axe into a murky heroin filled world of darker, earthier Les Paul infused tones & more…ahem, casualised personal grooming routines.
Back in 1985 Ibanez’ Artist relations guru Rich Lasner had been out courting the plethora of new talent on Mike Varneys shrapnel label. Which at the time was home to a whose who of mid 80’s technical players. Ibanez, like Yamaha & Aria, were about to take advantage of tremelo guru Floyd Rose’s decision to grant his patent use to the big three Japanese makers. So at the 1986 NAMM show, Ibanez were first off the block with the stock Ibanez Roadstar remodelled with (rather terrible) pickups that looked like EMG’s. Plus a new style tremolo.
The Ibanez Edge system is still in my opinion the definitive evolvement of the Floyd Rose. The boffins at Ibanez parent company Hoshino Gakki decided to go all Isambard Kingdom Brunel on us, and over engineer the Floyd with oversized chunky saddles, massive knurled knobs & set the saddles further back on the robust steel bridge plate. This gave the player a greater ability to perform up bends and let the tremelo feel more vocal. The new arm was push in with simple replacement plastic saddles & had non of the mounting and tension adjustment issues most Floyd users experienced with the original design.
Had Ibanez just stopped there I suspect they would have made a major contribution to 80’s Rock guitar culture.
But Lasner had the foresight to realise that instrumental music had a limited audience. He needed a full on fire breathing Rock Star, a venerable guitar god.
Enter Steve Vai.
Vai had played with Artists as diverse as Zappa & P.I.L, but in 1986 he was the guitarist on Dave Lee Roth’s debut solo album “Eat Em & Smile”. A shredtastic recording of high energy cock Rock, packed to the brim with killer riffs, monster solo’s and cackling screaming guitars. Vai made his heavily modded Charvel Strat laugh, cry & wolf whistle at the girls passing by on the sunset strip. It was post ironic Van Halen, for the Post Van Halen world. By January 1987 a new guitar hero had been crowned.
The creation of Vai’s signature axe the Ibanez Jem is something I won’t go into here. But Vai, showed Lasner his guitars which were heavily modified by Joe “Jem” Despagni & Ibanez joined forces to create one of the most distinctive signature guitars ever.
But Ibanez had their eye on an even greater prize. Many of these innovations Ibanez had worked on would come to fruition in the less garish and more mainstream Ibanez RG.
The RG is essentially an upspecked high performance Stratocaster. The Basswood body is lightweight, tonally neutral, but acoustically resonant & allows the pickups to have a greater say in the final sound. Basswood is also very consistent in weight. Allowing for a more consistent feel in a production guitar. Then it’s fine & shallow grain makes it far easier to apply mad colourschemes or a graphic paint job too.
Pickup Guru Larry DiMarzio came up with a new Hum/Single/Hum Pickup layout. Which would become a mainstay on Ibanez guitars for years afterwards.
Then there was the neck.
Pairing the agressive six a side headstock of the Ibanez Destroyer with a scarf jointed one piece maple neck. The Wizard neck was thin and flat and wide. It’s ultra flat 17″ radius and massive fat Dunlop 6100 fretwire made it the perfect neck for generation shred.
This roadworthy modernistic but somehow accessible design was an instant success. By 1989 many pro’s were using Ibanez guitars. The brands decision to offer a US Artist headquarters in Hollywood with various built Custom Shop instruments, meant that they had soon usurped their American pointy headstocked contemporaries. By 1990 Kramer guitars had gone bankrupt. Charvel/Jackson were later sold to Korg.
Our example here is a remarkably clean 1991 RG760 built in the now legendary Fujigen guitar factory.
Originally Ibanez RG’s followed a simple easy to understand numbering system. Not unlike a BMW car. Pickup layouts were determined by the last two numbers so
- x50: 2 humbuckers with 1 single coil in the middle.
- X60: 1 humbucker and 2 single coils.
- X70: As X50 but without a scratch plate.
There were others, the RG565 had a reverse headstock with a bridge humbucker and a mini humbucker in the neck. But the majority of Ibanez guitars sold were in the highlighted styles.
Ibanez Japanese RG’s offered 2 levels of trim. The 5 series was basic, no binding & dot inlays. The 7 series had neck & headstock binding with shark tooth inlays & American made pickups by Larry DiMarzio. The single coils in the 7XX series are actually hum cancelling stacked single coils. Otherwise specs are identical. In 1988 headstocks were all black, by 1990 they are colour matched.
The guitar we have here plays perfectly. The 6100’s have been dressed back a couple of times. But there is still plenty of play in them. The neck is like the M25, if you like a smaller clubbier neck, then this isn’t for you. This is a neck built for technically precise playing.
Despite the 25+ years of play. The second generation “lo pro edge” tremolo ( introduced in 1990) performs admirably. All the squeals, shrieks, divebombs & wolf whistle noises are there.
The Dimarzio IBZ/USA pickups are medium gained. No it doesn’t sound like Stevie Ray Vaughan. But the 5 way blade switch gives a huge amount of tonal variation. It really is a superstrat. As a pro instrument, 25 years on, it still holds up. Cleans are crystalline and it handles FX very well.
Now this is where it gets interesting. Back in 1991, you could buy one of these for around £750.00, which is about £1450 in today’s money. But then there’s the question of fashion. The heyday of these guitars was really 1988-90. In 1991 Grunge hit & the 80’s metal bands all died on the vine until their early 2000’s resurgence as “Classic Rock”.
As the Yen increased in value, the mid range RG’s production turned to Korea & later Indonesia. The Japanese guitars were rebranded as Prestige to reflect their higher quality.
Meanwhile the original era RG’s became a guitar known for their plummeting residuals. 10-12 years ago you could have picked this guitar up for very little money, say £250.00 but then you have to factor in the high quality parts.
Pretty soon thanks to the culture of hot rodding. People began to break up guitars for spares as they realised that the value of the hardshell case, tremolo system, necks & bodies was far greater than a complete instrument. In particular the Edge tremolo systems wear out. Hardware becomes chewed & rusty. EBay & the Ibanez Rules forum became a haven for buying and trading spares & custom projects in various stages of completion.
With that in mind Intact 88-92 RG’s as complete instruments in this condition are now very rare. I owned this guitar for 6 years before selling it on at a profit. I then discovered the EBay buyer had two accounts & was actually a speculative dealer. Bulk buying up older clean guitars to sell on.
C’est La Vie I suppose. But ethics aside given the rarity of complete guitars now. If the styling is to your taste. These are still remarkable guitars for the money. If this said Suhr on the headstock it would have been £2500 new. Despite what the rednecks & racists on US guitar forums may say, this comfortably holds its own against anything from the era.
As always with buying a guitar like this buyer beware. These were the original shred machines, people didn’t baby them. Hardware is often chewed, necks may have warped over time due to use & abuse etc. After cock Rock & grunge, Nu Metal became popular. So some guitars may have had heavier strings on & been downtuned. So check out thoroughly before you buy.
Just remember your hairspray and remember whatever happens with fashion, every dog has its day.