"Mediocre minds imitate. Great minds steal." - Show business truism As you can see, the company duplicated the famous deigns of big American guitar giants like Gibson, Fender, and even Rickenbacker. But while the guitars looked and even played similar (or better), the price tags were a lot easier to deal with. Then as now, Ibanez wasn't afraid of putting the player ahead of playing nice with their competitors. This also gave the company the reputation of a shoddy Japanese-made product. (There was a lot of that going around in the early '70s, but like Honda and Toyota versus the AMC Gremlin, the best products won out in the end. They always do.) As the decade moved on, the company started innovating, rather than imitating. The Artist series guitars for George Benson, the Iceman model for Paul Stanley (KISS) and the Destroyer for Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden) put the company in the hands of some of the most influential players of the day. They also established Ibanez as the burner of choice for metal maniacs, and set the stage for what would become the company's elecric mainstay, the Roadster. Here's George and his axe:
J of White Zombie with his Iceman. (Paul Stanley has, alas, moved on to another manufacturer. Never let it be said that the man didn't know how to cash a check.)
and some Destroyer action. Remember, if the guitar wasn't pointy, you weren't allowed to play lead.
The first RGs hit the stage in 1986... and no working hard rock player was complete without his glow-in-the-everything paint job, some hair that spanned a zip code or two, some usually unfortunate leather and spandex, and oh yes - an Ibanez. Here's what the RG looks like today, simply because the '80s pics are a little too scary.
No matter what you may think of the era or the music, know this: that was a flat-out *great* time to be a lead guitarist. Extended solos were still possible, showmanship was encouraged to a degree that was never seen before (or since), and your RG was right in the thick of things. If you could get past the gunslinger-like 'who plays faster' arguments, you were golden. Perhaps this is overstating the point, but I kinda think the entire era might not have been possible without Ibanez. After all, that kind of work requires a guitar that would take a pounding, and yet stay in tune. Guitar tones were still clean enough to betray the sloppy player, and it's not as if the lead player was fighting to be heard in the mix. And since the RG didn't cost more than your car, it let you be a showman without pulling punches. But enough sociology: let's get into what made this guitar great. A Strat style, lightweight body, locking tremolo system (Floyd or Kahler) and a humbucker in the bridge position carried the mail. (Extra groupies for anyone with a custom graphic on the body.) Paralyzed by their history, Gibson and Fender were hard to find in working bands at this time. Most up-and-comers went with the super skinny necks and pointy headstocks. Of course, Ibanez wasn't alone in making a guitar for the young and the restless. No history would be complete without at least a nod to Jackson/Charvel, Kramer, and B.C Rich. But since Ibanez had fifteen years in the trenches to go with their history of outstanding value, as well as the sense to continue innovating their designs, they were in more hands for that movement. They also had the best chance of being in the hands of the next pioneer. The place was Seattle, and you can still hear the effects today. Consider for a moment that the same guitar maker who led the power-metal movement of the '80s was also the axe of choice for grunge. How amazing is that, really? Every new movement rejects the most recent past, none more dramatically than grunge. And yet an Ibanez was the axe for both camps. (And as you will see below, jazz players as well.) Amazing. Kramer sank, B.C. Rich remained a niche player, and Charvel/Jackson stayed more or less the same. The big boys started getting back into the game with cheap knock-offs that promised to out-Ibanez Ibanez. But it never happened, and Ibanez rolled with the changes through good designs, better values, and relentless playability. New masters like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani joined the fold, and the Floyd Rose marched on. And then -- yet again, really -- the company anticipated the future with seven-string models.
Here's Joe and his guitars. Surfin' with the Alien, indeed:
Traditionalists can scoff at 7-string as just being mere mud, and jazzmen (oh, didn't you know that Pat Metheny plays Ibanez? See the pics below for the proof) may shake their heads about how their baby has grown up all wrong, but the only way to predict the growth of this axe was to get outside of the rock world. For what is 7-string, really, but a way for the guitar to tap into bass-happy danceland? Yeah, yeah, yeah - Korn isn't making dance music, at least not the kind you'll find in the hip-hop clubs. But the concept is the same: give the people what they want (bass in yo' face!) and bring it into the Sabbath world. Remember what we said great minds do, after all.
So Vai got one (the Jem series; see a catalog page for it, as well as Steve playing it), and he promptly kicked out some avante-garde insanity that shook players all over. The Korn boys grabbed them and promptly changed metal. (Some people claim it was all Metallica's doing, but it's hard to give a band that attempts to subpoena people who share its music credit for anything anymore. But I digress.) And the (heavy, heavier and heaviest) beat goes on.
Now, before you run off and check out all of the cool pictures, facts and links to all things Ibanez (more whenever I can update the page, so drop a bookmark here, too), let me drop a personal story about what the guitar means to me. When I first got serious about playing my own music, I met a funk-rock player in a legendarily crazy East Coast funk band (names are withheld to protect the very guilty). This guy delivered pizzas between gigs, smoked most of what he made, was as gentle as old hound dog, and could solo in the pocket like you just don't care. Most people in my scene couldn't get over how weird his band was to realize just how good of a player he was, but once you just listened to the guitar, it became pretty damn clear that the man could play. (Remember, Vai started with Frank Zappa, God bless his soul.)
My gig was punk, so I never had the chance to bring him into the fold on a full-time basis. But when some primo studio time fell into my lap while my band was between guitarists, I gave him a guest shot on some tracks.
Every gig I ever saw this guy play, he used a cheep cheep cheep Ibanez with the most mangled Fender amp you ever did see. It always sounded good, but that's live, and we're in a monster studio. So I've got a collector friend with me, and he's brought a Paul Reed Smith, a classic Fender, a vintage Les Pauls, an authentic Telecaster, and the list goes on. We're a freakin' music store waiting to happen, and in walks my man with his Ibanez and a smile. The man didn't even have a case!
Long story shorter: an hour and six mic set-ups and tests later, the PRS is safe and secure in its flight case. The Les Paul goes home. The Fender is in my hands, but it's not plugged in. The low-end Ibanez - probably $200 new, and something you probably wouldn't spend $50 for - is in front of gold-tipped mics, and we use it on every track. Iit comes out as warm, clean, lush and lovely as anything we ever recorded. It's a miracle, it's all true, and it's why I play an Ibanez today. You should, too.