Jun 9, 2012
So today while I was up in Auckland for the weekend, I hit up one of the music shops down the road from where I was staying, and checked out some brands that I haven’t really been paying a heap of attention to in the past couple of years – Ibanez and Schecter. First of all, if any of you guys are fans of these brands, I’m not saying they’re unworthy of attention – but just that my personal tastes have wandered away from them in recent times.
Anyway, I walked into this shop, which to be honest, didn’t really have anything much of interest, and saw two guitars that very well could have come back with Marty McFly out of the 80s.
Apparently, new for 2012 in Ibanez’s RG Premium Series are two very familiar colours, if you were a shredder in the 80s and/or were in MC Hammer’s band – Desert Yellow (the most desirable finish for the iconic RG550), and Shocking Pink.
Now, I can only assume that if you’re still reading and haven’t clicked the little “x” button on your browser tab out of disgust, it’s because you, like me, have some measure of fondness of crazy 80s looking things like this.
Anyway… back to the vague topic of my ramblings today.
Ibanez Premium Series? If you’ve been out of the loop with Ibanez, much like I have, you’ve probably heard about this but don’t quite know what the deal is. Well, basically, as with many other companies, Ibanez is looking to cut production costs, and not content with Korea or China, they’ve moved their mid-range factory to Indonesia. Important to note though is that even though it’s made in Indonesia, the name, specs and price show that they are promoting this as a mid to high end product for the non-Japanese line.
When I hear about this, I can’t help but think – brand dilution!! Argghhh.
Unlike Gibson, Fender, ESP etc who put their cheaper guitars under different product names (Epiphone, Squier and LTD respectively), Ibanez doesn’t have another name to hang on cheaper products. So a move like this just sets off alarm bells for me, and I feel the urge to start buying up piles of 90s Fujigen manufactured Ibaneziums.
But I told myself, hey, maybe you’re just being snobby and elitist. Give that shit a try!
So I picked up the Desert Yellow RG Premium, and had a good look over it. Warning: this is not reaaally a review, since I usually spend much more time with my review guitars, but I think I gleaned enough in the short period of time with it to make some useful comments.
Brief aside – the list price on this guitar was about $1895 NZD. (*edit: I’ve since been told that these are on special for $1495)
First thing I noticed was that although the finish was generally decent enough, it bore painful marks of cost cutting and time saving on the production floor. The neck bolt holes were rough as guts and clearly weren’t sanded or even smoothed over much before they were painted. Similarly, paint apps were a bit sloppy and uneven around the trem cover and control cavity.
I know it sounds like nitpicking, but I do expect a bit better on a guitar that is by no means a cheapie. However, as we found out in my review of the Fret-King Esprit 3, I can move past little finishing flaws if the guitar itself is killer, although I still just find it a little surprising to find stuff like that.
Fretwork seemed very nice, actually. Nicely rounded edges and I didn’t find any dead spots.
The recipe for a classic RG is usually a maple or rosewood board, maple neck, and a basswood body. This was no different.
Or actually… I think it was.
Even though the fretboard was a brownish looking thing that at a glance you’d write off as rosewood, to be honest, I don’t think it was. I don’t claim to be an expert on wood, but I’ve seen my fair share of Indian rosewood over the years, and it didn’t look like it to me. This instantly got me suspicious – is Ibanez stooping to using locally sourced wood-alikes, much like how Agathis is often referred to as Asian Mahogany? The guitar itself was also by far the heaviest RG I’ve played, which makes me wonder about the body wood as well…
Shut up and play
Anyway… all my little comments aside, what’s really important is how it plays, and how it sounds, right?
Now, to its credit, it played and sounded really good! It was loaded with Dimarzio/Ibz pickups with the usual 5-way superswitch, and really did sound as you’d expect a proper RG to sound. No complaints from me here. I mean, I’m sure it might sound a little different next to a high end RG, but RGs are like Strats when you get down to it – there are a million different configurations, but they’re basically all the same thing when you get down to it.
Time to go!
So… what exactly is my point with all this? I dunno. I guess I walked into the shop with some preconceptions about guitars made in Indonesia (even though there are some nice G&Ls being made there) and I was hoping to have these preconceptions proved wrong, which didn’t really happen. If you put some good hardware and pickups into a cheaply made guitar, it’s probably going to sound quite good compared to a cheap guitar without these appointments. But take that away, and I don’t really feel the “Premium”. Especially when the prices aren’t terribly far off the Japanese stuff – at $1895 vs $2395+ for a Premium vs Prestige, I would go Prestige every time. For the $1495 sale price… I’d probably still look at second hand Prestiges first.
But who knows? Once upon a time we could never have believed that China and Korea could make consistent, high quality guitars, but look at them now. However, my gut feeling at the moment is that Indonesia (or at least the factory that Ibanez is using) is not quite there yet.
What do you think?