Gear talk for the GAS-afflicted.

Ibanez Premium Series – An Unsolicited Opinion

Ibanez Premium Series – An Unsolicited Opinion

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.

Great Scott!!

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.

I wish.

But I told myself, hey, maybe you’re just being snobby and elitist. Give that shit a try!

Just Deserts

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.

Got wood?

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?




  1. Hamish (@hamo_d) says:

    Bloody good show mate, I was looking at these on the MW website recently cos they had an Ibanez sale, and I thought I wasn’t broke for a minute there…
    Looks like the price is a little lower online than you’ve quoted, unless I’ve got the wrong guitar?
    I was really tempted to go in and check out the RG1550M in Poison Pumpkin colour, but they appear to have gone.

    1. thesamurai says:

      I think that’s the one! Presumably that’s a sale price, I’m reasonably sure the sticker price on the one I tried was a bit higher. Now, at $1495, I guess it changes things a bit… but still a not unsubstantial sum. Poison Pumpkin! Plenty of older Jap RGs floating around for great prices second hand (like that RG1620x I sold a couple of months back) – I sometimes wonder who actually buys new Ibanezes (Ibanii? Ibanezii? Ibaneez?)

  2. Latin Nazi says:


  3. Tod says:

    Well, having had the pleasure of playing a large number of Indonesian guitars, I’d have to say that they are the new Korea. Korea, is the new Japan, and China, is still china. Indonesian guitars, in particular G&Ls are superbly built instruments. The Indonesian epiphones have also been pretty good, certainly streets ahead of the Chinese built epis. But ultimately, unless it’s the Fender plant in India, country of manufacture should be completely irrelevant.

    Being a child of the 80s, the colours on these bad boys look awesome and Dimarzio certainly know how to put a good pickup together, even if they are at times, funny colours.

    One of the big things with shred sticks is that the necks are totem twig like. How were these Ibanii? I’ve never understood the need for tiny necks to widdle mindlessly on, especially if one has giant hands. What’s the supposed theory behind this?

    1. Tod says:

      *of course I’ve failed to mention there is more than one factory in Indonesia, and that is clearly going to have a bit of a difference on the finished product.

      1. thesamurai says:

        If I’m not mistaken, Ibanez has their own factory in Indonesia to produce the Premiums, so yes, the “many factories” argument does apply. However, we’re always going to make a judgement based on the worst thing to come out of any given country, no?

        I can’t agree with the “China is still China” comment though – China has for a number of years now been capable of a very high quality product, it’s just that people don’t go to China for high quality, they go their for cheap stuff. The Dean From Hell I owned was Chinese made, and was really well done. So is the Tokai ES60 that I currently own.

        And I would argue that country of manufacture, to at least some extent, is VERY relevant. Disregarding elitism (U.S.A! U.S.A!), countries/factories/people that are new to manufacturing guitars are always going to take some time to catch up to people who have been doing it for years. Indonesia/Vietnam are making more guitars these days compared to yesteryear, but they’re certainly miles behind Japan/Korea/China in terms of experience.

        A thought provoking discussion!

  4. Just Deserts..haha good one!

    Anyway I too have tried an Ibanez Premium at a friend’s music store. It felt really ‘hard’ and ‘dry’ to my hands (no sexual innuendo comments pls). Don’t really know how to explain, it just didn’t feel smooth like most of the better guitars I’ve played.

    Another thing I can’t stand is the gawdy quilted maple top finishes. The finishes in the Prestige line look way more subtle and classy. And yeah I agree with +3kki!, for the same price I would rather buy a 2nd hand prestige or some other guitar (like Charvel Desolation! Ed, do check it out and write a review ifyou have time ya..hehe ).

  5. Good to hear that I’m not the only one! Well I guess they wouldn’t really have done as well naming it the “Only Okay” series instead of “Premium”, haha.

    Teko – a review of one of the Charvel Desolation series is definitely in the works, I’ll see if I can make that happen any faster specially for you! ;) They look like exceptional value for the price/specs.

  6. Ibanez ‘Slightly Better than Suck’ Series…yup not gonna sell well lol.
    Thanks bub…really lookin’ forward to the Charvel Desolation reviews. I dare say they’ll knock the Premium series out of the ballpark, even if I’m not a singlecut fan!

  7. […] looks like ESP is also getting their brand dilution on, kind of like the Ibanez Premium rant I had earlier in the year – but to muddy waters further, they’re now looking to […]

  8. Percy Ottershaw says:

    One of the things you don’t mention, Ed, is how good was the shop setup. That can cover a multitude of sins and divert your attention from poor finishes etc. To be honest I’ve never worried about how glossy it was but more like how well it played, sounded and whether there were any nasties like fret ends sticking out. Individual guitars, even from people like Gibson, can have crap workmanship and that’s why we have luthiers to take them to locally for fix and tune ups. Some of the 60’s asnd 70’s strats had appaling workmanship, but the sound more than made up for it! Is it the same with these?

  9. […] wrote a little rant awhile ago about the Ibanez Premium Series when they first came on the scene, deriding the production of the Indonesian factories. Well, […]

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