Dec 18, 2012
For most of the past 2 decades, Paul Brandon Gilbert has been a dominant force in the shred scene. Paul’s story basically set the tone for the Shrapnel era of technical guitar wizardry – featured in Guitar World as a 15 year old prodigy, graduated from GIT at 18, and went on to kick the world’s ass with Racer X, Mr Big, and his own brand of instrumental rock.
I really like Paul. He’s one of the world’s most amiable rockstars, and he’s great at teaching and conveying concepts. Most of my “shred” licks are stolen from his Intense Rock I instructional video (I couldn’t even make it through to Intense Rock II, just because I have the attention span of a handicapped goldfish). He just seems to have a wonderful, childlike amazement and interest in music, and by all appearances is just a great guy.
Now, being a child of the 80s, Paul has had a LOT of different looks over the years – and this applies to both his guitars AND his clothes:
He’s gone from the early shred days of pink RGs and Aquanet:
To the Mr Big days… the picture says it all:
To slick, contemporary shred god:
Hell, he’s even been an astronaut!
The only constant is change
Throughout the many years and many hairstyles, Paul has also always been updating and fine-tuning his approach to both guitar playing and guitar construction, through his signature models with Ibanez. Like all of us, Paul is on a constant mission, learning what he likes/dislikes about his guitars and how he can make them sound better. Time has seen him ditch the double-locking bridges of his early signature guitars for hardtail bridges, and he’s also moved from pickups like the Dimarzio PAF Pro to higher output models like the Tonezone, only to move back to lower output pickups once again.
So… what’s the next logical progression in Paul’s gearvolution?
The Ibanez “Fireman” FRM100
Boom! A visual extravaganza of confusing influences, the Fireman is certainly a sight to behold. I believe the (somewhat ad-libbed) design process of the Fireman was something like this:
Paul: “Yo Ibanez! I really like the Iceman, but it balances somewhat like shit! Can we flip that mother upside down, and make a cutaway so I can reach the top frets?”
Ibanez: “Make it so.”
Our review guitar today was provided courtesy of MusicWorks NZ, and it’s our first review for them, so big thanks to them for helping to make this happen!
It’s interesting to note that the Fireman is the first PG signature guitar to feature all single coils. It also has a mahogany body, which is a bit of a departure from previous PG guitars as well (the Prestige version has a korina body). There was a lovely block of flamed figuring in the centre piece of the body, which was a really unique little bonus on that particular guitar. The body shape was visually a little jarring at first but it soon became apparent that it wasn’t just a cosmetic decision to flip the Iceman body – it really does feel more balanced and easy to play this way.
When I first picked it up, I was a little surprised as to how light the guitar was – for the apparent size I was expecting it to be quite hefty.
The 3-piece mahogany/maple/mahogany neck is a fairly LP-reminiscent affair, a little bit fatter and a little bit rounder than you’d expect from a master shredder’s signature guitar. It’s also 24.75″ scale, which is another departure from “classic” PG spec which has always been 25.5″.
I guess it’s been a long time since I’ve looked at Ibanez’s new offerings. I had assumed that the FRM100 would be made in Korea, but when I got the guitar I discovered that it was made in China. Not to worry – build quality is sound, and setup out of the box is actually pretty good. As with many guitars coming out of China these days, you just have to be aware of little things that won’t be top notch quality – the selector switch tip had a burr on it which constantly scratched my hand every time I reached for a quick flick of the switch, and the pots were a little bit sticky and difficult to rotate at times. But other than that, colour me impressed!
Time to set something on fire
So… I plugged it in, not quite knowing what to expect, having no prior experience with the Dimarzio Injector set that was designed specifically for Paul. Let me steal the blurb from the Dimarzio site:
The Injector™ Bridge Model is one of our hottest hum-canceling models (185mV output) with six individual Alnico magnets. The sound is not like a vintage single-coil: highs are bright but not glassy, and lows are solid and defined. It was designed to work equally well with rapid single-note arpeggios and power chords without becoming muddy or compressed. It has about 40% less magnet-pull than standard single-coils, and this is essential for the superior speed and dynamic range with which this pickup responds to pick attack. Paul’s setup on the guitar he played on “Fuzz Universe” was Injector™ Neck Model in the neck, Area 67™ in the middle, and Injector™ Bridge Model in the bridge. The Injector™ is a lot louder and warmer than the Area 67™ but the combination produces varied tonal colors in the 2 and 4 positions, with the Area 67™ alone providing vintage tone and the Injector™ Neck and Bridge for heavier sounds.
Here’s a little PG medley to get you going, because I wanted to do more video stuff so I can get better and faster and stronger at it.
I have to say, the description from Dimarzio is by and large pretty accurate. The clean tones were really interesting – they don’t sound like classic single-coils, but instead they really remind me of beefier versions of the 2 and 4 split positions of an HSH guitar – which is to say, they sound like classic Paul Gilbert clean tones from the 80s. Which is really cool. You can definitely get a nice sparkly vibe out of them, but it won’t be doing any Jimi or SRV impersonations just yet.
If the pickups didn’t sound much like traditional single coils for clean tones, that pretense is abandoned completely for overdriven tones. There’s no hint at all of the hollow, glassy tone that typifies ye old single coils. Instead, when using “shred” levels of gain, the sound is really quite unique – a lot of grunt to it, not lacking in low end, yet it’s clearly defined and has a bit more presence than most humbuckers would. There’s a hint of slight fuzziness on the low end, which may or may not work for you. In any case, the Injectors are noiseless, so they don’t hum when you pump the gain right up, which is awesome.
For those who are inclined, here’s a little run through of each of the 5 pickup positions, starting at the neck pickup. I went through a clean passage, as well as a little bit of gain.
Paul’s onto a winner again! The only thing we’re missing here are his signature painted F-holes, but on the whole this is a brave new guitar that goes to several fairly non-traditional places, and succeeds at creating a new sound for a new era.
It’s also a steal, with a sticker price of $1495!! It’s amazing what kind of value you can get for not very much money these days.
Extra points because I love quirky crazy things. Let’s hear 4.0 F*ck Yeahs for this sweet guitar, once again thanks to your friendly neighbourhood MusicWorks.
A little note for the holidays…
As we head into Christmas and New Year season, I’d just like to thank everyone for the wonderful first almost-year that we’ve had at Six-String Samurai.
Though I’ll continue to publish bits and pieces of cool stuff in December, this is probably going to be our last full-blown review for the year. I’ve been extremely thrilled with the response from all our readers, homegrown and overseas alike, and I hope that together we’ll only grow stronger as a community in 2013!
We have some exciting stuff lined up for you guys in the new year – including an exclusive lesson column from one of NZ’s leading guitarists. Any guesses as to who?
Merry Christmashannukahkwanza everyone, and drive safe! Stay in school, don’t do drugs.