Worthy of the Ibanez Name?
Ask any guitarist what they think is the biggest brand outside of the obvious American ones. Chances are a huge chunk would say Ibanez. The veteran Japanese manufacturer has pretty much cornered the market in high quality rock and metal guitars over the past thirty years.
Their root to the top table has been a masterclass in opportunism. Ibanez noted that guitars from Fender and Gibson weren’t catering for the new breed of super-fast, ultra technical playing (like our own Tom Quayle). Most guitars on the market catered for the blues and rock crowds. That typically meant heavier bodies and, crucially, big wide necks. These are great for working your way round scales, but were holding back the new breed of technical speed merchants.
Thankfully Ibanez was – at the time – small enough to react quickly to this new niche, but skilled enough to deliver on those promises.
Prestige by name
It’s interesting how reputations change though. Now we see ‘made in Japan’ as being a sign of quality, craftsmanship and expert precision engineering. Japanese cars, for example, are now synonymous with performance and reliability. This wasn’t always the case though. The same goes with guitars. Where previously guitars all came from America’s ‘Big Two’, seeing a guitar which is made in Japan acts as a seal of approval. These are guitars that have been made by expert luthiers, which will last a lifetime.
It is under this premise that Ibanez offers its flagship Prestige range. Introduced in 1996 and produced at parent company Hoshino Gakki’s famous FujiGen factory, the Prestige name is reserved for those guitars deemed worthy of carrying that ‘made in Japan’ stamp. They’re designed for the advanced musician. Ibanez has three central tenets to the Prestige models; each must be the pinnacle of precision, performance and playability.
As well as being made in Japan, the Prestige range also tend to carry higher quality components and, in some cases, unique parts.
Neck on the line
A lot is made in the history of Ibanez on how it came to work with Steve Vai. Now, we all know Vai as one of the guitar world’s greatest innovators, performers and showmen. What many don’t realise, however, is that when he began working with Ibanez he was something of a pain in the neck.
You see, the famous Wizard neck we see on pretty much every Ibanez metal guitar came about through young Steve’s sheer bloodymindedness. When a signature guitar was first mooted, Steve met with R&D engineers from Ibanez and laid out his vision. He wanted a neck profile far thinner than anything that had come before, particularly on a production model.
The problem came in finding something strong enough to withstand the elements, yet thin enough to meet the demands of one of history’s fastest fingerboard technicians. Any guitar company could make a thin neck. But making one sturdy enough so as to not warp, bend or – worst case – snap? That was a different story.
Thankfully, where others would have seen a problem, Ibanez saw a challenge. Steve Vai got his ultra-thin profile necks, and the world was about to experience a new genre of guitars.
Still going strong
The Ibanez Prestige line is still a mainstay in its roster. At Dawsons we have some cracking models which prove the meticulous attention to detail, elite playability and exceptional quality is still evident to this day.
Its new AZ series demonstrates this perfectly. The Ibanez AZ2204F Prestige is a phenomenal new model to join the stable, and shows off a few neat tricks of its own.
Despite Ibanez’ clear heritage in the world of super-shred-ready guitars, this new model is in fact a relatively genre-spanning jack of all trades. It features the classic Strat-esque body shape, with a lightweight alder body and roasted maple neck and fingerboard. Roasting the wood essentially gives it extra rigidity, meaning it avoids any nasty temperature-related woes. Three Seymour Duncan Hyperion pickups offer a huge spectrum of tonal options, while the Gotoh bridge and machine heads ensure precise tuning and stability.
Alternatively, the Ibanez RG2550Z Prestige riffs on the classic Ibanez RG body shape. However, it takes the included variables and adds a touch of top shelf excellence to them. The basswood body rocks the same double cutaway profile we know and love, but its the neck that takes centre stage here. Boasting five layers of walnut and maple, this is essentially inviting fireworks from your fretting hand. DiMarzio Tone Zone, Air Norton and True Velvet pickups are included to ensure every tone you choose sounds pristine.
Whatever industry you’re in, ‘country of origin’ often plays a part in the purchase decision. ‘Made In USA’ will always – rightfully – hold a certain charm and allure. However, it’s fair to say that the Ibanez Prestige variation – made in Japan – also has its own particular appeal.
Journalist, PR and multimedia specialist. Write professionally on subjects ranging from musical instruments to industrial technology.