Focus On: Ibanez RG550 Electric Guitar
The original shred machine
The formative years of a guitarist tend to shape the things they crave as they progress on the instrument. For many players, particularly those of a certain generation, the embers of gear lust were shaped by the huge double-page advertising spreads in the guitar magazines. These ads showed often tiny images of guitars, all with accompanying price tags to show just how out of our league they were.
Our very own Tom Quayle spoke recently about how, for him, it was staring at the futuristic looking Ibanez guitars of the day. These guitars were expensive enough to be aspirational but not too expensive that they were completely out of reach. One particular model stood out above the others. This guitar would, in many people’s eyes, go on to become the quintessential guitar for those looking to shred.
It boasted a paper-thin neck, a beefy Floyd Rose trem, and enough bonkers colour options to appeal to the showman in all of us. And, best of all? It’s back.
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s hear it for the Ibanez RG550.
The history of the RG550 is pretty interesting. Around the mid 1980s, Ibanez was courting a hotshot young guitarist called Steve. Now Steve was pretty demanding about what he wanted from his guitars. So much so he began to frustrate the R&D bods at the Japanese company. You see, what was out there at the time wasn’t quite up to the demands of Steve’s particular play-style. He wanted speed, dynamics, precision. As good as the existing guitars available at the time were, they weren’t built for all-out speed in the way Steve needed.
So, working with Ibanez, Steve created a guitar which combined a neck so thin it could slice bread with extended upper fret access, and a host of specific hardware requirements. High-output humbuckers were allied with a meaty Floyd Rose, and a guitar named the JEM 777 was born.
That Steve was of course Steve Vai, and the legend of the JEM 777 launched a thousand copycat models.
The only problem was that Steve’s demanding list of requirements for the JEM 777 put it out of reach financially for most players. Aware that there was a technical revolution on the horizon, Ibanez doubled down its efforts to take advantage of this new desire for high-octane speed machines.
The result of this was a consumer-focused model which took the headline details from the JEM 777 and balanced them with the need for mass production. The result? The Ibanez RG550.
To say the RG550 changed the guitar world is underselling it. To this day, the archetypal super-strat designs released by any brand bear the same hallmarks. The thin necks, ideal for widdling away at a million miles an hour without risking carpal tunnel syndrome. Heavy-set locking tremolos for those iconic dive-bombs and squeals. Pointy horns to symbolise….nah, just because they look cool.
But none came close to the original Ibanez RG550. Which is why it was something of a surprise when Ibanez discontinued it in 1994. Sure, a host of similar looking models took over, but none had the same vibe as the original.
Fast forward 24 years, and we’re pleased to say that Ibanez has decided to reissue the RG550. This iconic guitar has now returned to reignite the flames inside players who remember just how game-changing it was back in the ’90s. And, for anyone younger, they now have the chance to own a genuine pice of guitar history.
The Japanese-made model boasts a tonne of features which anyone who played the original will remember. The lightweight basswood body means you can play for hours without feeling like you’re dragging half a tree around with you. The Super Wizard neck features five individual pieces of maple and walnut to give it extra rigidity, meaning you can play it any condition without fear of it warping or experiencing major tuning and intonation issues.
V7 and V8 humbuckers give players access to a wealth of versatile, highly usable tones. We all know the kind of tones which were associated with fast metal; often scooped at the mid-range, these tones were razor tight and ensured each and every one of the 54,987,387 notes-per-second could be heard clearly.
The S1 single coil further enhances the tonal versatility, making for a guitar which can cope with whatever you can throw at it.
The reissued range comes in four flamboyant colours; purple, red, white and the iconic desert yellow.
It all adds up to a high performance guitar, made to Ibanez’ demanding standards at their FujiGen factory. Forget the fact it’s a metal guitar for a second; this is a serious instrument made for players who are perhaps looking to hone their playing using something designed to give them the precision and power they need.
And, crucially, players of the original Ibanez RG550 will feel right at home here. Well done Ibanez.