Back in 1990, I was a young whippersnapper playing about 25+ gigs a year in a rather godawful 80′s influenced band. Plying our then outdated 80′s influenced pop/rock (think Duran Duran/INXS) across the UK toilet circuit. At this rather fragile time in my youth I encountered eating Kebabs for breakfast, breakdowns on the A61 & the kind of sexual practices worthy of the privatised bus industry, either they all came at once or nothing for days, weeks even I also learnt that ladies toilets are generally in a better state than the mens, the importance of hairspray and the use of physical violence as a negotiation strategy.
Along the way, my main guitar was a lipstick metallic red Ibanez RG560, very similar to the guitar in the photo,apart from mine was a later RG and had a colour matched headstock. I had bought it in 1990 as a belated 21st birthday present from my mother. I originally wanted a black one, but instead had this beauty. The guitar and I both had some interesting experiences in the coming years.
Ibanez were a big but medium range guitar maker back in the early 80′s. One of the Japanese ’big three’ along with Yamaha & Aria. They made high quality guitars at affordable prices, but in the desirability stakes American guitars were still king.
However they took a leap of faith in 1987 when they went all upmarket with the RG range, originally comprising the 7 series with Di Marzio designed ‘IBZ’ pickups and sharktooth inlays, then the scaled down 5 series, dot inlays, ordinary ‘stock’ pickups.
The other two numbers in the model denoted pickup combinations, the 550 had HSH with a scratchplate the 60 SSH ala a superstrat and the 70 HSH without a scratchplate. There was also the USRG, a range of Custom shop instruments assembled in LA from Japanese parts.Later on there were RG2XX & 4XX madein Korea. Then by the late 90′s Ibanez went all crazy with the numberings and only the ‘Prestige’ guitars were built in Japan.
Despite previous guitars from Jackson/Charvel, Kramer & the like. Ibanez’s Rich Lasner managed to court a young Steve Vai and produce the JEM series guitars just as he had broken through into the mainstream playing guitar for Dave Lee Roth. This sharp move coupled with Ibanez really going after the emerging late 80′s Rock Guitarists, who as endorsers were low on riffs,but high on speed and dexterity(Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, Vinnie Moore etc) ensured massive sales and a new found desirability that other Japanese guitar makers desperately tried to emulate.
Essentially the RG is an ultra upspecked high performance Stratocaster,with extended cutaways and an ultra fast wide thin ‘Wizard’ neck. The 24 ultra jumbo frets meant that the neck was built for widdling & pretty soon they became the pre eminant guitar of the late 80′s rock/metal fraternity. Usurping their American Rivals, the headstock design and that logo, were probably the first time from an asthetic standpoint that a Superstrat design really came into its own as a guitar identity.
My ownership experience of the Ibanez was very good. Tonally the Basswood body (lightweight, cheap and easy to apply mad paintjobs too) meant it was never going to challenge a Strat or Tele for tonal richness, but it was built like a tank, very versatile, and, as I remember never went out of tune. The Edge tremelo is probably the best of the Floyd Rose derivatives out there and the snap in arm assembly was hassle free. I reckon I played around 100+ gigs with mine and although well maintained, it never let me down. I bought a second RG560 in 1993, but sold it on to a guy in a thrash band a year later. The 80′s band soon fell apart and I moved on, and so did music, Grunge killed not only the poodle rockers but their tools as well. Sales of RG’s nosedived until the advent of Nu Metal as guitarists sold them on to buy more traditional fayre.
But fashion is a fickle thing…
In a wave of Nostalgia I notice Ibanez have just announced the RG550MXX 20th anniversary reissue.
Priced at about $900 in the US. These guitars made me chuckle and go all warm & rosy inside. The Desert Sun Yellow and Flame Red finishes are back.
However beyond Ibanez’s marketing hype its worth noting that these guitars are not strict reproductions of the original 80′s Classics. My RG had a one peice rock maple neck with a scarf jointed headstock, not a 5 peice laminate!!! also the Edge tremelo is one of the flashier new ones.
Personally I grew to find my original RG too garish and had it stripped to a natrual blue stain with a clear finish, at the time I wanted it to look a bit like a Tom Anderson, but instead it looked naff. I sold this guitar on Ebay several years ago, having grown out of it both in feel, tone and looks.
However sometimes I miss it. I cut my teeth as a gigging guitarist and performer on an RG. I imagine this is the case for a fair amount of players no hitting their late 30′s. So maybe this reissue is well timed.
So if a wave of nostalgia has taken you and you don’t fancy shelling out. There are plenty of originals on Ebay. Your main worry with this type of guitar is hardware. All the allen key screws on the locking nut & trem system, if they are locked too tightly they break. There are also a few RG’s that have had various ill advised user modifications that could well have destroyed other areas. The downtuning craze of the early 2000′s may have hit some of these instruments hard as there owners restrung them with stupidly heavy strings and forgot too adjust the truss rod/bridge in the process.
I’ve also seen hardware worn away or chewed up to the point that you need to replace every peice of it and that will be costly, so please buyer beware. Always try out the guitar if you can etc etc.
Just don’t forget your hairspray now