OK, second attempt at buying a new Ibanez RG in a couple of weeks. Second time lucky I guess, as this one's a keeper. Read on...
Looking at the pictures doesn't quite prepare you for the full effect of the 'gold' hardware in person. It's like something you'd get from a Christmas cracker, or a looky-looky man in southern Spain. Liberace would have loved it. However the flat gold body paint, sunken into the grain of the ash, and the way it goes with the slight birdeye effect of the fretboard, looks a-f*cking-mazing. With matt black hardware it would be perfect in my view. Anyway, as my local vicar used to say, 'you don't look at the mantlepiece when you're stoking the fire', so we can leave such subjective things to one side.
Build quality is slightly off by Japanese Ibanez standards, which means it's still about as good as a custom shop Fender. The neck is ever so slightly misaligned, with a very thin (but nevertheless visible) gap between the side of the neck and the body. It's very small and nothing that would bother you, but it's there.
Picking it up out of the case it was light as a feather. The body is so light that the balance of the guitar is neck heavy. Acoustically it was very lively and zingy, which to me is a very promising sign. Notes rang out loud and clean and clear in a very Fendery manner. The fretwork was excellent. Can't fault it.
Plugging into the low input of my Marshall and playing around with a completely clean tone was very satisfying. The neck pickup clean tone, and the middle single coil clean tone (with the volume and tone rolled off just a touch to simulate 250k pots) were excellent. You could easily play jazz, country or blues and be very happy. The bridge pickup is too hot for a nice clean tone in my view, but each to their own. The 'in between' positions are the usual Ibanez weak affair (but still noticeably better than others I've tried), and I'm left wondering (not for the first time) why they use the inner coils of the humbuckers rather than the outer ones for these sounds. At some point I will rewire it so that it's the outer coils. By now you might have guessed that I am going to keep this one,
Switching to the high input to add some gain and things are sounding good. The neck pickup is big and bold, and the bridge pickup is crunchy, albeit with a faint hint of that ever-so-slightly nasal like a wah left on Dimarzio sound. The middle single, again with vol and tone rolled back a touch, does a great SRV or Hendrix tone. Really plucky and inspiring.
Adding a boost for an aggressive distorted sound and it really sings, but with crystal clarity and no mud (I hate mushy sounding guitars). Both humbuckers lacked a tiny bit of attack and gain, so I raised the heights nearer to the strings which fixed things nicely.
The downsides of this guitar are few, and may be more or less meaningless to you - it doesn't have stainless frets, or roasted maple, something which Ibanez is offering on other models. I would have loved both of those, but tone and playability have to come first, and this smashes those 2 balls right out of the park. The neck shape is thin, as you would expect, which I do not prefer, but that I accept is part of the Ibanez package. This particular one had slightly less 'shoulder' than the one I bought a couple of weeks back, and is really very nice for me as far as that kind of neck goes. It has an original Edge rather than the Lo-Pro. Again I slightly prefer the feel of the Lo-Pro under my picking hand but the original is perfectly acceptable.
All in all this is a fantastic guitar. My goal with starting to play guitar again was not to own 15-20 guitars like I used to and be constantly chopping and changing, but to find one guitar that is a tool for all situations, and that fits my own current set of biases (I prefer maple necks, alder or ash bodies, I hate basswood, and don't really like the 'boxy' tone of all-mahogany guitars anymore, even though they used to be my favourite).
For some reason these seem to have slipped under the radar, but if you like a high-performance guitar that's more on the Fendery end of the scale, but have been put off by the uninspiring tone of basswood bodied Ibanezes in the past you should make time to give one of these a try. It really is a brilliant instrument and, for me at least, a definite keeper.