Part of Ibanez's boundary-pushing Quest series, the Q54 vaunts a headless design built from the ground up to maximize tone, performance, and playing comfort. While this solidbody electric guitar is extremely lightweight, its ergonomic nyatoh body resonates with rich, woody tones that belie its compact profile—the Ibanez Q54 is guaranteed to unlock unlimited creative possibilities. Nick Jennison tells us more.
It's very important when reviewing gear to express one's biases upfront. For example, if I'm reviewing a piece of gear from a company I endorse, I'll always go out of my way to tell you. So let's get my bias out in the open here: I don't like headless guitars.
Let me explain why. Firstly, I'm a pretty big chap, and normal-sized guitars already look like toys when I play them. Take away the headstock and I look even more ridiculous! It's not just pure vanity though. I like a guitar with a bit of "meat", and it's been my experience that (at least to a point), more wood = more resonance. Before we dismiss this as "tonewood voodoo", let's recall the famous story where Eddie Van Halen cut a huge chunk out of his Explorer and ruined the tone in the process. Wood matters. It's been my experience that many headless guitars just don't have the same acoustic resonance that more traditional models possess, and it shows in the tone. Then there's the play feel. For example, if the guitar is too light, I can't get my arm involved in bending and vibrato without pushing the guitar off my leg. I could go on… So, it was with some degree of cynicism that I reviewed one of Ibanez's forays into the world of headless guitar - the Q54. And you know what? I actually really quite liked it!
Aimed squarely at contemporary instrumental players, the Quest series is a line of ultra-modern headless guitars with small, thin bodies and slim, flat necks - purposely designed to be worn high and played fast. While slant-fretted models are available, I resisted the urge to review one of these guitars for fear that I'd get too lost in adjusting my technique to form an accurate impression of the tone, feel and build quality of the instrument, but I will say this: they feel weird. When your muscle memory is as deeply ingrained as mine, angled frets throw everything off. However - and this is super important to remember - I am NOT the kind of player that these angled-fretted models are intended for. Looking outside of my "traditionalist" lens for a moment, it's easy to see how a player like Sarah Longfield, Yvette Young or lead Quest series artist Ichika Nito would benefit from this layout. Thankfully for old dogs like me though, there are straight fretted models like the Q54.
It goes without saying that the Q54 plays well. The 20" fingerboard radius and tall Jescar EVO frets allow for a very low action while still giving plenty of clearance from the fretboard for grabbing bends, as well as providing that all-important tactile feedback on fast legato lines. Fretboard radius aside though, the neck profile is a fairly traditional "slim C". It's nice to see that Ibanez have resisted the urge to re-invent the wheel with the neck shape into some angular monstrosity that forces the player into a single hand posture. As a result, the technical adjustment period when going from my regular guitars to the Q54 was basically zero - not something I can say about most headless guitars, where the form factor can be very distracting.
Tonally, it's clear that these guitars are designed to be clean, loud and articulate. There's a lot of output from the pickups, but (unlike may traditional high output passive pickups) the low end is tight, the midrange is slightly tucked and well balanced and the highs are percussive and sparkling. While the tones are very "refined" and smooth, there's plenty of resonance from the nyatoh body to keep the guitar from sounding anaemic and sterile. Played clean, there's plenty of piano-like clarity, while distorted tones have a "produced" feel that's perfect for a particular modern aesthetic. That said, you can coax convincing tones for just about any style out of this guitar, so if you're not necessarily a hyper-modern instrumental player and just want a lightweight, high-quality guitar to save your back on long gigs, the Q54 has you covered there too.
As you'd expect from Ibanez, the quality of the hardware is first class. The String Lock nut does away with the need for fancy double ball-end strings, which not only make strings easier to find, but also allows for more experimentation with custom gauges and different materials. The Monotone bridge allows for a much greater range of intonation adjustment than many similar designs, and sport legitimate geared tuners instead of fine tuners. Not only does this make tuning feel more positive, but it also prevents you from accidentally knocking the tuners with your right leg when playing in the classical position.
With its resonant body, rock-solid hardware and excellent playability, the Ibanez Q54 has quite thoroughly debunked my claims about headless guitars being inherently lifeless and uncomfortable. I'm still not in a hurry to run out and buy a headless guitar, but that's just because I look like an ungainly giant playing one. But ignoring my own vanity and focusing solely on the Q54 as a tool for making music (especially if no one was looking), I'd happily play one all day long.
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