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This article was originally published in issue #24
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Ibanez has a fascinating history, dating back to 1908 when the original Hoshino Gakki Company began as a sheet music store in Nagoya, Japan. Later, it branched out into music products and in 1945 began distributing a Spanish guitar named Ibanez. Hoshino went on to purchase the rights to the Ibanez name in the mid 1960s, and began shipping incredibly funky looking guitars to the United States and, later, to Europe. Readers who want to know about the brand's history should check out the book we reviewed back in Issue 19, The Ibanez Electric Guitar Book by author and occasional GI contributor, Tony Bacon. Suffice it to say, the company and its guitars really hit their stride in the mid-'80s when, with the interest of instrumental Rock guitar on the rise, it collaborated with players such as Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Paul Gilbert, resulting in the appearance of the Ibanez JEM, JS, RG and S models. It's a testament to Ibanez that all the players listed above have remained loyal to them and today Ibanez is one of just a handful of non-US electric guitar brands that can look the likes of Fender and Gibson in the eye without blinking.
All of which is to establish that Ibanez is pretty much where it's at with the class of guitar represented by this new for 2014 model, the not so snappily named S970WRW-NT. Boring the name may be but this is the cutting edge of Ibanez design and the S series continues to be a marvel of form and function, its signature body shape - sculpted and lightweight - making it one of the most popular and desirable “Rock” guitars to own.
Visually, the S970WRW looks absolutely stunning, sporting a natural finish on an all-mahogany guitar with a rosewood top. Cosmo black hardware and offset pearl dot inlays add to its sleek, classy, high-end styling. The neck is a Wizard five-piece wenge/bubinga construction, topped with a bound rosewood fretboard and jumbo frets. The bridge is an Edge Zero II with a standard locking nut.
The Ibanez sports three pickups: the neck (Cap-CL1) and bridge (Cap-CL2) both being humbuckers, with the middle being a single coil Cap-VM1S. All are passive/Alnico. A five way selector switch allows you to combine the humbuckers with the single coil with just one volume and tone knob controlling it all. So, it looks great, has a fantastic spec sheet, fully loaded with everything you could hope for, but how does it stack up on the playing front? I pulled it from the box by the trem, Herman Li style, and gave it some stick!
This guitar is a joy to hold! It's super thin, light and well sculpted plus well balanced. First thing to do of course is to tune the thing - oh wait, it has a locking nut and floating bridge...! I will confess that I'm not a massive fan of trems that work along Floyd Rose lines, which this Ibanez Edge Zero II seems to. I have owned them in the past, including on an Ibanez S series in fact. They work great for tuning stability but break a string on a gig then it's game over, you need a spare guitar as changing a string takes a good couple of days (or is that just me?). I also found them very uncomfortable on the right hand, those fine tuners would dig in and annoy me, plus the tone always seemed a little thin. Okay, so now we are all clear on my overall feelings, I still approached this with an open mind. The guitar was already fairly in tune, and Ibanez supplied a multi tool in the case to do all the necessary nut un-clamping etc. Basic tuning was painless with a bit of stretching for new strings, clamp it all back down and fine tune, all pretty straightforward so far.
The bridge, to my delight, was set fairly flat as the body is milled out to allow the bar to be pulled up. The fine tuners were also placed further back and lower down, so no issues for my right hand on this model. The action of the bridge was silky smooth allowing for huge movement either way and the thing stuck in tune no matter how much abuse I gave it. Now I'm not saying I'm converted and going to have all my guitars changed to locking bridge systems, but if I had to have one it would be this Edge Zero II system - it worked perfectly.
The neck plays like a dream, with perfect action and easy access to the higher frets thanks to the extra sculpting on the body. Jumbo frets made legato lines a breeze and they even have hand-rolled fret edges - that's a slow, demanding process for the Ibanez luthiers but the results are a joy, no sharp edges here!
The back of the neck is unvarnished, so no problem with sticking when things get a little sweaty. The pickups sound fantastic, the neck offering warm tones with a scooped mid-range, the bridge delivering a bright sparkling top end which is never harsh, and the middle pickup giving a smooth clean tone, with the option to mix and match using the five way toggle switch. The controls are all easy to get to and don’t get in the way of your picking hand. The middle pick-up was set a little too high for my liking, causing my pick to catch it, but that could be easily adjusted with a Philips screw driver. The mahogany body and rosewood top resonate amazingly well for such a streamlined guitar, offering massive amounts of sustain, even at low gain settings.
This guitar is versatile on the tone front, too. You could actually use it for any style of music but it's clearly most at home on the Rock/Metal side of things. Even just looking at it, you can tell what it's set out to do and it would feel just wrong to turn up at a big band gig with it!
This guitar demands and encourages you to grab it by the scruff of the neck and play hard, big bends, blistering runs, outrageous dive bombs, and heavy riffing. This is exactly what it’s designed to do and it delivers, big time. Although this new S series Ibanez isn't exactly a cheap guitar we think it's excellent value for money. You are getting an instrument of luthier-built quality for very much less than luthier prices. If you're in the market for a top of the range, high quality shred machine, then look no further. I know I won’t be. I want one.