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This article was originally published in issue #25
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When thinking about Ibanez, guitarists tend to associate the brand either with high quality Rock and Metal guitars or the company's impressive range of Jazz boxes. The Roadcore range seeks to bring a more classic design aesthetic to Ibanez’s vast range but armed with modern playability and tone. This ideal has become something of a cliché in the guitar industry of late and has been attempted by many companies, but Ibanez has managed to keep a distinct visual identity in the Roadcore range, harking back to classic designs but retaining an Ibanez sensibility and flair throughout.
Ibanez sent us the RC330T and RC365H to review with each guitar representing the same classic, curved design but with different hardware and visual appointments. If one were to pigeon hole the two models it could be said that the RC330T is the traditional Strat-style guitar whilst the RC365H is closest to a Tele-style guitar in terms of its hardware, although it combines elements from Les Paul style guitars also.
The RC365 is a semi-hollow guitar with a bit of an identity complex, although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sporting a traditional mahogany body and maple top combination with a Roadcore-shaped, bolt-on maple neck and rosewood fingerboard, the wood choices don’t betray any particular design influence but rather an amalgamation of a few classic guitar types. This is furthered by the use of a Tele-style single coil in the neck position combined with a humbucker in the bridge and a Les Paul style three-way switch on the upper horn. The addition of a modern fixed bridge and Strat-style volume and tone controls produces a guitar that is certainly traditional and classic in looks but with a more unique and modern hardware appointment, resulting in a very interesting and versatile guitar.
The only criticism that could potentially be levelled at the design is in the positioning of the three-way switch that would be better placed for convenience's sake on the lower bout of the body, as it is on a Strat. The RC365H is available in solid black (as per our review specimen) and a translucent Light Violin Sunburst finish, both of which look great in combination with the over-sized pearloid pick guard that extends up into the upper horn, giving the RC365H a more vintage look.
The build quality is superb, right up there with higher cost Ibanez models and in line with what we’ve come to expect at GI from Ibanez’s Indonesian factory. The wood work is all of a high quality from the neck finishing to the F-hole execution with clean and accurate execution all round. Fretwork is flawless with no raised edges and perfect comfort for the hand across the whole range of the neck thanks to the medium sized frets and round, vintage-style neck profile.
Playability for the RC365 is very good indeed with a very easy and player friendly feel and comfortable body shape that certainly fits with the brief of a vintage styled guitar with modern playability. Chords are supremely comfortable across the range and lead work feels fast and accurate with great upper fret access thanks to the shallow neck joint and thoughtfully sculpted lower horn.
Tonally, the RC365 is more versatile than its three-way selector might lead you to believe and can produce a range of tones from its two pickups in combination with the volume and tone controls. The Core Tone CS single coil in the neck is a smooth and detailed Alnico design that works well for all manner of sounds from dark Jazz to Country cleans and impressively cutting neck lead tones. It has a good attack and response and cleans up very well with the volume lowered. The middle position gives a combination of both pickups for an interesting thinner sound that is pretty unique but very usable for a range of styles. The bridge humbucker is a vintage style Alnico magnet that can go from subtle Blues and Rock crunch, up to high gain leads with ease and has an impressive amount of detail and punch given the guitar’s modest price point.
The hollow design adds some ‘air’ to the sound and makes clean tones a little prettier but this still retains all the characteristics of a solid body electric in the right places.
The RC365 is a very good guitar, especially given its price and successfully combines the vintage and modern ideals that it's attempting to merge. The more unique design that Ibanez have penned here adds to the appeal and for those looking for a well priced vintage looker, the RC365 is a great choice indeed.
The RC330T is unashamedly based on the traditional Strat that we all know and love. It features the same bolt-on, RC maple neck and rosewood fretboard as the RC365 but this time is paired with a solid basswood body, available in translucent Blackberry Sunburst and solid Blue Sparkle and White finishes.
The RC330T sports three Alnico single coil pickups and traditional five-way switch and accompanying volume and two tone controls. Also present is a vintage style six screw, non-floating trem that looks great but is possibly the weakest element in the design. The arm is of the screw-in variety, utilising a screw thread that is only suitably tight once the arm is pointing out the back of the body away from the neck. It’s a common design problem with this kind of trem and means you have to compromise between a bar that’s not tight enough and one that you can actually use in the normal position. Once you get it tight enough it has a tendency to slip quickly anyway, so those users who are serious about their trem use would want to upgrade this element as soon as possible.
That said, the Roadcore RC 330T's build quality is right up there with the RC365H's, with pretty much flawless construction and finishing all round. Fretwork is superb, with the neck sporting the same medium vintage frets, shape and gloss finish for user friendly playability and comfort. Unlike the RC365H, the RC330T features a more comfortable contoured top edge and belly cut, that makes extended sessions with this guitar a more pleasant experience. Other than that, the body design is identical with the same white binding and physical shape, matched with the oversized pick guard in pearloid or red tortoiseshell finishes.
Playability wise our sample RC330T wasn’t set up quite as well from the factory as the RC365H and thus was a little less optimised for an easy playing experience. Despite this it is obvious that this guitar could play just as well as its brother with a good professional set-up and felt just as comfortable and versatile with no tuning or intonation issues to speak of and a wide range of tones from the three single coils. Once again, as we always say, always negotiate a set-up from your retailer when you buy a new guitar and if you buy through the post, get a local specialist to set it up to your personal taste.
Moving on, the tones on offer were all of great quality and, as with the RC365H, the pickups sounded and responded better than the price point would lead you to think. Certainly these elements won’t need upgrading any time soon after purchase for most users, which is a great bonus for those looking for a bargain. Tonally the guitar is definitely in the vintage single coil department, with clarity and dynamics favoured over pure output and grunt. If you’ve played a Strat, you know exactly what you’re going to get here and all of your favourite sounds a well represented with full and thick neck tones matched well with out of phase style position two and four offerings and gritty, cutting bridge tones that can be tamed well with the tone control. As expected, these pickups clean-up beautifully, retaining high end and clarity throughout the volume controls range.
Ibanez has created a good Strat-style guitar here that has a unique design aesthetic and good playability. I was a little disappointed with the tremolo system but this could be easily upgraded and would propel this from being a good guitar to a great one, especially after a good set-up.