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This article was originally published in issue #37
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The Ibanez Iceman was designed and produced by Hoshino Gakki in the mid 1970’s as an attempt at an original design to counter the standard Gibson and Fender shapes that had become dominant at the time. Ibanez had been producing high quality copies for some time and needed something with its own identity and the Iceman, named the Artist 2663 at the time, was the result. The Iceman has certainly become a classic design in its own right and is instantly recognisable, in no small part due to the association with Paul Stanley of Kiss, who had his own signature model for a time.
There have been many iterations of the Iceman over the years, with the IC520 being the latest 2015 model. As with all IC500 series guitars some things remain constant - a solid mahogany body and mahogany set neck design with a bound rosewood fretboard featuring acrylic block inlays. Ibanez has updated the bridge from the Gibraltar type of older IC models to the smaller and more attractive Tight-Tune bridge and tailpiece, giving more sustain and better tuning and intonation accuracy. The pickups, meanwhile, have also been updated with a DiMarzio Tone Zone humbucker in the bridge and an Air Norton humbucker from the same maker in the neck position, matched to a three-way switch for classic Rock tone combinations. Jumbo frets, individual volume and tone controls for each pickup and quality tuners complete the package for a guitar that is very affordable considering the quality components in use.
The Iceman has always been a distinctive looking guitar and while there have been a few subtle body shape modifications over the years, the IC520 is very much the classic design with a cool combination of sharp corners and flowing curves that is surprisingly well balanced for both the eyes and whilst playing. The three tuner per side headstock is essentially an extended version of the RG-style one, and although quite long, suits the guitar and is still very much faithful to the Ibanez brand. The IC520 is offered in two finishes, our review model sporting the translucent Vintage Brown Sunburst, revealing some lovely grain in the mahogany, and an opaque Black finish for those requiring something more menacing. The guitar is both traditional and modern looking with nice appointments to catch the eye such as the zebra pickup covers and angled block inlays. Binding surrounds the entire body, neck and headstock on both finishes giving a nice clean look to the whole guitar and a dark, gloss stain on the back of the body and neck lends a classy feel to the whole design.
If you were worried that the Iceman shape might be uncomfortable to play then let your mind rest easy as it is surprisingly comfortable in use. The belly cut on the back and huge upper fret access make this a very playable guitar for extended periods and both the neck profile and fretboard are great for both chordal and lead work, aided further by those jumbo frets. Build quality is up to the usual Ibanez high standards too. Some manufacturers cut corners at this price point, but the IC520 is built and finished very well indeed with no obvious issues to speak of. Fretwork is very good and even across the neck and the binding is executed well, often an area that can cheapen the look of a guitar if not done properly.
Unplugged, the IC520 has an impressive amount of sustain thanks to the set-in neck design and quality bridge/tailpiece. Open strings sound great, ringing for days and fretted notes sound good all the way up the neck with a lot of resonance in the body since the bridge is anchored directly into the body with stud bolts that are locked onto the bridge bass plate for maximum string to body vibration transfer. The system works well and, although the guitar is heavy, you can feel the wood resonating as you play. Plugged in, the proven combination of Tone Zone bridge and Air Norton neck works as well as ever and has become a real winning pairing for Ibanez. The clean tones are very full and fat but with plenty of clarity in each position, but never overbearing or pushing your amp too hard, even in the bridge position. Drive tones are equally impressive with a good deal of bottom end to match the clarity and plenty of dynamic response, even at higher gain settings. This is certainly not the most versatile guitar in the world with essentially three sounds on offer, but it is designed to rock and does so with a lot of authority and quality.
The IC520 is very easy to recommend on its playability, tone and build quality. Ultimately, whether you decide to get one will be determined on how much the shape appeals to you. Fans of the Iceman style, or Paul Stanley fans who can’t afford the signature models, will be very pleased with this guitar. Others looking for something a little different from the standard Gibson and Fender offerings but with just enough classic styling and tones will also do well to check out the IC520.