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This article was originally published in issue #51
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Part of the Premium line of guitars, the RG721FM sits squarely in the middle of Ibanez’ product range, below the Prestige and J-Custom lines concerning price, and above the affordable Standard range and the no-nonsense Iron Label series.
High end looks and feel
Superb (if divisive) neck
Wide range of tones
Excellent build quality and finish.
Lack of colour options
The neck profile will turn some players off
Ibanez has been producing the RG range now for 30 years, however, with every new modification, this model continues to remain fresh. Nick Jennison reviews the RG721FM.
The Ibanez name (and particularly the RG series of guitars) conjures up strong images in the minds of guitar players of a certain age. If like me, your musical upbringing happened between the late 80s and early 90s, I’m pretty sure that you’re imagining a hairy young individual tearing up and down an impossibly thin neck with wild abandon. The guitar is menacingly pointy, the licks are bombastic, the whammy bar abuse is plentiful, and perhaps some ill-advised trousers are involved. Considering I’ve just described myself at 18, I don’t need to imagine too hard. The trousers were snakeskin, by the way…
In 2017 however, the RG is a somewhat different animal. You might say it’s grown up. Embraced by touring metal players and fusion luminaries alike and sporting the kind of elegant appointments one would normally associate with high-end American-made instruments, today’s RGs have an aura of class that’s distinctly modern. Clean, sharp lines and premium materials with a focus on functionality and playability over retro stylings. If a ’62 Strat is a Jaguar E-type, the modern RG is a Tesla.
Part of the Premium line of guitars, the RG721FM sits squarely in the middle of Ibanez’ product range, below the Prestige and J-Custom lines concerning price, and above the affordable Standard range and the no-nonsense Iron Label series. Made in Indonesia, the build quality and fit-and-finish are superb; reminiscent of the J-Customs made in the early 2000s in both style and quality but at a much lower price point. Boasting an American basswood body and flame maple top (not a veneer as seen on many guitars at this price point) and finished in a matte satin black, this guitar is as pleasing to hold as it is to look at.
As with so many Ibanez guitar, the neck is the star of the show. Slick and eminently playable, with a super sturdy 5-piece maple and walnut construction and a thin satin finish. While the neck profile is a hair thicker than the Wizard necks of yesteryear, it’s still remarkably thin and fast, with a profile that’s just round enough to be comfortable with a “thumb over the top” grip without sacrificing the ergonomic feel that made RGs so popular with “thumb behind the neck” players. The 400mm (15.75”) radius fretboard is also fractionally rounder than the 430mm typically found on RGs, but vintage Fender this ain’t. Such a flat radius allows for a very low action less chance of strings choking out on big bends, and while it’s not ideal for Hendrix-style thumb-bass chording, it’s a dream for more shred-heavy styles. Flame maple neck binding is a classy touch, and the excellent Premium fret edge treatment makes for a really comfy playing experience.
While Ibanez is known for their excellent Edge locking trem systems, this guitar is outfitted with the Tight-End R hardtail bridge - a big, imposing affair that looks a lot like a tremolo at first glance. Make no mistake though, this is going nowhere. Six smooth adjustable saddles are tucked in snugly and locked down with allen head screws, so there’s zero chance of slippage, and the string-through design is extremely sturdy. If you’re used to the feel of a floyd-style tremolo under your hand, this will feel very familiar, and there are no rough edges to catch your hand during palm muted passages.
Sonically, Ibanez RGs have always been more versatile than many give them credit for. Since the birth of the RG in 1987, Ibanez has been using multiple 5-way switches to offer stratty single coil sounds and full-fat humbucker tones on its HSH models, and the HH configuration present on the RG721FM is brimming with parallel and split-coil options. Ibanez’ proprietary CAP-VM pickups do a sterling job in every setting, and while they aren’t as characterful as some boutique offerings, they’re balanced and versatile, and the medium-hot output and alnico magnets are a lot less harsh and brash than you might expect from a guitar of this style.
Shipped in a premium semi-hard case, this guitar feels very upmarket at an extremely competitive price. For the more vintage inclined player this guitar might be a little alien feeling, but if you’re looking for an elegant, high-performance instrument that can cover a wide variety of styles it might be a perfect fit.