Tag Archives: 1980s

The Ibanez RG350M – Such a JEM . . .

I have a fixation with Ibanez guitars.  The company’s retro styling, commitment to playability, constant innovation, and  iconic neon color schemes make them truly original (which is ironic as they faced law suits in their early years for plagiarism of competitor’s models).  As a result, many of their guitars are works of art, and have become collector’s items.  One of the guitars that helped establish Ibanez as a serious company for the serious player was the JEM.  Introduced in 1987, and co-designed by Steve Vai, the JEM was a Super Strat that came in Shocking Pink, Desert Sun Yellow, and Loch Ness Green.  Probably the most iconic features were the “Monkey Grip” handle cut out and the multicolored disappearing pyramid inlay – cool!

Of course, today these guitars are fairly rare and infinitely more expensive than they were in the late 80s.  I mean, we’re not talking 1954 Stratocaster rare, but a vintage JEM in good condition will definitely take some research and cost upwards of $2700.  Not horrible, but you’re still buying a vintage instrument, which means all of the problems that may come with it.  So in my quest for a JEM, I had to face the reality that it was not in my best financial interest to purchase a real vintage JEM (although they will probably appreciate nicely).  Luckily, Ibanez still produces a guitar that bears resemblance to the mighty JEM – the RG350.

 

So, for roughly $430 I got a new Yellow Ibanez RG – the foundation for the 2011 JEM project.  Now there were a few elements I would never have – the Monkey Grip, the disappearing pyramid inlay, and the pink tremolo bar depression cut out.  I mean I could have gotten these things, but at that point and cost, I might as well have shelled out for the real deal.  So first I scoured the online community of JEM fanatics – Jemsite – until I found a parts supplier, Ibanez RulesFrom Ibanez Rules I ordered authentic neon green (with black writing) Volume and Tone knobs, and a Pink selector switch tip – all to match the original.  Next, it was time for the PUs, which were obviously to be Dimarzios, the only company still producing the late 80s aesthetic.  To sound like the best, Paul Gilbert, I got two PAF Pros for Neck and Bridge, and an  FS-1 for Middle position.  To match the original JEM, I got neon pink PU covers, and one creme/black zebra cover for a personal twist.  Lastly, I installed a neon green Dimarzio ClipLock strap – my late 80s JEM reproduction was complete!

Ultimately, this was a fun project!  Of course, it’s no spitting image of the original JEM, but it’s a modern progeny with the same general character and a much smaller price tag.  The Dimarzios sound killer, and at the very least, the guitar is a great conversation piece that fills the void in my arsenal of a late 80s shred machine.  So if you’ve got a thirst for some rare, vintage axe but lack the funds to obtain – make it yourself!

For more on the Ibanez JEM, check out Jemsite.

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Charvel San Dimas, Style 1 HH Snow White

If you can’t tell by the dirt on the neck, this guitar is my weapon of choice.  The playability of an Ibanez and the look of a Fender Stratocaster, for me, this guitar is the perfect combination of old and new.  As much as I love the sound and feel of my Ibanez guitars, their styling is a bit too aggressive to be applicable to all gigs.  Whipping out a pointy, neon yellow axe at a session or live gig can scare the audience or client, and turn everybody off – even if it does sound good.  At the same time, you don’t want to show up with a knife to gun fight, and bringing a vintage Strat to a modern sounding gig can be just as bad.  Hence the best of both worlds – the Charvel San Dimas, the original “super-Strat.”

Charvel was started in the 1970s by Wayne Charvel, a former Fender employee.  Emerging out of “Charvel’s Guitar Repair,” Charvel eventually started making complete guitars.  By the late 1970s, the company became most well-known for its invention of the “super-Strat,” modernizing the traditional Stratocaster configuration with humbucking pick ups and tremolo bars.  These “super-Strats” were perfect guitars for the popular heavy rock and metal of the period and earned Charvel an association with Eddie Van Halen, Shawn Lane, Richie Sambora and many other top players of the era.  Fast forward, in 2002 Charvel was bought by Fender Corp.  Today, Charvel operates as a major manufacturer and full custom shop, producing lower-priced Japanese made guitars, more expensive American made axes, and taking individual custom orders.

This guitar is a Snow White San Dimas model, part of the “Pro-Mod” series, made in Japan – but don’t let that turn you off.  The Japanese Charvel luthiers are expert craftsman who easily rival any domestic makers, and although it does shave off some $ signs, these guitars don’t carry the stigma of, let’s say, Mexican made Fenders.  At $900, this guitar is all business, using the highest quality materials and parts to make a no-nonsense, professional axe at a reasonable price.  First, unlike any other comparable guitar in its price range, the San Dimas has a real Floyd Rose Tremolo system, not a “Floyd Rose Authorized” knock-off.  Along these same lines, it comes stock with a Seymour Duncan ’59 PU at neck position and JB PU at bridge, not Seymour Duncan “authorized” PUs.  It also comes with Grover tuners, chrome hardware and Dunlop Straplok strap buttons – amazing features that almost always need to be added post purchase.

But the real bread and butter of Charvel is their compound radius necks.  Neck radius is the amount of curvature on the fretboard – low radius being more curved, and high radius being flatter.  Fenders typically have a low radius, while Ibanez use a higher one.  Although just a preference, low radius necks are said to be better for bends and chords, while a high radius is optimal for legato and tapping.  Of course few of us are tapping and using legato at the 1st fret – that’s why Charvel invented the compound radius neck.  Charvel necks have a low radius at the lower frets, and slowly increase radius(get flatter) towards the higher frets – 12″ to 16″ radius to be exact.  This gives the feel of a Strat at lower frets, and the feel of an Ibanez up high – perfect for rhythm and lead.  Aside from that, Charvel necks are unfinished, giving them a very smooth texture that wears in nicely.  Also, the neck shape is licensed by Fender, so it is literally the exact same headstock you would find on a Strat – cool!

Ultimately, you can’t beat this guitar in its price range – or maybe even at all!  With the highest quality parts, fantastic compound neck, and classic look, it’s the best of all worlds.  You may note the lack of a tone knob – there is only a volume knob and 3 way selector switch – but I have never desired one while playing this guitar.  Any EQ alterations I have needed could be done on an amp, and believe me, you won’t want to change this killer tone much.  For Rock, Blues, Metal, Pop and even Jazz, I’d say this guitar can’t be beat.  Also, it comes with a TSA approved hard case, perfect for air-travel – no more stressing about your axe during the flight!  Need I say anything more . . .

For more on Charvel, check out the Charvel website.

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The E.W.S. Arion SCH-Z Chorus/Vibe Mod, The Ultimate Chorus Pedal

The original Arion SCH-1 Chorus pedal is a legendary guitar accessory.  Coming to prominence during the 1980s, the SCH-1 became a staple on many professional pedal boards.  Known for its deep, lush chorus sounds and tonal versatility, the Arion SCH-1 secured its spot in stomp box history.  However, the SCH-1 has long since been discontinued by the Japanese based company, Arion, which today produces its modern brethren – the SCH-Z.  Many tone freaks argue the superiority of the SCH-1 to the SCH-Z, citing circuitry, country of origin (the SCH-Z is made in Sri Lanka), and most importantly, sound quality, but most professionals will tell you that there is very little difference, if any at all.  Save price of course – while a new SCH-Z is $50, the SCH-1 can easily fetch upwards of $100 on eBay.  This discrepancy is most likely due to rarity, as vintage pedals are very collectible.

Still, with all its perfection, many players sought improvement to the Arion Chorus pedal.  That’s where another Japanese based company, Engineering Work Store, comes in.  Partnering with rising pedal stars, Xotic effects, E.W.S. has created their own Arion SCH-Z modification.  Starting with an original Arion SCH-Z pedal, E.W.S. makes a series of modifications to improve durability and sound quality.  They make the pedal True Bypass, add a brighter LED light, improve the tone adjustment knob, create a more durable foot switch, and most significantly, change the “Direct/Stereo” control switch to “Chorus/Vibe.”  As opposed to having the option of producing a stereo signal, E.W.S. has created two different chorus options within a single pedal.  “Chorus” mode is a more traditional, subtle chorus sound, akin to a Boss CE-5 or TC Electronic SCF.  The “Vibe” channel is a deeper, more intense chorus, emulating the sonic phenomenon of a Leslie rotary speaker.  Although you lose the option of having a stereo signal, you gain an exponential amount of tonal range and diversity.  Plus, how many of us are really using a true stereo set up on stage anyway?

Overall, this is a flawless chorus pedal.  From George Harrison-esque Leslie sounds, to Eric Johnson chorus sparkle, to Stevie Ray Vaughn styled blues chorus, to just plain far out, this pedal does it all – and well!  A great blend of classic tone and modern technology, the E.W.S. Arion Chorus/Vibe Mod is a great purchase for anyone looking for a unique addition to their pedal board.  At $195, this is a professional-grade pedal that will exceed your chorus expectations and last a lifetime – just ask some of the pedal’s biggest proponents, Joe Bonamassa, Scott Henderson, Oz Noy, and Allen Hinds!

Check out the E.W.S. website for more information on this pedal

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The Ibanez RG 350 DX – To shred, or not to shred?

Like many guitar players, when I began, I was all about the classics – Fender and Gibson.  Nothing appealed less to me than a Parker, BC Rich, or even Ibanez.  These companies were associated with a mentality I didn’t like – I didn’t want to sacrifice soul or character for playability or a Floyd Rose.  But as I progressed as a player, and became more interested in “shredding,” it seemed as though my old friends just couldn’t handle the heat.  Single coil PUs with hum, low radius necks, heavy strings – not a recipe to sound like Eddie Van Halen.  Plus, I was ignoring one major factor – I thought that “soul” came from the guitar, when it really comes from the player.  Since then, I have witnessed many character-less solos on classic guitars, and some extremely emotional, original ones on the newer breeds.

Eventually, my interest in the other side prompted me to make a purchase.  I went on eBay and bought a factory second, White Ibanez 350DX for about $350.  It was the first guitar I ever purchased with a locking nut, “Floyd Rose”-esque system.  At first it was weird – the neck was so thin and flat, there were 24 frets, there was a usable whammy bar – but soon it became one of my favorite axes.  I loved the way it felt, but the stock PUs were terrible, so I replaced them.  Knowing I would hardly use the middle single coil PU, I just put a Seymour Duncan Jazz SH-2 at neck position and a Seymour Duncan JB at bridge.  With this change, this guitar became my weapon of choice.

Now, a good guitarist can play on any guitar – but playing with this axe was like using training wheels.  So many techniques – legato, tapping, string skipping – that were previously impossible on my Strat or Tele were suddenly pretty easy – and sounding good!  Using high output humbuckers, I could finally achieve a distorted tone with cleanliness and clarity.  This guitar also became my number one studio axe.  It’s totally silent when not being played, and can create a wide array of sounds, from sparkling cleans to death metal overdrive.  And the best part – after playing on this guitar for a while, I could suddenly do all these complicated techniques on my classic guitars.  It was as if practicing these techniques on a guitar built for them allowed me to better understand their mechanics, and how to implement them on any guitar.  Basically, I am so thankful that I purchased this guitar.  It has taught me so much about my own playing, and how to coax classic charm out of even the most modern beast.

In conclusion, I advise every guitar player to spend a little time with an axe like this.  They are generally foreign made, very inexpensive, and easy to find second hand.  I equate them to “rice rocket” racing cars – they are the perfect blank slate, ready to be modified into the ultimate Rock machine.  You can learn a lot from having 24 frets and a high neck radius, and may be surprised how much “tone” you can actually get from one of these “shredders.”  If you’re into modern guitar playing, yielding a weapon like this is a must.

For more on Ibanez, check out the Ibanez website.

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