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 Rules. From 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.