Ibanez guitar buying guide
An article by Marc_Maiden
Since Ibanez is one of the leading guitar companies used on this forum, I thought id dump my knowledge of the brand on to you, so you may buy yourself a real quality Ibanez guitar! This comes after I get countless PM’s on which to buy “is this any good” so on and so forth...
To learn about the history of Ibanez guitars check out the Ibanez GMC Wiki article here: CLICK In this guide I will teach you a little about ibanez guitar quality, all the key terms you will need to know, and how to get the guitar of your dreams at good prices. Used or new. I will talk about mostly about RG series, and S series since those are the most popular, (and other models derivce from these two) however, the same rules apply for all Ibanez models.
Why would you buy an Ibanez in the first place? Well truth be told, you can buy a very very professional guitar with very little money (if you go used) or you can still get a lot of bang for your buck with a new guitar. In this time and economy (where ever you are) bang for your buck is important.
Key Terms to know
There are a few key terms you will need to know. These are general terms I will use, and you will see in the guitar world in general.
RG- road gear series (most popular model)
MIJ- made in Japan
MIA- made in America
MII – made in Indonesia
MIK- made in Korea
LACS- Los Angeles Custom Shop
SN- Serial Number (this is very important)
Golden Era – the time where Ibanez was at its peak in quality (1980 – 2000)
Prestige – Ibanez’s high end guitars ( I.E. S prestige or RG prestige)
Things to Consider when buying an Ibanez guitar
Things to consider:
1. What body style do I want?
2. What kind of features do I want
3. What is my budget
4. Am I ok with buying used guitars? Or am I strictly a new guitar kind of person?
5. What asthetics do I want?
Ibanez offers two main body styles. The RG and the S series. Both are almost exactly the same in features and quality. The main difference is that the RG series comes with 24 frets standard, and the S series has 22 frets standard (24 frets on the recent 2007+ S prestige models MIJ). RG series also has a thicker body (which some prefer) and the S has a thin 1 inch thick body (which others prefer) It all comes down to what you want. Almost every guitar store has at least one RG or S to try out. I suggest that you try them since the body shape will be exactly the same since their debut 20+ years ago. There is a slight exception and that is the JS and Radius series but I will talk about those later on.
Ibanez guitars have always been very simple. About 90% of their guitars are floating tremolo guitars so beware! There have been some fixed bridge series like the recent RGA series which now has affordable models instead of the prestige only they used to offer. The main features you want to look for are wood type, hardware, and pick up style. As for wood type, the RG series is mostly bass wood which a lot of professionals use, however some models come in Ash and Mahogany like the higher end RG prestige guitars. As for hardware, you have to choose between tremolo models. There have been 5 main high end tremolo models:
There are a few budget tremolos as well: Edge 3 (which is a good trem, just won’t last as long as the the top 5), edge 2, single locking model, and TRS II. There are normal TRS tremolos on some of the Ibanez guitars and those are not too bad.
Four main types of necks
There have been four main types of necks for the Ibanez RG and S series. They really only differ in thickness, and it is impossible to really tell which one they are and how thin they are by
From thinnest to thickest:
Wizard late 80's-mid 90's Extremely Thin, The Ibanez players personal choice.
Super Wizard mid 90's to early 00's My personal favorite. Not as thin as the Wizard, but its not too tick.
Presitge Wizard 2000-present A tiny bit thicker than the Super Wizard but still very comfortable.
Wizard II 2000-present The thickest of the four. Hard to find one MIJ, can be a little inconsistant with quality and thickness.
To tell what Ibanez model has which neck, scoll down and read how and where to identify Ibanez guitars. The Ibanez catalogs (link provided in that section) will tell you which models had what neck.
Pick up styles:
Ibanez offers a few style to choose from. There are the HSH, HSS, HH, and the rare SSS. The most common being the HSH. There are also a few pick ups that you can choose from:
INF series- Current Budget pickups…from personal experience they are on the treble side, and can be a tiny bit muddy. I like them, but that’s personal preference.
Powersound series- Used to be the budget pickups in older budget Ibanez guitars. My suggestion: stay away
V1-2 Series – Found on older higher end guitars. Very rare, and a favorite of Ibanez fans.
V7-8 Series – commonly found on Mid upper range to high end guitars. To most, these are a love/hate pick up configuration.
S series - (single coil version of the V series) – favored by a lot of people.
QM Series – found on older higher end models. These are also love/hate type of pick ups.
IBZ/DMZ series (Ibanez/Dimarzio series) – these are found on more recent high end prestige guitars. They are supposed to sound like real Dimarzios, but many people think they fall a little short. Good pick ups non the less.
You can tell what an Ibanez will look like based on its model number. Ibanez uses 3-4(4 being a prestige unless it has a “7” then it is a 7string version of the series) numbers in their models. The first number tells you the series. The higher number, the better quality and features you will have. For example: an RG120 is at the bottom of the quality and feature range, but an RG550 is higher up there! Now you can tell what Aesthetics the guitar has by the last 2 numbers.
20 – HH pickups, no pick guard
50- HSH pickups, with pick guard
70 – HSH pickups, no pick guard
60 – HSS, no pick guard
65 - *rare* HS pick ups, no pick guard
Note, the 5 series will be MIJ and of high quality, however, recent “5” series guitars and above have a “1” before it making it a 4 number model number, and a prestige. So if you want a new guitar, with a pick guard, then you know it will have to be a 1550 series number. You can do research to see if they exist. Other things you can tell from the model number:
DX = Sharktooth inlay
LTD= limited (not really, marketing gimmick) sharktooth inlay
M= Maple fretboard.
So based on the above info, you can tell that an RG1550MDX will be a prestige series guitar, it will have HSH pickups, it will have a pick guard, and it will have a maple fretboard with sharktooth inlays.
Identifying Ibanez guitars in the wild
Ok so now you have an idea of what kind of a guitar you want. You saw a few on ebay or craigslist, but you don’t know what model they are or how much they are worth. How do you know which Ibanez model it is?
There are many ways if identifying the Ibanez model. You should always ask the seller if he knows what the model is (in some cases with more recent guitars, the model will be in the back of the headstock next to the serial number). If he does not know, ask him for the serial number which is located on the back of the headstock. The other thing you will need is a picture. Why would you buy a guitar online without seeing it anyways?
A serial number can tell you many things about an Ibanez guitar. When and where the guitar was made (as well as the production number)
A typical serial number will look like this: F90512345
The letter tells you what factory the guitar was made in. In this case F stands for Fujigen, which is the Japanese factory where 99% of Ibanez’s high quality stuff is made. (MIJ)
F, H, and I (H and I are on older models) = MIJ
C, S, P, Y, and A = MIK
I = MII
Z, J= MIC
- Note these are the main letters you will see, however there are some others for older Japanese models.
Now comes the confusing part so pay attention!
Serial numbers vary from time periods.
From 1997 – present, Serials started with 2 numbers for the year followed by 2 numbers for the month, and the rest is the production number. For the serial number above (F90512345), we can tell that it was made in 1989 because there is no “99 or 09” for 1999 or 2009
From 1987-1997 the Serials just had 1 number for the year, and the rest of the numbers were the production number. Since we already know that this serial number was made in 1989, we can tell this was the 51,2345 model made for that year.
So now we know how to identify the year, how would we know what model?
Well Ibanez was very nice to provide us with an online database with all the catalogs from 1987-preset. So now that you know the year, you can go to this website CLICK and look up the catalog of that year and start matching pictures and models. NOTE: the picture in the catalog might be a little different looking due to your monitor, or the guitar may be the same with a difference finish.
How much is it worth? Am I getting a good price?
That is one of the most difficult questions to answer! MIJ guitars as we discussed before are the higher quality guitars. Those will be worth way more than any other country made guitar with the exception of US made. You can get a good condition Ibanez RG that was MIJ, has a high end tremolo, and minimal wear from $300-600. (depending on the model of course)The Ibanez S will be a little more expensive because it is a little rarer. The best thing to do in a case of not knowing the price is consider a few things ( and this goes for guitars in general )
1- Indentify the guitar
2- Go on Ebay.com, Gbase.com, and Craigslist.org and research the average prices and conditions that model is usually in. If you do not find any for sale, it probably means that it is a rarer model. In this case read the HarmonyCentral.com reviews and see what they paid.
3- (most importantly) is it worth the price to you?! It’s ok to over pay a little if it is the guitar of your dreams. Do not over pay a lot however, you can always find another, especially with Ibanez guitars. There are plenty to go around! And plenty good deals going around as well.
Thanks for the amazing info Marc! But can you tell me some models to look for to start my search?
Sure I can!
Here are some popular models to look out for in the wild
5XX series (note, you can find an RG520 used for $250-300USD on ebay or craigslist. I recommend this, high end guitar, high end tremolo, great price) 4XX (make sure this is MIJ, many 4 series are MIK)
1XXX series (prestige)
2XXX series (prestige)
3XXX series (prestige)
Note: I would not buy an S guitar unless it was made prior to the year 2000. Quality has gone rapidly down since then, but the quality of an S series prior 2000 is nothing short of amazing. (referred as the golden era)
A little extra info
Many of you know about the JEM and JS signature guitars. They are very high end signature series. But in terms of bang for buck, they aren’t that high at all. The Jem is an RG prestige with lots of flashy bells and whistles (which I like) but adds to the $2000+ USD price. You could buy a high quality RG and have it customized for less! The JS series comes from the “Radius” guitar series which are very similar to the S series but were only available late 80’s early 90’s. The radius is the original Joe Satriani guitar, and will be a lot cheaper as well.
Some of the S series guitars come with an inlay that says “custom made” and many sellers well sell it as that. Do not be fooled, these are not custom made, but are just a cool little inlay used for marketing purposes.
You will also see some guitars claimed to be made in the USA. The only USA made guitars were made in Los Angelas, and now that shop is reserved for endorsers only. Some sellers will claim that an Ibanez guitar was made in Bensalem, PA. That is not true. Those are still MIJ guitars that have a neck pocket plate that has “Bensalem, PA” on them. Do not be fooled here either. USA custom Ibanez guitars will have “USA CUSTOM” on the front of the headstock.
Ibanez guitar quality has sadly gone down since the year 2000. I can’t stress enough how much more valuable it is to buy a used Ibanez instead of new. The prestige guitars are good, but anything non MIJ will be considered a mid level guitar or lower. I suggest you either get a good priced used MIJ Ibanez or save up for one. You will not be sorry.
Here are the places Ibanez Guitars are made ranking from highest to lowest quality:
Overall I hope you have enough information to identify and purchase an Ibanez guitar. If you have more trouble, GMC is always there to help, or the Ibanez Forum has an army of people waiting to help you as well.
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