I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was 1990. I was 12 years old, sitting in the lounge room watching a short-lived music show called Countdown Revolution. They cut to a filmed interview segment with one Mr Steve Vai. You can see it here because the internet is amazing.
I immediately recognised Steve as that cool dude swinging his guitar around his neck in a few David Lee Roth videos that had made a huge impression on me when I was 9 or 10. The interview was about his then brand-new solo album, Passion And Warfare, and he described the process of designing his 7-string guitar, the Universe. I remember him saying it was especially good for rock, blues, jazz or heavy metal, and that he took the idea to “Ibanez, the company that makes guitars for me.”
I immediately filed that away in the mental piggy bank, sure it would pay off later.
I still remember the first Ibanez guitar I ever played – a used JEM7PBK at Custom Music in Lavington. Christmas was approaching and my dad said I could get a good guitar that year. It was now 1993 and my first electric, a Status brand Stratocaster copy, had served me well for a few years but it spent as much time in pieces getting repaired as it did as a whole being played. I was now way into Vai, and I immediately recognised the sound of that guitar’s PAF Pro pickups as being a big part of his tone on several key Passion And Warfare cuts.
But alas, even Santa’s’ generosity has its limits and the Jem was just a few hundred dollars out of his reach. So I looked at the other guitars on the rack. After very briefly perusing a Washburn, I seized upon a pair of Ibanezes just to the left of the Jem. One was an EX series, which to me looked showy and tacky, with fake gold parts and what even I could tell was a fake flamed maple top. I’d seen one of those at school and I knew they were made in Korea and were cheaper models. Hell, the headstock didn’t even have that awesome Ibanez ‘swoosh’ logo. But next to that, I saw her.
There was no model number on the tag, but on inspection I gleaned a few things: This was a Japanese-made Ibanez, with the same Edge bridge as the Jem next to it, and with the ‘swoosh’ logo. It was the same colour (which I later learned was called ‘Jewel Blue’) as the cool pink-pickup-loaded Paul Gilbert model Ibanez I’d seen in Melbourne a few months earlier. I checked the price. I checked with Santas’ helper. Approval was granted, and I marched out of the store with my first Ibanez. After a while, I started to learn a bit about Ibanez guitars, and I noticed that this one didn’t really fit in with anything I knew about its contemporaries. It had an unsculpted block heel neck joint – completely square like a Strat, not contoured, carved or otherwise streamlined like other models. The neck plate said ‘Made In Japan.’ It had a genuine Edge bridge, even though I knew it probably should have had a LO TRS. And the pickups were probably not the V7 and V8 series I’d seen on RG470s at a few local guitar stores, because they didn’t have anything stamped on them and the pole pieces weren’t black – six were steel-lookin’ slot-head screws and the other six were steel-lookin’ slugs.
It wasn’t until a few years later, after I had discovered Jemsite, that I learned I could find out the model number by removing the neck and seeing what was stamped there. I was surprised to see that it was an RG370, a model number I had associated with cheaper, Korean-built models. Occasionally a skeptic will tell me my guitar can’t possibly be an RG370 if it’s Japanese and has an Edge, but I’ve seen the proof myself and I kinda like having a slightly unusual Ibanez, even if it’s not exactly one of the top-shelf models.
I’ve asked around in the industry and nobody seems to have a definitive answer on this but the general ‘I think this is what happened…’ consensus from various Ibanez and associated folk is that it might have been a special order by the local distributor. That seems to be borne out by this entry to the Ibanez Wiki, which says it was just for Australia and New Zealand.
Since then I’ve had a few interesting and/or noteworthy Ibanezes: an RGR480 with reverse headstock and deep wine finish (like a reverse sunburst, with purple on the outside fading to black in the middle); a sparkly silver Talman TC825 with Bigsby tremolo; an RG7420 with the neck stamped RG7620, which has an extremely thin neck compared to my actual RG7620; an RG550MXX roadflare red 20th anniversary reissue; and a Charleston model flat-top acoustic with jazz guitar-style f-holes. Then there are my Jem (7VWH) and Universe (777BK), and my first-year 1987 RG550BK. All great guitars, all with their own sentimental stories.
My poor old RG370 is now in need of an electronics overhaul and a fret job, but I still drag it out every now and then and am always impressed by how the guitar’s character has evolved and enhanced over the years. There’s a tightness to the bass frequencies and smoothness to the attack that are unique to this guitar compared to others in my collection, which I can only attribute to the thicker neck joint. One day, if Ibanez ever makes my signature model (hey, it could happen, right?), I’m sure I’ll take a few design cues from that guitar. Although I’ll probably make sure the model number is printed somewhere that’s easily visible, to avoid a lot of confusion for some poor kid some time in the future.