I Was A Teenage Ibanez Geek

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.

I’m writing the definitive book on Passion And Warfare

News time: I’m writing a book!

It’s about the creation of Steve Vai’s Passion And Warfare album: the concept, the music-business deal-wrangling, the gear, the recording process, the creative exercises involved in getting into the headspace to make this stuff happen, and much more. There’s a lot of great info in the Passion & Warfare tab book which I know a lot of you may have already read, but there’s more below the surface. A lot more.

Steve very generously gave me a chunk of his time to answer all the questions I’ve had about this landmark album over the years, and we had an amazing chat last week. We talked about the origins of the Ibanez Universe, the surprising choice of main 6-string guitar on the album (hint: it’s not a Jem), how many amps blew up in the recording of ‘The Riddle,’ more detail on how the album bounced from Capitol to Relativity Records and some pretty damn deep metaphysical stuff.

Several other people involved in the album or subsequently inspired by it have agreed to be interviewed. I’ll be talking to Darren Johansen and I’m trying to line up time with David Coverdale right now. The final chapter will be about the legacy of the album so I’m working on getting a wide variety of Vai-influenced guitarists from the last 30 years to talk about how the album inspired them.

My original intention is that it will be picked up by 33 1/3 because that seems like a perfect home for it, but to be honest this thing is already kind of outgrowing the scope of their classic-album books so perhaps I’ll shop it around. (I already have a publisher for another book that I just got a deal for). I’d love to see it come out through Hal Leonard because half my damn bookshelf is from them!

This feels like something that a lot of musicians can learn from whether they’re guitarists or not, Vai fans or not, because the lessons involved in bringing this record to the world are extremely inspiring and instructive, and Steve has graciously shared details far beyond anything I’ve read before.


Hey there, Ibanez MSM100.

Often on Twitter I’ll post little ‘Guitar Crush Of The Day’ pics. I figured I’d do a little blog post about today’s one because what the hell. It’s the Ibanez MSM100 signature model for Marco Sfogli, who I first heard through his incredible work with Dream Theater’s James LaBrie. Marco’s style is a little similar to John Petrucci – not enough to sound like a clone, but enough to serve as a really strong bridge between LaBrie’s identities in Dream Theater and as a solo artist. His Ibanez signature model is based on the AZ series but with plenty of unique twists. It has a DiMarzio Air Norton in the neck position and a Tone Zone in the bridge, a classic combination that gives you big chunky power chords and plenty of overtones and gorgeous mids on single notes. This guitar is rocking a Petrucci-esque wiring scheme where the middle position is coil-split, and it has a distinctive Fabula Green Burst finish that looks even better in person than it does in pics.

More info here.

New Premium Ibanez Jem Brings Back Ebony Fretboard

The Ibanez JEM7VWH has been Steve Vai’s main instrument since it was released at the time of the Sex & Religion album in 1993. Upon release it had a Lo Pro Edge tremolo, an Ebony fingerboard and Vai’s new DiMarzio Evolution humbucking pickups. Since then the VWH has undergone a few changes, including the switch to an Edge Pro tremolo and then to an original Edge, but by far the biggest change that really riled up the Jem community when it happened was the decision to move from an Ebony fingerboard to a Rosewood one in 2004. Sure, this gave the Jem a slightly warmer tone (which helped to cool down those very aggressive Evolutions) but many players preferred the more direct tone and smooth feel of Ebony. 

Now Ibanez is releasing a Premium version of the JEM7VWH, the JEM7VP, which brings back that sweet sweet Ebony fingerboard. There are a couple of other key differences between this and the Japan-made VWH though: it has Jumbo frets and a 5-piece Maple/Walnut Wizard neck instead of the JEM neck shape and narrow/tall 6105 frets, and the Premium’s fingerboard radius is a little more subtly rounded than the VWH.

I can imagine a lot of players being very happy with this model. A) It’s more affordable than the VWH which is a seriously-priced piece of kit; B) Yay Ebony; C) The smaller frets and flatter radius of the WVH just don’t feel as Ibanezzy to players who are used to the RG neck. One point to note: it does not have scallops on frets 21-24.

This is also pretty smart marketing by Ibanez. It gives players something in between the top-of-the-line JEM7VWH and the budget JEM Jr, a guitar that a lot of folks buy to upgrade to more VWH-like specs. 

I used to have a VWH and while it was a phenomenal guitar, eventually I traded it for a Strat because it just never really felt like ‘mine.’ But I’m certainly tempted to get the JEM7VP because there will always be a place in my heart for the white Jem, and I think I would like this model’s neck a little more. What do you think?

Shredfest ’93, Or The Paul Gilbert Duet That Never Was

Mr Big

I’m a daydreamer. I always have been. One of my current favourite hobbies is going to zillow.com to check out super-expensive homes for sale or rent in Laurel Canyon, then kinda just blissing out over the idea of waking up there, making a coffee, strolling out to the deck with an acoustic guitar and tweedling out some licks while while taking in the aroma of the eucalyptus trees. I’ve met people who don’t daydream at all, or who mistake daydreaming with goal-setting. I’d bloody love to live in Laurel Canyon but I’m not actively working towards it and I’m not fussed if it never happens: it’s just nice to go there in my head for a bit. Anyway, while pondering the nature of daydream recently, I remembered one of my favourite daydreams.

It was in December 1991. My family used to go to the seaside town of Bermagui every year right after Christmas. The seven-hour drive was always pretty brutal, but by ’91 I had a kickass tape deck that fit right behind my seat in dad’s four-door Ford F-150. Jam some headphones in that sucker, crack open a MAD Magazine and zone out until the next pee/snack break (my favourite was the town of Adaminaby, with its giant Rainbow Trout sculpture. Seriously, you’ve gotta go see that thing). That year my brother Steve gave me Mr. Big’s Lean Into It album for Christmas, and I brought it along for the ride, along with a few of my other favourites at the time: Steve Vai’s Passion & Warfare, Metallica’s ‘Black’ album, Van Halen’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge.

img_0161So here’s where the daydream comes in. I remember this as clear as if it happened yesterday. As I listened to Lean Into It‘s opening track “Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy” I started to think about how awesome it would be to record a song with Paul Gilbert. I could picture it all so clearly. It would be an instrumental shred duet. We’d both be playing Ibanez PGM models because Paul would totally have given me one because we’d be best mates of course. Our song would start with a driving riff then kick into an awesome call-and-response verse. Then badass harmony chorus. An even wilder call-and-response second verse. Badass harmony chorus again. Then we’d each take extended solos. Paul’s would be really cool. Mine would utterly wipe the floor with him. I mean it would slay that dude. Poor Paul. And he’d be cool about it, of course, because he’s such a nice guy. And we’d make a video for it. It would be Paul and I, walking along a highway (the highway we happened to be driving along while I was having the daydream), kickin’ dirt on the side of the road. The camera would focus on a nearby snake before re-focusing onto me and Paul shredding on the road in the distance. We’d do some takes of us shredding in the middle of grassy fields. Maybe put a foot up on a fallen tree for a killer rockstar pose.

And the name of the track would be “Shredfest ’93” because I was a realist and I figured I wouldn’t be good enough to wipe the floor with Paul Gilbert within one calendar year, but I’d probably be able to do it by ’93.

Of course part of the thing about daydreams is they’re allowed to be impossible.


INTERVIEW: Fear Factory’s Dino Cazares



The mighty Fear Factory is touring Australia this June in support of their latest album Genexus, but this tour has a twist: fans have been invited to submit songs for the setlist. It’s a cool opportunity to hear some less-common tracks and to feel like even more a part of the show than the typical Fear Factory fan frenzy allows. Last week I caught up with riffmaster Dino Cazares to chat about the tour and, of course, guitars.

So you’re letting fans have a say in the setlist. Read More …

The World’s First 24-Fret 7-String Shred Machine?


I was just scanning some recent guitar auctions, as I am wont to do, and I saw something super cool at a Guernsey’s auction from February 27: Tony Mottola’s 1952 7-string, 24-fret Gibson Custom Super 400CES. Mottola was a legendary session musician who played with Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. He also played in the Doc Severinson Orchestra on The Tonight Show. This guitar has a carved spruce top with maple back and sides, and custom P90 pickups with seven pole pieces. It was offered for auction with its original hard case and a copy of the production ledger for March 1992. The serial number is A 9934. What an amazing piece of history. Following are some more guitars – including instruments belonging to Eddie Van Halen and Richie Sambora – but first here are some more pics of the 7-string: Read More …

Rare Green Ibanez Universe On eBay


Hey folks! Happy 2016! Thought I’d kick the year off with this beauty: a 1991 Ibanez Universe UV777 GR Loch Ness Green 7-string. These are super-rare, and this one is on eBay right now with a Buy It Now price of $US4,499. These came out at a time when bright guitars with Floyd Roses were about to dip from favour amid the rise of grunge, and only a small number were made. I’ve never seen one in person but I hope Ibanez reissues them one of these days. I feel like this model would have a much better chance of catching on today than it did back in its day. Check it out on eBay here.

From the description: Read More …