REVIEW: Ibanez Jem505

There’s a very memorable photo in the Ibanez: The Untold Story book of a bunch of executives from another guitar company staring open-mouthed at the newly-unveiled Ibanez Jem at the NAMM show in 1987. It perfectly captures the moment when everything changed for so-called ‘superstrats.’ Steve Vai’s Jem signature line has gone through many changes since then, but the basic design remains the same: monkey grip handle, ‘lion’s claw’ route for pulling back on the whammy bar, 24 frets, now-standard-but-at-the-time-revolutionary pickup selection settings designed by DiMarzio’s Steve Blucher (the 2 and 4 positions split the humbuckers into single coils for Stratocaster sounds)… it’s easy to forget how influential those first Jems were, but they really did ignite a revolution in guitar design.

Jems have, by their nature, always been a costly proposition. For a long time you could buy the JEM555 or ‘Jem Jr,’ a Korean-made instrument which cut costs here and there – bridge, inlays, pots – and was never quite considered a ‘real Jem’ by the snobs who would only accept Japanese-made Jems. In some markets, Ibanez countered counterfeits with the Jem333, an even more stripped-down, low-cost alternative. But Ibanez fans feel a particular affinity for the Fujigen company which produces most of Ibanez’s Japanese output.

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NEWS: Is this Vai’s new floral Jem?

Remember back in September when I interviewed Steve Vai and he mentioned a new floral-pattern Ibanez Jem on the horizon? Well that Jem wasn’t released at the NAMM Show, so where was it? Well, it may not have been at NAMM but it seems Steve did lug it along for a recording session with Mary J Blige the other day to lay down a cover of ‘Stairway to Heaven.’

Check out the photo below from the LA Times (click the pic for a close-up) – and check out the line-up for the session! Mary J. Blige on vocals, Steve Vai and Orianthi on guitar, Travis Barker on drums and Randy Jackson on bass. The producer is Ron Fair.

In September Steve said There’s always little innovations. We’re working on a new material pattern – remember the floral pattern? Oh my gosh, we’re doing something like that again but ah, the pattern is so gorgeous. When you see it you’re going to die. And also there’s one innovation, I can’t really tell you what it is, but it’s revolutionary. It’s one of those very simple, practical things that no-one ever did, and it’s just like, ‘Well duh!’

So what do you think? Is that the new floral Jem which is expected to make it into production soon (perhaps it’ll be premiered at Musikmesse or Summer NAMM)? Or is it one of Steve’s many one-offs? One hint that it may indeed be the real thing can be found here.

Photo: Andrew McLeod

NAMM 2010: Ibanez Universe 20th Anniversary and Jem design contest

Here’s something super-cool for Ibanez geeks such as myself. Ibanez has announced it will run a contest to allow (what I assume will be) one lucky fan to design an Ibanez Jem model of their very own. RAD! More details will be announced soon. The contest will mark the 77,777th Jem guitar sold. This is in addition to the 20th anniversary Universe reissue, officially dubbed the UV77RE. Isn’t it pretty?

More info HERE, and check out Ibanez’s cool timeline of the different Jem and Universe models HERE.

NEWS: Ibanez discontinues fixed bridge Jem

Just a heads-up, the Ibanez Jem7EAFX – the fixed-bridge Jem that everyone liked the idea of but weren’t so thrilled about the big Vai/Earth decal behind the bridge – is being discontinued in 2010, according to the venerable Rich Harris of Ibanez Rules in a post on Jemsite. So if you want one you’d better snap it up now.

CLICK HERE to see Ibanez Jems on eBay.

CLICK HERE to buy the Jem7VWH (that’s the regular white Jem, of which I’m a proud owner) from Guitar Center.

SONG: My shred cover of ‘Hey Mickey’

Here’s something a little bit fun and a whole lot silly -my shred cover of ‘Hey Mickey.’ I recorded this back in early 2007 as a bit of a joke. A music forum I used to visit had a challenge where everyone got assigned a cover song to record. I was given ‘Hey Mickey’ and this is the result.

There should be a YouTube bar embedded above, but if that doesn’t work on your computer for some reason, click HERE.

The gear used for the track was very simple. An Ibanez RG7420 7-string with DiMarzio Tone Zone bridge pickup for the rhythm guitars, and an Ibanez Jem7VWH with DiMarzio Evolution pickups for the lead. No amps were used, just a Boss GT-8 direct into a Macbook running Garageband. This was before I even had my Pro Tools rig. I used the GT-8’s Soldano SLO100-inspired model, and used the GT-8’s wah and pitch bend (similar to a Digitech Whammy Pedal) effects in a few select places. I was going for a lead guitar tone like something Steve Vai might have used on his Sex & Religion album.

I put the song up on Myspace for a while and Mike Chapman, the legendary producer who wrote it, heard my version and really liked it. He offered to mix it for me just for fun, provided I record some real drums for it instead of the badly programmed Garageband MIDI drums. I did so, but as is the case with these things sometimes, it never ended up happening – I didn’t hear back from Mike after I emailed him to say the drums were recorded, and the whole thing just kinda petered out. I kinda feel like it’s run its course anyhow, so I present it here as a fun little distraction, as well as the first recording I made after getting my Jem.

NEWS: Tough times mean Jem bargains

Someone on Jemsite pointed out yesterday that in these dire financial times it seems like there are a lot of usually hard-to-find Ibanez Jems and Universes popping up on eBay. Here are a few of them for your perusing pleasure, but if the auctions have ended by the time you see this post, CLICK HERE to see Ibanez Jem listings, and CLICK HERE to see Ibanez Universe listings.




JEM 20th Anniversary

JEM7VWH with ebony fretboard and Lo Pro Edge trem

JEM7VWH current model with rosewood fretboard, Edge Pro trem


JEM777 LNG Loch Ness Green

JEM777 SK Shocking Pink


JEM77VBK Latest model