Sir or madam requires power, speed, a vibrato smoother than oiled grease and a potential action lower than a snake’s belly in a wheel rut? Step right this way. Review by Huw Price.
The Ibanez RG series has been with us since the 1980s and their popularity amongst heavier rockers and shredders seems undiminished. The RG950QMZ we’re reviewing this month comes from the RG Premium series.
As usual the ‘flattened D’ profile neck is constructed from three strips of maple divided by two thin strips of walnut that run along its entire length. However, Ibanez has done something really clever on this model: the 24-fret rosewood fingerboard actually looks as if it has been set into the neck like an inlay, but it’s an optical illusion created by the use of maple binding. The binding matches the maple used for the neck very closely, so the join lines are not immediately apparent. Lovely.
Tall jumbo frets are installed in the 400mm (approx 15.75″) radius fingerboard and offset pearl dot markers add a touch of individual style. The frets are described as having been given a ‘premium fret edge treatment’, which means that they are beautifully rounded off and highly polished for player comfort.
Basswood is a standard wood for RG type guitars and on this model there’s a quilted maple veneer front with a 5mm edge between the front and the rear of the body left unstained to create a faux maple cap effect. Ibanez has taken a similar approach with the headstock, which has a thick maple overlay with a quilted maple veneer and an ultra-thin layer of walnut between the overlay and the segmented rear of the headstock.
DiMarzio pickups and Ibanez guitars is a proven combination, and the DiMarzios in the RG950QMZ are specially made for Ibanez. Designated the IBZ (H) and IBZ (S), they’re arranged in a HSH configuration with a five-way pickup selector switch. In the neck, middle and bridge settings you hear each pickup individually. The two in between settings combine the single coil in the centre with the inner coil of each humbucker in parallel. It’s all very simple to use and the controls have been pared back to a straightforward master volume and master tone arrangement.
Metal and shred-oriented HSH guitars with locking trems have drifted in and out of favour since they first hit the market during the 1980s, and while Ibanez makes a wide variety of guitars, the company has always kept the faith with its formula. Even so, RG guitars have evolved and it’s clear that Ibanez takes its vibrato systems very seriously. This one is a locking system, but far more sophisticated than the Floyd Rose trems of old. Ibanez’s trem goes by the cumbersome name of the ‘Edge-Zero II w/ZPS3Fe’, which may require some deciphering. The ZPS bit refers to the Zero Point System that ‘makes tuning easier and faster as well as providing stable tuning for long performances’.
The bridge has been engineered to try to remove all possible points of friction, and Ibanez promises ‘the smoothest back stop ever’. With an additional pair of outer springs, it’s intended to minimise loss of tuning in the event of a string break, but players who prefer a full floating system can simply remove the stop bar. A thumb wheel accessible through the spring cover plate at the back can be used to adjust the spring tension.
Good SSH guitars are often characterised by three pickups that are well balanced in tone and output levels; however, HSH guitars – like this Ibanez – may benefit from some degree of imbalance between the pickups to achieve a wider range of tones. The single coil in the RG950QMZ’s middle position provides a fairly pronounced contrast with the humbuckers. As single coils go it has a relatively high output level but the tone is glassy and bright, with a slightly brittle quality. If this pickup was placed in a regular Fender Stratocaster with an amp set for clean or mildly overdriven sounds it may not be regarded as particularly toneful – but given the hard-rocking musical context in which most RG950QMZs are likely to be used, it makes sense. If you set your amp controls for thick, high-gain metal or shred sounds, you can switch over to the single coil whenever you need a cleaner and brighter tone that can cut through cascading gain stages without muddying up or dropping too much in volume. You won’t need to fiddle about with your volume control, either.
The humbuckers are voiced for high output, clarity and a bass response that’s deep but well defined. The pronounced upper mids help bring out the pick attack, and single notes are crisp with a nicely forward edge and effortless sustain. Power chords have considerable weight and punch along with plenty of definition.
Some metal-oriented guitars can feel a bit inert and lifeless, almost as if the manufacturer is seeking to minimise body resonance in order to let the pickups and amplifier do their thing unhindered. All the Ibanez RGs I’ve played do the exact opposite. The RG950QMZ feels light, dynamically responsive and expressive. It’s also effortless to play and the tuning is absolutely rock solid.
Ibanez goes above and beyond the call of duty to create these guitars. Besides some shoddy edges around the faux binding, it’s nicely put together. It feels ultra-solid and stable, and is clearly built for speed and convenience. It’s a sleek, brutally functional, no-nonsense instrument, but also characterful and comfortable. Best of all it sounds fantastic and it’s huge fun to play.