Thought you you could predict what the shred-kings at Ibanez would come up with next? So did we. And we were wrong! Michael Casswell takes a long look at the first of an entirely new generation of Ibanez electrics - the Roadcores.
We have a bit of an exclusive here at GI, and I guess I am one of a select bunch to actually get to play the new Roadcore series of guitars from Ibanez. Three of these guitars were loaned to us to compare: a red one, a black one and a lovely sunburst coloured one. I say compare because the sunburst one is a hand-finished custom shop version straight from the Ibanez custom shop in Los Angeles. There have been a few of these custom shop versions made whilst Ibanez have been finalising the specification of the finished product, and these are not going to be generally available. They will, however, be finding their ways into the hands of some of the company's top endorsers, we understand! What will be available for the rest of us, will be the production versions - the red and black ones we have here on review. These guitars will be called the Roadcore RC320 and it's my job to tell you how they fare against the custom shop version, and how they fare as a brand new guitar on to the market.
The first thing to say is how much confidence this shows on Ibanez's part. Most guitar companies would run a mile at the prospect of a reviewer drawing any comparisons at all between a handmade US-built prototype and the final, affordable, production model. Not Ibanez, nor its UK distributor, Headstock. In fact the comparison was their idea!
Maybe we should talk about them visually first of all. I think it's great that Ibanez is going to be putting out a guitar that is so radically different from its Jem and RG style guitars, which have become classics. It will certainly broaden their appeal and bridge the gap to a more mainstream market. Coming up with a classic guitar design must be one of the hardest jobs around. In the end, it's all down to personal taste, so I'm going to leave that aspect for you to decide. All I will say is that it certainly performs well, with an offset twin cutaway body giving a strong retro appearance, a comfortable C-profile bolt on neck maple neck with a rosewood fingerboard and a nice substantial feel.
As a functional guitar, the Roadcore certainly also has some nice tones in there! Comparing the production guitars to the Custom shop version, nothing leapt out at me as being compromised, which is pretty amazing considering what must be a significant price difference. I say 'must be' because the custom model doesn't actually have a price because it isn't being sold. Still, you get my point, I'm sure! The new Ibanez 'Coretone' pickups all sounded remarkably similar and nicely voiced. The playability was also very similar on all three guitars, and I didn't spot any production flaws that said one guitar is cheaper than another. Amazing! The body is mahogany, and will come in a variety of colours, as well as the suggested possibility of a Bigsby tremolo equipped version, which should lead to hours of fun with a tuner! On the versions we have here, the strings go over the Ibanez 'Tight Tune' bridge and through the body, which adds to the resonance.
I jammed a first take jam over an unfamiliar backing track, so you could hear all three guitars, and I tried to make a point of switching to each of the three pick up options, which are the basic front, back, middle settings. It sounded like the middle option gave a blend of the inside coils of each humbucker with slightly more snap or hollowness to the sound, which was nice. The guitar could easily handle different styles of playing and the mahogany body does give a nice warmth to the tone. The controls couldn't be simpler, with just a three way switch and a master volume and tone arrangement.
The clincher with these two guitars was the price and the superb production quality. No wonder Ibanez was confident! Yes, it's always nice to have a handmade guitar with a prestigious label, but blindfolded there is next to no difference between these instruments and when you see the asking price of the Indonesian-made production models, all you can do is shake your head and ask 'how?'
In the past year or so, Ibanez has really begun to broaden its appeal as a brand. Without losing the manic shredders, you have started to see Ibanez in the hands of bands like You Me At Six, The Blackout, fiN, Your Demise, Young Guns and 65 Days of Static. That's a very different market for Ibanez and it's pretty clear that is where these Roadcores are aimed.
A big thank you to the powers that be, for letting me try these guitars before it's even official that they exist. Ibanez deserves to do well with them and it's good to see a company not sitting on its laurels and playing it safe. Especially when the result is a fine, professional guitar at such a great price.