Brand new for 2013 the Ibanez Iron Label series. Guitar Interactive was offered an exclusive first look. 'Which one would you like?' they asked. We thought about it for a while. 'Go on guys, let's try the 8-string.
Back in the '90s Steve Vai pioneered the use of 7-string guitars in Rock and Metal, being swiftly followed by a small army of artists who wanted the low-end grunt offered by the extended range. Now, it seems that 7 strings aren't enough and 8-string guitars are being used by some of the most cutting edge players on the planet. Thanks to the Djent movement, 8-string guitars have become very desirable, with Ibanez spearheading the manufacture of models in their Prestige range, as used by players such as Tosin Abasi from Animals as Leaders.
These are expensive, high-end guitars and most of the alternatives are made by custom shop, boutique builders, commanding price tags starting at many thousands of dollars. So it makes perfect sense that Ibanez should now be starting to produce more affordable models in its Indonesian factory, where, we have to say, have come some of the best value guitars we've reviewed in this publication during the past 12 months.
So here we are. It's 2013 and the well named Iron Label range will very soon be appearing in guitar shops the world over - Ibanez's new line of affordable, quality Metal and Rock guitars, aimed at those players who can't afford a boutique level, Japanese-made instrument but still want a great playing guitar.
The RGIR28FE-BK is the 8-string model in the Iron Label range and is accompanied by a series of 6 and 7-string models. It's not hard to see who these guitars are aimed at, with that their piano black finishes, US-made EMG active pickups on some and DiMarzios on others, with Kill switches across the board. Our 8-string review model has all of these features plus, of course, the low B and F# strings that allow for the extended, crushing riffs that have become a staple within many modern Metal sub-genres.
The RGIR28FE has a basswood body and 5-piece maple/walnut neck with a rosewood fretboard. The body is finished in white binding, giving a classy but certainly aggressive looking style. Ibanez's chosen neck profile is the now famous Nitro Wizard II shape, which is skinny but flat, with a surprisingly un-daunting and comfortable width considering the extra pair of strings.
The pickups on the 8-string are active EMG 808's and require a battery, as you'd expect. The bridge is a Gibraltar Standard and is a huge improvement over older Gibraltar bridges that were bulky and cumbersome. This version has been slimmed down significantly and both feels and plays more comfortably than previous versions. A 3-way selector switch, volume control and kill switch complete the design.
As we've come to expect from the current crop of Indonesian-made Ibanez guitars, the build quality is very high with just a few nicks and flaws to remind you that this isn't a Japanese handmade model. The fretwork on our sample was very good indeed, and the finishing was of a high standard, with a flawless paint job and tightly executed binding. The only flaw I could find was a small amount of flaking around the binding on the lower horn but I really had to look to see it. The factory set-up was also very good with a very low action and no fret buzz anywhere across the neck. Unfortunately, with strings this low, you'll always get a certain amount of looseness to the F# string and, if hit hard, it flaps around in an unpleasing way, leading to poor tone, especially on a clean sound. This is a downside of such heavy gauge strings and not a reflection on the guitar itself.
Tonally, the RGIR28FE is everything you'd want from a guitar like this, with very pristine and clinical clean tones in all three positions and with a surprisingly good dynamic response. This guitar will eat up any level of gain you can throw at it and responds with a tight and fat tone that is so easy to play with. Whilst not meant to be a subtle guitar, a surprising number of tones can be achieved with the two humbuckers and you'll find yourself playing some creative chord voicings on your clean channel as well as writing deadly riffs!
I have a feeling that Ibanez will do very well indeed with this range and will hit the market at just the right point, as the desire for extended range instruments is reaching a fever pitch right now. For not a lot of money, you're getting a very good quality instrument that may not only appeal to those who've wanted an 8-string for a long time but could never afford one, but may also tempt some people to cross over to the dark side, having never considered an extended range instrument before. Early indications suggest it's going to be on offer at a killer price, too, so, once again. Ibanez has shown its uncanny knack of hitting exactly the right spot at the right time!