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Ibanez has always been masterful at combining high quality and affordability. And though the days of Ibanez’ selling Japanese-built guitars that rivaled their American inspirations for a pittance are long-since gone, the company still applies their formula for building great guitars for less in developing manufacturing centers elsewhere in the world. Most recently, Ibanez opened a specialty factory in Indonesia, with the intent of producing guitars with quality as close to their Prestige line as possible while keeping the price to a minimum. The RG920QM is one of the latest guitars from that facility.
Ibanez’s newest addition to the RG line is a sight to behold. Despite its mid-level price, the RG920QM looks and feels as well built as the company’s prized Prestige models, with deep, three-dimensional hues in the body’s finished wood, high-end pickups, an excellent vibrato system, and super-comfortable neck.
The RG’s body is fashioned from American Basswood and capped with a quilted, two-piece maple veneer in a beautiful Red Desert finish. The headstock shares the same finish treatment and has its own vibrant quilting pattern. There’s a strip of ¼” wide, unpainted maple binding surrounding the body, which gives the illusion that the top is actually that thick. But it’s applied with precision, making it difficult to detect that the top is actually significantly thinner.
The body is home to Ibanez’s brand new Edge Zero II with ZPS3Fe (zero point system) vibrato system, which is extremely close in design to the celebrated Edge Zero that you find on the Prestige models. Some of the coolest aspects of the guitar’s performance are related to this fantastic vibrato system, which features locking studs, individual knife edges and a removable cross bar and counter spring that snaps the bridge back to the zero point with precision. Pulling out the cross bar and spring effectively converts the bridge to full-floating mode, which feels looser and more ideal for quick Steve Vai-style note flutters. It’s also extremely easy to adjust the spring tension via the Edge Zero II’s spring adjust knob, which conveniently pokes through the cover plate on the back of the guitar.
Two Dimarzio IBZ humbuckers—the result of a partnership with Dimarzio and Ibanez to make custom-voiced pickups for their high end instruments—are bolted directly into the body and controlled by single volume and tone knobs and a five way switching system that should feel familiar to RG enthusiasts. Ibanez describes the output of both the neck and bridge pickups as medium-hot, but the output sounds closer to the hotter side of the spectrum. The bridge pickup—an IBZ-B model—belts out an output close to 430mV, which is in the range of Dimarzio’s Super Distortion model. The IBZ-N neck pickup was no slouch either, measuring an output close to 400mV—which is higher in range than even The Breed—making it a legitimate fire-breather.
The switching system gives you access to a multitude of drastically different tones. The full-aft position puts you in full bridge humbucking mode. From there, you can combine middle single coils of the neck and bridge at position two, both pickups in full humbucking mode at position three, the neck pickup in parallel at position four, and the neck pickup in humbucking mode at position five. The system puts a lot of sonic potential at your fingertips, though I would have liked to have had the option of controlling the neck and bridge pickup tones separately, as I enjoy switching between a sharp, biting rhythm tone and a soft, round tone for leads.
When the RG line hit the streets decades ago, their smooth and fast necks sparked the attention of guitarists with speed-demon shred tendencies everywhere. The neck on the RG920QM is no exception. The 24-fret, five-piece maple and walnut neck with rosewood fretboard feels slightly fatter in my fretting hand than that of the super-thin Ibanez Wizard, but was still pretty comfortable and easy to move on. The extra bulk in the middle does lend the sense that there’s more to hold on to, helping me hang on to chords while adding little flourishes such as double stops and hammer-ons.
Accessing the truss rod is easy thanks to Ibanez’s why-didn’t-I-think-of-that sliding plastic truss cover, which makes it a cinch to access the nut inside for adjustments. It’s small, yet innovative designs like this that show that Ibanez has a keen eye for detail and improvement, even upon a guitar design that’s almost 30 years old.
More Than A Feeling
After strapping on Ibanez’s new lightweight shred machine, I plugged into a 2011 Mesa/Boogie Multiwatt Dual Rectifier head, running into an Emperor 4x12 with Weber C1265 speakers. In bridge humbucking mode, the tone was crystal clear and defined from my first open chord to my last speedy legato lick and the neck made it feel like I could reach just about any note that I wanted at any time.
The second position is great for funk rhythm tones and perfect for guitarists who like cutting ’70s rhythm rock tones. Dynamic response to my pick attack was excellent and I really enjoyed moving between this pickup position and the fourth one—neck humbucker in parallel—while indulging my funkier, more authoritative side. The fourth position offers the same type of scooped, percussive tone as the second position, but with a little added girth and dimension that made it stand out—perfect for playing entire staccato chords instead of high-pitched, razor-sharp triads.
When I switched gears to arpeggiated chords the tone could sometimes sound relatively lifeless. Both of the pickups—especially the bridge—seemed to have a rather noticeable midrange hump. Getting a pristine, shimmering clean with a clean picking style wasn’t impossible, but there was considerably less bite on the highs. These aren’t pickups that like to be played softly, something that became more apparent when I switched to the Mesa’s orange channel.
The Ibanez and Mesa orange channel conspired to create a pummeling overdrive that was tighter than a drum with a vicious midrange cut that was perfect for palm-muted metal rhythms. Moving from a riff to a slick run and then back again was effortless. And the spaces between changes were dead silent too—even in high-gain situations—and the IBZ humbuckers remained feedback resistant at the most deafening levels.
A hint of graininess in the upper mids shone through slightly when I pulled my palm away from the bridge and let the strings vibrate freely, but it was something that I had to listen for. Moreover, the tone of each pickup is balanced exceptionally well, with that ever-present, beautifully voiced midrange pushing through the mix. I could really hear it when I would delve into a quick legato run and hang on the last note until it was awash in harmonic feedback. The sound was surprisingly textured and thick enough to make me forget how affordable this guitar is.
With the Mesa’s red channel engaged, the tone morphed into a fluid, crisp wall of sound, perfect for sustained leads and super-heavy riffage. Again, the pickups were quite hot, so I had to back off the guitar’s volume knob slightly and drop the amp’s gain control a bit to keep the tone crisp and clear.
Ibanez outdid itself—and honored its own tradition of affordability—with the RG920QM. Its tone and playability puts it in the same realm as much more expensive guitars. The clean tones can be a bit stale at times, but the harmonically rich personality of the guitar in the high-gain applications it’s meant for trump such complaints. If you’re in the market for a Prestige-level RG but don’t have the scratch to make it a reality, the RG920QM is a sure-fire winner and a real surprise.
an all-in-one heavy rock machine with great tone and versatility under the hood is what you need to make your music soar.
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Street $899 - Ibanez - ibanez.com