Let’s talk about the Ibanez JEM.

I get a few questions and have developed some stock answers to them. One of the questions that I get is, “What kind of guitar should I get?”

My stock answer is, “Ibanez, any model.”

First, it’s their first guitar and, truthfully, it’s most likely to be used for a few months and then used as a decoration after a few months go by and people realize that it’s difficult to learn to play guitar.

Yes, yes it is difficult to learn to play guitar well. No, it’s not impossible and anyone can probably do it. It’s just a lot of work. For a small subset of people, it comes naturally. Don’t count on it. Count on it taking thousands and thousands of hours of practice.

So, if nothing else, an Ibanez looks good on the wall and is perfectly playable for those times when their buddy shows up and actually can play guitar. Which is a bonus…

But, more importantly, they’re all very playable guitars and they’re all (pretty much) good value for the price. They have many models and their prices span the spectrum.

A quick look at Musician’s Friend tells me that you can get a GRG MiKro for $150 and, despite the name, it’s actually very playable. For $200, you have an acceptable acoustic and, for just $130, you can get a nylon string classical guitar that I’ve not personally played but I’m positive it does fine.

At the other end of the spectrum, for $8,000 you get a Paul Stanley Signature and for a thousand less you get a Steve Vai Signature – special 25th anniversary edition. Both of which are actually worth that kind of money.

So, you can get either end of the spectrum and have a playable guitar. You pretty much can’t go wrong with an Ibanez. I’m not sure it’s even possible. The used market is great and the dents and dings market is even better.

Full financial disclosure: Ibanez pays me absolutely nothing, gives me no discounts, and doesn’t even know I exist. I’m entirely unaffiliated with Musician’s Friend – but have been a loyal customer for many, many years. I’ve spent a small fortune there and have an embarrassing number of Ibanez guitars.

But, my point is that I feel comfortable putting my name behind the claim that Ibanez is an excellent guitar for the money. You get a playable, durable, reliable guitar – for not a whole lot of money.

The guitar we’re going to talk about today is called an Ibanez JEM and the price can vary from $500 to $1500. They look like this:

This *will* make you a rock star.
1994 Ibanez JEM model #JEM555 (Not a Jr.!)

This bad boy was co-designed by a fella named Steve Vai and is iconic in that it’s played by Steve Vai. It’s sometimes referred to as a “superstrat” which means that it pulls its design cues from the Fender Stratocaster. Though, there’s no actual official definition for “superstrat.” However, if you look up superstrat at Wikipedia, you’ll see they actually include a JEM as the example image.

The JEM was first introduced in 1986 at the NAMM Show, which is a convention that every guitarist should visit at least once in their life. Seriously, if you’ve never been then I highly recommend attending. I’m sure you can find great videos and whatnot online, but they’re even more fun if you’re there in person.

Anyhow, it was built to Vai’s specs and, as such, is a very playable guitar. They’re well crafted and I have to say that I’m very impressed with them.

They’re built with bodies made with basswood or alder (varies per model) and a maple neck. This means they’re pretty light and well balanced. Maple is a dense wood and is pretty heavy – which sets the balance on them nicely. The fretboard/fingerboard will be rosewood, ebony, or also maple. In other words they’re also really beautiful.

All the models, excluding two, come with DiMarzio pickups. The 333 comes with Infinity pickups – and is only available in South American and the Asian markets. The 505 comes with Ibanez branded pickups in all three position.

Other than that, they’re pretty much a standard guitar – except just one more thing…

Depending on the model you get, some of the fretboard will be scalloped. Scalloping means that the fingerboard is concave between the frets. This means you can apply less pressure and get a more certain tone – it also can reduce chances of buzz. You can use a lighter touch and theoretically play faster while increasing precision.

A scalloped fretboard will look like this:

Scalloped fretboard on Malmsteen signature Fender Stratocaster.

You can actually scallop your own fretboard but it’s not something I’m going to recommend you attempt. If you are qualified, you already knew you could do this. It takes just some patience, a rotary tool, and a vacuum cleaner. I’m sure you can find videos. Knock yourself out, but don’t blame me if something goes wrong.

As the necks are bolt-on, you can quite easily turn the cheapest model (the 333) into a nice custom guitar for not a whole lot of money. Note, the 333 doesn’t come with a scalloped fingerboard. It’s the stripped down version and doesn’t have any fancy decorations, or anything like that.

The necks on an Ibanez electric guitar are almost always tapered and really thin. This makes them very fast. They hold up surprisingly well – as I’ve had them tossed around and taking stage abuses. The electronics are very reliable, and absolutely so with this model.

If you’re in the market for a superstrat, this is the guitar to get. Well, it’s one of many – but it’s one I have no problem recommending by name. Those who know me well will vouch for my dislike of recommending specific brands. There are very, very few brands I will recommend specifically. Ibanez is one and this guitar is one in specific that I feel comfortable putting my name behind.

So, if you get the chance to play one – do so. They’re not a whole lot of money and they’re very, very playable. If you can afford it, get a few. You simply can’t go wrong. Until next time…

Shut up and play us a song! (I love that line!)

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