Ibanez Roadstar guitars
Two new six strings of familiar heritage from the Ibanez stable.
No one is going to pretend that either of these Ibanez creations breaks fresh ground in the story of the electric guitar. Still, it's always reassuring to spot quality pressing forward and price slipping back, or for that matter holding steady in these days of runaway inflation.
The Roadstars are obviously in competition to the Fender Squiers and the Tokai ST series, but they have the advantage of coming in several pounds cheaper. The RS205 is the sunburst model featuring a vibrato arm and chrome fittings. The RS100 goes for a more economical natural finish, does without the trem but has a gold plated bridge.
Let's take the sunburst first. The three single coil white pickups are mounted on a white/black/white scratchplate which is the first sign of the Japanese penchant, for high quality and reliable production. The scratchplate hugs all the guitar's curves and joins without leaving large gaps to collect dust and germs.
Ibanez have fitted a five way pickup selector which puts the pickups out of phase in the 2nd and 4th position. Thus we arrive at the ever popular "honky" tone that behaves as if the middle chunk of the frequency range is away on holiday.
That's no surprise these days, but Ibanez have fitted a further toggle switch which cuts out some of the windings in the pickups and creates an even skinnier tone — too flimsy for my ears and also very low in volume, but useful if you needed a particularly cutting sound.
The single volume and tone controls are nearer to the tail pickup — perhaps too near as I belted the volume a couple of times on my way to the selector. And Ibanez have fitted two black knobs with hard to read numbers that really don't match the rest of the instrument.
Cosmetics come into everyone's consideration when forking out for a new guitar — that's looks, not foundation cream — and both Roadstars have a slick, attractive appearance spoilt by said knobs. Ibanez must have others.
The vibrato, now that I liked. The idea is standard by now. The bridge is based on a plate with the saddles above and a block of metal underneath which holds the ends of the strings, helps sustain and acts as an anchor for the vibrato springs.
A hole is cut through the body and the block sits inside, while the front of the plate is attached to the wood by the tail pickup via a line of six screws. The metal on the underside is shaved away so the plate has room to bend forward or be pulled back. Like I said, nothing unusual, but the Ibanez had been set up well, so there was a good degree of movement in both directions. Very often you get one or the other and end up fiddling around with the vibrato springs.
But the Roadstar's major attraction must be its neck — a graceful, well machined and easy to get around item of timber and fret. Both models have the same neck constructed from one piece of maple with a walnut strip down the rear.
It joins the three piece bodies at the 16th fret and is held in place by four bolts passing through the chromed back plate that also bears the stamped serial number. There's no fingerboard glued on top, the upper surface of the neck takes the thin, medium height frets and that makes for a slim, speedy surface to wrap your fingers around. The surface is lacquered for speed, but not so much that sweaty digits skids across the glaze and the edges of the neck are curved at the last minute to prevent the sides digging into your palms. A good drop of work and a pleasure to play.
The only fault has been in the setting up. I felt that on both Ibanez models the strings have been set too low which may feel impressive in the shop as it keeps the action very easy, but promotes rattles and buzzes as well as reducing sustain.
Plugging in (and noticing that this is a straight jack socket, not one angled into the body) we come to the noises. Both the Roadstars have the sharp wireyness you'd expect of single coil pickups — a tone that drills its way through a song rather than the deeper, thicker quality of a humbucker that thumps it over the head.
Playing with the tone control softens the neck pickup so you're not limited to bristle and spit, but if placed alongside the Squiers or the Tokai's, I'd reckon the Ibanez had less body. The sound isn't as big in the middle frequencies and chords have less keranng potential. But still a presentable and versatile tone and many players may well prefer its thinner, more knife-like character.
The natural Roadstar takes on an all black scratchplate and black pickups with the pole pieces concealed. Both guitars are scarfed at the rear to hug your waist and on top to rest your forearm and they have a comfortable feel of weight and balance. The black control knobs don't look quite so out of place here, but they still carry numbers which are almost impossible to read..
Each of the Roadstars also has two unusual strap buttons shaped like wings. Once you've slipped the strap over them, they can be turned so the wings point downwards and make it much harder for the guitar to accidentally pop free. An attractive and useful piece of insurance.
In all, two well produced and competitively priced lumps of gear, though I have to admit to preferring the sunburst for looks, even if it is a few bob more. They're cheaper than the Squiers and do a similar if not so classy job. They certainly feel as professional but may not hold their resale price quite so well.
RS205 R.R.P £243 inc VAT
RS100 R.R.P £183 inc VAT
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