To the uninitiated, the Prestige name may seem assigned almost randomly throughout the Ibanez range…linked to almost every style of electric guitar or bass we offer. However, there is a tie that binds these instruments. It is a special marking each and every Prestige instrument bears, proudly proclaiming: this instrument was Made in Japan, precision-crafted by some of the most skilled and advanced luthiers in the world.
Certainly, we take pride in every instrument we build, and strive to make sure each one is worthy of the Ibanez name. But for the musician who seeks the ultimate playing experience, the Made-in-Japan Prestige designation has become the benchmark of what a great high-performance guitar should be.
Ibanez began modestly—something that makes us even more proud, knowing how hard we’ve worked to earn our place in modern guitar history. As Ibanez entered the market in the 60’s, the two most established US brands seemed to have already defined the electric guitar, leaving little room for anyone else—and Ibanez to ask, how it could make its own mark? As fate would have it, a door soon opened.
By the mid 70’s, US guitar companies ruled the market. However, their unchallenged success soon left them lethargic and gradually the quality of their instruments deteriorated. Seeing guitarists were growing more disappointed in what the big two had to offer, Ibanez seized the opportunity and quickly made a name for itself offering superior crafted versions of popular US brand guitars. This brought widespread recognition—unfortunately, what Ibanez offered in the way of quality, it lacked in originality. It wasn’t until later in the 70’s when the company started working with jazz icon, George Benson, that Ibanez began to receive its due.
Steve Miller, with an Artist Model 2622, graces the cover of the 1977 Artist Series Catalog.
Early on in the 80’s, new guitarists were emerging with playing styles and technical aptitude so advanced it demanded a more sophisticated instrument. Sweep picking, borrowed from jazz masters of former eras, was now accelerating the speed and intensity of rock, while the arrival of the locking tremolo gave way to dramatic dive-bombing and tremolo effects. Guitar playing was heating up faster than the small shops and builders who dabbled in these makeshift super-metal machines could move, and it was clear that a real guitar company was needed…one that could break beyond the boundaries of normal guitar building.
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden with a 1983 RS1000
Ibanez was cautiously eyeing the metal scene and the challenges it posed for guitar builders, but without a readily available solution, wasn’t convinced it could actually break in. Then, things began to fall into place. Built around collaboration between American musicians and skilled Japanese artisans, a vision took form that ultimately drove Ibanez into becoming the most innovative major guitar company in the world.
There were several keys to transforming a normal guitar into a super-metal guitar, but the two that warranted the most attention were the neck, and the locking tremolo system. Until then, most guitars had fat, round, chunky necks. This was fine for standard blues-based rock players of the 70s, but for the new rapidly evolving 80’s breed of virtuosos, it was useless. Requests for a thinner, faster neck continued to mount, but this was no easy task. Anyone could make a neck that was thinner and faster—the challenge came in making one that was stable and didn’t twist, crack, or falter during abuse suffered under “normal” shredding conditions.
Passion and Warfare album cover featuring Steve Vai with the multicolor Universe 7-string.
Ibanez rapidly earned a reputation for listening to what guitarists wanted, and most importantly, for taking chances others wouldn’t. This drew attention from many of the most adventurous and technically proficient players of the time: among them, a rising star whose own reputation was quickly becoming legend: Steve Vai. At the time, almost every guitar company was courting Vai for an endorsement. However, Vai’s vision went far beyond a quick endorsement. Like his playing—his vision was one of true genius and unparalleled musical depth.
The JEM, as Vai had dubbed it, was wrought with non-production-friendly features, but none more daunting than its ultra-thin 25.5” scale neck. It was a production nightmare waiting to happen that was only was “green-lit” after lengthy debate among production teams. It was this neck that would serve as the archetype for the Wizard neck, which quickly followed after. Alongside the JEM neck, the Wizard has long been recognized as the ultimate high-performance guitar neck and a critical part of why Ibanez Prestige guitars are so widely acclaimed.
A mindset was developing that drove the brand to push itself beyond being “average.” Everything was fair game for finer inspection and improvement, and almost nothing was too far out to try. Several classic ergonomic body styles were created during this renaissance: the slim-line S, the teardrop-profile R, and the sleekly contoured SR bass. The Edge locking tremolo system, widely acknowledged as the most advanced and reliable locking tremolo system ever made, was also designed and built during this period.
The Edge tremolo leaflet (1986)
This bold attitude was the byproduct of years of self-discipline and a deep personal pride in zero-tolerance hand craftsmanship that earned Japan a reputation for having the highest manufacturing standards in the world. Japan’s manufacturing was the envy of every modern mechanized nation—and now, Ibanez was capitalizing on this advantage, building instruments that literally defied limitation. Today, those rigid standards still apply and the impeccable qualities derived from following them are a hallmark of the Ibanez brand.
Ibanez guitars are in the hands of some of the most daring, innovative, and talented musicians on the planet. We consider ourselves fortunate to have had the opportunity to work alongside these players, developing new instruments for the world. Through their insight and our own passion and skill, Ibanez not only succeeded in creating several modern classics—it set a seductive standard for guitar building that remains the holy grail for players everywhere, looking to venture beyond the norm.
1986 Ibanez catalog - the RG page featuring Paul Gilbert
This site is a pale depiction of the actual experience of holding and playing a Prestige instrument. So we encourage you to seek out this experience and delve into the world of Ibanez Prestige. See for yourself why we call it Prestige.