Since 1987, the Ibanez RG has been the very definition of a modern Superstrat, and this 2019 version is definitely as modern as it is super. Words by Peter Hodgson.
Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #133. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Ibanez has been at the forefront of what we now know as ‘Superstrat’ design ever since they unveiled the Steve Vai signature JEM and its RG stablemate in 1987. The company had already been experimenting in this new genre, but the JEM and RG are where it all really came together. The RG has been a stickler of Ibanez’s lineup since, and its influence can been seen all over the guitar world. There’s virtually no modern rock- or metal-oriented guitar company who doesn’t offer what is essentially their take on the RG.
But like all good guitar designs, the RG doesn’t just stick with the zeitgeist it captured in 1987: it’s continued to be refined and updated as new playing styles, musical genres and technological developments have come along. The RG5120M Prestige is made in Japan to the highest standards, and while it’s definitely an RG, it’s also definitely a 2019 RG.
Before we even get to the guitar specs, Ibanez deserves a word of praise for the Prestige case that this guitar arrives in. It looks super cool, it’s very tough, and it holds the guitar securely. It also has plenty of space for straps, strings, booklets and accessories, and it gives you a, ‘serious guitar’ feeling before you even pick the instrument up.
The body is made of African mahogany with an ash top, and the Frozen Ocean finish is breathtaking in person. Picture this: transparent, wrinkled paint over a visible ash grain, covered with sparkly clearcoat. It’s like three finishes in one, and it has a dazzling three-dimensional vibe that looks incredible under bright lights, or shows off subtle shifting highlights in darker lighting. It’s replicated on the headstock too, while the back of the guitar is a transparent gloss that lets you see the mahogany.
The neck is Ibanez’s Super Wizard HP profile, which is very thin and shred-friendly, made of maple and wenge with a bound birdseye maple fretboard and offset mother-of-pearl dot inlays. The jumbo frets are stainless steel with Prestige fret-end treatment, and there are Luminlay glow-in-the-dark side dots to keep you from losing your place on a dark stage or when the lights go out between songs.
The pickups are a pair of Fishman Fluence Modern actives with ceramic magnets, switchable between two voicings: a high-output active sound with tight bass, plenty of compression and a bright high attack, and a passive-voiced sound which is more organic and dynamic. There’s a three-way pickup selector, master volume, master tone knob, and the Fluence two-position mini switch. Hardware includes Ibanez’s legendary Lo-Pro Edge Tremolo bridge and Gotoh machine heads.
THE ICEMAN SHREDDETH
It goes without saying that this guitar is ridiculously playable, encouraging you to explore phrasing and picking techniques that demand extreme precision. It’s a super fast neck and the stainless steel frets make bending an absolute breeze. No matter your playing style, this neck basically gets out of your way and lets you just be you. The tremolo is extremely reliable and expressive, and if you’ve never tried an Edge series trem before then you’re in for a pleasant surprise.
The biggest surprise, though, is this guitar’s tone. Don’t think of the two Fishman voicings as, “High gain for solos, low gain for rhythms.” It can actually be quite the opposite. Within five minutes of plugging the RG5120M in, I discovered that my ideal rhythm tone was achieved with the Fluence in the high-output active-voiced mode for really thick, wall-of-sound chords (root-fifth power chords and more complex voicings sounding equally solid and rich), while flipping to the lower- output passive-voiced mode for more dynamic, expressive melodies.
You could record an entire album’s worth of guitar with the six available voicings here, ranging from aggressive metal, to complex prog, to solid rock and blues. The only thing missing is a single-coil mode. And I did find myself missing it quite a lot, because as flexible as the two pickup voicing modes are, sometimes you just really need that zippy, zingy single-coil sound. Alas, it’s the one red mark against an otherwise flawlessly voiced instrument.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Provided you don’t need lots of single-coil tones, the RG5120M is really the ultimate modern take on the RG; one of the most flexible pickup configurations on the market, one of the most playable necks you’ll ever find, a time-tested classic tremolo system, utterly faultness construction and a super cool look. And that case is a real value-add too.
If you absolutely need single-coil sounds, you may want to look at the RG652BG Prestige with the classic DiMarzio Air Norton and Tone Zone pickup combination and a great ‘inner coils only’ pickup setting. Or perhaps you may want to swap out the stock pickups of the RG5120M for a set of Fishman Classics which come with three voicing options, including a single coil. But if you’re all about the ‘buckers, this guitar is an instant modern classic.
• Mahogany and ash body
• Maple and wenge neck
• Fishman Fluence Modern pickups
• Lo-Pro Edge tremolo
• Hard case included
• Six usable pickup voicings
• Super reliable tremolo
• Gorgeous finish
• No single-coil setting
Australis Music Group