Alex Wilson checks out these brand spankin’ new and hotly anticipated signature models from Polyphia’s up-and-coming guitar gods (and meme lords).

Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #134Subscribe to our print edition here!

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Polyphia are leading the charge in getting instrumental guitar music back in front of listeners. 

These uber-fashionable Californian kids combine poppy songwriting smarts, high-production video clips, and ironic millennial bling, racking up views and plays in the millions. Much of their older material leaned heavily on melodic shred- metal tropes, but with their latest album they’ve diversified their sound, exploring cleaner and jazzier textures. 

When it came time to create their signature models, longtime Ibanez players Tim Henson and Scott LePage turned to the company’s new AZ line as a starting point. The AZ line, released in 2018, earned rave reviews for the excellent componentry and tone lurking within an otherwise run-of-the-mill design. 

AZs also likely represent Ibanez’s desire to keep up with the needs of the modern guitarist who may be looking for something different than an RG. Whereas an RG feels very metal-friendly, the AZ takes that same speedy neck and active circuitry to a place more suitable for fusion, classic rock, jazz and other somewhat gentler genres. 

So these unassuming yet versatile solidbodies are a great basis for the slick Super Strat vibes of the THBB10 and SLM10. The result of this collaboration is a pair of swanky guitars that are nonetheless musical and versatile. The fleet-fingered player will appreciate the speed-friendly neck while also enjoying Polyphia’s well-considered tone and pickup choices. While there are some specific differences between each instrument, both are also relatively similar, so we’ll be reviewing them side-by-side. 

Both guitars employ the AZ’s Oval “C” neck, built from roasted maple, and a fretboard from the same wood. The frets are jumbo stainless steel, and the bodies are made from American basswood. The neck joins the body in what Ibanez calls a “Super All Access” joint, which maximises the area of connection between the neck and the body while still feeling ergonomic and playable. 

This is a best-of-both-worlds concept: maximum sustain and harmonic richness in the tone without slowing a shredder down. The Polyphia Signatures do indeed feel easy to play. I suspect that the fast necks and joints help, aided by the ample amount of maple included in each build. Maple is the wood of choice for Fender designs like the Strat and Tele, so here we can expect that the tonewood contributes to articulate instruments that bring out detail in fast playing. 

Hardware is also high-quality across the board. A good graphite nut, combined with Gotoh locking tuners and tremolo bridge. The guitars held tuning well, even after heavy action on the whammy bar. There are some aesthetic differences between each – whether you’re more inclined to love the SLM10’s transparent red matte finish or the THBB10’s abalone block inlays, becomes a matter of taste. 

The most substantive differences between the SLM10 and THBB10 came from the pickup selection. Tim Henson has his own Notorious signature pups with DiMarzio – two single coils and a miniature humbucker. The middle and neck feel akin to classic Fender single-coils. 

Apparently, they are slightly smoother than usual to balance the inherent brightness of the guitar itself. Overall they definitely have that satisfyingly Stratty sound to them, and remain clear and articulate when reproducing dense chords or arpeggios. His Notorious minibucker is moderately loud, whereas Scott LePage’s signature DiMarzio IGNO bridge humbucker is anything but moderate. 

This was probably my favourite pickup of the lot – wild and woolly, it’s roaring midrange had it noticeably louder than the DiMarzio True Velvets in the neck and middle position. Despite this, the SLM10 still felt balanced – it was this extra dash of aggression that had it edging the THBB10 tonally in my personal estimation. 

While they do nod to some vintage looks and sounds, these are ultimately modern guitars for modern players. Within the broad ambit of contemporary rock, however, we’re looking at some versatile instruments. 

The single coil tones on each would be eminently suitable for indie and pop guitar, as well as more niche genres like post-rock and math-rock. I'd also have no hesitation leaning into brutal riffs with these guitars, especially through the SLM10s IGNO pup. 

As a guitarist who primarily works in a studio setting, I can absolutely see the musical range that these instruments offer and what they can contribute to styles that aren’t obviously part of Polyphia’s sound. 

Although I have a strong aversion to gold hardware, even I have to admit that these are cool guitars. They’re definitely ostentatious, like a pair of muscle cars, but they also have the goods under the hood to make them more than just a talking point. 

Signature models rarely come cheap, and with the quality tonewoods, hardware and pickups included in the THBB10 and SLM10, you’re gonna pay top dollar. 

You really want to play these guitars before you buy them. While they look like an average Super Strat from the outside, there are unique quirks and details to each that you would want to investigate with your own hands and ears before plonking down almost three grand on one of them. 

If you are thinking of buying, one of the most notable differences between each is the number of frets. The THBB10 is 24, whereas the SLM10 is 22. LePage has mentioned in interviews that he prefers to concentrate on the lower register to differentiate his playing from Henson’s, and feels his tone is improved due to fewer frets.

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