Ibanez is probably the most well known of all the Japanese guitar makers. The company was founded in Nagoya, Japan in 1957 as a subsidiary of Hoshino Gakki, a Japanese musical instrument importer which started the Ibanez brand to make its own models.
Ibanez originally made copies of American designs. Early models in the range included the 2364, a copy of the renowned Ampeg Dan Armstrong guitar made of clear plastic, the 2347, a Gibson SG/Les Paul Junior copy, the 2351, which looked very like a Gibson Les Paul, and the 2348, a nearly-exact copy of a non-reverse Gibson Firebird shape. These very well-executed copies could easily be passed off as the real thing, and this led to Gibson suing the company for copyright infringement in 1977. Strangely, the lawsuit was not directed at Ibanez’s blatant copies of the body shapes of Gibson guitars, but at the headstock design. The case was settled out of court in 1978 and Ibanez introduced its own designs.
Some of these designs were the Destroyer, a Gibson Explorer-like shape with new parts added to the shape and the introduction of Ibanez’s classic pointed headstock, the Artist, a more traditional shape with two short cutaways of equal size and an altered headstock to avoid any further legal trouble, the Rocket Roll, a copy of a Gibson Flying V, but with Ibanez’s pointed headstock and no scratchplate, and the Iceman. This guitar had a unique and very unusual shape. It resembles a Gibson Explorer with a cut-down left-hand side, a strange notch on the bottom and a large extra cutaway on the right-hand horn allowing access to higher frets. The Destroyer was originally available with two or three humbucking pickups, the Artist with two humbuckers only, and the Iceman with two humbuckers or an Ibanez-designed pickup with three coils. The Iceman and Artist models are still in Ibanez’s range as of 2008.
The 1980s saw yet more improvements to the Ibanez range which would add to their increasing status. The company became a pioneer and chief exponent of the superstrat, a style still popular today. A superstrat is a Fender Stratocaster-style shape, but made to be used by heavy metal guitarists. It was not only Ibanez who developed this style. Companies such as Jackson and Charvel also contributed with the Soloist and Spectrum respectively. Visually, a superstrat is a Stratocaster, normally with no scratchplate, longer, pointed horns and deeper cutaways. Normally the guitars had 24-fret necks, Floyd Rose tremolo systems and three pickups (usually a humbucker at the neck position, single coil in the middle and humbucker at the bridge, although some had different layouts).
The main guitar in Ibanez’s superstrat range is the RG. This guitar was introduced in 1985 and was later joined by the Saber, with much the same shape, but less pointed horns and a very thin body, probably the thinnest of any production guitar. In the late 1980s Ibanez collaborated with supremely talented guitarist Steve Vai, whose CV now includes Whitesnake, David Lee Roth’s solo band and his own solo work. He had lost his favoured customised Charvel guitar, which had been stolen, so he now needed a new guitar. He and Ibanez came up with a superstrat design with 24 frets, the aforementioned pickup configuration and a grab handle on the body known by Vai as the Monkey Grip. He and Ibanez also designed a seven-string guitar, the Universe.
Other artists Ibanez have worked with and released signature models for include Paul Gilbert, with his PGM signature models (at the time of writing Gilbert has just designed a new model, an Iceman with a reversed body and extra cutaway), Joe Satriani, with the JS signature, Herman Li and Sam Totman, guitarists for extreme power metal band DragonForce, with the E-Gen and STM models respectively, and Munky, guitarist for metal band KoRN, with his Apex signature.