Ibanez 20th Anniversary RG550RFR – review

A modern reissue of a true classic.

Ibanez created a true classic when they released the RG550 line in 1987. Originally released as a scaled down version of the Steve Vai signature JEM line, the RG550 became a special guitar in its own right.

The original release ’87 spec RG550s came in Desert Sun Yellow, Black, White, and of course Road Flare Red. All colours were used on the RG550  over the years, except for Road Flare Red. It only lasted the one year, which is a real shame as the colour is one of the most amazing colours ever used on a guitar.

When the 20th anniversary RG550s were announced for 2007 release I knew that I just had to get myself a Road Flare Red one. As soon as the rumours came out in December 2006 of the proposed released I put an order in at my local music shop. 6 months later the numbers for Australia were released: 16 guitars in total. Luckily enough my store ended up with one of each colour, and I was able to get the Road Flare Red.

The specs for the 20th Anniversary RG550 are as follows:

  • Slim, fast Wizard neck
  • Maple fretboard
  • Jumbo frets for easy leads and chording
  • Lightweight basswood body with upper edge sculpted for comfort
  • Floyd Rose-licensed Edge tremolo with die-cast saddles
  • Pickups include Vintage 7 and 8 humbuckers framing a high-output single coil
  • 5-way switching for a full range of instantly selectable sounds

The Ibanez RG550 in stock form is a little inconsistent when it comes to how it sounds. Unplugged it is a little muddy. I believe this is attributed to the basswood body, and probably the fact that the pickups are mounted on a plastic pickguard.

There is a reasonable amount of sustain for a floating Floyd Rose type guitar, and the maple fret board enables a bit of snap from the notes too.

Plug in the guitar and set the bridge humbucker, and unfortunately there is still a little bit of mud. The notes don’t really cut through that well. Again I think the basswood body doesn’t allow bright punchy notes like an alder bodied guitar would. The Re-issue V series pickup in the bridge just doesn’t quite have enough high-end, and the low-end is a little over bearing.

However, the neck position V series humbucker is actually quite nice. When soloing high up the fret board you get a nice rounded musical tone that just sings. I think I’ll be happy with keeping the stock neck humbucker in the guitar.

The single coil is nothing special, but it does the job. Lower the pickup considerably, and split a humbucker with it and it drops your distorted sound quite considerably. Roll back the volume a bit and you’ve got a pretty convincing strat type chiming sound for cleans. I personally prefer splitting with the neck humbucker.

The action was just as I expected from a Japanese Ibanez. Nice and low, enabling effortless playing. The frets were pretty reasonable, although they could have been rounded off a little on the edges.

I did adjust the pickups to my personal preferences, but they were only minor changes. As always, the original Edge trem is a joy, intonation was pretty much in tune, and it was a comfortable height to allow the nice low action.

The Road Flare Red finish on my guitar is just as amazing as I expected to be. It is a colour that just cannot be captured in photos, and it truly looks like it could glow. When the guitar case was opened up to me for the first time at the music store people walking past stopped just to check it out. Gasps were heard!

The newly updated neck with the 5 piece construction and titanium reinforcement bars is amazing too. Beautifully smooth, and easy to slide around, it is a joy to play. The 20th anniversary cavity cover is a nice touch too.

There are a few issues with finish as far as I am concerned though. It is pretty well-known that Ibanez quality control isn’t quite as good as it once was, and that there can be little bits on a guitar that aren’t quite up to their traditional level of quality.

The paint is quite thin, and I do worry about chipping it accidentally. I’ve been pretty lucky with that so far. The thin application of paint is really apparent in the trem cavity.

Some of the insulation on the pickguard was also showing a little on the outside of the pickguard which is a bit of a shame on such a high level instrument.

Despite the few little problems I mentioned previously, I think that the RG550 reissues are built to last. With the reinforced 5 piece neck, I don’t even see that needing a truss rod adjustment too often. I haven’t touched it since I bought the guitar. Maybe only if string gauge is changed might you need to adjust it.

The paint certainly stands a chance of chipping, but that wont really affect the tone or playability of the guitar.

The Ibanez RG550 20th anniversary reissues really are a fantastic guitar. Once you replace the stock pickups with your pickups of choice you are really going to have an amazing guitar. The neck is absolutely shred-tastic, and of course the original Edge trem is a classic in its’ own right too. If you are lucky enough to come across one, definitely try it out.

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