Let’s face it, the 50th anniversary of anything is always a great cause for celebration – which is exactly why Ibanez has gone above and beyond to commemorate American distributor Hoshino USA’s five decades in the guitar business.
50 exclusive handcrafted electric and bass guitars have been produced, with the L.A. and Aichi Custom Shops joining forces to create some truly head-turning one-off instruments. If you’re interested in exotic aesthetics, intricate designs, expansive electronics and highly unusual concepts, look no further.
“This was an idea that was formulated by our president Shogo Hayashi,” says Hoshino USA Communications and Marketing Specialist Scott Miller.
“This company was launched back in 1972 to give Ibanez guitars a physical presence in the U.S. Obviously they’d been doing business here before that, but this is what allowed the company to take off and develop into what it is today. We wanted to commemorate that with something really special, something everyone would see and think, ‘Wow, this is a big deal!’”
Though historically the two Custom Shops have worked independently from one another, the idea of partnering up for something extra special felt like a great way of dreaming up the impossible. Which is precisely what they did.
“The principal thing with our Japan Custom Shop is that they’re our prototypers,” Miller says. “They’re the idea guys who work out which thoughts we have in meetings can work on a production scale or not. Because that’s where we meet our customers – in production rather than custom shop spaces.
“In L.A., the focus is more on the artists, so when an artist has an idea or concept that we can’t provide in our production series, that’s where they go. They make the very best, stage-ready performers’ guitars.
“Our Japan shop is more about R&D and experimental instruments. It’s more about ‘what could we do?’ rather than taking what we know and executing it. Hoshino USA was the intersection of it, coordinating all the images and specs and getting all the content ready from both custom shops.”
Below, Miller gives us a closer look at 12 of the most striking models in this year’s anniversary series.
1. LACS5 “Root Beer Float”
Specs: A mahogany body Iceman with a Transparent Root Beer Burst-finished flamed maple top, set three-piece maple/korina neck, maple fingerboard and two DiMarzio PAF 36th Anniversary humbuckers.
“I had a chance to go out to L.A. in the very early stages to check out the instruments. This is one we were all drawn to. Even the guys in Japan were like, ‘Wow, that’s seriously amazing!’
“It’s not a super-conceptual or experimental piece or over the top in terms of specs; obviously, some of the Japanese models had things like metal tops and crazy sculpting. This one seemed to hammer home the classic Ibanez elements, distilling the core of Ibanez to its purest form.”
2. LACS18 “Hang 10”
Specs: An alder body and three-piece maple/purpleheart neck-thru Talman, with a quilted maple top in Turquoise Blue Stain Gloss and a trio of Seymour Duncan Strat Lipstick pickups.
“This is another one we all knew would stand out immediately. Tak Hosono, who is the manager of the L.A. Custom Shop and head luthier over there, was very happy with how this one came out.
“What I love about this guitar – and its sister model, which is the red Talman named ‘Muffins’ – is how it sticks to the original quirkiness of the shape but has this completely different look because of the figured top and pickguard taken on it. I think it’s a more modern take on that body shape, which really changes how it behaves visually, which I found really fascinating.”
3. JPCS3 “Wind Shear”
Specs: An all-flamed maple construction in Transparent Blue featuring drastic hand-carved, weight-relieving body cuts, an Edge tremolo bridge and DiMarzio Air Norton and The Tone Zone humbuckers.
“This one has an aerodynamic theme to it and looking at it you can probably tell it is more of a conceptual piece. We wanted to push the S model to its absolute extreme, because they are already pretty light to begin with. So the idea was to take that even further and give it some relief cuts.
“They could have just scalloped it from the front and back, but no, they went all the way through. There are physical cuts through the entire body, so it’s a very nimble, lightweight and fast guitar – both thematically and from a playability standpoint. It looks seriously amazing because of the figured maple that was used.”
4. JPCS21 “Jade Mantis”
Specs: An African mahogany-bodied RG570 with a figured maple top and birdseye maple fingerboard, plus a Lo-Pro Edge bridge and DiMarzio Air Norton, True Velvet and The Tone Zone pickups.
“This is a really interesting design, taken from a very limited series of J Customs we released as an exclusive for Europe. One of the main draws to the guitar was the gradation finish, which is where the name comes from. It runs through the entire fingerboard for a really seamless look.
“This was one of our Japanese Custom Shop models; they felt it would be cool to bring this one back and have it available for the U.S. market. African mahogany is also less common for us – though mahogany does make an appearance here and there on the higher level RGs, like the 5000 Prestige series.”
5. JPCS2 “RG-GT”
Specs: A carbon fiber top, back and sides (as well as a carbon fiber headstock) complemented by a Lo-Pro Edge 7 bridge and DiMarzio Blaze H-S-H pickup set.
“It’s a carbon fiber top and rear cap, though the center of the body is actually made out of alder. So it will still give you a very expressive, natural and organic sound. This felt like a cool way of giving someone a traditional Ibanez tone while still being able to offer the super-modern carbon fiber look.
“The name ties in with what the builder was thinking, because the builder is actually a huge fan of motorsports and Formula One. It came out perfect, in that sense!”
6. JPCS20 “Caldera”
Specs: An ash-bodied RG with a figured koa top, ebony fingerboard, Lo-Pro Edge bridge and DiMarzio Air Norton, True Velvet and The Tone Zone pickups.
“So, this isn’t a Steve Vai model because there’s no monkey grip or anything. We have occasionally used the Tree of Life [inlay] on other instruments that aren’t Vai models, like J Customs. We kinda tweaked that design for a couple of these new guitars, making each one slightly different to better fit the theme. On this one, it ties in with the mother of pearl resin to play off the look of the pickguard.”
7. JPCS7 “Range Finder”
Specs: A seven-string version of the limited-run RG550XH from 2011, featuring an alder body, flamed maple and walnut top, Lo-Pro Edge 7 bridge and DiMarzio Blaze-S/Evolution 7 pickups.
“There was a 30-fret six-string we put out a number of years ago. Having that additional string for this one added to the range potential and functionality of the guitar.
“One thing that’s important to mention is that you’ll see how far the fretboard shoots into the body. It looks like you’re losing a pickup, but actually there’s a small preamp module with a preset EQ curve built into the guitar. And it’s the bridge pickup that provides a neck pickup kind of sound, engaging the preamp module on two positions of the five-way switch. It scoops the sound and boosts the bass to give you a simulated neck pickup, which is a very cool feature!”
8. LACS9 “Echo”
Specs: An RG8 in Transparent Teal Gloss with a white mahogany body, quilted maple top, five-piece roasted maple neck and a pair of DiMarzio Ionizer pickups.
“This is a very impressive guitar for a number of reasons, the Tree of Life inlay being one of them. If you look closely, you’ll notice a wider spread than a typical one. They could have just done a standard one running through the center, narrower than the neck itself, but they modified it so the vines run deeper across the neck and fills it out.
“Like with the ‘Range Finder,’ it has something special that you can’t quite see right away – the wings of the guitar are fully hollowed out. So it’s the lightest eight-string I’ve ever picked up… I believe it only weighs seven-and-a-half pounds.”
9. LACS15 “Big Rig”
Specs: An alder-bodied RGA8 featuring a flamed maple top, three-piece maple/purpleheart neck, Gibraltar Std. II bridge and EMG 66H/57H pickups.
“This eight-string is not quite as lightweight, with a fully solid body. While some guitars have very interesting features buried underneath the surface, I’d say this is more of a surface-level instrument.
“The finish was custom mixed by our painter in the L.A. custom shop, Aaron Stone. He worked with his paint supplier for something extra special. This guitar also has a sister seven-string model called ‘Slick’ that has this Arctic Oil Spill finish.
“The cool thing about the ‘Big Rig’ is the chameleon finish on the edges that fade out into a transparent finish along the top. The maple top is subtle – you can the maple every so slightly because it has some black stain to accent and highlight it. There’s a lot going on with the finish on this instrument.”
10. JPCS8 “Totally Jazzed”
Specs: An AF model with multi-scale construction, featuring a solid flamed maple body, back and sides with a spruce top, ebony fingerboard and a single Bartolini 1C Humbucker.
“I’m really into the two hollowbodies we made. There’s this ‘Totally Jazzed’ one as well as a ‘Totally Jammin’ model. They’re both really fascinating because I’ve never seen a multi-scale construction used on a build like that. And the multi-scale is pretty subtle, only about an inch spread on each, blending in the traditional elements of an archtop with the modern flair you get from multi-scales.
“As you might have guessed, there are a lot of cousin and sister builds in this collection, like the JPCS16 ‘Sunset’ and the JPCS17 ‘Sunrise,’ which share very unique finishes.”
11. JPCS1 “Solar Flare”
Specs: An alder-bodied RG with a stainless steel top, a five-piece maple/walnut neck, a Lo-Pro Edge bridge and DiMarzio Evolution H-S-H pickups.
“Technically it’s not just a finish! The ‘Solar Flare’ actually has a metal top that’s glued on top of the wood. The luthier then took an angle rider and hand cut that pattern into the top. I have to say, it’s definitely one of the most eye-catching guitars in this collection.”
12. JPCS14 “Asterisk”
Specs: An alder-bodied AZ fitted with an S-Tech roasted flamed maple neck – which has a thicker Fat AZ Oval C profile – as well as Y.O.S. Smoggy pickups.
“To give more balance we also wanted to offer stuff that’s more vintage-looking, as well as the more experimental and modern instruments.
“One thing that’s interesting about the ‘Asterisk’ is its name – the reason we called it that was because the original AZ project codename was Asterisk. That’s how we referred to it when designing the original prototypes.
“For this guitar, as well as its sister build, which we called ‘The Old Guard,’ we used nitrocellulose for that classic vintage finish. The Asterisk has one humbucker with two single-coils plus a dyna-MIX 9 switch, while The Old Guard just has three single-coils. Both feature a flame maple neck, so they still have that high-end custom shop look, just done subtly.”