October 1, 2003

by Jude Gold

Do you remember a product marketed with the slogan, “It’s like wearing nothing at all”? (Hint—it wasn’t a guitar.) The same tagline could apply to the Ibanez S1620FBNT ($1,049 street). The first time I strapped on this guitar during a gig its neck seemed so thin, its action so effortless, and its body so minimal, that, for one crazy second, I felt as if I was standing onstage playing air guitar. This guitar embraces fast riffs and wild leads the way the Swiss Alps welcome downhill skiers. And when it comes to dive bombs and other such wang-bar antics, I’ve never had a smoother ride on a locking-trem guitar.

That New Guitar Smell
The Japanese-made S1620— the latest addition to Ibanez’s distinctive S series of sleek-bodied, double-cutaway models (which was first introduced in 1987)—is to an old-school guitar what a brand new 6-speed Acura NSX sports car is to a vintage Ford Mustang. In other words, this high-tech, aerodynamic, high-output instrument’s singular mission is to ensure that nothing comes between you and your very fastest playing and hottest tones.

The striking, figured bubinga-topped mahogany body, for example, is carved as thin as possible at the edges so that the guitar seems to melt into your ribcage. The neck heel is thin and rounded, making high notes easily reachable. The 5-way selector is in exactly the right place for quick changes in pickup settings, and the metal knobs are textured like the grips on a mountain bike so that adjustments to volume and tone are easily made on the fly—no matter how sweaty or slippery your fingers are.

The S1620 also features Ibanez’s speedy D-shaped, bubinga-reinforced “Wizard” neck. Thanks to jumbo frets, a low action, a set of .009 gauge strings, and the fact that it’s straighter than a Nebraska horizon, the S1620’s fretboard is, in effect, a rosewood runway to better chops. Practice scales on this guitar and your metronome may seem like it’s dragging. Play legato runs, and—if you’re used to playing guitars with heavier strings and a higher action—your fretting-hand pinky will feel as mighty as Thor’s hammer. And if there is one truly marvelous contraption on the S1620, it’s the . . .

. . .Amazing Bridge
Ibanez’s new ZR bridge—which was a highlight of this year’s Winter NAMM show—is an absolute duh-fest. That is, once you see how the ZR has improved upon the classic Floyd Rose-style locking tremolo design, you may find yourself saying, “Duh, why didn’t anyone do that sooner?”

A problem with many conventional tremolo systems is that every time you use the bar, you create metal-against-metal grind between the mounting studs and the bridge’s knife-edged pivot points. If your bridge is floating, this small amount of friction can prevent the bridge—not to mention your tuning—from returning to the correct place. On the ZR, however, the bridge assembly swings on internal roller bearings that are all but frictionless (they’re housed inside the round hubs on either side of the bridge), so correct pitch return on the S1620 is practically guaranteed.

Other cool features include a tension- adjustable tremolo arm, as well as a clever onboard intonation adjustment tool—a simple thumb-screw stored adjacent to the low E string. Simply remove it, screw it into the back of any string saddle, and it becomes a stopper bolt. Now, when you loosen the saddle with a hex wrench, the saddle stays put, and intonation adjustments are easily achieved with small turns of the stopper bolt—even while the string is at playing tension.

Last, but not least, in the ZR bridge’s back cavity you’ll find Ibanez’s new Zero Point system—a bonehead simple, but ingeniously effective backstop-type device that utilizes reverse-pulling springs to keep the floating ZR bridge stationary until you yank on the bar. This solves a number of problems that plague other locking trems. For one, you can rest your palm on the bridge without making the strings go sharp (unless you press extremely hard). It also allows you to hold one note while bending another without the first note drifting flat. And if you break the G, B, or high-E string, the guitar stays in tune enough for you to make it to the end of the song. (When I tested this feature by intentionally snapping the highest string, the other five strings stayed in tune relative to each other, though they did all go slightly sharp.) In addition, bridge tension can be adjusted with the backplate on, via a single spring-adjustment screw on the back of the instrument—hip!

The S1620’s hot-wired pickups really come alive in loud, heavy-distortion situations, where natural compression and low-end response are so pronounced that every hammered and pulled note in a legato run hits you in the chest with a satisfying chug. Plugged into a 50-watt Marshall Plexi half-stack, the guitar’s ceramic magnets almost pushed the tone into the realm of Marshall’s high-gain DSL series of heads. Cranking direct through a Tech 21 Trademark 10 into a pair of studio monitors, I got sustaining, harmonically rich distortion so thick I could almost back float in it.

Lethal Weapon
As a turbo-charged speed demon, the S1620FBNT is less suited for greasy guitar styles where you want your guitar to put up a fight—such as leaning into blues notes ` la Stevie Ray Vaughan or strumming gargantuan open-G chords like Malcolm Young. However, if your aim is formidable fretboard chops, insane speed, and a stunning victory in your next head-cuttin’ duel, then this high-tech marvel is absolutely the machine you’ll want to rev up and ride.


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