Here's Mud In Your Tone
I'm an Ibanez freak and this is a tough review to write. I will give you the cliff-notes version in the next paragraph for those wanting a drive-by review, and then elaborate afterwards for those who want details. I do want to mention that Sweetwater was hands-down the best online music store experience I've ever had, and they were stellar in the buying process.
Ok - Cliff-Note version - I own several Ibanez guitars including a MIJ RG520. This RG652MPBFX is an extremely nice and very well made guitar, and the neck continues to be a piece of art! This is a players guitar - you either need to know how to set up action correctly, or be prepared to pay someone to do so. This neck is professional grade through and through, and if you are used to a Gibson or Fender, you will need to allow some time to get used to it. It is as fast as can be once you take the time to set the action up and it feels amazing. Sustain is through the roof and playability is top of the line. The only, and I mean only thing that I personally don't like is that the Tone Zone pickup is a terrible choice for bridge pickup on a mahogany body. It is nothing but mud and a change of strings, multiple pick-up height changes, amplifier tone changes, use of different amps altogether - nothing helps to get it out of the mud. Read on for details.
I have been waiting years for Ibanez to make an RG Prestige hardtail 6 string with a mahogany body and maple fretboard. I jumped on the chance to grab this the first moment I could get my hands on it. I was excited when it showed up earlier this week.
First, the setup was not that bad out of the box. I am a former 80's hair band guitarist with a history of using Charvel, Fender, and Ibanez Strat style guitars. I set the action as low as it can go and after the first day of using the factory 10s, I changed the strings out for some Slink Pink 9s. This brought the crispness of the high end out a negligible amount.
Setting the intonation was a snap on this hard tail. The truss rod is easy to get to, and the neck is ultra flat. With strings, truss adjustment, intonation setup, and bringing the pickups into the correct height for the action, I spent about 80 minutes getting the action in it's final position. It is lightning fast, and only minor 6th string rattle on harder pick strikes. I have the same dimension Wizard neck on the 520 and I would tell you that these are the absolute best metal/shred necks of any guitar made. This maple fretboard version is just amazing. It makes this guitar an absolute joy to play fast.
I knew that I was taking a chance with the Tone Zone. I had bought one years ago and added it to the 520, but took it out after a week because of it's heavy muddy tone. After having the factory V7 and V8 pickups, the TZ is just too dry and soft. It's sensitive and provides excellent sustain, but it is not a cutting sound, and it's too easily lost in a rhythm section. I have some EMGs I'm going to try as they work very well in my 77 Ibanez that is a mahogany body. I have some other various pickups I can try as well, but I think the Zakk set will work well for what I want to play. If they end up being the answer, I'll switch to the Slink heavy bottoms.
The finish is plain, but that's what I like. The workmanship is 8 out of 10 as the glue seam is slotted a bit by the lower strap button, but the rest of the guitar is nicely finished. It's a bit awkward without the pickup surrounds and to add them will require removing a bit of the end of the fretboard, which won't be hard. I will do that to accommodate the EMGs. Even if you were to leave the TZ and Norton, I think it would be nice to have the surrounds back.
I would definitely recommend any Prestige RG, and if you want a muddier sound, this is your axe. If you are capable of changing electronics and want a very well made and ultra fast action hot rod shredder for metal with a stunning wood combination, this is your axe after a pickup swap. My guess is that if you want a better sound without modding a new axe, go with the plain RG652 in Black or Blue and enjoy the more metal oriented Basswood body.
I will update this review in the future after I swap out the pickups.