Ibanez Steve Vai Signature Jem Jr: A Comprehensive Review
When it comes to iconic guitarists and their signature instruments, few combinations are as legendary as Steve Vai and his Ibanez JEM series guitars. The virtuoso guitarist’s association with Ibanez dates back to the 1980s when he collaborated with the company to create a guitar that could meet his demanding technical requirements and unique aesthetic vision. The result was the first Ibanez JEM, which has since become one of the most recognizable and sought-after guitars on the market. The Ibanez Steve Vai Signature Jem Jr is a more affordable version of this iconic instrument, making it accessible to a wider range of players. In this comprehensive review, we will examine the features, playability, and sound of the Ibanez Jem Jr to help you determine if it’s the right guitar for you.
A Brief History
Steve Vai’s partnership with Ibanez began in the mid-1980s when he was looking for a guitar that could keep up with his virtuosic playing style and unique sound. Together, they designed the JEM series, which quickly gained a reputation for its exceptional playability, versatile sound, and distinctive appearance. Since its introduction, the JEM series has been a mainstay in Ibanez’s lineup, with numerous models and variations released over the years.
The Jem Jr, introduced in the early 2010s, is designed to offer the key features and aesthetics of the original JEM at a more accessible price point. This makes it an attractive option for guitarists who want to experience the playability and sound of a JEM without breaking the bank.
Design and Construction
The Ibanez Jem Jr features a solid mahogany body with a double-cutaway design that provides excellent upper fret access. The body shape is reminiscent of the Ibanez RG series, with sleek, contoured lines and a comfortable feel.
The bolt-on maple neck has a Wizard III profile, which is slim and fast-playing, perfect for shredding and technical playing. The Jem Jr features a 24-fret rosewood fingerboard with the signature “Tree of Life” inlay, a design element that has become synonymous with the JEM series.
One of the most distinctive features of the Jem Jr is the “monkey grip” handle cut into the body, a design element that not only looks cool but also makes it easy to carry the guitar during performances. The guitar comes in several finishes, including White, Yellow, and Pink, each with contrasting black hardware.
Electronics and Hardware
The Ibanez Jem Jr is equipped with a versatile set of pickups, consisting of two Quantum humbuckers in the neck and bridge positions and a Quantum single-coil in the middle position. This HSH configuration provides a wide range of tonal options, from warm and smooth neck pickup sounds to biting, high-output bridge tones. The pickups are controlled by a 5-way selector switch, allowing for various combinations and tonal possibilities.
The Jem Jr features an Ibanez double-locking tremolo system, which provides excellent tuning stability and allows for extreme whammy bar use without compromising intonation or string tension. The locking nut and fine tuners on the bridge make it easy to achieve precise tuning and keep the guitar in tune even during aggressive playing.
One of the main selling points of the Ibanez Jem Jr is its exceptional playability. The slim Wizard III neck profile and flat fingerboard radius make it easy to navigate the fretboard and perform intricate techniques with ease. The double-cutaway body shape and deep cutaways provide unhindered access to all 24 frets, making it perfect for soloing and lead playing.
The double-locking tremolo system, while requiring some initial setup and maintenance, provides a smooth and stable vibrato experience, giving players the freedom to use the whammy bar without worrying about tuning issues.
The Ibanez Jem Jr delivers a versatile range of tones, thanks to its HSH pickup configuration and 5-way selector switch. The Quantum pickups are designed for high-output, making them well-suited for rock and metal genres, but they also offer plenty of clarity and definition for cleaner playing styles.
The neck humbucker provides warm and smooth tones, perfect for solos and melodic playing, while the bridge humbucker offers a more aggressive, cutting sound that’s great for rhythm and lead work. The middle single-coil adds a touch of brightness and sparkle, allowing for more nuanced, Strat-like tones when combined with the humbuckers.
Pros and Cons
- Iconic design and aesthetics
- Exceptional playability
- Versatile sound suited for various genres
- Affordable price point
- Some might find the “monkey grip” handle and flashy appearance polarizing
- Double-locking tremolo system requires more maintenance than fixed bridges
The Ibanez Steve Vai Signature Jem Jr offers guitarists the opportunity to own a piece of guitar history without breaking the bank. With its iconic design, exceptional playability, and versatile sound, it’s an excellent choice for fans of Steve Vai or anyone looking for a high-performance guitar that stands out from the crowd. Whether you’re a seasoned shredder or just starting your guitar journey, the Ibanez Jem Jr is worth considering if you’re in the market for an eye-catching, highly playable instrument.