IBANEZ SUPER STRAT 2
RG-2550Z


 

Ibanez Prestige headstock

12/18/10- When I was misguided and thought that I might fix my S5470's sustain problem by replacing the body (at the time, it seemed like the only thing I hadn't tried-- the actual fix turned out to be much easier) I bought a cheapie RG350 body on eBay. It was a totally negative experience since I'd stupidly pressed the "Buy It Now" button on the wrong listing (the danger of opening multiple tabs to compare listings). I realized the mistake after the body and Edge III tremolo arrived. Naturally, I was disappointed because the one I'd intended to buy was in much better condition, but I was also hugely disappointed and more than a little peeved at Ibanez because the neck and tremolo didn't fit. Yes, that was my fault as well, for not having done the homework to know exactly what part numbers would fit with a particular guitar model. As I mentioned in my previous article, my gripe was (and is) that the end-user shouldn't have to do that, and someone coming from a Fender/Gibson background wouldn't expect to be stung by that. Ibanez manufactures bunches of guitars in a series that look virtually identical, and many eBay listings don't include the Ibanez part number.

Ibanez RG2550Z scalloped neck Insidious Gas I hate failure and don't like to admit defeat, so I was determined to find a body to fit the spare neck... despite the fact that I'd already solved the S5470's sustain problem. When I saw an eBay listing for an RG-2550Z body with an Edge Zero tremolo, Zero Point centering system and a full set of DiMarzio Evolution pickups, I placed a bid and got the whole shebang for about the same price as an Edge Pro tremolo. That took the sting off of my earlier failure.

I guess it's due to that G.A.S. thing-- even though I was disappointed by my experience with the RG350 body, I did like its shape, thickness, and the fact that it had a full pickguard-- It looked more like a Strat than the S-series guitars, and I could route it for active electronics or fit it with a Roland hex pickup. It also bothered me that I had a spare neck that would live its life in storage unless it found a body. So the quest to solve a problem became a quest to assemble yet another guitar... it's one of the insidious ways that G.A.S. works.

I Like Pickguards The quest was actually more ambitious than that: It was another attempt to assemble my vision of a "Super Strat". While the S-series guitars have most of the functional features of what I was looking for, they fell short in a few areas that could be considered minor, or cosmetic. In my opinion, Strats have a more "workhorse" vibe than most Ibanez guitars, and I consider the flat-top, full pickguard design of Strats to be an important element of that vibe. Basically, I like the look of a full pickguard, but one of the practical things I like about it is that once you remove the pickguard, it's all there. You don't have to guess about which wires come from which pickup, and you can drill holes wherever you want to add switches and pots. You can easily change the pickup loadout to anything, do a lousy job with routing the wood and no one would know the difference. If you botch the job or change your mind, buy a new pickguard. It seems that one of the main appeals of many of the Ibanez models is lots of exposed wood, pretty finishes, and flashy colors. It's really not-my-thing, but I can appreciate it if it's not over-the-top. At any rate, in my opinion, arch-topped Ibanez guitars with pretty finishes need some kind of a pickguard to prevent pick scuff marks on the finish; Gibson provides pickguards as an option on Les Pauls, but Ibanez doesn't. It took me less than a day to put fingernail scuffs on my S5470 before I decided to make a Les Paul style pickguard for it. But I digress...

The Edge Zero Tremolo Does Not Suck Ibanez makes so many models that it's difficult to become knowledgeable about the entire product line in the short timeline of my typical buying decision. That's why I didn't realize that some models outside the S-series were equipped with the Zero Point System and a full pickguard or I might have considered the RG2550 first when I began my descent into the world of things Ibanez (On the other hand, maybe it's because the RG2550 isn't listed in their current product lineup...?). In retrospect, I was also attracted to the ball-bearing mounted tremolo of the S-series, which, as far as I know, is exclusive to the S-series.

The Edge Zero bridge is nearly identical to the 2010 S-series' ZR bridge, aside from the blade edge mounting design. From a feature perspective, I believe that the ZR bridge is a better system, simply by the fact that it's anchored to the body: If you remove all the strings and springs, it stays on the body. The Edge systems rely on string and spring tension to pull them to the anchor posts. If you install a full set of strings from scratch, tensioning the low E will pull tension off the post near the high E string (which may cause it to jump the notch), so you have to keep this in mind when deciding which order to put strings on your guitar. Really not a big deal, but a bit disconcerting at first. (And oh yes, the Edge Zero stays in tune just fine when you set it up properly.)

Picking the RG2550Z The RG2550 is one of the few models (outside the upscale Jem line) that feature a full Strat-style pickguard, and the Z variant is the one with the Edge Zero/ZPS system. I don't think it's still produced, but at the time I was pondering whether to bid on the body, I was tempted by a steeply discounted and discontinued RG2550E model available at Musiciansfriend.com. Although it would be more than twice the price (as it turned out), it was a full guitar (with neck) and included the hard case. It didn't have a ZPS gizmo and I really didn't need/want/like the neck (it had Sharktooth fret markers and binding). I wouldn't even attempt to scallop a neck with Sharktooth inlays and binding.

Old Nuts, New Nuts The spare neck that I'd bought to scallop for the S5470 originally came from a 2005 RG2550E, so I pulled it from the S5470 and installed it on the new Super Strat. Perfect fit. Since this was a 2005 neck, it had been drilled for the bar retainer/string tree. The original nut had been a top mounting nut, so I replaced it with the current design of the top-mounting nut that doesn't require the retainer. To cover the extra screw holes, I made a truss rod cover out of triple ply plastic, slightly wider than the current-version aluminum truss rod cover. Lower mounting screw holes were drilled at the same place as the current-version cover.

De-Pimpification All the pickguard and neck mounting screws that I'd bought for the RG350 fiasco came in handy (actually were necessary) for putting everything together. The only bit of "customizing" I did was cosmetic-- I replaced the purplish metal foil-ish pickguard with a simple 3-ply white one (expensive compared to Strat parts, but custom-made- See "Gripes" below) and replaced the fancy metal control knobs with simple plastic Strat-style knobs from the RG550 body. Mainly, it was my attempt to "de-pimpify" the guitar's cosmetics. The Galaxy Black's tiny flecks of silver aren't very noticeable and except for up close, looks like black to me. For black guitars, I prefer the black and white contrast. Reminds me of a Strat.

Wiring the Pickups Although the body came with DiMarzio Evolution pickups, they'd been removed and reinstalled without rewiring. I found a Jem wiring diagram on the 'net, and it was easy to rewire by following the color coding and notations indicating the direction to install the pickups: Fortunately, DiMarzio pickups have an "F" stamped on the bottom, so you know to install one humbucker facing forward and the other facing backwards. The switch had no markings; however, by looking at where the ground wire was tapped, it was clear that it was for a humbucker/single coil/humbucker (H/S/H) configuration. That switch has a much more intuitive terminal wiring logic (the first 3 terminals are for the 3 hot leads from the pickups) than Ibanez's 5-position switch for the humbucker/humbucker configuration. As always, test functionality before you assemble and restring the guitar.

I decided to assemble this guitar with its intended H/S/H configuration, mainly to give that configuration another chance. I'd converted my S5470 to an H/H configuration fairly quickly and wondered whether I'd really given it the chance it deserved, especially since so many people seem to like the H/S/H configuration. Similarly, I'd set up the S5470 with a free floating tremolo (thanks to the quick & easy Zero Point System) to give that a chance. In that case, I could see why folks might prefer it over the ZPS stopbar-- you give up one thing for another, but they're both within an acceptable range for me.

I tried to like the H/S/H configuration, but I really couldn't accept the vastly different tones and output levels of the selector positions, Basically, in the H/S/H configuration,the single coil needs to be raised very high to get a reasonable balance with the humbuckers, and when it's that high, it interferes with my picking-- two humbuckers and a raised single coil on a short 24-fret body doesn't leave much open string space for picking! To achieve balance at a workable single coil height, the humbuckers would need to be lowered a lot (or replaced with lower output humbuckers)... but then they'd lose their "balls". So much for second chances: I ended up rewiring it for H/H configuration using Ibanez's 3PS1SC5 switch, which gives a more balanced spread between the humbucker tones and the the single coil tones, and lets me deck the unused single coil to open up a decent-sized picking zone. The H/H configuration gives more freedom to adjust pickup height for tone (versus balance), and the #2 & #4 positions give a thinner parallel single-coil sound at a much more balanced output level.

More of the same 'ol Griping... Sorry to keep making this same point, but jeez Ibanez... Arrrgggggghhhhh!!! While I was shopping for a new pickguard, I wondered why all the eBay listings specified particular models, even though the pickguards looked substantially the same. I'd been stung before, so I was wiser now and found a listing that specified the RG2550 model. Good thing, too. When the pickguard arrived, I laid it over the RG350 model and saw that it was almost the same size and shape... but the pickguard screw holes were in different places and the front humbucker placement was different by a couple millimeters! It also irritates me that the RG guitar doesn't fit in the S-Series hard case. Honestly, I wouldn't gripe if I could think of a single good reason why they do this, except to ensure that replacement part vendors and 3rd party producers could never cover their entire line... It's like the concept of "product differentiation" gone awry and done up in Bizarro world fashion.

Ibanez pickguard incompatibility

Why Not Just Get a Strat? Early on, I did ask myself whether it would be easier to Super-Stratify an actual Stratocaster. Although Fender does currently make Strats with humbuckers, they don't have the full double-locking tremolo/nut system and thin 24-fret, flat neck radius that Ibanez guitars have... and the Zero Point centering system (which is quieter than the Hipshot Tremsetter) couldn't easily be fitted in a Strat without major wood surgery. Specialized necks and bodies might be available from Warmoth, but it would be an expensive, work-intensive project and I suspect that they don't support the Ibanez ZR tremolo and ZPS. Another option would be to go back in time when Fender Japan was producing their version of a "Super Strat". Unfortunately, those "Contemporary Stratocasters" are rarer (and more expensive) now, and I suspect that things like the bridge aren't drop-in replaceable with currently manufactured bridges. (When mine was stolen, the roller saddles had started to corrode and local stores didn't have replacements.) In contrast, the Ibanez models meet my features specification list, are fairly inexpensive, available, and despite my grousing, it's not impossible to find replacement parts (as long as you remember that for the right part, you need the exact part number for the model).

scalloped Ibanez Prestige neck

Despite its Prestiginess, I still had to work on the neck to fix a low 1st fret/high 2nd fret on the bass side. Since you can't easily raise fret height, that meant sanding... and due to the ripple nature of such things, that turned into a slightly high 3rd fret, then 4th fret, etc. Things settled down around the 11th or 12th fret and I was able to set it up with relatively low action-- as low as I could stand. Basically, this just requires some straight edges to cover 3 frets (rock up and down to check for high frets), sandpaper and block, and a crowning file.

 


Ibanez RG2550 with Strat jackplate Further Stratifying the RG2550 12/22/10- Sheesh. Ibanez guitars get no respect. BMW is running an Xmas commercial that shows father and son in a music store; father holds up what looks like an Ibanez and says something like, "Hey, this is as good as the one you've always wanted!" Son, fondling what looks like a Les Paul replies, "No, it's not." The concluding scene shows the pair at a car dealership later in life, choosing "the real thing", a dream-fulfilling BMW over another presumably inferior brand of luxury automobile.

Son might have pointed out that the LP didn't have a whammy bar and couldn't do Hendrix or Van Halen, but it's a commercial and versatility wasn't what they were trying to sell. I've already done the Les Paul and Strat wish-fulfillment thing so I'm currently interested in features, not the brand name. Still, I like the way Strats look.

Guitars from the Ibanez RG series clearly look like Stratocaster wannabees, which is one of the reasons why I like them. For legal reasons (I'm sure), certain things were changed, enough so that the Ibanez RG guitars are recognized as their own distinctive breed of "pointy" guitars, at least to folks who are interested in that sort of thing. As I've mentioned, there are certain functional things about the Ibanez guitars that I'm interested in that aren't present in Fender Stratocasters (or Les Pauls); oddly enough, I think the unrounded edges and pointy horns are a cool, though less practical aesthetic divergence (The horns and unrounded edges scream "Damage me!"; I kept getting stabbed by the damn pickguards as I was handling them to transfer the guts). Since I'm not constrained by the restrictions of copyright laws, I'm free to alter the RG2550 to bring it closer to its roots, borrowing the distinctive Stratocaster features that I like. Switching the control knobs was an easy first step in that direction. I like knobs with numbers (so I can see where they're set) and that are easy to turn with my pinkie.

With the Strat style knobs in place, one of the things that jumped out about the RG2550 body was that it had two control knobs, not three and a lot of white space between them. In my opinion, this is actually as much control (master volume and tone) as a standard guitar really needs, and I consider the Les Paul's 4 knobs and the Strat's 3 knobs to be unnecessary overkill (But it's good to have them there if you intend to do something interesting with the spares). Nevertheless, the 3-knob layout is a defining feature of the Strat "look", so I was tempted to put in a third one and deal with its function later. The Ibanez knobs aren't spaced like the Strat knobs, so fitting a third one between the two would make the spacing between a lot tighter. I tested the feel of the middle knob using adhesive putty and it was still operable, but with a smaller margin. It's a little bit like why the HSH configuration on a 24-fret guitar doesn't work as well as it does with a Strat's SSS configuration: There's a lot more space between the single coil pickups on a Strat to find that comfortable picking zone. The controls spacing isn't quite as important so I might go with the flow when I do install that third knob. If it doesn't work out, pickguards can be ordered without holes drilled for the knobs so you can decide exactly where to put 'em.

Another thing that bothered me (slightly), was the missing Strat "football" jack plate. It's one of the defining features of a Strat, and in my opinion, a damn good idea. As a practical matter, it helps protect the guitar cord plug and jack from sideways shear damage and ensures that the cord and the plug don't have as an acute bend (which makes cords unreliable) when you put them in a stand (like the Les Pauls). The Ibanez S-series guitars copied the basic concept, but changed the orientation and did it directly in the wood, without the plate. (Their design makes it a little harder to grip the plug than the Strat's.)

I also like the look... however, the main reason I decided to install the Strat jack was that the original Neutrik (?) barrel jack didn't grip the plug very tightly. With a standard jack, you can bend the contact tangs inside the jack to make them grip tighter, but the barrel jack was totally enclosed, with no obvious access to its "guts". Even though it was probably meant to be an upscale feature, I hate that kind of stuff. Therefore, I drilled out a Strat-measured cavity and installed the more tinker-friendly Strat jack plate that could accommodate a stereo jack with built-in switching. It's nice to have that capability there in case you want it later for a battery-powered mod.

There was another benefit to doing this: The original barrel-style jack was installed and soldered through a back access plate and the cavity had lots of room inside-- enough for a 9-volt battery. I don't know if that was an alternate use envisioned by Ibanez, but I immediately saw its potential. I'd contemplated adding some kind of active circuitry (probably an overdrive, even though it's less necessary for high-output humbuckers), but was somewhat put off by having to route a cavity for the battery box. This makes it practically a no-brainer. (Also, the pre-existing cavity made it much easier to route the cavity for the recessed jack plate since half the work was already done.)

Finally, there's another reason why one might want install a Strat jack plate: Atlantic Design's S-Tuner. This is a .1 cent (very accurate) tuner built into a Strat jack plate that runs for a year off of a watch battery. It's sort of pricey and not a real necessity, but adds a useful feature without sacrificing anything (except your money) and is an easy install. Like having built-in overdrive, it means that you can travel light and plug straight into any amp and get the basics of a workable tone and be in tune-- no pedals required. I think that's a really cool concept.

 


Onboard overdrive SD-1 TBX pot Shoehorning an Ibanez RG-2550Z: Onboard BOSS SD-1 Overdrive 12/27/10- I've written a couple of articles about this seemingly bizarre guitar mod (here and here). Strats have a naturally thinner sound so putting an overdrive stompbox in them seems like a useful mod, but I wondered whether it would be useful, or perhaps too much for a guitar with humbuckers. The funny thing is that the OD-equipped Strats made the passive humbucker-equipped guitars seem like they were missing the "More!!!" option, like a fun and useful chunk of their dynamic range was missing.

I already had a partially "processed" SD-1 circuitboard from a few years ago, so it was worth a try. I don't remember its history, but I suspect that I'd abandoned it because I thought I'd FUBAR'd it. The board had been cut in half and apparently jumpered at one time, but I'd removed the jumpers and hadn't gone very far with the parts-replacement mods. Since I didn't know what its story was, I rejumpered it to see if it was salvageable. It took a couple hours, but I found and corrected some careless mistakes I'd originally made and fixed an oscillation problem. Once it was operational, I did a partial "Wampler" mod (changed a few capacitors values and replaced clipping diodes with Germanium diodes in series with Silicon rectifier diodes). By the time I got it working, I knew that it would be a cool and worthwhile thing to have in the RG2550.

The serendipitous battery compartment mentioned earlier needed a little extra routing to accommodate the additional length of a 9-volt battery plug. Beyond that, I followed the same plan I'd devised for shoehorning my Strats. I was fortunate to have everything I needed on hand, including the TBX ganged pot, switch pots, and a double pole double throw toggle switch. I've included an "exploded view" of the TBX pot to show the location of the detent stamping that gives the pot the center notch. I hammered it flat and removed the grease and sanded the nylon bottoms to give it a slightly looser feel (but unfortunately, not quite loose enough for my tastes).

Once I removed the scratchplate, I was surprised by how little room there was inside; I hadn't looked at any photos of the innards or disassembled my RG350 body beforehand, but I was hoping that I'd be able to fit the circuit board without any extra routing. Wow, I was sooooo wrong. Not only did I need to route a sizeable cavity for the folded circuit board, but I also saw that it would be quite difficult to jam everything in there. Since the RG body has a narrower waist than the Strat, I had to mount the circuit boards at an angle to fit the width, and even then, had to undercut the outer edge to leave a scratch plate mounting screw unmolested. Fortunately, Basswood is very soft so the job wasn't as painful as it might have been, but it wasn't pretty! (Humans aren't very pretty on the inside either.) The 25k push/pull tone pot was almost too tall for the factory routing but I wanted a switch for the redundant battery kill function (so I didn't have to unplug the guitar to save the battery). Seating the scratch plate was very frustrating since there always seemed to be a wire or something else in the way of it seating flush. Unfortunately, when you're trying to close it up, you can't see what's going on inside. I was getting tired and needed to do other things so when I finally lucked into getting an acceptable fit, I buttoned the patient up, reassembled the guitar, and tested to see if it still worked. Miraculously, it did... and it sounded damn good!

The controls spacing is a little tighter than I'd like, but useable: It's difficult to determine the proper ergonomics when the scratchplate isn't mounted to the guitar. I'm somewhat bothered by not having loosened the TBX pot enough, but it will probably loosen up with use. Placing the DPDT switch was a little trickier than usual since I had to find a place where it would be easy to use, but not intrude on the interior space of another control.

I'd originally wired the overdrive circuit before the master volume control. This allowed attenuation of the high-output humbucker pickups before hitting the OD circuit, which gave a extended clean, pre-overdrive range. The only problem was that having the master volume before the circuit didn't do anything at the circuit output; at max distortion, the circuit hisses when at turned up, so turning the master volume down left the hiss at full tilt. Wiring the OD circuit before the master volume control fixed this, but the hot humbuckers do tend to overdrive the circuit, even at the lowest gain setting.

The stock wiring had included a 330 pF ceramic capacitor wired across the live terminals of the volume pot. This had the interesting effect of passing treble frequencies to the output as the volume was reduced; in effect, this cleaned up the distortion with a clean single-coil-ish sound before it cut the overall volume. This affected the perceived taper of the pot. I tried it like this for a while but preferred the standard audio taper that I was accustomed to, so out it went. During that second disassembly, I did some cleanup so that it's easier to button the patient up.

That would normally be the end of the story, but... I'm currently mulling over whether to replace the overdrive with a Sustainiac. After all this, it should be a relatively easy fit. It's not that I dislike the overdrive, but I'm a sucker for gimmicks and novelty. The effect sounds like fun & cool stuff, but I'm not entirely convinced that it would be as useful as the "bread & butter" onboard overdrive. Once the honeymoon is over, after you've oooh'd and ahhhh'd, is it something you can naturally integrate with your playing style? Steve Vai seems to put the effect to good use, but I'm no Steve Vai. (Although there are lots of YouTube videos demonstrating it, most of them showcase the effect in isolation, like an interesting pet trick.)

Ibanez RG-2550Z mods
Wow, it looks like a fake Strat!

 

THE STORY CONTINUES: REPLACING THE SD-1 WITH A RAT2

IBANEZ SUPER STRAT, PART 1

IBANEZ SUPER STRAT, PART 3 (MO' IBBIES)

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