S1520 review by Ibanez

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  • Features: 8
  • Sound: 10
  • Action, Fit & Finish: 10
  • Reliability & Durability: 9
  • Overall Impression: 9
  • Reviewer's score: 9.2 Superb
  • Users' score: 6.8 (30 votes)
Ibanez: S1520
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Price paid: $ 650

Purchased from: On the internet auction

Features — 8
Mine is from 2001, obviously Fujigen. I don't think it makes much sense to repeat every single detail from the catalogue, so mine in particular arrived w/o the trem bar (which I subsequently bought), in a regular (non-prestige) Ibanez hard case, with Schaller-style straplocks. Other than that, everything is stock, Quantum pickups, Lo-Pro trem with (surprisingly) 4 springs for a 9-46 setup. It had everything I would want from an S Prestige, and I especially wanted something with a natural finish; this one doesn't disappoint. 

The only thing I would personally change though is the wiring of the middle position of the 5-position switch. Right now it blends two humbuckers alright, but because there's only one volume control, you can't blend them together. Frankly, I consider this pretty much useless, and would easily trade that either for parallel bridge, or single neck + humbucker bridge configuration. This is a modification I am thinking of doing, hence, 9. I felt like giving it 9 would be a bit unfair compared to current state of the art, though. Push-pulls, varitones, robo tuners everywhere... it could have something "zappy" and "poppy" alright. I've finally settled on 8.

Sound — 10
My musical interests have recently driven more into older metal and hard rock songs. I'm playing Judas Priest, Motorhead, but still practice the musical virtuosous tunes of Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert and John Petrucci. I am using it with my Zoom G3X effects pedal into (depending on the mood) hi-fi FRFR Yamaha home audio system with stereo monitors, or my Bugera 6262-212 combo.

Now, it sound nothing short but great. The pickups have ceramic magnets, and they are hot enough that I rarely turn them all the way up when playing rhythm. I think of the "10" guitar volume position as kind of extreme, where it really goes of. When doing more subtle parts, you might want to get it a little bit down and let the wood speak for itself.

The timbre is of the Ibanez-ish like. It's aggressive, tight and punchy. The low-end is very "controlled," and it doesn't dominate your tone. For heavy chugs you'll need to get the low-end Eq knob up a bit, and it will deliver alright; out of the box though it's more into lead guitar equalization (who would suspect, huh). I have learned to appreciate the Gibson's warmth in tone, and, well, this guitar isn't very much like that. The sound cuts through and gets you into the people like a blade this guitar's body mimics. My amp is rather modern-sounding in tone, so the two paired give something you'd scarcely hear on the older records. When I need that, I kick in my Zoom as a preamp, bypassing my amp's one, and put in a Vox or classic Marshall simulation. I have to roll the volume under the 50% then, but it really starts to get similar to the classic-vintage stuff that's being played by people nowadays.

Nevertheless, driving (well, simulated, I can't afford one yet) Vox AC30 with a tube screamer and volume full up gives you a sound that's... pretty much unlike anything else I've heard people do. Might well become something I can call my "signature tone" :). Point being, it's versatile, and has a lot of potential, as long as you're willing to take your time with it. When it goes to soloing, the pickups deliver. Up to the very last fret the sustain is great, the notes sing and you really want to crank that up more and more to get that sound piercing you. For me, it's what I was looking for.

Compared to my previous guitar with active pickups, it can get a bit noisy in high-gain environments, especially with a bigger amp like mine. That's the inherent quality of such equipment, and requires appropriate care. Not necessarily something like a noise gate of reductor, more like the ability to play just what you want to, without brushing and touching the other strings. I wanted that too, because I think it essentially makes you a better player.

Action, Fit & Finish — 10
The guy I bought it from set the trem to be flat with the strings. Normally that's ok, but it's a Lo-Pro bridge, which has angled surface! I removed one spring and fiddled a bit with the tension, and it came out perfectly. It arrived with 9-42 (unknown brand) set which I played for a while, and recently moved to 9-46 Elixirs. This change only required less than a half-a-turn on the spring screws to get it back to balance, and in exchange I get more tonal and finger area to deal with the heavy chords and riffs.

The action is amazingly low and it plays great with those thinner strings. I typically used 10-52, but I appreciate the delicacy of the thinner set. As for the flaws... I don't want to go all hype and praise, but the Japanese manufacturing has shown its best with it. Everything fits, everything works, and sans a few scratches, the guitar is as good as new after 13 years (8 months mine). The hardware got some patina on it, but I think it looks pretty cool and obviously doesn't change the functioning. The neck is great and extremely playable, and certainly gives room for more speed than I possess right now. The cutaway gives very easy access to upper frets, like a shredding instrument should. Bigger frets ease playing even more (though they are not as big as found on RGs).

Reliability & Durability — 9
Will it withstand live playing? Considering it's a top-of-the-shelf Prestige model, this question starts to sound silly. S model looks fragile, but it's well built and I can't imagine anything happening to it. Of course the Floyd-style bridge needs more time when tuning and changing strings, but once tuned, it stays in tune perfectly. No whammy action can detune it, and I wouldn't hesitate to take it out and rock. It's certainly more complicated than those uber-metal one-pickup-one-knob black killing machines, so you're expected to care for it appropriately. If you do, though, there's nothing that should prevent you from rocking off. 

If I were to find anything that's not perfect, the strap buttons come loose once in a while, so just a bit of tension gets them back into game. When it comes to playing live, another, perhaps less obvious flaw appears. When you take a reasonably big cable (I am using this fancy material-covered Fender one), my straplocks get the strap far enough to make the "lock the cable under the strap" thing a bit less reliable, especially considering the socket position. A solution to that is to pull the cable more, but then it interferes with the whammy... well, for live I would probably get a bit of duct tape, just to be sure. Those are very minor, really. I don't think it warrants taking more than one point.

Overall Impression — 9
I've been playing for about 4 years now, and I don't consider myself very good (or even good, for that matter). However, I've had my share of different guitars, and I know how to appreciate quality. Ibanez guitars just have something in them that makes me want to get the instrument and play, and when I do, I feel rewarded for every lick I pull off and punished for every mistake I make. It doesn't hide your errors, but it doesn't stop you from doing crazy stuff either. It's certainly not a beginner's guitar, but when buying it I was looking for something AFTER the "first guitar." And it met my needs perfectly. I feel that this guitar might be my instrument for years to come. I am confident that it will withstand those years with me, and I am sure that every time I pick it up, I'll discover something new.

I wrote this review not only because I wanted to share my views, but also because the only other one was... well, biased, to say the least. I am fully aware of the fact that I gave the guitar very high marks. At the same time, I can imagine someone else giving it 6s or 7s based on personal preference. That being said, I bought it knowing well what I was looking for, and it met my every demand. Some things could be better, some things could be done differently, and I don't consider it a perfect instrument itself; but then again, I don't think that any really exist. After all, it's about what we do with the guitar that makes it good.

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