S540 review by Ibanez

logo Ultimate Guitar
  • Sound: 8
  • Overall Impression: 9
  • Reliability & Durability: 8
  • Action, Fit & Finish: 9
  • Features: 10
  • Reviewer's score: 8.8 Superb
  • Users' score: 7.5 (32 votes)
Ibanez: S540

Purchased from: N/A

Sound — 8
Sound of course is extremely subjective. I would say the guitar has a great range of sounds. It can do anything from SRV-style Blues to Satriani-shred with a flick of the pickup Switch. Coupled with the very responsive tone and volume controls, it is excellent for a variety of music. The sound is very tight and responsive, with smooth treble and mid response on all pickups. the single coils are extremely clean and smooth. the humbucker is also pretty tight sounding with a smooth, well rounded EQ range. However the guitar, while balanced in terms of tone, may come off as sounding a bit thin to some, particularly if you're a big fan of super thick Les Paul tones. Note the guitar has fine bass response, but rather the overall tone is not the thickest, though it certainly cuts through the mix.

Overall Impression — 9
My styles of music vary wildly, but on this guitar I mainly play prog rock and metal, along with shred metal. It suits my needs very well, and can do even more then I need it to. I have been playing for about 2 years, but have owned a fair amount of gear and played truck loads more. This is one of the best I've played. it's honestly on par with any USA Jackson or MIJ ESP and is easily on par if not better then most current Prestige Ibanez. If it were stolen or lost I would try hard to find it or find another like it. I love the tone and trem on it, along with the overall playability and feel of quality that is about it. However the tone does come across as thin at times and and the neck and body are a bit small for me. This is a guitar you buy if you're in it for the long haul, and at the prices they go on ebay (around $500-600, they are an amazing value. If I had to go back and do the trade which caused me to acquire this again, I would do it several times over. Despite a few weak points, this is a truly great instrument. Action, fit, finish, and durability is where I put the most scrutiny on any guitar, and this one far exceeds my expectations.

Reliability & Durability — 8
This guitar would withstand live playing no problem. The hard and it's finishes seem truly built to last. The Edge Trem hardly has any wear on it at all and could last another 15 years perhaps with regular upkeep. The volume pot did seem to be on it's way out though, which I replaced after contact cleaner did not clear up a crackling and occasional sticking with it. The strap buttons are very solid and should work fine unless your strap is just totally screwed up at the end. The finish seems pretty solid, but once you chip it doesn't take much to make it worse. The only other concern is the fretwork, which will probably need overhauled in about 2-3 years, with indents on the first and second frets and pretty heavy wear on the rest. Still, almost 20 years out of a set of frets is not bad at all under heavy playing conditions.

Action, Fit & Finish — 9
Vary rarely do I feel anything deserves a perfect 10, but this guitar almost does. Almost. Taking into account I got this used, it was in a bit of rough shape. However, the fretwork was still excellent, with the fret sides feeling smooth and well-filed. Once I set it up, this guitar had crazy low action with minimal fret buzz. Intonation is also easy to get spot-on. Meanwhile, the finish, aside from a few dings and chips suffered over the course of it's life time, is flawless. It is well applied with no evidence of bubbles or other issues. It is however worth noting the finish, while durable, is not the thickest, and once a chip starts, you would do well to get it touched up or sealed right away as it can quickly grow in size. One of my biggest nit picks is hardware finish and pickup finishes. Taking the age of the guitar into account (almost 18 years) it is very good condition. The tremolo finish is still mostly intact, though there is some minor wear on the 6th and 5th saddles, it does not seem to be advancing very fast, if at all. Likewise the volume knobs had some minor wear and tarnish but cleaned up pretty well. The biggest bit of wear seemed to be on the pickup ring, with the finish about 40% gone on the bass side of the ring (from about the 5th-6th string). Otherwise it is still in very good shape, along with the pickup pole pieces. The Single Coil pole pieces were flawless, despite a little wear on the pickup covers. The bridge pickup had some signs of minor rust, but nothing a little WD40 didn't clean up. Meanwhile, the tuners seem to b e holding up fine with practically no finish wear. For the number of metal pieces on this guitar (pickups, pickup ring, control knobs, nut, and tuners) it has held up really well. However, there are two big disappoints that keep this from being a 10. First is the fake the 2 screws in the back of the neck anchoring in the nut were heavily rusted on the heads, though there did not seem to be structural damage to them. The other disappoint is the Ibanez logo. Ibanez never shot clear over the logo and thus years of strings being strung and broken over it has put a fair of marks in it. Because of those two let downs I can not give it a perfect 10.

Features — 10
According to the serial, mine is a 1990, made in Japan. It has a 22 fret Original Wizard neck, and the particular one on the Saber was Ibanez's thinnest at the time. The neck wood is a nice maple, and to my surprise had a very subtle birdseye to it, which was very cool. The fretboard is a very nice slice of rosewood, with color and grain matched only by it's Brazilian cousin. The inlays are dazzling Abalone oval inlays, which are sometimes referred to as "Cats Eye" inalys, particular with the double oval inlay at the 12th fret. Also at the 21st fret is a plastic inlay which reads "Custom Made". The Super thin Saber body (much thinner then they make them now) is Mahogany, and is finished in a lush metallic Black Cherry finish. The hardware is what Ibanez calls Cosmo Black, and is a shiney, dark grey which looks very nice with the body finish. The guitar features an Original Ibanez Edge Tremolo, along with Made in Japan Ibanez tuners. The pickups are configured in H/S/S configuration. In the bridge is an Ibanez USA F2 humbucker made by DiMarzio, and is apparently very similar to the Breed in terms of tone, but is closer to the Fred in terms of output, despite having slightly more bite then the Fred, yet less than the Breed. In the two single coil slots are IBZ USA C2 Stacked Humbuckers, which are rebadged DiMarzio HS2s. which were also made by DiMarzio. The pickups are tied to a 5 way pickup selector and a high quality Volume and tone pot. The output jack is not unlike a pin jack on an acoustic or heavy duty Neutrik jack. The strap buttons are also ample, and you should be able to get along fine without strap locks. In terms of features, this baby is loaded, especially for what they go used.

4 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Not to comment on my own review to toot my horn, but I meant "fact" not fake in my notes on the screws.
    I play an S540 and have yet to see another one in Northern Ireland. I was just wondering how you found out its year of manufacture from the serial number. Is there a particular site I can use because I'd be interested in finding out. Great review by the way, I value this guitar above all my other possesions.
    These are some of the best guitars I've ever played on, bar none. Their lightweight, thin body design makes it so much better for me to play for long periods of time. And they give great sound. Ibanez struck gold with this design.
    I like mine so much I'm getting another one in a different finish....