Why is the Ibanez RGA so popular?

The RGA is a fascinating case. No other recent Ibanez model has received such acclaim and seen such widespread use.

The RGD has a lot of fans (including myself)… but it’s a baritone, I understand that. The FR has even garnered a Prestige Uppercut model… but it’s a modern offset tele shape, which is so different.

The RGA is just an RG with an arched top… isn’t it?

RGAs initially saw niche popularity, but were quickly elevated to a truly iconic status. Players lose their minds over these guitars:

Let’s see why!

The Timing

RGAs were released in 2005. The first two were Japanese RGA121s and RGA321Fs, which were a welcome addition at the time. Ibanez was in a bit of a confused period in that era, which included many more inexpensive import models, guitars with vintage appointments, and RGs that were overshadowed by anniversary JEMs.

There were other cool models such as the RGTs (which never really caught on on a large scale, but are fantastic), and build quality didn’t diminish at all, but public perception of the brand’s identity was a bit muddied. You can read more about that in our history of Ibanez article, but the short version is that we really needed the RGAs.

I’m going to describe the merits of the guitar itself in the next section, but at the end of the day: everyone wanted a high-quality hardtail Ibanez. Ibanez literally released the model to fill that void in their catalog.

Metalcore and other aggressive, no-nonsense styles were becoming increasing popular, and players that identified with fast necks and aggressive RG looks were looking for something fresh.

The best example of these guitars taking off early on is JB Brubaker. August Burns Red made their debut in 2005 (the same year RGAs were introduced) and released their seminal “Messengers” two years later. JB and the RGA are irrevocably associated with one another at this point, and they’re a great match for each other.

Other variants were released up through 2010. Originally more Japanese models were released, but many inexpensive models came out too. At one point the original models were even phased out and nothing but cheaper variants and tremolo-equipped guitars remained!

I’ll wrap up the history of the model a little later, but for now, I think we need to know: why is the RGA so special?

The Tone

The Ibanez RGA is a thick, aggressive, and punchy guitar. This is everything a rock and metal player wants. But how does it do it with such elegant simplicity?

It’s the wood combination, along with some key design elements. A bolt on maple neck on a mahogany body with a maple top is largely considered to be the best tonewood combination possible.

It’s worth mentioning that the tops are insanely thick on RGAs. Even after the carve takes away a good amount, there still a ton of maple left: which not only looks awesome, but also has a pronounced tonal effect.

Even classic Ibanez models from their golden eras feature this combination, such as the revered RG3120. We love it so much that we chose it for our exclusive Ibanez Prestige run that we organized recently.

I think the Gibraltar Plus bridge has something to do with it as well. On top of being well rounded for comfort and having a wide intonation range for good downtuning, it has a lot of mass which can increase sustain.

It’s also worth noting that most RGs also aren’t mahogany, and have a lot of wood removed for a tremolo, both of which result in a lighter and airier tone.

This sort of tone is definitely evidenced by Misha Mansoor’s (Haunted Shores, Periphery) use of them. His tones are almost categorically thick and ballsy while retaining a lot of attack, but he also uses a lot of ambient cleans. The cleans on these, like Ibanez’s archetypal models, are musical and snappy. RGAs are still very versatile guitars!

The Truth

So why was the RGA discontinued? It was discontinued?! Why?!

It sort of turned into something it’s not. The hardtail Prestiges were actually phased out in favor of tremolo models. These guitars are awesome and very rare, but they featured the Edge Zero. While I find the bridge to be quite good, it’s a bit polarizing in the guitar community.

Ibanez’s lineup was simultaneously flooded with inexpensive RGA variants. This was at a time in which Indonesian guitars were doing very well for Ibanez so it make sense that they did this (and was awesome for players on a tight budget looking to experience Ibanez), but it ultimately didn’t satisfy many diehard fans, which are Ibanez’s bread and butter.

And why was it so popular in the first place?

Ibanez really tapped into a segment of players that previously felt their guitars were inaccessible to them. Most players in aggressive genres of music identify with Ibanez’s roots and the RGA look, but many don’t like the setup process and feel of locking trems. Especially considering trem use was out of vogue for quite some time.

Not only that, but the RGAs were rather inexpensive upon release. Guitarists that wanted to love Ibanez finally had a high quality guitar better suited to them.

On top of sounding great, RGAs are exceptionally comfortable as well. Ibanez really nailed the carve on these.

The Turnaround

Keeping in step with Ibanez’s other killer decisions lately, Ibanez revived the RGA line this year. The original models have become such collector’s items that in my opinion they didn’t even have a choice!

Luckily, they have been very well received, and have received even more modern aesthetic choices and hardware/electronics improvements. You can read about the new RGAs in our review here!

Even better, Ibanez definitely did not slouch on the more inexpensive RGAs. Not only are the specs killer, but the RGA32 is probably my favorite cheap way to get an Ibanez as a road guitar or modding platform in Ibanez’s lineup right now.

RGAs are bigger than ever and we can only expect even more models and popularity in the future.

I had a lot of fun writing this article. I’m obviously a big Ibanez fan, but I’ve loved every RGA I’ve owned as well. The player psychology and market environment that determines guitar companies’ decisions always makes for interesting case studies, and I hope you enjoyed this article.

We upload new articles daily so if you liked this one, make sure to check out some more! We are also authorized Ibanez dealers and can get you an RGA or any other Ibanez guitar you like.

This article was written by Kyle Karich, our editor located in Florida.


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