Price: $1,102.21 (approx. $800 street).
In the annals of cool, weird, and unusual guitars, they’re nothing like an eight-string axe. It’s a strange beastie, sporting a mammoth neck that begs for new fretting approaches. The trend that’s driving eight-string guitars onto the market are metal and shred players who are searching for the sonic sweet spot between the standard guitar and bass ranges, among them Tony MacAlpine, Rusty Cooley, and the Deftones’ Stephen Carpenter. Since many of these guitarists are tuning their low string as far down as F#, the case for an eight-string guitar makes even more sense. So let’s pick up the affordable Ibanez RGA8 and do some low-end chunkin’.
Ibanez has always kept its ear to the ground and picks up on trends in the metal world before many others catch on. Not surprisingly, the RGA8 is a well-engineered instrument that fill satisfy most rockers’ needs. It has a carved-top mahogany body and a five-piece maple/walnut neck shaped to the Wizard II-8 profile. Its 27″ scale makes it gig-ready for lower tunings, while the 24-fret rosewood fretboard has a flat, 15.75″ radius, perfect for all sorts of shredding, tapping, and sweeping licks. The FX Edge III-8 double-locking fixed bridge is an especially impressive piece of hardware. Even though it’s not a whammy bridge, it has fine-tuning knobs, while on the other end of the neck there’s a locking nut that spans a vast, 2.16″ nut width. Clearly, this guitar is ready for some heavy playing. The RGA8’s black finish and black chrome hardware also lend to its metal vibe.
The RGA8 is loaded with active Ibanez LZ8 humbucking pickups that are specially-sized for eight-string guitars and are voiced to deliver a high-output tone. A rear-loading 9-volt battery provides enough juice to power the pickups and the EQ. There’s a toggle switch on the front that scoops the midrange for more metal chunkificiation.
Your first decision before you play the RGA8 is what tuning you’re going to use, since there are numerous variations. If you’re an fusion player like Charlie Hunter, you’ll opt for a super-low E on the 8th string, A on the 7th and D on the 6th (for a de facto bass range), while metal guys might opt for F# on the 8th, B on the 7th and E on the 6th. Or simply double up with two low B strings for one-finger chunk chords, though you can also surf online to find out more tuning options. However you tune it, the lower strings naturally encourage players to dial up metal tones and riff happily in the low-end muck, but the RGA8 is also ready for jazz or fusion players who want to dig into complex chordings or walking bass lines (just think of what George Van Eps or Lenny Breau did with seven-strings and then add one more). Tappers can use the axe’s broad fingerboard for wider and more dazzling intervallic patterns. The sky’s the limit here, folks – you have eight strings and plenty o’ neck to explore!
Plugged into a custom tube head and 4×12 cabinet, the RGA8 sounded great, with clear highs and truly terrifying, bassy lows. You have to hand it to Ibanez for so expertly engineering this solidbody – for a guitar with this much neck tension, its fingerboard is fast and supple and the action very low (there was a hair of fretting-out on the high E string, but was quickly fixed with a saddle tweak). Overall, the RGA8 is built like a tank, yet handles the curves with the finesse of a Maserati or Porsche. Considering its big neck and bridge, the guitar is heavier than a standard six-string, but not as heavy as a Precision bass. Certainly, eight-strings aren’t for everyone, but if you’re a guitarist who wants an expanded range or is intent on charting new harmonic realms, the Ibanez RGA8 is an excellent option.
This article originally appeared in VG January 2012 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.