Ibanez Iron Label Series Guitar Review
Iron Label by Ibanez
Ibanez is a guitar company revered by shredders and metal guitarists around the world, with a legacy going back decades. So how does one of the world’s most legendary builders of metal guitars push the envelope even further?
They dream up a series of instruments built around their most popular models, give them a cool name like Iron Label, and unleash them on the unsuspecting public.
They didn’t need to do it to impress me. I’ve been a big fan of Ibanez since I was a teenager, when I got my first real guitar, which happened to have the Ibanez logo on the headstock. I know they build quality gear, so when the say they’ve made some of their meanest guitars on the planet even meaner I believe it.
But you may be asking yourself why one of the world’s foremost purveyors of extreme metal madness would feel the need to get more extreme, and why you should care. After all, nobody in their right mind was complaining that Ibanez guitars were too wimpy before the Iron Label Series debuted.
Ibanez is already one of the top metal guitar brands. Why wouldn’t you just go with a Standard or Prestige Series Ibanez, since they certainly have proven they have what it takes to get the job done in heavy metal?
Good question, and one for you to figure out for yourself. But I can point out some of the differences that set the Iron Label Series apart from the others, and maybe you can take it from there. It’s your music. Choose your guitars wisely!
This review looks at several models in the Ibanez Iron Label Series and how they stack up to more basic guitars in the Ibanez lineup. Let’s check out some gear!
The Iron Label RG
The Ibanez RG is one of the best metal guitars in the world. High-end RGs, as in the Prestige Series, have some serious features and top-of-the-line components. For example, on the RG6505 you’ll get a trio of DiMarzio pickups along with the ultra-thin Super Wizard 5-piece Maple/Walnut neck and the Ibanez Edge tremolo bridge. If you are a metal guitarist you will not be unhappy with this instrument. So what’s the Iron Label RG have that this guitar doesn’t?
In the Iron Label RG we see a mahogany body, not the basswood body typical of the RG build. Mahogany is resonant, warm, woody tonewood, and great for the kind of deep, dark tone you look for in metal. Basswood is a good tonewood too, but mahogany is a bit richer, and a bit more articulate.
It has a Nitro Wizard 3-piece Maple/Bubinga neck. Maple necks, of course, are typical of not only the Ibanez RG but many superstrats. It adds a little clarity and crispness on top of the warmth of the mahogany. Ibanez necks are known for being thin and fast, and the Nitro Wizard is on par with what you’d expect from an Ibanez shred machine. There’s also an Ebony fingerboard, as opposed the rosewood you’d find on most RGs.
It’s the EMG 81/60 pickups set that really sets the Iron Label RG apart. These are high-output, active ceramic pickups with more power and punch than you’d get with passive pickups.
Admittedly, EMG pickups have their fans and detractors. This alone may sell you or turn you off to the Iron Label RG. But EMG pickups are in many ways the standard when it comes to pickups for extreme metal and it makes sense that Ibanez would incorporate them into their most extreme RG.
For the bridge, you have a choice between the Ibanez Edge Zero II tremolo, or the Gibraltar Standard II hardtail. Your call, and this is a choice you’d need to make depending on your style of play.
The controls are a basic 3-way switch and a single volume control, along with the interesting addition of a “Kill Switch”. This switch simply cuts off the signal from your guitar, allowing you to create a strobe effect similar to what you’d get by turning the bridge pickup volume of a Les Paul all the way off and flipping the toggle switch back and forth.
I guess that’s cool, but the main value I see in the Kill Switch is being able to control feedback during rest notes without messing with the volume knob. Anyone who has ever stood in front of a 100-watt stack at rehearsal will see the value here, as will your band.
All in all, the Iron Label RG appears to be everything Ibanez claims. It’s extreme, hardcore and has some cool features you can't get in even the meanest of RGs. Add is some very attractive binding and cosmetics along with a walnut finish and this is a guitar that will make an impression in every possible way.
Note that the Iron Label RG is also available in 7 and 8-string models, as well as the interesting RGIB6 Baritone. Point is, if you need a note lower than low E, you don’t have trouble finding it in the Iron Label RG Series.
Hear the Ibanez Iron Label RG
The Iron Label S
The Ibanez S-Series Guitar is another force to be reckoned with in the metal world. This is another superstrat, but notably different from the RG. Off the bat you’ll notice the ultra-thin S body shape, but there are other differences when you examine the specs. For example, the high-end Prestige S5570 features a mahogany body with a Super Wizard HP Maple/Walnut neck, cutting edge Ibanez pickups and the Ibanez Lo-Pro Edge Bridge.
The Iron Label version of the Ibanez S has a mahogany body with a Bubinga top. Bubinga is a tonewood with a warm, sweet sound, but and it doesn’t hurt that it has a very pretty look when used as a guitar top.
The neck is a Nitro Wizard 3 similar to that seen on the RG, again with an ebony fingerboard. Why ebony? It’s denser than rosewood, and thus has a little less warmth, but makes up for it with its projection, sharpness and clarity.
Ebony is a great choice for a metal guitar, or any guitar really, and in many ways I prefer it to rosewood. In my opinion, Ibanez made a great choice incorporating Ebony fingerboard on their Iron Label instruments.
For the pickups and electronics, you won’t find the same fireworks as with the RG. No Kill Switch, no active EMGs, but what you do get is a pretty awesome set of passive DiMarzio Alnico pickups. These are American-made gems: A ToneZone at the bridge, an Air Norton in the neck, and True Velvet single-coil in between. Not as searing hot as the EMGs, but they’re still high-output pickups with plenty of character. Metalheads will not be disappointed.
The bridge choices are again the rock-solid Gibraltar Standard II, or the Edge-Zero II on the dual-pickup SIX20DG.
Where the Ibanez Iron Label has the specs and looks of a bone-crushing metal machine, the Iron Label S is a bit more refined, and a more in line with what you’d expect out of an Ibanez S. The S mystique has always been more about elegance than power, and this is where the Iron Label S makes its mark as well.
If you’re looking for something a little classier, a little thinner and maybe a little more attractive you may be more inclined to choose the S over the RG. But don’t be fooled by its slim body, gorgeous top and pretty binding: This is still an Iron Label guitar, and it’s made for extreme metal.
Like the RG, the S is available in both 7 and 8-string models. Ibanez has always been an innovator and the leader when it comes to 7-string, and now 8-string, guitars.
A bit more refined than the RG, the Iron Label S is still all about metal. Shredders will love the thin body and fast neck.
Ibanez RG or S? Learn More
- Ibanez RG vs S Series: What's the Difference and Which is Better?
Learn the difference between the Ibanez RG and S Series and decide which guitar is better for you and your music.
Iron Label ARZ
If the Iron Label RG is the ultimate in head-knocking metal mayhem, and the Iron Label S is a shred machine that will appeal to the more refined metal brute, where does the ARZ fit in this hierarchy of extreme metal?
It doesn’t. The ARZ is a different animal with its own set of rules, but it is just as worthy of the Iron Label name. This is single-cutaway body with a set mahogany neck, 24-fret ebony fingerboard with block inlays, dual humbuckers controlled by a three-way switch, gorgeous bindings on the body and neck. You know where this is going.
This isn’t a superstrat like the RG and S. This a guitar built in the Les Paul mold. In fact, if you are a metalhead the Ibanez Iron Label ARZ is one of the best affordable alternatives to the Gibson Les Paul. I’m a big fan of Les Paul-style guitars for metal, and I think all that mahogany along with the set-neck build and solid bridge are a great combination.
In the case of the Iron Label ARZ, you can bank on a set of those smoking hot EMG 81/60 pickups, a slick ebony fingerboard and even a model with a very attractive Bubinga top. It may have a classic look, but this is an Iron Label Ibanez to be sure. And, yes, you’ll find 7-string and 8-string versions of the ARZ too.
The Iron Label ARZ combines classic looks with an extreme metal bite.
The Iron Label Xiphos
So, maybe you look at the Iron Label ARZ and think it is a little too traditional. Maybe you think the S is a little too sophisticated. Maybe you think even the Iron Label RG is too subtle for your style. You need something meaner.
You should check out the Xiphos. If you consider yourself among the most extreme of the extreme, or if you just want a guitar that will terrify ordinary people and cause small animals to flee upon sight, this might be the Iron Label for you. If this guitar isn’t extreme enough for you, you may want to quit music and take up something like cage fighting.
All joking aside, this is a great body shape. It’s edgy enough to have a unique, serious appearance, but not so outlandish that it seems like a caricature. It has the look of a metal masterpiece, and the specs to back it up: Mahogany body with Nitro Wizard Neck, Ebony fingerboard, EMG 81/60 pickups and a Wizard II Tremolo. It even has a reverse headstock. You can’t get much more metal than that!
Of course, it’s all about your style. I see the Xiphos being a fit for metal guitarists who are more into death metal, thrash, shred and more melodic styles.
There are few guitars more extreme than the Ibanez Iron Label Xiphos! It's a guitar that will set you apart from your peers with its unique look, but still has everything you need under the hood for blistering metal tone.
Not Your Average Ibanez
Clearly, Ibanez Iron Label guitars aren’t just typical Ibanez instruments with a different look and name. When Ibanez says they are engineered to be their most extreme metal guitars to date, they mean it. By this point in the article hopefully you have made a decision as to whether or not you think these guitars can get the job for you. If so, which should you choose?
This is another decision you’ll have to make on your own, but I can tell you a few of my thoughts:
To me, the RG is the guitar that most delivers what you’d expect from this series. It reminds me of an off-road 4x4 that has been stripped down to the essentials, painted a basic color and jacked up with some nasty-looking tires. The Iron Label RG is a powerful, no-nonsense guitar and if metal is your bag you should give it a serious look.
The S on the other hand has a more refined edge to it. That’s okay, and that’s what I’d expect from an S-Series Ibanez. If you are looking for a guitar that’s a little more articulate and a little more nuanced you may choose the S over the RG. Of course the body style may come into your decision as well.
Guitarists who like the Les Paul-style ought to like the ARZ. You still get the hot pickups and overall vibe of the Iron Lable Series, in a package with a more classic, single-cutaway look.
As for the Xiphos, you either get it or you don’t. For those who do get it, go for it. This is a guitar that will certainly set you apart from other guitarist in your scene.
Ibanez makes great guitars, and you should expect nothing less from the Iron Label Series. In a lot of ways this article only scratches the surface of the lineup. Like their other series, you’ll find a few different models for each style. Check them all out before making a decision.
Good luck finding an awesome metal guitar.