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Ibanez RG vs. S Series: What's the Difference and Which Is Better?

The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.

Which is better, the Ibanez RG or S Series, and what's the difference anyway?

Which is better, the Ibanez RG or S Series, and what's the difference anyway?

Ibanez RG and S Series Guitars

No doubt you already know that Ibanez makes some of the best electric guitars in the world. Especially if you are into metal and heavy rock, there are few guitar brands that will get the job done for you like Ibanez.

Shredders love Ibanez guitars for their fast, flat necks. Extreme metal guitarists know Ibanez makes some of the best seven and eight-string guitars in the business. Ibanez Iron Label guitars have raised the bar even further when it comes to the ultimate tool for metal. No matter where your metal allegiance lies, there is an Ibanez for you.

There are a bunch of amazing guitars in the Ibanez lineup, but most metalheads look to either the RG Series or the S Series. At first glance, they look similar, but there are some key differences that sway guitarists to one or the other.

In this article we'll take a look at the Ibanez RG Series versus the S Series and the differences between them, so you can make the right decision when it comes to your gear.

Ibanez Hardware and Electronics

There used to be a lot wider gap between RG and S-Series guitars, but in more recent years Ibanez has been using many of the same components on both.

Let's start with the hardware and electronics. Ibanez has some world-class components made in-house that you'll find on both the RG and S-Series guitars. Here's a quick glance and what you can expect from an Ibanez instrument.

Ibanez's necks are some of the best in the guitar world, and that hasn't changed for decades. Their multi-piece Wizard design appears on both the RG and S Series.

In its most basic form, it incorporates only maple as a tonewood, which is more than good enough when it comes to shred guitars.

However, when you look at some of the more expensive guitars in the Ibanez lineup you'll see advanced versions of the Wizard, such as the Super Wizard HP 5-piece maple/walnut neck and the Wizard 7 with a maple/wenge tonewood compliment.

Where many guitar builders reach out to external hardware producers for their tremolo systems, Ibanez has managed to build one of the top bridges in the business, namely the Edge-Zero. Like the Wizard neck, you'll see more advanced versions on more expensive guitars, but the Edge-Zero appears on both the RG and the S.

You'll also see similar pickups on both the RG and S Series. The typical pickup configuration is a pair of humbuckers with a single-coil in the middle, though there are versions of both guitars with only a pair of humbuckers.

Ibanez has its own pickups which are very good, but you'll also see DiMarzio and DiMarzio-designed pickups.

Ibanez S-Series Iron Label SIXFDFM

Ibanez S-Series Iron Label SIXFDFM

Body Style and Tonewoods

As you can see, there are a lot of similarities between the Ibanez RG and S Series, but once we get to tonewoods and body style everything changes. This is where you'll have to take a hard look and decide which guitar is better for you, and it helps to have an understanding of tonewoods.

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Basswood is the tonewood used in Ibanez RG guitars, where S-Series instruments employ mahogany. So what's the difference?

Basswood has a deep, dark tone with a nice amount of woodiness and resonance.

Mahogany is a richer-sounding tonewood than basswood, with similar characters but even better depth and much better articulation.

Body style matters, too. Standard 6-string models of both the RG and S are 25.5-inch scale, and their top-view measurements are similar. However, the S-Series is a much thinner, sleeker guitar with a slightly arched top.

It's a balancing act, and what the S gives up in total wood mass it makes up for with increased resonance via the mahogany. Both guitars sound amazing, and it is a personal preference: The RG is a bit edgier, the S sings a little sweeter.

Most RG and S guitars feature rosewood fingerboards, though there are some models that use ebony, and there are versions of the RG with maple fretboards.

It's also worth noting that both the RG and the S feature models with different tonewood tops that will further color the sound, most often bringing out a bit more pop and high-end.

Ibanez RG550 Genesis Series

Ibanez RG550 Genesis Series

RG vs. S Sound Differences

Trying to describe the sound of a great guitar with words is like trying to draw the taste of a really good steak. I've been around guitars for a long time, so when I think of mahogany and basswood I can picture their characteristics in my mind. And, of course, I already know what these guitars sound like.

To me, the RG has more of a chunky, classic metal kind of sound. It dials back nicely for jazz or blues and is maybe the more versatile of the two.

The S is perhaps a better guitar for extreme metal, especially the Iron Label models.

If you aren't quite sure you understand the difference, that makes sense. It is hard to explain sounds with words. The best thing to do is to listen to the guitars.

Here is a sound clip of the Ibanez RG550, a guitar I am really impressed with. This is a classic RG, with a basswood body, 5-piece maple/walnut Super Wizard neck, an Edge locking tremolo and a pair of powerful V7/V8 humbuckers.

Ibanez Genesis Series

S Series Sound

Another guitar I really like is the Ibanez Iron Label SIX6FDFM. It features DiMarzio Fusion Edge pickups, a Gibraltar Standard II hardtail bridge, a Nitro Wizard 3-piece neck, and an ebony fingerboard.

The slick instruments in the S Series are fantastic, but Iron Label guitars are meaner, hotter and built for extreme music. They lean a bit more to the dark side compared to your average Ibanez S.

Once again, the sound is colored by the player and the amp, so this is just to give you an idea. Of course, the best thing to do is get out there are hear the guitars for yourself.

The Ibanez Iron Label S Series

Ibanez Guitar Lines: Prestige, Premium, Iron Label and Standard

To complicate matters even more, Ibanez features four distinct lines of guitars, and there are RG and S models that fall into each.

  • Standard Series: This includes your basic Ibanez guitars. They have great components, as you'd expect nothing less from Ibanez, but they are more budget-friendly options. These guitars are a great choice for intermediate and working guitarists, but they are certainly good enough for advanced players.
  • Premium Line: A step up from the Standard, with upgrades to components and pretty flame tops. For 2014 there were only three RG models in the Ibanez Premium Line and no S models, and that may be because of the success of the Ibanez Prestige Line.
  • Prestige Series: Feature gorgeous tops and high-performance hardware and electronics. This is Ibanez's best foot forward, and it really shows. According to the Ibanez website, the Prestige Line is intended to embody three principles: Precision, Performance, and Playability.
  • Iron Label Series: These guitars are relative newcomers to the scene, and they're built to be the ultimate metal machines. It's tough to imagine Ibanez building on their already stellar metal reputation, but they appear to have done so with their Iron Label guitars.

Which Ibanez Is Right for You?

So what if you read through all this mumbo jumbo and you still can't decide which guitar has the best sound for you and your style? Or worse, what if you listened to the sound clips and you can't tell the difference? The RG is one of the greatest electric guitars of all time, and the S isn't far behind. So how do you choose?

For many guitar players, their decision between the Ibanez RG and S Series is about sound, but for just as many it is about feel and playability. Some players love the thin bodies of S guitars, and some hate them and would never part with their RG. Some love both!

Point is, don't feel bad if your decision comes down to body style rather than sound. You need to feel comfortable with your guitar, and a thinner body may be better or worse for you. Plus, you can always have one of each.

And remember there are other great guitars from brands like Schecter, Jackson and ESP LTD to consider.

This article is, of course, only based on my opinion. I encourage you to get out there, do your own research and draw your own conclusions. Be sure to check out the Ibanez website for the latest info on their gear.

I hope this article helped you to better understand the differences and similarities of the Ibanez RG vs S Series. They're both great guitars and you can't go wrong with either. It all comes down to your personal preference.

So, which are you going to choose?


Jimmy on April 17, 2019:

I have an RGA7 and and S7420, the S series is loads more comfortable to play and sounds better in my opinion.

R. Dorsey on December 08, 2018:

I have a RG 550 and a JS 2000 and while both are great guitars, I prefer my JS by a wide margin

Guitar Gopher (author) on September 24, 2018:

@Yenyak - The SA260fm is fine for metal. Most RG and S Series guitars are geared toward heavy music. The Quantum humbucker in the SA260 is the same as in the other S Standards. Plus you have some versatility with the single coils.

I can't tell you which guitar to get, but if you are into metal you are on the right track with an Ibanez RG or S. If you really like the SA260fm, go for it. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Good luck with your decision.

Yenyak on September 23, 2018:

Hi, thanks for the article it's very helpful, and I feel that my heart (and ears;;;) goes towards the rG for the type of music i wanna play (heavy metal and trash essentially).

In fact i am a beginner and this would be my first guitar and I spent some hours now looking reading your various and interesting articles.

However, there is one guitar that I have seen mentioned nowhere: the Ibanez SA260fm. It seems to be a good and versatile guitar and good for playing metal in addition to have an incredible style.

Would you know it by any chance and be able to say if it matches what I want to play while still having some flexibility?

Do you believe that the RG would still be the ultimate weapon for me?

Thanks in advance for your answer.


Guitar Gopher (author) on March 26, 2017:

Ryan: I am a big believer that woods matter, even for electric guitar, and even for metal. Here's another post I wrote on the topic that may further clarify:

Ryan Filipo A. on March 26, 2017:

I know growing up with grandpa a master wood carpentry, woods are different, But as guitar user I'm trying to find a better sense of answer and explanation to the kids that wood does matters not just the pick-up though we plays metal noise and not classical... I kind of understand what other think of the... neck, fret board and using magnetic pickups and not the bubble microphone pickup gets the most spotlight for the hard high distortion guitar player thinking. I did just focus on the guitar neck assembly.

Guitar Gopher (author) on January 31, 2017:

@ GooglyNoogly: Well said! I get pretty frustrated with the "tonewoods don't matter" argument myself.

GooglyNoogly on January 29, 2017:

Allan - that's a tired argument by ridiculous people. There's also an extensive collection of evidence refuting it. The guitar is a system, made up of all of it's parts and pieces, including the finish. When you strap it on, you are an extension of that system - resonance an all.

In fact, this ridiculous notion that tonewood doesn't matter can be proven false simply by playing the guitar unplugged. If you can't tell 2 inches of mahogany with a maple cap from 2 inches of pine, then you have other problems. True, pickups matter more than anything, but they aren't everything.

Normally, people who make these ridiculous arguments have chosen not to invest in a quality instrument. There's nothing wrong with that.... but it would be a lot more honest to simply say "I like my inexpensive guitar"

Guitar Gopher (author) on November 14, 2015:

Hi Allan! Thanks for your super polite comment! I have to respectfully disagree. I can only speak for myself but I most certainly can hear a difference between tonewoods. In fact, it always surprising to me when guitarists say they can't hear the difference.

Allan on November 13, 2015:

Tonewood? There have been plenty of tests done and professional audio engineers can't tell the difference between different body woods when the same neck, electronics and hardware are used. I'm sorry, but there's no way you can "hear the woody character of the basswood during the clean passages", and the "depth and resonance of the mahogany" is certainly not "evident here". Please try to keep nonsense out of otherwise interesting and useful articles.

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