Putting on my best djent face and plugging the RG-9 into a Victory V30 valve head (a truly brilliant British made amp – try it if you get the chance) and going for a heavily saturated sound I got a strong, tough tone going from E to E. The bridge pickup has good degree of definition and the neck pickup smooths out the basic tone nicely. Go past the E string and things get murky quite quickly. With an extended range guitar like this, and this is a very extended range guitar, the challenge is, what do you voice your setup for? For the conventional E to E range or for the lower bass strings? I found that when using a lot of gain, setting the amp to get a defined bass sound robbed the treble side of a lot of it’s strength, aiming the amp at the E to E range made the lower strings – especially the C# – feel and sound loose and flabby.
Things certainly improve greatly with the more open response of a good amp sim. Bias worked very well here and even at high gain, the lower strings retained an acceptable tightness and definition.
But backing off on the gain a little and the guitar really begins to open up – you might need a gain pedal when soloing on the treble side but even with distortion slightly turned down the bass strings really come together and the whole guitar begins to work as a whole rather than have the bass and treble side battle against each other. The design begins to make real sense. Once again, Bias is just better at handling the extreme range than a physical amp.
But what is really interesting is what happens when you go to a totally clean tone. I used Yonac’s lovely Tonestack app here as the clean amp models are particularly fine and Yonac have nailed some really choice modulation effects. All this work exceptionally well with the basic clean noise of the RG-9. It’s not an earthy, organic tone but it is a classic, metal clean tone, strong and almost hi-fi in its response. It’s a tone that loves the modulation effects on Tonestack and when you start playing like this something striking happens. You stop those fast 9th string riffs, fun as they are, and you begin to explore the hugely increased range under your fingers. Simple lines and riffs become more complex as you play an octave or two octaves above and below. I played some Pat Methany and the ability to extend the chords so much really added so much harmonic variation and interest. Played like this, the sounds it makes are just enchanting. They also make you want to make what you are playing more complex and more interesting. As a compositional tool it gives an ambitious player a lot to play with and can easily be seen as a more conventional (and cheaper) version of a Chapman Stick. And clean gives you some reasonable conventional bass tones – it might give your bassist some sleepless nights.
Of course, to make these noises, you have to play the thing. I’ve rarely gone beyond 7 strings in the past and the extra width here does put additional strain on your left hand. But the neck is thin enough (and has a very nice unfinished feel to it) that you quickly get used to the extra space, mentally navigating it of course is a different matter, but physically, it posed less of a challenge for the left hand than I feared. It’s a good workout for anyone’s technique, but the neck is surprisingly playable.
The right hand is a different matter – string noise at high gain is always a challenge and here it is exaggerated by a bridge so wide that normal palm muting techniques are very difficult. If you want to play a lot of high gain here, your muting technique does need to be spot on and a good noise gate is essential. Things get easier the cleaner you go but if you want to push the gain, then it will really test the cleanness of your playing – but it’s 9 strings! What do you expect.
It’s bonkers, its extreme and Ibanez have really pushed what the market expects from a guitar. But the more you play it, the more it makes sense not only as a stage guitar but as a compositional tool and as a way of opening up both your playing and your approach to music. It’s well made, sensibly priced, not unattractive (but I think I’d hold out for that maple top) and it does something that nothing else on the market does. It’s not a 1st guitar or, to be frank, a 2nd or 3rd guitar, but I really enjoyed it – it’s a real alternative to something like a Fender VI. It is not for everyone but if you see one, give it a try, you might hate it but you might just love it.
Good luck finding a case for it though!