I’ve written a few reviews of guitars in the $400 region recently, but none of them were suitable for metal guitarists. I thought it was time to redress the balance a little. In this Ibanez S521 review we’re going to take a look at this mid-range metal machine. We’ll talk about materials, tone and who might enjoy this guitar. Ready? Let’s get started.
Overview of Ibanez S521
The Ibanez S521 is a full scale guitar (25.5″) featuring a mahogany body. Mahogany is a heavy wood, however the weight is off-set thanks to the slim-line body design. The body of the guitar is shaped so that it rests comfortably against the player. The S521 has a remarkable balance, which makes it comfortable to play whether standing or sitting.
The neck is bolted on rather than glued, which detracts from the tone a little. I expect guitars at this price point to be glued in, so that’s a bit of a drawback in my book. The neck is made from maple with a satin finish, which makes it very smooth to play. The shape of the neck is the Wizard 3 style, which is similar to the C-Shaped neck that you find in many guitars in this price range.
The Wizard 3 style is thin and flat, lending itself to faster playing styles. The fingerboard is made from Jatoba wood. Jatoba shares many tonal qualities with Rosewood, such as punchy mid and high-end ranges. Jatoba is much more sustainable than Rosewood. Aesthetically it’s lighter in color, but Jatoba is a decent substitute for Rosewood.
The guitar has a low action and benefits from outstanding natural sustain. Another feature aimed at advocates of heavier styles of rock and metal. The inlays are off-set dots, which means they’re offset to the top of the fingerboard rather than positioned at the center.
Sticking with the fingerboard, there are 24 jumbo frets. Combined with the two cut-aways and the fast playing design, the S521 is set up for those who like to shred. The bridge is Ibanez’s F106, which is a fixed bridge. That makes things simple for swapping out strings and making intonation changes. You won’t be able to perform dive-bombs like you can with a floating bridge, but the fixed bridge keeps the price down.
Moving up to the headstock. It features Ibanez’s classic design, which looks mean. Something else that will appeal to those into heavier styles. The tuning gear is pretty decent consisting of die-cast tuners that’ll hold their tune pretty well. The nut is plastic, which is a bit of a draw back but is to be expected in a guitar at this price point. You could easily have a luthier swap that out for something better.
Back to the other end of the guitar. There are two humbucking pickups, one situated at the neck and the other at the bridge. They’re black finish compliments the design well, especially the blackberry sunburst color. A 5-way pickup switch allows you to select various configurations, including both at the same time for a thicker tone.
Onto the technical side of the pickups, they are Ibanez’s Quantum H ceramic pickups. This is one of the areas that Ibanez hasn’t made compromises. The pickups are very good quality producing a tight tone with great mid range and high end punch.
Keeping to the theme of simplicity, there are just two control knobs, one for volume and one for tone. Both are easily accessible whilst playing for quick adjustments to your sound. The S521 comes with a set of D’Addario 0.10s, which aren’t bad for stock strings. You may want to swap them out for your preferred brand and gauge.
As well as the bad-ass Ibanez design there’s a choice of two colors. Blackberry Sunbusrt (pictured) and Ocean Fade, which is a lighter blue color. The S521 very much lends itself to heavier styles. Whilst it is possible to find classic crunchier tones, it doesn’t lend itself to warmer tones associated with blues and jazz. The Epiphone Wildkat is worth a look if you’re into your warmer styles.
It’s very much geared up for heavier styles such as metal. Turn up the tone and use the neck pickup and the S521 will rip your face off!
There’s a lot to like about this guitar, especially at this price point. The design is sleek and the body and neck are set up to make it very comfortable to play. Here are a few of the best bits:
- Great Quality Pickups
- Comfortable To Play
- Great For Metal
Usually the cons for guitars in the middle price range are more about preference. For me there aren’t many drawbacks, however the two below are fairly objective and not the product of my opinion:
- Bolted Neck
- Not Suitable For Blues Styles
The S521 sits in the mid-priced range of guitars. It’s competitors come in the form of Epiphone as well as some Fender Squiers. The difference between the Ibanez and the others is it’s suitability for heavier styles. Even the Epiphone SG Special couldn’t really cut it when it came to metal.
The slim-line body, fast playing neck and quality pickups provide a pleasing playing experience. Whilst the bolt-on neck is disappointing, given the price versus performance I can forgive the S521 for that. It’s not the guitar for you if you’re into your warmer tones associated with Jazz and Blues, but you can produce a crunchier tone associated with classic rock styles.
If you’re into your metal you find the tone and quick playing nature of the S521 a breath of fresh air. It’s not an entry level guitar, but if you’re ready to move on from your first guitar and have developed a taste for heavier styles, the S521 should definitely be on your shortlist.
I hope you’ve found this review helpful. Feel free to leave and comments or questions below. Alternatively you can get in touch using my contact page.
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