“Another company would have to make a guitar that’s more me than the JEM”: Steve Vai explains why he keeps sticking with Ibanez

The three-time Grammy winner doesn’t feel the need to go anywhere else.

Steve Vai performing live

Credit: Daniel Knighton/Getty Images

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Steve Vai and Ibanez just go together. While he used to be endorsed by Charvel, and has used models from Fender and Jackson in the past, among others, he’s almost always seen with his signature JEM guitars.

And, in a new episode of Ultimate Guitar’s On the Record podcast, he explains why he chose Ibanez over other brands – and that he wasn’t actually a fan of the first guitar they sent him.

He compares Ibanez favourably to other guitar companies, explaining that they have history and creativity, in comparison to other companies who were merely “started by guys who loved the guitar” with “a little bit of business acumen.”

He adds, “[Ibanez] build whatever I want. It’s just amazing. Who would have built the Hydra? I don’t know of a company… they would have, but it wouldn’t have come out like that. So that’s why I stick with them. I have no reason to move because it’s worked so great.

“When you find good people to work with, there’s no need to go anyplace else. Plus, I’m kind of a specialised player. I’m not very authentic in any particular genre. I’m very authentic at being me. And when I designed the JEM, it was based around my idiosyncrasies as a player.

“The 24 frets at the time, that was rare, virtually non-existent with humbuckers. Jackson had a neck through the body that had humbuckers that were sort of Strat-shaped. But I just wanted 24 frets, and I wanted a big cutaway that fits my hand perfectly. No other cutaways on any of those guitars are like this. I don’t know why they give you the frets when you can’t play them.

“So another company would have to make a guitar that’s more me than the JEM, and I just don’t see it.”

However, when Vai was designing the JEM, not even Ibanez got it right straight away. He explains, “Even Ibanez, the first guitar they sent me, was hideous. It was nothing like my guitar. It was a weird shape, weird coloured, and totally nothing like what I had sent out. Nobody gave me anything that was correct.

“Tom Anderson was the closest, but it still wasn’t perfect. I mean, I had four completed JEMs. They weren’t called JEMs, but they were the prototypes. I had them hand-built. So I knew exactly what I wanted. But most of them sent back their instrument because most signature guitars, like if you play a signature Les Paul by Slash, there are certain things he likes, particular pickups, neck, and frets, but it’s in the body of a Les Paul.”

You can view the podcast here:

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