What’s up with the JEM/UV lineup Spring 2018?

The Ibanez JEM & Ibanez Universe are wildly popular guitars. Since their introduction in 1987 & 1990, Ibanez has issued a steady dose of new models to a world-wide audience. To date 58 models & counting. Approved by Steve Vai of course, Ibanez Japan has designed these iconic guitars & manufactured them at 5 factories in Japan, Korea, Indonesia & China. Without question the JEM is an aspirational & halo Signature line that brings a healthy dose of brand exposure & revenue. This unique combination represents win-win-win-win-win… for Ibanez, worldwide distributors, the artist, dealers & customers.

New JEM/UVs released since 2008 (lefty models not tallied, no new models in 2008).

  1. JEM7EAFX – (2009) – one-year MIJ hardtail debacle
  2. JEM505BK (2010) – final “keep it affordable” MIJ model
  3. JEM505WH (2010) – as above, in white
  4. UV77RE (2010) – 20th anniv. super expensive nostalgia reissue
  5. JEM77FP2 (2011) – expensive nostalgia reimagination
  6. JEMEVO (2012) – super expensive nostalgia VWH reissue
  7. JEM70SFG (2012) – new from Indo, “keep it affordable”, Fender color
  8. JEM7V7 (2013) – 20 year old JEM7VWH + 1-string
  9. UV70PBK (2014) – cheaper nostalgia reissue
  10. JEM77PBFP (2015) – cheaper nostalgia reissue
  11. JEM77WDPCNL (2015) – cheaper version of Vai’s Woody LACS
  12. JEMJR (2015) – even cheaper 555 remixed nostalgia reissue
  13. UV71PWH (2015) – cheaper nostalgia reissue
  14. UV77PSN (2016) – super expensive nostalgia minus ATD
  15. UV77SVR (2016) – super expensive nostalgia minus ATD
  16. UV77WFR (2016) – super expensive nostalgia minus ATD
  17. JEM777DY (2017) – 30th anniversary nostalgia reissue
  18. JEM777LG (2017) – 30th anniversary nostalgia reissue
  19. JEM777SK (2017) – 30th anniversary nostalgia reissue
  20. JEMJRSP (2018 ) – really cheap nostalgia reissue
  21. JEMJRSYE (2018 ) – really cheap nostalgia reissue

Stats & Numbers

  • More production tiers now offered
    1. Jr – entry/cheap (3 from China 14%)
    2. Premium – player price accessible (5 from Indonesia 24%)
    3. Prestige – formerly the player tier (8 from Japan Fujigen 38%)
    4. Ultra expensive limited – (5 from Japan Sugi 24%)
  • Half (10 models) with tremolos are reissues (50%)
  • 15 Nostalgia axes (71%)
  • 5 Prestige production JEM (EAFX, 505BK/WH, 77FP, 7V7 ) models (24%)
  • 0 Prestige production Universe models
  • No simultaneous Premium/Prestige releases (i.e. Woody in both Prestige & Premium)
  • No Sustainer model after 20+ years live use (note -Vai uses Fernandes Sustainer whereas Satch uses Sustainiac).

Observations & Comments

Averaging 2 new models per year for a decade, the JEM/UV has seemingly & successfully disrupted itself. Launched as a quirky & innovative superstrat with very competitive pricing, the line has shifted gears now taking what looks like an extended victory lap & “greatest hits” tour.

Under-represented, if not absent, are the exciting new variety of full production “Made in Japan” models. The JEM/UVs have moved away from the old formula that popularized & carried the line it’s first 20 years.

Present now though is accessibility to brand new JEM/UVs at all price points.

Ultra high-end & ultra low-end represent 40% of the new models introduced in the last 10 years (8 of 20). In the middle are the Indonesian Premiums with five (5) new models: two (2) are unique & three (3) are a redux. Indonesian Premium models have replaced MIJ/Prestige as showroom models that are cost accessible to players. These offer guitarists – in the era of Amazon Prime – a chance to buy “new” JEM/UVs from dealers with warranty at price often better than older “used” models.

Steve/Ibanez seem to have concocted a formula for new JEM/UV models that offer tasty, low-hanging fruit… easy for customers to purchase (grab off the tree). This includes remixes/reissues at all price points & a steady supply of limited availability axes to drive immediate sales & preorders. Flush, rinse & repeat. Perhaps like with the JEM+RG line in 1987 they are forging a new path forward to best allow Ibanez to compete globally.

It’s evident that Ibanez MIJ guitar pricing has climbed too dramatically – perhaps disproportionate to their overall quality (& relative perceived value). For the JEM/UV signature lines, Ibanez has effectively established the “value” of nostalgia to now far exceed the prior value of “innovation + quality”. Nostalgia & emotion often override the logical brain which recognizes the sum of the Ibanez raw materials and good-not-great attention to detail is pause for concern at their price.

The Made in Japan JEM505BK/WH were cancelled after just 2 years for cheaper (certainly more profitable) JEM70SFG Premium. Seemingly well orchestrated, it had a three profound impacts on the line. First it certainly sold more JEMs at more price points. Secondly Ibanez used the HALO status of the JEM to help launch their new PREMIUM line.  Third this price stratification would let Ibanez significantly raise MIJ costs sooner than later!

Cancelling the horribly received EAFX hard-tail after 1-year avoided distributor/dealer clearance blow-outs. Risk aversion is clearly in play. Releasing “Woody” as an Indonesian model Premium (not Fujigen MIJ production model) surely was less risky than releasing a $4,000 JEM that is both sterile in the Vai connection & absent of nostalgia … was anyone really asking or wanting to buy a very expensive “wood top” JEM? Nope. All in all, the 505, SFG, EAFX & WDPCNL choices have proven to be correct business calls.

It’s as if Ibanez/Fujigen prefer to walk you away from MIJ axes, instead pushing Premiums where labor is more controlled in terms of capacity & cost (note – the Indonesian Premium line is a joint-venture by Ibanez & Fujigen). It’s very likely (if not transparently obvious) this factors into deciding what JEM/UVs come to market. Vai is the top Ibanez endorser and that distinction brings boundless privilege. Fujigen capacity has been stretched thinner and thinner, now unable to fulfill orders. Has Fujigen turned into the aging star player before our eyes – hanging on past their prime?

Something has to give & it will be interesting to see unfold. The heyday of electric guitar is past peak. So is Fujigen. Quality wood is dwindling, costs rising and the lucrative markets already established & saturated. New & emerging markets will bring Ibanez more customers with far less buying power than Japan, USA & EU. Ibanez does not release sales numbers of course, but their new models – including signatures – are sourced less & less from Fujigen. For reference sake, in 1988 when the JEM77FP was released Ibanez had just one guitar model produced outside of Japan (the Roadstar 140 made in Korea).

The JEM/UV will likely reach a 50th anniversary & beyond. Ibanez swiftly adapting to an ever-changing marketplace will almost guarantee it. The playbook for success has near limitless possibility.