When we think of Ibanez these days, we think of heavy and nu-metal electric guitars made for shredding, as well as quality acoustics for students. Yet, its history, which goes back to the early 20th century, traveled a few different routes.
Ibanez's story, surprisingly, can be traced back to the Hoshino Gakki company in Japan, known for sheet music and music accessories at the time. Hoshino Gakki started importing classical guitars from Salvador Ibáñez in Spain in the 1920s, and after finding some success in this area, the company switched operations to guitar building in the 1930s and changed their name.
Unlike the higher-end imported classical guitars, the initial Ibanez instruments manufactured in Japan were intended to be a value option meant to court a beginner. As other brands started exploring or introducing electric guitars in the 1960s and '70s, Ibanez essentially took the same route, albeit as a brand that made lower-priced versions of instruments that looked similar to a Fender or Gibson guitar.
Sales for Ibanez guitars started to pick up in the 1980s due to their collaborations with leading musicians, including Kiss's Paul Stanley, the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir and eventually Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. Different from competitors' models, Ibanez collaborations allowed the artist to have a greater degree of control and input, resulting in a more player-friendly guitar.
From this platform, the company developed a niche market: guitars created for the effects and power, rather than strictly for shredding at high speeds. At this point, the company launched its definitive Saber and Roadstar lines, now known as the S and RG series.
Reflecting this combination of attributes, Ibanez started creating its "Extended Range" guitars that became popular among nu-metal bands in the late '90s and 2000s and delivered the effects and sound players sought. The first extended-range guitar to gain popularity was Ibanez's seven-string, featuring input from Vai, and eventually eight- and nine-string instruments.