Guitar Tales: The Jem…and Why I Don’t Trust Soft Cases
The tale of how I got my Ibanez Jem actually begins in tragedy. Back in 7th grade I was rocking a black Ibanez EX270 with a maple fretboard, 24 frets, locking trem system, etc. It wasn’t a super expensive guitar but it played nice and as a middle-schooler I thought it was great. At the time I was the guitarist for the school musical and we rehearsed a lot, so I brought my guitar to school most days. I carried it in a soft case and dropped it off in the band room each day, laying it at the top of risers where NO ONE should have been before rehearsal. One fateful day, I opened the case and to my horror discovered my poor Ibanez had been fatally wounded. Cause of death, a broken neck!
It would be days before I’d fully recover from my shock and grief, and yes I literally wept when I got home later that day. But a few minutes after the initial discovery, I was investigating the crime scene and looking for answers. I never got a clear confession but we’re pretty sure a chubby trumpet player who shall remain nameless was fooling around on the risers where he shouldn’t have been and accidentally stepped on the guitar. He wouldn’t own up to it and thus his parents never offered to pay for the damage. The school’s insurance wouldn’t cover it, and the cost of a good replacement neck would have probably been more than half of what we had paid for the guitar used. So, I removed all the hardware from the neck and threw it in the trash. I placed all of the remaining guitar parts in a box and stored it away, hoping that one day I could resurrect it or at least use it for spare parts.
Eventually my parents decided that they’d buy me a replacement. In fact, since they knew how much this had upset me, and because my birthday was coming up, they were willing to get me a much nicer guitar then the deceased black Ibanez. What did I have my sights set on? Well my favorite guitar player at the time was Steve Vai, but we couldn’t afford his actual signature model the Jem 7. However, Ibanez offered a lower end model, So we got on the phone with American Musical Supply and I became the proud owner of a white Jem 555, a.k.a the “Jem Jr.”
Now if you’re not a guitarist and don’t care about the specs you can skip ahead to the next paragraph, there’s still some interesting history to this axe worth reading. For you guitar nerds there’s a few things worth mentioning about this guitar. Some of the main differences between the Jem Jr. and the Jem 7 were that the Jr. had a rosewood fretboard instead of ebony, chrome hardware instead of gold, a lower quality TRS floating bridge instead of the Edge system. I think it may be made of a different wood as well, but I don’t recall. The pickups in the Jem Jr. are actually Dimarzio Evolutions which were the same as the more expensive Jem so that was great. Some of these differences were tolerable, but eventually I did upgrade some components which made it much better in my opinion. I changed all the hardware to gold which made it look better, and I upgraded the bridge to the Edge, which had the nice pop in 360 degree spinning whammy bar instead of the screw-on type.
The Jem Jr. was my main guitar from that point on until I started college. It served me well and was featured on my old band Nothing Simple’s full length CD. Here’s a couple of samples from that if you want to hear it in it’s glory days.
Towards the end of high school when I was getting more into jazz I learned how a guitar like this could earn you some discrimination. Interesting how the first year I auditioned for Jazz All-State, with the Jem, I didn’t get in. But the second year, when I left the Jem Jr. at home and brought a semi-hollowbody instead, I made it into the All-State band. Sure I was a better jazz guitarist a year later, but I’m still convinced that the flashy look of the Jem didn’t sit well with the Jazz All-State adjudicators and didn’t give me a fair shot
So today’s lesson, don’t use soft cases and don’t leave your guitars in places where other people might be careless around them. Your guitar might be injured or even get killed. Well, I should amend that by saying that soft cases have come a long way, there are some better alternatives to what I had back in the day, such as MONO cases. Call me paranoid, but I still don’t typically bring guitars outside of my house in anything but a hard case. Oh and lesson number 2 from this story, if you’re trying to get a gig for anything other than hard rock or shred you may not want to bring a flashy guitar like this to the audition, even if you can get versatile sounds out of it. Questions or comments about my Jem or thoughts on guitar cases? Got any stories about your own guitars getting damaged? Leave a message below.