Pat Metheny has been one of the world’s most influential jazz guitarists since he burst onto the scene in the mid-1970s. But does his signature Ibanez model live up to his considerable musical legacy? Let’s find out!
A relentless musical explorer, Pat Metheny has played a lot of guitars throughout his career. Many were one-off commissions by boutique luthiers such as Linda Manzer and Daniel Slaman, and some are…. well…. pretty weird (check out the Manzer-made “Pikasso guitar” for example). Among other things, Metheny was a pioneer in the use of guitar synthesizers. In fact, of all those who experimented with guitar synthesis in the 1980s he’s the only major player still using this technology as part of his regular arsenal today.
Through it all, though, Metheny’s main association has been with rather traditional archtop guitars. In fact, for someone who has played such a diverse array of oddball instruments, his main axes have been remarkably consistent. At the tender age of 13 Metheny purchased a blonde Gibson ES-175, which remained his main instrument for the first 15 years of his career. Then, while touring Japan in the 1980s, Ibanez presented him with the prototype of a signature model guitar. While Metheny continued to play his Gibson for some years, that first Ibanez prototype has been his main squeeze since 1989.
Over the years, Ibanez have made a few different variations of the Pat Metheny model – including a rather odd double cutaway model, which I suspect was inspired by Howard Roberts’ famous black guitar. The current Ibanez catalogue features two Pat Metheny models: the pro-line PM200, and the more affordable PM2. It’s this second instrument which we are looking at today.
The PM2 and the PM200
The two Pat Metheny models currently in production share many features. They have the same 24.7” scale and both have ebony fingerboards with 22 frets and a 306mm radius. They have the same acrylic and abalone fingerboard inlays with “Pat Metheny” spelled out at the 21st fret, and the same lightning-bolt headstock inlay. They both have a single humbucker pickup in the neck position, controlled by one volume and one tone knob. They both have gold hardware and blonde finishes.
They do differ in one very significant way, though: the PM200 has a price tag approximately three times that of the PM2. Why? Well, some of that price gap is due to different hardware specs, of course. But I believe a big part of the equation is the fact that the PM200 is made in Japan, whereas the PM2 is made in Indonesia where labour costs are more modest.
In what ways do the PM200 and the PM2 differ? For starters, the PM2 is a physically smaller guitar. It’s body measures 15.75” across the lower bout, compared to the PM200’s 16.5”. It’s half an inch shorter, and its 3 5/8” depth is shallower than the PM200’s 4 ¼”. Both guitars have a rounded Venetian cutaway, but on the Japanese guitar it is cut a bit deeper, giving slightly better access to the upper frets. The PM200 has a one piece mahogany neck with a body constructed of laminate maple. In contrast, the neck on the Indonesian model is a three-piece sandwich of maple and nyatoh (a native Indonesian timber) and the body is made of linden.
The PM200 has a Gotoh bridge and tuners, as compared to the more generic parts on the PM2. The pickup in the PM2 is listed as a “Super 58”, whereas the PM200 has a “Silent 58” pickup. I’m not sure what the differences are between these pickups – if any. They’re both passive alnicos in the PAF style. The most obvious visual difference between the models is that the PM200 is adorned with an ebony tailpiece, whereas the PM2 has a gold-plated wire trapeze. Also, the natural finish on the Japanese guitar is not quite as, well…. yellow… as the “antique amber” on its Indonesian counterpart.
Fit and finish
The PM2 came fitted with flat-wound strings, in 11 to 50 gauge. The setup out of the box was superb. The intonation is spot on. The action is low and the bone nut is expertly cut. The fret ends are beautifully rounded over, with no sign of tooling parks. Running a finger over the edge of the fretboard gives a smooth ride with no sharp edges. The gold tune-o-matic sits atop a floating ebony bridge which is perfectly shaped to the guitar’s arched top.
The PM2 is coated in a thick glossy polyurethane. The hard, glassy finish will be the biggest drawback for those that prefer a more classic nitrocellulose finish. The neck is a very comfortable C shape and is easy to get around.
One issue with the review guitar is that it has a rattle inside it, which kicks in whenever I play a Bb. I suspect this is due to the wires inside not being securely fastened to the underside of the guitar’s top and being left to vibrate at that frequency. It’s not loud enough for anyone other than the player to notice, and you can’t hear it when playing at an amplified volume. When practicing acoustically in a quiet room, however, it can be annoying.
The guitar comes with a very solid moulded hard-shell case which has very strong-looking ABS plastic latches. It’s a great, sturdy case. Like everyone, I hate having to entrust my guitar to airline baggage handlers; but if I had to, knowing my instrument was ensconced in this case would definitely give me some peace of mind.
Played acoustically, the PM2 has a strong tone with a thick midrange. Despite having a smaller body than many archtop guitars, it has plenty of acoustic volume. You could easily mic it up for a thumpy swing rhythm guitar track – I’ll just have to quieten that rattle first. In fact, the acoustic tone is so good that it’s tempting to do as Metheny does and mount a condenser microphone inside the lower f-hole to blend its signal with that of the magnetic pickup.
The trick to playing any single-pickup guitar is to become familiar with the taper on the volume and tone pots. Both pots on this guitar have a very smooth taper, providing a surprising variety of sounds. With the volume and tone both up full, the sound is quite bright with a fair bit of bite. Progressively rolling down the tone pot gives a whole range of usable sounds, not becoming woolly or unusably muddy until the knob is almost at zero. Rolling down the volume pot removes a bit of the bite, but there’s still plenty of sparkle to the tone, even as the volume pot descends towards zero.
In fact, the tapers on both pots are so smooth, linear and well-balanced that it is possible to dial in a seemingly endless range of tones. To anyone who thinks that single pickup guitars are lacking in versatility, I’d encourage them to spend an hour playing with the controls on the PM2. It might just change their mind.
The sweet spot is with the tone rolled down about half way and the volume on 8. Run the PM2 through a clean solid state amp and there it is – Pat Metheny’s tone from “Question and Answer”.
Should you buy the PM2, or save up for the PM200?
Diehard Pat Metheny fans will likely be thinking that it’s worth spending the extra for the PM200, as that’s closer to the guitar that Metheny actually plays. While there’s logic to this argument, it’s worth noting that neither the PM2, nor the PM200 are exactly the same as his personal guitar. The model’s specs have evolved over the 35 years since the construction of the prototype that Pat still plays. Besides which, as previously mentioned, Metheny’s own has been personalised with a built-in microphone which is connected to an XRL output socket.
Unfortunately I don’t have a PM200 to do a direct comparison. I’m sure it’s an amazing instrument. What I can say, however, is that this less expensive version is such a great guitar that it’s really difficult to justify paying three times more for the Japanese version.
While the PM2’s tuners and bridge work just fine, you could easily swap them out for the same Gotohs units that the PM200 has. You could even upgrade the pickup – not that it needs it, as it sounds great – and install an ebony tailpiece to match the specs of the Japanese model more closely. After making those upgrades you would only have spent about half the cost of a PM200. Of course, it still wouldn’t be a PM200 since it has a different body shape and dimensions, but you’d have one hell of a guitar for a relatively modest outlay. Personally, I think that in it’s stock configuration the PM2 is just fine, and I’m not such a Metheny mega-fan to be bothered making those upgrades – but the option is there for you if you want.
The Ibanez PM2 Pat Metheny signature model is a great sounding jazz box at an affordable price. The playability is superb and the guitar comes beautifully set up. It would be a great choice for a serious jazz student looking to step up to an intermediate level instrument, or for any guitarist just starting to get into playing jazz. I could even imagine professional musicians, anxious about subjecting their expensive vintage archtops to the rigors of airline travel, choosing to take the PM2 on tour instead – particularly with it’s sturdy hard case. There are cheaper archtops on the market, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that plays and sounds this good at a similar price. Now, I just have to fix that rattle….
- Great playability
- Slightly smaller than most archtops makes for a very comfortable instrument
- Fantastic jazz tone
- A quality jazz box at an affordable price
- Some will miss having a second pickup
- The review guitar had a rattle inside
- Polyurethane finish is a little thick
- Not everyone will love the antique amber colour – it’s very yellow
I have not been paid monetarily or in kind for writing this review. The thoughts and opinions expressed within are entirely my own.