Few guitarists had as great an effect on ‘80s and ‘90s shred guitar as Steve Vai. From his work as Frank Zappa's "stunt guitarist," to stints with David Lee Roth and Whitesnake, Vai's combination of technical ability and musicality inspired guitarists worldwide to up their games. So when he teamed up with Ibanez in 1985 to design a guitar that would be ideal for both his musical and personal style, it was little surprise that this instrument, dubbed the JEM, would become a huge success. Over 30 years later, it's still a popular choice for guitarists who love Vai's pyrotechnic style. The new Steve Vai Signature PIA seems destined to continue that tradition.
Birth of the PIA
Artists continually grow and evolve. So in 2017, 30 years after the release of the JEM, Vai approached Ibanez with the idea of updating his signature guitar to reflect his evolution as an artist and as a person. The result, after three years of development, is the new Steve Vai Signature PIA, which debuted at the 2020 Winter NAMM show in Anaheim, California.
Ibanez and Steve Vai's Dream Collaboration
The new PIA features many refinements over the original JEM, some obvious, some subtle, but all created to move the design forward. Designers at Ibanez emphasized that Vai was deeply involved with the development and tweaking of every aspect of the instrument, even to the exact color tints of the inlay and the new finishes. The final result is very much a reflection of Vai's personal aesthetic, with more-rounded contours than the JEM, and a beautifully colored blossom inlay on the fingerboard. Add the filigreed pickup covers, jeweled control knobs and the new "Petal Grip," and the instrument is as much as piece of sculpture as a guitar.
Getting a “Grip” on the New Design
The "Petal Grip" deserves a special note here, as the original JEM's "Monkey Grip" was such a signature feature. The new grip resembles both flower petals and the traditional yin-yang symbol. Vai's interest in the idea of balance that symbol represents is reflected in several of his album titles, such as Passion and Warfare and Sex and Religion. The addition of the flower petal as a symbol of rebirth adds some extra resonance to the design.
Sonics to Vai for
The Ibanez Steve Vai Signature PIA also features new DiMarzio UtoPIA pickups, painstakingly voiced to Vai's specifications, including multiple sonic testing sessions conducted by the artist. These sessions, described by those involved as "rigorous," resulted in a pickup that perfectly suits both the guitar's look and Vai's unique sonic profile. Combined with the PIA's push/pull high-pass tone filter, the sonic result is powerful and subtle, as needed, under complete control of the player. One other new feature is a magnetically attached tremolo spring cover.
Of course, you don't change what works, so the classic Ibanez Edge tremolo bridge is prominently featured, along with the slim, fast neck and sheer comfort that's always been an integral part of the design. This new instrument is so well-conceived and inspiring that Vai's choice for its full name, "Paradise in Art," is a perfect reflection of this re-imagined signature guitar.