Hands-on review: ESP's distressed LTD EC-256 AVG
(John Gorbe | Posted 2011-02-07)
The LTD EC-256 AVG from ESP Guityars featuresa a distressed finish, but that's just about the only thing distressing about this solid-body Les Paul clone.
The LTD EC-256 AVG is nestled in a price segment ($399 USD street) at which it will have a ton of competition. Fortunately, ESP has been making guitars since 1976 and knows how to build a quality instrument without breaking the bank. In 1984 they were made available to the U.S. market and have gained a reputation for high quality. In 1996 ESP started the LTD Line. The LTD guitars are similar to the higher-end ESP guitars but are more affordable and cater mainly to markets outside of Japan. The 1000 and 400 series LTDs are made on an assembly line in Korea, whereas series below 400 are made in Indonesia out of less expensive materials, and they generally use cheaper hardware than the more upscale ESP models.
This LTD model has a mahogany body, a thin mahogany U-shaped set neck, rosewood fingerboard, 22 jumbo frets, nickel hardware, TOM bridge and stop tailpiece, ESP LH-150 bridge and neck pickups, 3-way toggle, bridge volume, neck volume and a master tone w/Push Coil Tap.
I played this guitar for approximately 7 hours, covering many styles of music and applying different techniques. The first thing I noticed when I picked it up was the weight. This guitar is carved from mahogany but is not as thick as other Les Paul-style guitars, therefore it was a little lighter on my shoulder. The body has a unique distressed finish that will attract guitarists who like this style - it is made to look like an antiqued Gold Top, probably the most iconic of the Gibson Les Paul line.
The neck felt really nice in all positions - sized between a Les Paul and a Stratocaster: not too chunky but not too thin, either. This made it comfortable to execute unison bends, chords and blistering single-note lines with equal ease. The action was set up very nice for my liking and felt great right out of the box. I also appreciated this guitar for fingerstyle work. Even though I prefer slightly wider string spacing, this guitar provided just enough space to not be an outstanding issue for me. I also liked the feel of the satin-finished neck. After a few hours playing the neck on sopme guitars can feel tacky, but after some time with the EC-256, I was pleased to find that the neck retained its smooth feel. This is a huge plus in my book. The fingerboard is made of rosewood, which is standard for a guitar of this caliber and wood choice. The inlays are the typical “EC”-style flag and are nicely designed. The inlays let you know at glance that you’re looking at an ESP instrument and give it character.
The sound was what I expected for a guitar at this price point, but that's not a bad thing. The most important parts of the construction process have been addressed here and will be satisfactory for many guitarists. But the pickups simply don’t have that “Wow” factor to my ears. That can be easily resolved by dropping in different pickups, one of the first upgrades many guitarists make on their guitars anyway. The Coil-Tap was a very nice feature that makes this guitar more versatile than your average LP style guitar. I also must note that for $399, a guitar with a Coil-Tap is almost unheard of. This will definitely be a surprise to many who look at this instrument.
A 7-hour test drive means I must add tuning to the overall evaluation of performance. The tuners turned fairly smoothly and only minimal tweaks were needed after some serious bending and heavy vibrato. I tend to play hard on an instrument at first to really push its limits in the area of tuning stability. After a few minutes of this abuse, it really didn’t react in an unexpected way. Minimal tuning brought it back to pitch, and it wasn’t until I abused the strings again with wild bending that the 3rd string slipped slightly - not bad for a guitar of this quality. In fact, my Gibson reacts in exactly the same manner.
The EC-256 looked and felt solid; I didn’t feel or see anything that would make me not buy the instrument. The model I played was the Aged Vintage Gold (AVG) and it is designed to look "used," so visually inspecting the body for finish flaws didn’t apply here.
Overall the LTD EC-256 AVG is a nice addistion to the LTD EC line and is priced very well for the features it offers. It's available in Aged Honey Burst, 2-tone Burst, and Age Vintage Black in addition to the Aged Vintage Gold.
John Gorbe is a guitar editor for MGR and a professional guitarist/instructor.