ESPs are often popular with modern metal players but this is one for lovers of classic sounds, rich old-fashioned looks and that wicked Bigsby wobble. Review by Marcus Leadley
Description: Solidbody guitar. Made in Japan
Price: £1915 inc. plush case
Contact: Selectron UK – 01795 419460 – www.espguitars.co.uk
SP has been offering this particular single-cut model since 1995. Originally subject to a Gibson lawsuit due to its initial similarity to the Les Paul, the instrument was redesigned just enough to get its head back over the parapet. With a slighter waist and sporting a sharp Florentine cutaway, the Eclipse has become a very popular instrument, which is evidenced by the fact that the company now offers no less than 26 versions spread over three series. There are versions loaded with EMGs and a Floyd Rose vibrato for those like their extreme rock action to come in a traditional-looking form; however, this version, with humbuckers, gold hardware and a Bigsby, is definitely retro-inspired.
To love this guitar, you have to love the idea of a black guitar with gold hardware. Personally I’m not convinced, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s beautifully turned out. The main criticism of gold hardware is that the plating wears off and ages badly – so if you like that particular distressed look, I’ll say no more on the subject.
Even with the added mass of the Bigsby this Eclipse weighs a bit less than a Les Paul, which is no bad thing. There’s also a much deeper ribcage chamfer, so the guitar immediately feels sleek and comfortable. In other respects, such as the 24.75″ scale length and the neck angle, it’s a very similar proposition, so it does offer a friendly and familiar feel. The mahogany set neck is a peach, neither too thin nor too fat; ESP calls this a ‘thin U’ contour and it’s a little bit fuller than a ’60s-inspired ‘thin taper’ without being chubby. The ebony fingerboard is a classy touch, and with its dense grain structure buffed to a high shine it delivers a fast, super-smooth playing surface. You still get the right feel for digging in past the 12th fret for a wailing solo, but in other respects it feels faster and snappier than rosewood-appointed siblings.
True to ESP’s high standards, the fretting and finishing are excellent. The neck is bound, which hides all the tangs. This binding was originally white, but the entire guitar has been oversprayed – post-assembly, it would appear – with a brown ‘vintage’ stain top coat. This also accounts for the slightly strange tint of the body… but it looks great with the gold hardware.
There are no surprises when it comes to the electrics: the Eclipse is powered by a Seymour Duncan SH-4 humbucker in the bridge position and an SH-1 at the neck. These are hooked up to independent tone and volume controls and a three-way pickup selector.
All the other hardware is A-grade merchandise, too. The Gotoh Magnum Lock tuners are smooth and accurate, and the Bigsby is a genuine item, not a licensed copy. Here it’s sensibly teamed with a tunomatic-style TOM bridge with roller saddles, and the advantage can be felt immediately as the guitar actually stays in tune when you wiggle the arm.
One minor gripe concerns the fact that the routing for the bridge pillars does not take the arch of the body top into consideration; this means the edge of the post is clearly visible, and it looks a little untidy on an instrument in this price bracket. As a further recess would lower the bridge height by a full 2mm, I’m guessing the look was compromised in relation to adjustment potential.
These are tried and tested pickups, and in this guitar they really deliver the goods. The neck pickup and twin-pickup combination voices deliver great clean tones. The latter is bright and crisp with loads of sparkle; the former offers a mellow response that articulates any form of modern jazz brilliantly, or wind back the very-functional tone control for a darker solo or comping sound. Pop accompaniment and country picking are equally well catered for.
Some might feel that the bridge humbucker clean tone has a bit too much of a midrange hump to be super-adaptable, but it’s a rare humbucker than doesn’t exhibit some kind of compromise in this department, and the pay off is the classic rock tone you get when you start to wind up the amp’s gain control. It’s 10/10 in that department: an edge of break-up in the sound brings on the blues and the new wave angst, or drive the situation a bit harder for classic metal. Riffs and big chords are especially pleasing, and the Eclipse’s natural bright, clear tone helps the sound cut through a mix.
Opening this guitar up to the influence of a pedalboard is a seriously time-consuming business. Things get really funky when wah or auto wah get into the equation, and delay can put you in the mood to take on a stadium. The ESP’s sound can handle the effect of a badass fuzz pedal, a ring modulator or serious pitch shifting because the basic character is nicely robust.
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Well, it’s a great guitar to play, sounds great, and it’s beautifully made. That should say it all. For the right person this Eclipse shouts, ‘buy me!’ loud and clear, but the price tag is on the steep side, and there’s a lot of competition in this part of market. Famous makers like Gibson and PRS are fielding instruments with similar features and not dissimilar prices, and there are several other pitches from top-end Japanese makers to consider as well.
You really need to play the field before you splash this much cash, but that being said, the Eclipse is a hugely likable instrument and, in fairness, finding an equivalent with a Bigsby under £2000 will be a challenge. So if the Bigsby is the deciding factor, then it’s off to the shop with you… via the bank.