There’s a lot of competition at the budget end of the buying spectrum, especially when you’re looking at classic designs. Marcus Leadley samples a fine contender for your hard-earned cash
Description: Solidbody electric guitar. Made in China
Contact: Selectron UK – 01795 419460 – www.espguitars.co.uk
Back in 1996, Japanese guitar maker ESP decided to expand in a big way into the lower-cost end of the electric market. The company already had a profile as a supplier of serious thrash metal ordnance to the glitterati of the day – bands such as Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica and Slayer – so a new brand, LTD, was launched as the home for these new, price-friendly models.
As well as some seriously pointy high-powered guitars there’s now a good selection of models that display all the heritage aspects of classic electric guitar-making of the type pioneered by the likes of Gibson and Fender. The EC-256 is one such instrument. There are approximately 30 flavours of EC electric guitar in all, spread across ten models with prices ranging from around £200 to £800, but they all riff on the same basic body shape. The EC-256 slides into the mid-price bracket and combines a classic goldtop-style finish with set-neck construction and some raunchy humbuckers. And there’s a coil tap option to give you single-coil sounds as well. It’s a hard offer to fault when the RRP is only £359, especially when a street price deal may shave another £60 off.
While the EC-256’s shape leans heavily on the Les Paul theme, all the curves are appropriately different. In particular the sharpness of the lower forward cutaway adds a very LTD touch, which echoes the ‘sway’ of the headstock and the distinctive position markers on the neck. Body, neck and headstock are bound, which adds a nicely finished, retro feel, and the rich brown of the natural mahogany completes the look of a well turned-out package. The top is a sparkle finish rather than a flat gold and there’s a reddish/amber tint, so there’s none of the picture-frame gaudiness you can get with a simple gold paint.
This finish is applied directly to the mahogany; there’s no maple cap, which is yet another break with the more traditional LP build. The three-piece mahogany neck sports a 22-fret rosewood fingerboard. As is quite often the case with LTD guitars, this is buffed to a shine.
The board is relatively flat and the well-dressed medium-gauge frets make for a fast and accurate playing surface. The position inlays are quite stylish, but I’m not sure if I like the idea of using the model number as the 12th-fret indicator. Overall, the acoustic tone and feel are snappy and bright – classically
LTD, in fact. However, the 24.75” scale length is classically Gibson, so there’s a looseness that lets you dig into the strings and bend with ease. The hardware choice is straightforward: individual ESP-branded tuners, standard stoptail and tune-o-matic bridge. As a result the tuning seems to be very stable.
A pair of ESP LH-150 humbuckers provides the oomph for the EC-256. There’s a three-way selector on the upper bout and volume controls for each unit. The single tone control is a push/pull pot for activating the coil tap. It’s a great, simple solution; the guitar will deliver six distinctly different sounds without any confusion.
With the coil tap facility you have the ideal solution for delivering the full range of clean and distorted sounds. Voicing a bridge humbucker for a great rock tone can leave the midrange a little lacking and boxy-sounding for clean playing. However, a single-coil at the bridge will give all the wiry twang you need. This is exactly how it works here, and you can switch with ease. Generally speaking the humbucker voices are rich and open. Twin-pickup and neck sounds are great clean; country, jazz, reggae and ’70s pop chords all sound authentic, and melodic playing is well articulated.
Gradually wind up the gain and the EC-256 easily performs classic blues and punk before grasping rock and metal in style. Here, the bridge voice comes into its own and soloing is a joyous experience. There is a slight, but inevitable, drop in volume when you switch to single-coil operation from humbucker, so some sort of volume boost pedal on the floor will prove a valuable addition to your kitbag. The tone is great and the sharper, more cutting sound offers both clarity when you need it and added grit for those mayhem moments. The EC-256 is a good platform on which to build effected sounds as the basic output is suitably hi-fi in the first place. This means you can really hop genres and eras, which makes this a great guitar for a player who appreciates playing a wide range of material.
A well turned-out, handsome electric guitar offering a good range of sounds. The simple but effective pickup configuration with the coil tap means you have an approximation of most classic tones at your disposal. This would be a great instrument for a beginner, or someone looking for a second guitar to help move their playing onto a new level. At the same time, the EC-256 punches well above the weight of its comparatively modest price tag so the more experienced player will find this a practical everyday gigging instrument. It would be an ideal go-to for those occasions when you need a guitar that won’t complain about a bit of rough handling or set you to fretting needlessly when you have to leave it in the boot of your car or locked in a van for a while.