By Michael Molenda Back in the days when I understood nothing about music except its magic, I also didn’t know I’d die for a Les Paul until I saw Mick Ronson pummel his blonde ’68 Custom on a late-night television concert in 1974. The combination of the spectacle, Ronson’s heroic riffing, and the shape of that guitar illuminated everything that was cool about being a guitarist, and it etched a lifeline from seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 to playing in a million garage bands to being the editor of this magazine. Ah, the power of image! Of course, the crush of reality was that I couldn’t afford a ’68 “Black Beauty,” and even if I could, I wouldn’t have found the guts to sand the finish to naked wood like Ronson did. I would have killed for a signature model.
Pros: A tremendous roar. Balanced tonal spectrum. Excellent craftsmanship. Cons: Access to battery compartment requires removing two screws. Contact Info: The ESP Guitar Company, (800) 423-8388; espguitars.com. ESP LTD MC-600 I’ll just say it upfront. The weirdest thing about the MC-600 ($699 street) is that its singular design is so definitively Max Cavalera that if you’re not Max Cavalera—or, at least, Brazilian—playing the guitar might feel like soul stealing. Well, get over it, because the MC-600 is a purveyor of simple, unadulterated rock and roll glory. This sucker screams. Armed with just one Seymour Duncan SH-6 and a volume control, the MC-600 delivers a tight, articulate zing—you can almost feel the strings pop off the fretboard. However, the enhanced clarity won’t stop you from getting all AC/DC, Soulfly, or [insert your fave heavy band] because the MC-600 reacts almost empathetically to changes in attack, amps, and amp settings. Whether you want to churn and chunk, kerrang, or go fuzz spastic, this guitar has the output and tonal complexity to deliver the goodies. You won’t find much wrong from a construction standpoint, either. The finish and inlay details are flawless (and there are a fair amount of design elements at play, here), the hardware is combat tough, the single control is positioned for easy volume swells, and the neck feels both cozy and fast. At 8.5 lbs, the guitar weighs as much as the seemingly heftier SC-607B, but the MC-600’s curved silhouette almost melts into your body. Sweet. From its looks to its craftsmanship to the simple fury of its tones, the MC-600 is a phenomenal guitar.
Pros: Kick-ass rock tones. Simple. Excellent craftsmanship. Cons None. ESP LTD KH-602 Including LTD and Custom Shop versions, ESP makes a total of seven Kirk Hammett models—a number surpassed only by the nine George Lynch designs. The KH-602 ($899 street) retains the Custom Shop version’s inlays, original Floyd Rose tremolo, and EMG-81 pickups, and it’s an extremely aggressive shred engine. It doesn’t deliver the bass content of the MC-600, but you get a fat midrange with a high-end kick that could separate your head from your body. This is actually a good thing, because by blending the mix of the two pickups, you can choose to produce a very cool lo-fi spittle, notes that affect a mercury-like ooze, distorted chords that maintain note and harmonic articulation, a snap that lends coherence to hyper-speed melodic flurries, and almost any other sound that’s hot and riff-friendly. Adding to the rage fest, the Floyd Rose system handles slight tremolo moves and near-string-shredding dive bombing, and only maximum abuse will affect tuning integrity. This is a guitar that adores all that is heavy. And it’s also, well, heavy. Weighing in at 8.8 lbs, the KH-602 can sometimes feel as if you’re shouldering a fully loaded assault rifle, but, like the MC-600 and SC-607B, its curves are so comfy and ergonomic that you forget all about the weight. Like all the guitars in the LTD Signature Series, the KH-602’s craftsmanship is impeccable. You won’t find a blemish or a loose control or a jagged fret, and the skull inlays are perfect. For those who love to rock hard, the KH-602 is a raging, super-powered soul mate.
Pros: The shred you need. Excellent craftsmanship. Cons: Access to battery compartment requires removing two screws. ESP LTD GL-600MT The GL-600MT ($839 street) looks almost identical to George Lynch’s famous M-1 Tiger, and it’s currently the only George Lynch signature that’s not a Custom Shop model. That alone is pretty cool, but the GL-600MT also delivers the same materials, the same Seymour Duncan “Screamin’ Demon” pickup, and the same Floyd Rose tremolo as the handcrafted M-1. Can you say “value proposition,” boys and girls? Anyone who is into relatively light (7.3 lbs), sculptured double-cutaway guitars will find the GL-600MT is a monster. It lets loose a very tiger-rific snarl that bites hard without being shrill. Note articulation is excellent, and while this isn’t a particularly chunky sounding guitar, it delivers a solid low end that adequately balances its tough mids and soaring highs. While the neck is fast, the hardware well-mounted, and the overall look dazzling, this was the only model in the Signature line that suffered from some small workmanship defects. The locking nut, for example, is more recessed than the fretboard, which made for a sharp edge above the first fret. (The KH-602’s locking nut is seated much better.) In addition, there were a few finish inconsistencies in the tremolo cavity. These are nothing more than quibbles, but given the immaculate craftsmanship of the other guitars, it was a bit of a shock to see even tiny flaws. Still, at almost half the price of a full-bore M-1, the GL-600MT is almost a no-brainer—it’s an incredible value and a spectacular rock box.
Pros: Magnificent snarl and bite. Cons: Minor workmanship flaws. ESP CUSTOM SHOP VS. LTDs Why spend more bucks for a Custom signature guitar when the Korean-made LTDs are so amazing? “Well, the Custom models are made in the ESP Custom Shop in Tokyo, one guitar at a time,” says ESP Marketing Director Marsh Gooch. “They’re not production models—it’s a custom order—and everything is handcrafted using the best woods and hardware.” For those into minutiae, here’s a feature-by-feature comparison of the two lines.
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