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.
Happily, murder isn’t an issue for today’s players, who may be able to purchase a guitar actually sanctioned, tested, and approved by their favorite star. The “may” is operative here, because, first, a company has to dig your artist enough to commission a signature model, and, second, you have to be able to afford the result. But if you’re inspired by the guitar work of the Deftones’ Stephen Carpenter, Soulfly’s Max Cavalera, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, or George Lynch, ESP has unleashed a truly affordable line of LTD Signature models. These Korean-made guitars are astounding. They offer much of the heft, craftsmanship, and tonal wallop of each artist’s ESP Custom Shop models for hundred of dollars less. And they kick ass. (Click for ESP vs. LTD comparison)
ESP LTD SC-607B
In a hip twist of fate, the LTD version of 7-string wizard Stephen Carpenter’s guitar is actually more accurate than his Custom Shop model because it is a 7-string, whereas the custom job is a
6-string. The sleek, 8.5-lb SC-607B ($899 street) looks great, is well-balanced, and it’s a joy to play—even with a 27"-scale neck that’s almost as long and wide as an aircraft carrier’s landing deck. The smooth, playground-slide contour of the neck-to-body joint allows amazing high-fret access, and it feels so good to play around up there that you may be seduced into transforming this baritone beauty into a treble machine. The controls are well-placed for performance moves, and every piece of hardware is exquisite. The only thing I didn’t dig was having to remove two screws to change the battery that powers the active EMG 81-7 pickups.
The SC-607B uncorks some very evil subterranean chunk, but you never get the sense that the guitar favors the lows. There’s an organic spread between bass, midrange, and treble frequencies, and no particular range is hyped—you can really dig into this guitar and expect a full spectral roar. The guitar’s balanced voice is surprisingly versatile, so if you’re not a Deftones fan, don’t make the mistake of categorizing the SC-607B as a one-trick pony. (In fact, the only less-than-versatile element is its tone control, which is extremely subtle—don’t expect any wah-like effects or striking tonal tweaks.) The SC-607B is also a very dynamic instrument, and it can easily coax just about any amp into beautific spasms of overdrive, as well as clean up to deliver everything from aggressive clangs to pretty strums. All you have to do is work the guitar’s volume or adjust your attack. This is an absolutely brilliant guitar for both n¨-metal aficionados and rockers and jazzbos seeking to expand their sonic palettes.
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.