Price paid: $ 189
Purchased from: Guitar Center
Features: 2013 model, made in China. 25.5" scale neck with 22 XJ frets. Rosewood fingerboard on maple neck. Basswood body with black satin finish. LTD tuners, Tune-o-matic style bridge. ESP-designed pickups, 3-way selector, master volume & tone. Black chrome hardware. Considering the cost of this entry-level 7-string, the features are what you would expect. There are no fancy bells or whistles like neck binding, coil tapping, locking tuners, etc. Of course, adding those things would increase the price so I've gotta hand ESP LTD the 10 for making a working 7-String that looks feels like a real guitar and selling it for $189. // 10
Sound: I play mostly jazz and classical. For fun, I also play a bit of fusion music like Allan Holdsworth or Al Di Meola as well as technical death metal like Necrophagist or Decrepit Birth. I sort of bought this guitar on impulse so I could play some metal songs over the summer when I have more time.
I tested the M-17 through a variety of amps at Guitar Center, including a Peavey 6505+, Fender Twin reverb, Line 6 Bogner 2x12, Roland Cube, and Peavey Vypyr. The guitar gave me the same reaction through all these amps: good, but not great. The passive ESP-designed pickups are pretty muddy compared to the pickups in an Ibanez RG7321, and a bit lower output as well. However, they are ceramics so they can still pull of a decent hi-gain metal tone. The pickups were actually pretty quiet, and the neck humbucker with the tone rolled off a bit actually brought a half-decent jazz tone to the table. I'd still recommend swapping the pickups but for an under $200 guitar they could be worse. I'll give sound an 8, taking off 1 point for muddy pickups and another for the cheap basswood body which was not very resonant at all. // 8
Action, Fit & Finish: The factory set-up was not terrible, but the action was way too high for any 12th fret area soloing. I was able to get the action pretty low with minimal buzzing after a quick neck and bridge adjustment, however. The fretwork was actually really well done and there didn't seem to be any problems with the bridge, tuning keys, knobs, strap buttons, finish, nut, pickup selector, or intonation. The fret-ends were not sharp at all and the neck feels smooth and easy.
The satin black finish looks great with the black chrome hardware and doesn't pick up fingerprints like a normal black finish does, and it doesn't look too "gray" like a lot of satin black finishes do. It still looks very black. The finish is actually one of my favorite things about this guitar next to the quality neck. I'm taking off one point for a mediocre factory set-up, and one for a lop-sided pickup. // 8
Reliability & Durability: I don't know if I would use this guitar live since something's bound to go wrong eventually with a $200 guitar, but in it's current state I don't see any problems with it. The bridge is well made and connected properly and the strap buttons are actually really nice. The tuning keys aren't the greatest but they get the job done. It stays in tune and doesn't have any weird noise problems. I've had it for a few weeks now and the finish still looks fine.
However, this IS a cheap guitar. It probably won't take a beating too well with it's cheap basswood body (basswood is a very soft wood) and the electronics on cheaper guitars never seem to last more than a year before needing replaced. Maybe I'm just cynical from owning lots of cheap guitars in my day, but I'll be surprised if I own this guitar for 3-5 years or so without issues. In it's current state, however, it's very dependable as long as you treat it with the care and discretion needed on a cheap guitar you can use it for a gig. I'd take a backup though, just in case. // 9
Overall Impression: This guitar does exactly what I wanted from it: it gives me the option to play a 7-String riff if I come across a really killer song that uses 7-strings. I didn't buy it to record with or gig with, at most I might use it to jam at a buddy's house. I have been playing for around 8 years and I own lots of guitars including an upgraded Fender MIM Strat, an Agile Hawker, a Cort Yorktown, a high-end handmade classical, and an Ibanez Acoustic as well as a few basses. This is a nice addition to my collection because it fills a niche I didn't have - a guitar purely for metal riffing.
Now as I said before I am very cynical about guitars so if I lost this one and ordered a new one, I would be surprised if it was just as good. I feel like I lucked out and got a "good one," since most guitars in this price range are very inconsistent. I'd probably just invest in a higher end LTD or Ibanez 7-string if I lost it. I love this guitar because it was cheaper than dirt and I actually enjoy playing it a lot, nothing about it really bothers me other than the pickups but they are acceptable. I might upgrade it down the road with a DiMarzio Crunch Lab 7, Sperzel Locking Tuners and a bone nut, but for now I will wait and see how it holds up. After all, I'm not a very serious 7 string player.
My advice to you when buying this guitar or something like it is to play it first and be very thorough, checking all the hardware, fretwork, and electronics. If you don't know what to look for then ask a friend who knows guitars or ask the guitar tech at the store to inspect it for you. The only thing I really hate about this guitar is that it seems too good to be true for $189 and I keep expecting it to stop working or develop some costly issue. So far I am impressed, however, and if it continues to perform like this over the coming months then I will be making ESP LTD one of my primary go-to companies for well-built imports. // 9