LTD EC-256 review by ESP

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  • Sound: 8
  • Overall Impression: 9
  • Reliability & Durability: 10
  • Action, Fit & Finish: 9
  • Features: 8
  • Reviewer's score: 8.8 Superb
  • Users' score: 8.4 (93 votes)
ESP: LTD EC-256
9

Price paid: $ 399

Purchased from: Local shop

Sound — 8
The first order of business I had when I got the 256 up to my studio was to plug it in. Fortunately this is very easy. Unfortunately, there are quite a few options to choose from. After staring at various corners of the room for 10 minutes or so, I settled on a Mesa/Boggie Mark I reissue head. There's really not a lot this amp can't do when supplemented with the help of a modest pedalboard so I ended up deciding it would be ideal for new guitar testing. The test rig ended up being a Boss Compressor/Sustainer, a Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive and a Zvex Box of Metal into the Mark I, and then an Avatar 2X12 cab loaded with Celestion Vintage 30's. At first I ran into Input 2 on the Mark I and dialed in my usual settings for Fender-like cleans with a touch of reverb. With both volumes and the tone control of the guitar at 10 and the selector Switch indicating the neck pickup I let loose a G major chord and I'm pleasantly surprised. It becomes fairly obvious after a few minutes that the stock ESP pickups lack a little bit of the high frequency sound reproduction I'm used to with many other guitars, but that's why they make amps with a "Presence" control. Messing around for a little while yielded some outstanding "kind of dirty" neck pickup tones with the aide of the Sparkle Drive. The pickups seem a little more sensitive to pick noise than some other guitars I've played with, but it's really not an issue. Switching to single coil mode continued a wave of great neck pickup tones. Going to the bridge pickup, I was also impressed. The overall tone of the guitar is quite pleasant, not shrill at all. Single coil mode on the bridge pickup was less impressive, but honestly I'm not going to fault ESP on this one. I've yet to hear a coil split bridge humbucker tone I thought was reasonable, so oh well. So on to Input 1 on the Mark I. Making things dirtier was a lot more fun than I thought it would be. Based on the clean tone, I thought I was going to have some muddiness issues when I started cranking things up. There is a little bit of mud going on when playing complex chords with the neck pickup, but that's kind of expected (and I'm personally not big on riffing with the neck pickup). I didn't have any issues finding suitable lead tones on either pickup and again the coil split was rather useful with the neck pickup. On to the high gain. Cranking both input volumes on the amp to 10 and clicking on the Sparkle Drive had me worried for a little bit, and then I tried it and immediately let out a sigh of relief. The guitar is quite crisp and responded well to both boosting and scooping the mids though it seemed to prefer the mid boost. Backing back down to Input 2 and clicking on the Compressor and the Box of Metal yielded similar results. Overall it does an admirable job of ripping off the Les Paul Classic hanging on the studio wall, though the 256 is lacking a bit of sustain and a bit of high end when compared directly. The single coil tones out of it aren't going to make anyone sell their Strat, but having the option and being able to easily make the Switch definitely scores some points. This guitar would work really well as a workhorse axe for smaller gigs where the player needs a lot of tonal variety but only wants to bring one instrument. I was going to give this category a 7 for doing a good job of copying an LP, but it gets one extra point for the coil split and another extra point for having an amazing neck pickup lead tone. I'm subtracting one for the lack of natural presence in the pickups.

Overall Impression — 9
I put the 256 through the gauntlet with everything from jazz to metal and I'm still impressed. Honestly it doesn't do a legitimately incredible job at any one thing, but it is very good at everything. It seems that ESP's focus here was to try and offer an affordable, versatile workhorse guitar that captures most of the style of a road worn Les Paul. I suppose there's always room for improvement and as such the pickups could use a little bit of attention. Some more output and better high frequency response would do a lot for this guitar. Better to have the high frequencies and roll off the tone knob than to just not have them in the first place. Everything else, I guess, would be more of a subjective issue. A lot of people are going to hate the neck profile as it's narrow with a lot of contour and with a very flat fretboard. If you're interested in purchasing one I highly recommend checking out the neck thoroughly before dropping the cash. Fortunately it works very well for me. As far as an "overall impression" goes, I think it would be very hard to do better for $400 (it would probably be very hard to do better for $600). This guitar is a fantastic variation on the Les Paul with some nice features and not a lot with room for improvement. Naturally this guitar isn't going to realistically compete with a lot of things in the higher price categories.

Reliability & Durability — 10
Like most well constructed guitars made out of similar materials, I expect this one to last for as long as I still care to maintain it. There are still a good handful of LP's from the 50's that have survived and aged quite well, and this one is baked up from all the same ingredients. All the hardware seems solid as a rock so I'm convinced that unless I drop/throw it, this one should handle just about anything I'm willing to put it through. The only thing I can think of in this department that might pose an issue is the finish. As mentioned, it's an aged satin finish and as such it probably won't take a lot of abuse before I start wearing through it. On the other hand, if I wanted the finish to be pristine then I wouldn't have bought a guitar with an aged satin finish. No points deducted, this guitar is solid.

Action, Fit & Finish — 9
Looking over the guitar thoroughly revealed a couple of very minor finish blemishes that honestly couldn't have been a part of the aging process. Fortunately both of these are on the side of the guitar and are hard to feel anyway so they present no playability issues what'soever. I was uncomfortable with the factory setup. The intonation up high was a little too sharp for my liking, the action was too high, and the strings were too thin. On the other hand, I'm very much of the opinion that every new guitar should be set up for the person Who will be playing it so I'm not going to deduct anything for it having a generic setup. A fresh setup took less than half an hour to get everything dialed in exactly where I needed it. Removing the back panels and taking out the pickups revealed quality construction. The top is excellent, the routing is excellent, and the soldering is excellent. I have no complaints regarding the build quality and was pleasantly surprised to find nothing loose and/or rattling around. For a $400 guitar I wasn't expecting a whole lot in this department, but I got it anyway.

Features — 8
In a world chock-full of guitars that imitate other guitars, the EC-256 is certainly no standout. It should take any reasonably well informed guitarist about. 03 seconds to figure out exactly where this design comes from (certainly not Vietnam where it's manufactured). Fortunately for me I was looking for a blatant Les Paul ripoff, only one with a few distinct features to set it apart from the real thing. Now I realize there's a small army of ESP EC fans that like to claim that the EC's don't share as much with the LP's as some people would like to think, however these people are completely kidding themselves. The EC is an LP ripoff, end of story. The EC-256 is close to being a Brand New model. I think it officially released in late '08, however I didn't pick one up until February '09. It's sort of a stripped down version with a simpler satin finish, non-fancy pickups, and less extravagant styling cues than many of it's brethren, but with an interesting "aged" appearance. Personally, I've always been partial to satin finishes. They require less effort to keep up, and are generally a lot smoother to play as the back of the neck doesn't get sticky if your palm start sweating. In addition, the aged treatment makes it less of an issue if you start developing pick scratches or if you accidentally (or intentionally) bang the body up against something. Mine is a honey burst finish (should be familiar to all the LP junkies) that looks significantly better in person than it does in the stock photo on ESP's website. This finish is on top of a very traditional "maple top/mahogany back" body with a mahogany neck and a rosewood fretboard. As mentioned earlier, this is pretty much a blatant LP ripoff. It uses a Standard Tune-O-Matic bridge and a stopbar tailpiece, simple non-locking tuning machines, 2 passive humbuckers with modest output, a 3 way pickup selector Switch placed north of the neck, and a side mounted output jack. It's a 24.74" scale neck with 22 large (but not too large) frets. A couple of features that don't fall into the "LP ripoff" category is that both pickups share a single tone control, bringing the knob count on the lower body down to three. On a very nice note, the tone knob is a push/pull pot that actuates a coil split on both pickups and offers some interesting tonal options not present with a lot of other similar guitars. As far as the overall features rating I'm going to attach to this thing, I see absolutely nothing "special" here except for the coil split. It's goint to score a few extra points for having a narrow and thin (but not too thin) neck that's very comfortable to me to fool around with, and for weighing significantly less than any genuine LP on the market. 8 may be a bit on the generous side, but it really is a nice, well outfitted instrument.

31 comments sorted by best / new / date

    CryingAlone
    great review, but i think you could have said what you wanted to say with a lot less words.
    Harvey_Danger
    GuitarPlayer716 wrote: No one should buy a $400 guitar from any brand and expect it to perform like a Les Paul.
    If it's a good manufacturer or luthiere, they sure as hell should. Gibson's outrageous pricing doesn't make the guitars all that great, and they could easily cut prices by half and make musicians around the world happy (but won't).
    guitarpassion
    i have this guitar and its ****ing amazing to me.. but onlu thing what is bad on this guitar is that it could have better pickups, but this guitar is worth of 400!
    oldschoolgamer0
    Ok, I have this guitar, the AVB one, beautiful. It plays great, i just needed to change the strings and it was just how i wanted it. Now, I think the author here is alittle too biased with saying how much it rips of the LP, although he did rate it very fairly and accurately. But come on, the bridge and tail piece? My sg has those, is IT ripping of the LP? No its just convenient. Non Locking tuning machine, standard stuff. Where the input jack is, that's for convenience, my sg has it on the front and its a pain in the butt. Sure the body is modeled after the LP and the switches are the same. It is not a blatent LP rip off, it's just MODELED after it.
    oldschoolgamer0
    oh and yes the pickups could use some work, it is not the best(on my amp) for clean tones, but it is still good. ESP is known for metal guitars, and that's where this delivers. I got it for about $350, and it is a GREAT value.
    xophrax
    les pauls suck
    GuitarPlayer716 wrote: No one should buy a $400 guitar from any brand and expect it to perform like a Les Paul.
    busted_hater
    Harvey_Danger wrote: GuitarPlayer716 wrote: No one should buy a $400 guitar from any brand and expect it to perform like a Les Paul. If it's a good manufacturer or luthiere, they sure as hell should. Gibson's outrageous pricing doesn't make the guitars all that great, and they could easily cut prices by half and make musicians around the world happy (but won't).
    i have owned many les paul(and other gibsons) and say the first guy who said none other than less paul for $400 is completely wrong. the consistency of quality from gibson is awful, i have one gibson that i can say was really worth the money. I recently purchased a Dean Soltero and it is the nicest les paul copy i have evver played, and is nicer then any gibson les paul i have ever had fact!
    eggybaby
    eggybaby wrote: ...background buzz, and more buzz when played harder
    NO Buzz from guitar. Buzz was from my headphones that'd gone bad. Guitar Sounds Awesome thru my Line6 Spider.
    guitarNbass
    the only things I see in common between the LP and the EC is the shape of the guitar body itself and the bridge. They're still not the same though. The EC has a cut out that fits comfortably on somebody's body, and the cutaway has a pointier tip. Differences include the pickups, the neck, the head, the knob configuration, many have the push pull, the fret inlays, most ec's I've seen are known for active EMG's verses the duncan designed (or duncans), many have the push pull, etc. But I'd say all in all the only thing that's similiar is the body style and the bridge. everything is different. they don't even sound that much alike. My EC has active emg's and it sounds nothing like a les paul. My pickups are pretty sparkly and jangly. I have an EMG 60 in the neck and it's the brightest sounding pickup that EMG makes. Les Paul's have Gibson pickups, ocassionally seymour duncans, but thousands of guitar have seymour duncans. It's not a rip off. ESP just took it and made it their own in so many different ways. I wouldn't trade my esp for an LP any day because I'm used to it and I just like it a lot better because of how much brighter the sound is. Blues man 4 lifeand I lak ta bring da funk. Chad.
    SaintsinneR82
    do0d for the dough this thing is awesome..first order of business when i get mine..straplocks,sd dimebucker/59 for the PUPS..and a setup at my local spot..
    anonamouslyevil
    exellent, very well written review. it's nice to see that the guitar player on a budget has some seemingly well built options.
    Kendall
    I kind of rammed the LP comparison home for two reasons. The first is that it's a very common reference point and everyone would know exactly what I was talking about. The second was to see what kind of comments it would generate. As such, I think I succeeded. Thanks everyone for your comments. I hope you enjoyed the review. I'll be doing some write-ups of several effects pedals, a couple of amps, another guitar or two, and some other random stuff in the coming weeks.
    symbolofmylife
    I own an AVB version. Was not too happy with the pups so I swopped them out for some other passive EMG's. Sounded way better. Anyway, this guitar, although much cheaper than my Dean (VMNT Angel of Deth)is on my "never sell" list. It's great.
    eggybaby
    I just bought one of these for $220 off of Craigslist. Guy said was 1 year old. Can't complain about the price but there was some background buzz, and more buzz when played harder - i think it's from the 'tone' knob. Should be easy fix.
    ToneMasterDelux
    busted_hater wrote: Harvey_Danger wrote: GuitarPlayer716 wrote: No one should buy a $400 guitar from any brand and expect it to perform like a Les Paul. If it's a good manufacturer or luthiere, they sure as hell should. Gibson's outrageous pricing doesn't make the guitars all that great, and they could easily cut prices by half and make musicians around the world happy (but won't). i have owned many les paul(and other gibsons) and say the first guy who said none other than less paul for $400 is completely wrong. the consistency of quality from gibson is awful, i have one gibson that i can say was really worth the money. I recently purchased a Dean Soltero and it is the nicest les paul copy i have evver played, and is nicer then any gibson les paul i have ever had fact!
    There are too many Fender and Les Paul fanboys, everyone needs to realize there are other brands
    rdevita
    What a lengthy review for something that could have been summed up rather quickly. For 400 dollars, there is nothing that comes close to this guitar. I wasnt in the market to buy a new guitar - but played one yesterday - and of course cant be sure if its a one off or if they're all like this - but this guitar is nothing short of magic. I had to get it on the spot. It plays and sounds better than a high percentage of actual les pauls, including custom shop models. Truly. I have been playing over 30 years. I own 25 guitars. This one is right at the top of my list. Amazed and flabbergasted and somewhat pissed with other guitar companies all at the same time. Unreal.
    scottlandj1
    ESP'S FTW. Who cares if they copied the original LP, When you think about it, theres not many other shapes you can copy, youve got your LP's, Strats, Teles, V's and thats pretty much it you can only copy and change from here on in. good review though
    ratlr
    thank you for a well-informed, knowledgeable review on guitar that at first looked like a piece of crap(only in features, it is gorgeous axe imo).
    xBRMx
    yea dude, this review sucked. i love this guitar, and in a world where guitars are few and far between, nothing is a ripoff of anything unless it is EXACT.
    octopec
    Very very well written review, I'd like to see more from you! Get your hands on a Charvel please.. =)
    munkyRobb
    excellent review dude very thorough (sp?) lol nice guitar as well. me loves teh ESPs
    GuitarAddict16
    What guitar is better? Epiphone Gold 56 Les Paul with Seymour Duncan Synyster Gates invader pickups OR ESP LTD EC-256 Lemonburst Flame Top with dimarzio 36th anniversary paf pickups Please let me know your thoughts.
    BornToRun
    nice but i've got esp eclipseand it's awesome! ec deluxes are pretty good too
    spinpogi
    ESP LTD's playability is OK for garage & punk band. Its great for metal music most likely. For versatility such as sweet to distorted TONE, id say go for the real Gibson. Its dammed costly but WORTH the money and for keeps. No matter they tried to make Les Paul copies, still it sounds awfull. Save your money, have patience, then GO for a real thing...Sure u wont regret it...