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.