Price paid: C$ 475
Purchased from: Mint Used 4 months - Axe Music
Sound — 10
It is a big chunk of mahogany, with a mahogany-maple neck. It has sustain from another galaxy, and tone! Strung it with Ernie Ball Beefy Slinkies and almost fell over with the first chord! The pickups are supposed to be ESP versions of EMG HZ4's, and do sound like it, as I have another guitar with said pickups. Full, bright sound, great clean and driven at any level. It has split pickup capability, so the damn pickups better sound clean and bright when you have it that way, and wow, do they! Mahogany is an amazing wood, isn't it? No noise problems at all, and all pots are nice and responsive. You actually get a huge tonal range on the pot, again essential because of the split coil feature. I used to have a Stratocaster in HSS configuration and the variety of sound compared is not even close. Note I said "used to have"... Strat was sold a week later! I use this through my main amp, a Peavey Vypyr, and just it's onboard effects. Variety without sacrifice is my goal, and I get it.
Overall Impression — 10
I play a lot of older heavy metal, Priest, Maiden, Scorpions, and this guitar would make K.K. Downing or Rudy Schenker smile. Otherwise it goes from classic rock, country rock, grunge and stuff, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, list goes on. Light or heavy, fingers or pick, clean or dirty, versatility with big warm tone and a thin neck unlike Gibsons or Strats, but with the sound of both. I do love this guitar and would not trade the pickups with the upscale versions EMG's. I may through in PAF's one day... I think I have mentioned the mahogany body a few times, and that is what I truly love about it. My favorite feature is the split coil capability. I hate that I had not been introduced to this guitar sooner! If there was one thing I wish it had would be string through for even more sustain. If it were stolen or lost, I honestly think I would by the upscale 401 but drop the pickups for PAF's or Seymour Duncan 59's. Then I would have a guitar to rival many I've heard or played live or studio, plus look better than most, which is really cool live.
Reliability & Durability — 10
It is a fair chunk of mahogany, with good quality if not top end hardware. It would be fine on stage as long as you were relatively sane, and it would look amazing for a long time, and I can't wait to see what it looks like as it wears in! I would depend on it for a whole show if I had to, but I have it strung heavy, and I need another guitar with lighter gauge, my Dean Custom 450 or Ibanez RG HardTail. And if you gig with one guitar you are unprofessional. Period.
Action, Fit & Finish — 10
It was 4 months old, and played by the previous owner, but lightly and I don't know if he set it up or the store did, but it was fine with minor tweeking. Intonation was very good, so I'm not sure if he fiddled with it, or just knew his stuff. Guitar workmanship was excellent, and I really do mean it! I have seen Strats and Gibsons off the wall of The Music store that made you shake your head. Given the natural spalted maple top, a poor job would ruin this guitar, but it is 100%, very impressive. All hardware was the same, across the board. American factories should take notice. Near custom shop work done in an Indonesian factory, short the higher end hardware.
Features — 9
Made in Indonesia 2009, inspected in the U.S. ESP Explorer shape. Came with custom ESP case, which is a $155 CAD value. * Set-Neck * 24.75 Scale * Mahogany Body * Spalted Maple Top * 5 Pc Mahogany-Maple Neck * Rosewood Fingerboard * 42mm Standard Nut * Thin U Neck Contour * 22 XJ Frets * Black Nickel Hardware * ESP Tuners * TOM Bridge & Tail * ESP LH-301 (B&N) p.u. w/ Push-Pull Coil Tap on Tone Control * Finish: Natural Stain