Sound — 9
The guitar is equipped with EMG 81's, which are high-output active pickups, which suits my tonal desires. (Think Metallica) The tonal character of the pickups, I believe, is focussed on the high-midrange area of the tonal spectrum, this allows it to sound heavy with open chords and clear with unusually dissonant chords, even when distorted. I use a POD X3 Live with a Micro Cube as my rig at home, but the latter has become a weak link in my 'chain of tone' and lets down the sound, so I sometimes play through my earphones. Clean tones are clearly projected, strong, and.... well, clean, though the sound of breakup is present when the bridge pickup is selected. The neck pickup is my usual choice for chording and clean runs though I sometimes use the bridge pickup for a more cutting tone. The cleans are good, but not outstanding. Through the use of distortion, the EMG's purpose is fulfilled and it's true character revealed. I find that with my settings, which use the Line 6 Insane and Mesa Boogie amps, I am able to create tones that sound heavy and powerfully distorted as well as tones with much mid-range scooping like that of Metallica. The bridge is generally used for wild chugging and riffs and the neck for fat sounding leads. The bridge is still sometimes used for leads and either can be used for chording with distortion. Overall, the EMG's are versatile with good cleans and exceptional distortion and can tackle Metal, Rock, and Blues depending on the amplifier and it's settings. In my opinion, meticulous tweaking may allow for a slightly, though not authentic jazz-like tone. Country is a no-no for the EMG humbuckers as far as I'm concerned, but the single-coiled versions and 81TW's and 89's will probably do better with country and jazz. (The EMG's, though supposedly quiet by nature, have hum when I turn up my gain, though perhaps poor shielding or a faulty cable is to be blamed.)
Overall Impression — 8
I have been playing guitar for nearly 2.5 years and was looking for a second guitar when I bought this to replace/accompany my Ibanez GIO GRG270. The Ibanez was a pretty versatile guitar with a H-S-H pickup configuration, but was oriented towards rock and metal, however, I wanted a guitar that was equipped specifically for metal while being able to deliver pleasant cleans. I had months to do research before the right time came and I tried many different guitars over a period of nearly a year in Malaysia. I had my eye on some particularly good ones, but they were either too expensive or not available, so I went to Singapore to search, and found among many others, this guitar. I had looked at Schecters (C-1 Hellraiser FR/ C-1 Blackjack ATX FR), other ESP/LTD's (EC-1 CTM FR, LTD EC-401VF), Ibanez Prestige's (RG2550Z, RG2470Mz), and many other guitars in Singapore, and many of them had significantly better feel and features. However, what this guitar offered was great value at a low price, and while discussing what guitar to buy with my mother, an extenuating event had occurred. I then was convinced that I should buy this guitar, and so I bought it. If it was no longer in my possession for whatever reason, I would not buy a new one as it is in my nature to buy and experience as many different things when possible (GAS-Gear Acquisition Syndrome). I ultimately bought this because it had a good price and satisfied my criteria, if barely. Thus, I would, if I had a choice, to purchase another different guitar. Alas, I believe it is, overall, an exceptionally well-equipped guitar for it's price, but was badly let down by it's Licensed Floyd Rose. I do honestly wish it had a better one like a 1000 series or Original.
Reliability & Durability — 9
The guitar should have had a gig by now, but not yet. I sincerely believe that it would hold up to live playing and that a backup would not be required. The hardware seems reliable enough to last and the strap buttons are solid. The finish is also solid, but catches fingerprints easily.
Action, Fit & Finish — 8
The action of the guitar was comfortably low and allowed for fast riffing with a thin neck, however, I found string bending to be a bit more difficult than with my Ibanez GIO GRG270, which had higher action. The pickups were set-up fine but I decided to experiment with the heights, and as these are actives, can be placed close to the strings without interfering with sustain as actives do not have a strong magnetic field. Aside from that, everything else is apparently in order. (I have had the guitar for several weeks only)
Features — 8
I do not when this beauty was made, but it was quite recent and made in Indonesia. The body has a solid black finish and is contoured, well-designed, comfortably shaped, and made of alder, which projects a clear mid-rangey tone that, in my opinion, is heavy-sounding with the right pickups and suitable for metal while being physically light and easy on your back. The maple neck shares the finish of the body and is comfortably thin with a rosewood fingerboard and is set into the body via set-thru method, which is somewhat similar to a neck-thru as it has no obstructive neck-heel. The guitar uses active EMG 81's in both the bridge and neck. The cleans are quite good, though not exceptional. (Nevertheless, Metallica has demonstrated the EMG's versatility in clean passages many times.) However, it is only when your amp is cranked up that it really shines. The guitar uses mini Grovers as tuners, which I believe are good. However, because there is a locking system, they aren't relied on very heavily and the job falls to the Licensed Floyd Rose, which does not do a very good job at it. (I have to tune it several times a day and sometimes immediately after dive-bombs and pull-ups.) I rate it at 8 because though it is a well-equipped guitar, the tremolo is not particularly reliable.