The first ESP guitar I remember ever picking up and playing was quite a while ago as I wandered through a music store in Vancouver admiring the vast array of guitars that I would likely never own. I will be honest, as much as I love spending time in guitar stores wandering around and looking at everything on offer, I rarely pick up guitars and play them, especially the ones that cost significantly more than the rest. The primary rationale I have for this is that unless I am there to drop several thousand dollars on a new axe, why would I torture myself? I have several guitars already, across the spectrum of cost and brand, and the last thing I need is to play is the one guitar that is screaming at me “I was built just for you” as it sits on my lap and just melds into my body and we become one. I don’t know why I grabbed that ESP off of the wall that fateful day but I did and to this day it remains one of the 3 best guitars I have ever played in my life. My fingers felt like they were connected to the fretboard and effortlessly flew up and down the neck. Ok, you’ve likely seen some of the videos I’ve posted that feature me playing the guitar so I admit this is called artistic license because frankly, I’m not that great of a guitar player. Having admitted that, I can only say it was the easiest guitar to play I’d ever touched up to that point.
When I found out that I would have the opportunity to review the ESP E-II M-II (surely they could have come up with something less awkward and more memorable. Every time I type it all I can think about is a new Star Wars character) and the new USA Eclipse I almost hit the floor. The ESP USA Eclipse has long been on my must “want” list and the E-II M-II is one of the most gorgeous guitars I had seen in a while, at least in the online photos I’d seen. When they arrived in my hands I couldn’t wait to plug in and rip, or at least “rip” as much as I am capable of. In a second I’ll talk about my experiences playing these beauties but first, let’s go over some of the specifications and to see why these guitars are so special. As I popped open the cases (yes, both of these bad boys came with cases. The Eclipse with a custom case) I swore I heard a glorious choir of angels singing in the background. Well, at the least I wasn’t disappointed in how stunning these were in person.
ESP E-II M-II
ESP E-II is the new name for the ESP Standard line and the M-II is a Japanese manufactured guitar with a mahogany body and a truly stunning flamed maple top. The guitar I have is a see through black finish that truly highlights the beauty of the maple top. Under light, it takes on a distinct purple-ish look that is really cool. It features a 3 piece thin u-contour maple neck and a neck-thru body for that incredible sustain. The fretboard is ebony with 24 extra jumbo frets. There are 2 active EMG 81 pick-ups and one minimalist volume knob. The hardware is black and it sports a Floyd Rose floating bridge and Gotoh locking tuners. When you have this all tuned up and locked down, you rarely have to worry about tuning again and when you do the bridge has your fine-tuning needs covered.
From the overall look of the guitar to the active AMGs there is little doubt that this guitar is built for metal. The neck is built for shredding (you won’t see that in my video unfortunately) and the sound can only be described as heavy. I believe the guitar I have came with 9-42 gauge strings and were it mine I would change those to 10-52 strings. Keep in mind that when it is set up with the floating bridge that any changes in string gauge will require adjustments. If you only move to a set of 10s then you will likely get away with only adjusting the spring tension on the Floyd but going to a higher gauge than that may require that you install another spring and potentially have the neck adjusted as well. The guitar felt balanced both on the lap and on a strap and is light and friendly for extended sessions. When you play some guitars that offer you more controls, it is nice to have options for tone and output for sure, but when you just want to bang your head and flail it’s nice to know that you don’t have to slow down to start making any adjustments. Just dial in the tone you want at the beginning and off to the very depths metal guitardom with you. This guitar was awe inspiring to look at and even more fun to play.
ESP USA ECLIPSE
The Eclipse I was fortunate enough to have in my hands for a couple of weeks has a body made from chambered mahogany with a flamed maple top. Chambered mahogany simply means that while it looks to be a solid block of mahogany (with the exception of course for the pickups and wire routing) that the body has some cavities or air pockets that are then covered over by the maple top. The rationale for this includes a significant decrease in weight as a solid body guitar can be quite heavy depending on the wood used. I’ve read that 3 or 4 pounds can be shaved using this method.
Now, the Eclipse is still a heavy guitar, at least compared to my slimmer Jacksons and even my SG, but I imagine it would be even heavier without the chambering. I remember my buddy’s uncle used to have a solid body Les Paul that if I remember correctly was from the 50s and that was by far the heaviest guitar I have ever strapped around my body. It was actually not friendly to play I found but it sure sounded glorious. And therein lies the rub. Some will swear that chambering a guitar makes the tone it produces more variable between guitars in the line and while that may have been the case in the past, most literature that I have read recently suggests that science has stepped in most manufacturers are able to dial in specific responses like sustain or resonance in individual woods by using specific chamber relief patterns.
As I only had one guitar to play here, I can only speak to what I had. The body on the Eclipse was finished in a “Tea Sunburst” colour that looked stunning in combination with the Seymour Duncan pickups, the control knobs, and the exquisite crème binding. The set-thru neck is also mahogany with an ebony fingerboard, 22 extra-jumbo frets, and nickel hardware. Again, were money not a thing and you simply collected things of beauty, this could hang on a wall like a piece of fine art for the visual pleasure of you and your guests. But even if you didn’t play guitar, you could only look at it for so long before you’d have to take it down and learn.
When I found out I was getting these guitars I was incredibly excited to play the Eclipse as it has been a long desired guitar on my wish list and I was not disappointed. Solid and meaty it runs the gamut of rock and blues in a gorgeous and balanced, albeit heavier, guitar. Switching between the bridge and neck pickups gave numerous possibilities for tone and running both pickups at the same time created a nice and subtle wah like effect. Make no mistake about it, I really like this guitar but the surprise, to me at least, was how much I came to love the E-II M-II. I would take this guitar in a second. Don’t get wrapped up on the “made in Japan” thing because there are very good quality materials used here and clearly the workmanship is top notch. Perhaps the most troubling problem you will deal with is “which one do I get first?”.
The best part was that for almost 3 whole weeks, I didn’t have to pick. I had them both and now I sit here alone, staring at the spots on the walls that they once adorned and wondering when and how I can get them back where they belong. My wife is a lover of fine art, maybe I start with that approach. In the mean time, wish me luck and then head in to your local Best Buy and have a look and feel for yourself. I know you won’t be disappointed.
Check out the huge variety of ESP guitars available at Best Buy Canada; you can even order them online and have it delivered right to your door!