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This article was originally published in issue #31
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ESP launched the LTD brand into our lives in the mid-'90s to give a more affordable alternative to the guitars and basses from its prestigious mother company, ESP. The reputation and quality of ESP guitars has always been up there with the best and the made in Japan LTD guitars certainly have always been great guitars for the money with a huge model range that can just as easily cater for beginners as it can the experienced pro.
The LTD Eclipse range is probably the series you're most likely to be looking at if you're after a 'Les Paul' type guitar by LTD, and it sells well because it is a very stylish and consistently high quality Japanese guitar. I've been handed quite a few of them to try out by students and colleagues and they are always great. You get the feeling a 'bad' one wouldn't be allowed to leave the factory in Japan. What we have on review, on the other hand, is one of the non-Japanese models - a more affordable EC40. The promise is to deliver the Eclipse experience for a faction of the cost. But does it? Read on!
The actual model name of this guitar is the LTD EC-40 1VF DMZ, which may be tricky to remember after a couple of large wines with your meal! The DMZ part of the name obviously refers to the onboard DiMarzio PAF style 36th Anniversary pickups, which is a promising start. In fact, let's deal with them right away, as they're the heart of the guitar, if you like. Right off, I can tell you that they sound just great, and do the humbucker thing very well. The sign of a good humbucker is how it cleans up the gain when you use the volume pots. If it cleans up nicely and still retains some nice character and definition, then it is probably a good pick up, and these DiMarzios do just that. Each pick up has its own volume and there is one universal tone, so you can get some nice blends of both pick up in the middle position of the 3-way selector. This is one 'budget' guitar where you certainly won't be thinking about swapping out the pickups after a year or so!
Moving on, there are, thankfully, no surprises in the wood used. We have a mahogany neck and body with a nicely figured maple cap which in this case is Tobacco Burst. There's no shortage of choice in colours for this guitar though, and personally, my favourite finish for this guitar would be the 'Lemon Drop', which is a very pale faded amber, almost yellow colour. But if Tobacco burst is your thing, then search no more, this is your LTD. If not, check out that gorgeous Lemon Drop finish that's one of several LTD alternatives!
The set neck is described as a 'Thin U' contour and is comfortable in the way that more modern speed necks are, with a rosewood board with big pearloid fret markers, 22 frets, a nice 350mm flat radius (good for string bends) and a 42mm nut. The nut is described as 'moulded' which probably means it's made from some kind of composite that does the job nicely. If we're getting back to the Paul Kossoff thing it is not the big fat neck that Koss liked but, from the point of view of most players today - especially less experienced ones - not many really want to work that hard and a slimmer neck is going to satisfy far more buyers than a hairy chested alternative!
The strings on our sample seemed pretty new and were still bedding in. As a tip, I find a couple more string winds on the tuning peg are needed for this sort of guitar, and without that I was getting some tuning problems initially. As I kept stretching the strings, as you’d expect, the guitar started to settle down and take more extreme string bending, but make allowances for a tricky playing demonstration when you watch the video and bear in mind if you try one what I said. With its strings properly stretched and with that extra winding, this guitar will be just fine.
Getting back to the sound, this is an interesting an interesting guitar. The DiMarzios give you that absolutely classical twin humbucker, mahogany/maple cap bodied sound that will take you very well into the realms of the Les Paul type tones, but it is also still its own guitar, with qualities and characteristics that will reward exploring.
In this price bracket, the quality of build, pickups and hardware, has to make it one of the LTD CV 401 one the better choices to check out if this is the kind of guitar you want. And why not? It's a classic format for all the right reasons.