LTD ST203 FR
Generally associated with all things pointy, metal and savage, LTD - little brother to the mighty ESP - has also made a name for itself among a different type of player.
With the likes of Ronnie Wood and Richie Sambora also listed on the roster, the LTD ST203 FR makes perfect sense, with a pre-aged look that's perfect for classic rockers and has enough hardware onboard to remind players of the brand's heavy heritage.
"There's something for everyone here, thanks in no small part to the HSS layout and endlessly playable neck."
At a shade under £500, this is the perfect guitar for folk who can't afford the stretch to more expensive relics but still like it when their guitars are given the rough and ready treatment.
The first bite is always with the eye, and the main attraction here is clearly the finish. If anything, it's a little too clean, too nice, and instead of feeling authentically scuffed, it's more pleasantly buffed. While that might showcase the underlying alder body rather nicely, it certainly doesn't feel like it's had several generations of nuclear-grade axe abuse.
On top of that, all of the hardware from the gleaming Floyd Rose to the machineheads, as well as the controls, the scratchplate and the pickup covers are shiny and new-looking, rendering the whole 'pre-aged' charade slightly redundant. That said, the build quality all round is flawless and nicely set up straight out of the box.
At the sharp end, the ST203 strides confidently ahead of much of the competition at this price point. Incredibly versatile, there's something here for everyone, from Hank Marvin pluckers to Jimi freaks and metalheads alike, thanks in no small part to the HSS layout and the endlessly playable, all maple 25½-inch scale neck loaded up with massive XJ frets.
Played clean, the authentic Strat-a-like twang from the neck pickup makes for a bright, nicely rounded tone. Given a bit of valvey gain, the bridge humbucker roars into life, tearing into riffs and giving proceedings a bit of extra bite that's a perfect match for heavier styles. Pair it up with the Floyd Rose Special and you'll be dive-bombing in a flash.
The real debate here is whether you'd plump for the LTD over one of the many doublecut derivatives in this price point. We reckon it comes out fighting.
The ageing isn't perfectly authentic, but it will look great onstage, it offers enough features and tonal diversity for a range of styles, and it plays like a monster, which is really all that matters. Essentially, the ST203 FR is a lot of guitar for not a lot of money.
Massively versatile. Great value for money.
The ST203 FR faces tough competition in a crowded market, but although the aged finish might be a little off, the playability makes this guitar stand out from the crowd.
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No. of Frets
1x ESP LH-150 (bridge), 2x LS-120 (middle and neck). Controls: Volume, tone, 5-way switch