Can this affordable axe nail metal?

You could never accuse ESP of failing to understand its customer base. The vast majority of its endorsees are high-profile metal guitarists - such as Metallica and, erm, Alex Wade - whose signature models read like a who's-who of the genre.

Reeling off the spec for this handsome single-cutaway electric from the Japanese manufacturer's LTD line sounds like a shameless come-hither to anyone who has ever worn a black t-shirt and devoted their waking hours to trying to shred loose the Kraken.

There's a mahogany body with flame maple top, ergonomically brisk thin U-profile neck with 24 extra-jumbo frets, plus the coup de grace: two ESP ALH-200 active humbuckers in the bridge and neck. Woof!

"This is a guitar aimed at intermediary players and those with tight budgets"

The EC-330FM takes design cues from the ESP Eclipse (which took its cues from the Gibson Les Paul), but this is a guitar aimed at intermediary players and those with tight budgets, and as such, there are some concessions on spec.

The neck is bolted on; we've got some ESP tuners, rather than the pricier Gotoh; and the pickup choice is clearly a cheaper in-house alternative to the EMG sets we're used to seeing elsewhere in the ESP/LTD stable.

The EC-330FM is handsome, though - the flame maple is a nice touch, while the pearloid flag fret markers are redolent of ESP's top marques. But this guitar is built to play.

While the EC-330FM looks as if it'd give you sciatica within the week, some smart contouring on the body leavens the load, and with the incredibly comfortable fat fret/skinny neck combo, it makes for a well-balanced guitar that's a lot of fun to play.

The big question is whether ESP's ALH-200 pickups deliver on a similar level to EMGs. Tonally, the EC-330FM is a mixed bag. It's not helped by niggling QC issues on the electrics – TG's test model had a scratchy master volume pot for the bridge pickup. It's no big deal, though: these issues should be picked up before you get your hands on one.

The ALH-200s sound great: thick and warm for cleans and solid hard-rock crunch, with a brightness that helps to add nuance and harmonic response to your lead. The problem is they don't imbue the EC-330FM with great power. And that's what you need when playing some high-gain rough 'n' tumble.

An unconvincing high-gain voice means that the LTD's biggest problem is the competition. It's a very crowded market for high-spec'd metal guitars under £500 – a little extra cash will get you a Schecter Damien 6, with a set of active EMG pickups and a flame maple top.

MusicRadar Rating

3 / 5 stars

Well balanced. Very playable. Decent spec.


Quality control issues. Tones lack power.


In this dog-eat-dog world, the EC-330FM doesn't have enough bark to be heard.

Scale Length (mm)


Scale Length (Inches)


No. of Frets



Tune-o-matic bridge, LTD tuners – black nickel

Fingerboard Material


Neck Material

Mahogany, thin U-shape, bolt-on

Left Handed Model Available


Pickup Type

2x ESP-designed ALH-200 Active

Top Material

Flamed maple

Guitar Body Material


Circuitry Type

2x volume, 1x tone, 3-way pickup selector

Available Finish

See-Thru Black Cherry Sunburst (pictured), See-Thru Blue Sunburst, See-Thru Purple Sunburst, See-Thru Green Sunburst

Review Policy
All MusicRadar's reviews are by independent product specialists, who are not aligned to any gear manufacturer or retailer. Our experts also write for renowned magazines such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Computer Music, Future Music and Rhythm. All are part of Future PLC, the biggest publisher of music making magazines in the world.

Comment on Facebook