LTD Elite Eclipse-I
2013 sees a major rejig of ESP and LTD products lines in order to create a simplified range across the board, and the new LTD Elite Eclipse-I forms a key part of the new catalogue.
The potted version of what's happening is this: ESP's Japanese Standard Series is being phased out by the end of the year, to be replaced by the E-II Standard Series in early 2014. The instruments will be basically the same as what's available now but simply rebranded, and ESP has told us that it expects to be able to lop something in the region of £200 to £300 off the price of each, which is good news because, fine though the instruments undoubtedly are, they're certainly not cheap.
What's more, the ESP logo will now be reserved for just custom shop models and the Original Series, as well as the lion's share of the Signature Series, which will also be put together in the Japanese facility from now on.
So, where does the LTD Elite banner come in? Todd Binder, an integral part of ESP's product development team, brings us up to date with what's happening.
"LTD Elite bridges the gap between LTD and ESP Standard by offering a high-performance instrument priced slightly lower than the Standard brand," he tells us.
"Unlike other LTD models that are manufactured in Indonesia and Korea, the Elite line is made in Japan at the same facility as the ESP Standard Series. The LTD Elite brand is for players who would love to own an ESP, but simply can't quite justify the price tag that comes with our top of the line premium brand."
The production of LTD guitars will be overseen by ESP USA and the result is that the Elite series, irrespective of what's written on the headstock, can be considered as proper ESP guitars, simply because they're built in Japan by the same luthiers who are involved in the current ESP Standard Series.
Okay, that's enough business: let's get to the guitar…
It may resemble a Les Paul up to a point, but the body is slightly thinner, the top's carve more exaggerated and the neck more modern in feel: it's lighter, too.
The classic combo of a Duncan JB in the bridge and a neck-loaded '59 both boast nickel covers and if you opt for the version loaded with a set of EMG 55/67 humbuckers, the units come with brushed steel covers from EMG's cool Metal Works series.
The combination of Seymour Duncan JB and '59 pickups is a common one and for good reason: in this instance, it gives those classic Les Paul-style tones a shot of pure adrenaline.
In fact, with a DC Resistance of 16.4k, the JB is one of Seymour's hottest humbuckers, which allows the Eclipse to provide rock rhythms that retain their clarity through just about any amount of gain you care to throw at it.
Although the body is thinner than that of a Les Paul, there's adequate mahogany to give sufficient depth to counteract any over-keen treble, a fact illustrated perfectly by the gooey warmth of the neck pickup's performance.
Whether you consider ESP's branding jiggery-pokery to be merely an interesting distraction or an unnecessary and impenetrable over- complication, there's no getting away from the fact that the new Elite range presents the best LTD-branded guitars yet.
With the basic Eclipse-II from the soon-to-disappear Standard Series available at street prices of around £1,600, the Elite Eclipse is also excellent value, especially considering that it is virtually the same guitar.
Whether you've got your head round the branding changes is immaterial really: all that matters is that this LTD Elite offers something for any depth of pocket. For the working player on a budget, it's the perfect mix of affordability with sheer all-round quality. Why not try one and see?