In this age of austerity, everyone's on the lookout for better bang for their buck, and perhaps that's why extended- range guitars have seen such a surge in popularity. A seven-string gives you more octaves for your pound, and the LTD M-17 looks to be one of the biggest bargains out there, providing all that low-end lovin' for just over £200.
Sure, on paper, the spec isn't going to blow anyone away: basswood body, ESP Designed humbuckers, flat black finish... there's nothing out of the ordinary here. However, the ESP-embossed backplate and tuners, not to mention the M-17 inlay at the 12th fret, make the guitar look more expensive than it is.
"The intonation and fretwork on our model are both excellent out of the box"
The through-body stringing is a nice touch, too - it increases sustain and resonance, which proves especially satisfying when you let that low B ring. Speaking of which, the M-17 ships in standard seven-string tuning (B E A D G B E), which, coupled with its six-string-standard 648mm (25.5-inch) scale length, eases the transition for newcomers.
Considering the scale length, it's reassuring that the M-17 retains its tuning as well as it does, especially on that all-important bottom string. The intonation and fretwork on our model are both excellent out of the box, too - again, it's above and beyond what we'd expect for the outlay.
"String definition isn't quite as sharp as the M-17's bigger brothers"
It's only when you plug in that the M-17's price tag starts to rear its not-so-attractive head. The guitar's passive ESP Designed humbuckers are lower output than the active offerings that dominate the likes of last issue's LTD SCT- 607B. That means string definition isn't quite as sharp as the M-17's bigger brothers, and you'll have to crank your amp's gain to really get your palm-muted chug on.
But what chugs they are. Don't get us wrong: these 'buckers aren't the best pups in the pack, but they can still bring the pain with gain. In fact, if you're a seven-string virgin, you might find yourself pumping out so many low-end riffs that you forget about those puny higher strings. That would be a shame, though, because the bridge humbucker isn't too shabby for solos at the dusty end, either.
The M-17 isn't going to replace your Tele for clean tones any time soon - both the neck and middle settings on the three-way pickup selector switch are a little low-end heavy for chord work without some EQ adjustment. But when the gained-up tones are this rewarding, and the neck is so eminently playable, that doesn't seem to matter.
A guitar for all seasons the M-17 is not, but it doesn't cost the earth, either.