Like most mainstream guitar companies, ESP constantly strives to identify gaps in both the market as a whole and within its own catalogue; after all, where there's opportunity, there's the chance to make a nice wedge.
Thanks to the endorsement of a number of A-list metal bands, not least Metallica, Slayer and Children Of Bodom, the vibe of many ESP and the firm's lower priced LTD guitars is intertwined with the dark art of high-octane rock - boasting active pickups, fast necks and a sturdy construction.
"Metal tones are full, expressive and cutting, with the much-reduced middle hump adding to the experience."
This shiny new Indonesian-made LTD 330 Series subscribes wholeheartedly to the ideal. Aimed at players who are meagre of pocket but flush with ambition, it fits snugly between the cheaper end of the catalogue and those models suited to semi-pro players with a bigger budget. Each of the five incumbents feature a bolt-on neck, just one choice of finish per model and come loaded with the new ESP-branded active ALH-200 pickups.
"The new ALH-200 set features ceramic bar magnets to cover any string spacing and to give plenty of punch along with the moderate output coil windings," ESP tells us. "Although active, we wanted to keep more of an organic sound, so players will notice that our pickups do offer a moderate amount of gain, and we feel that players can actually use our active pickups with their existing amps and not feel like they are completely changing their sound."
Do these guitars offer yet more choice or further muddy the waters? We've been looking at four of the five new models - the M-330R, the Viper-330, the EC-330 and the H-330NT - to try to find out.
Why this was deemed to be the one to be finished in snow white is anyone's guess, but the change does allow for other variations in livery. We last saw the mother-of-toilet seat binding on an ESP Formula-II we reviewed in 2010, although the masking here seems to be a little slapdash, especially around the cutaways.
The mahogany body joins the 648mm (25.5-inch) scale maple neck in the customary bolt-on manner, and there's a lip to the rosewood 'board too. The style of inlays here harks back to ESP's earliest days and, as with just about every other modern LTD guitar, the model number graces the 12th fret.
ESP-branded tuners adorn each headstock, including the H-330's cool version, and as with all hardtail Horizons, the strings are secured through the body by six coordinating black nickel ferrules.
Now we're talking. With the only major difference in build from the rest of the LTD 330 Series being the through-body stringing, we can assume that it's made all the difference. Metal tones are full, expressive and cutting, with the much-reduced middle hump adding to, rather than detracting from, the experience.
The neck pickup is a usable mix of warmth and high-end cut for Hammett-style solos. The neck binding makes the side dots quite difficult to see, which is an oversight, but it's still very playable indeed.
Lowering the gain reduces the depth but leaves a disproportionate level of treble, so bluesier styles are better served, again, by flicking to the neck pickup to take advantage of its inherent roundness.