There are three little letters that always get us hot.
No, we don't mean SEX or TNT. We're talking about ESP: dark overlords of metal gear, outfitters to Messrs Hetfield, Hammett and Laiho and, if we're being realistic, purveyors of the kind of top dollar forbidden fruit that we've long accepted we'll never own.
And so it falls to three other little letters: LTD and the new MH-330FR to at least partially fulfil our schoolboy fantasies. As silver medals go, it's a pretty damn good one. It might be an 'entry-level' line, but LTD kicks ASS.
We say 'new', but gearhounds will be well aware of the MH body shape that has been doing the rounds at countless price points for yonks and would almost be - whisper it - a little dull if the elongated Strat vibe wasn't such a great handler. Similarly, the U-profile maple neck has merely been transplanted from the existing models (albeit bolted, unlike the top dollar thru items).
The reason for our excitement hinges on those two black brickettes at neck and bridge - ESP's new active ALH-200 humbuckers, which we'll be mentally pitting against their spiritual rivals from the mighty EMG. That, combined with the waggle of a genuine Floyd Rose Special floating vibrato, makes for a heavyweight package at £649.
There's only one finish available, but thankfully it's an inoffensive Electric Blue that makes the most of a pretty gorgeous carved top. Indeed, this instrument looks so sleek and ergonomic that it's a surprise to pick it up and feel the weight of all that mahogany.
It doesn't feel cumbersome, though, thanks to the run of the neck. The fretwire protrudes just a little at the edge of the board and the weeny fret markers aren't the best signposts during legato runs, but in application, it's a slim, smooth, speedy platform in the LTD tradition with an unobtrusive heel and a floating vibrato whose cavity facilitates extreme dive-bombing. We've played this all before, but it's still a thrill.
There's a lot of timber here, and a whole lot of sound when you plug in with the warmth of undiluted mahogany ringing out rich and dark. Sometimes, active humbuckers seem to break into unwanted crunch when you play hard on the clean channel, but these ESP items stay deliciously classy for clean chords, serving to widen this model's appeal far beyond non-metallers and out to blues and even jazz noodling.
The real test, of course, is over on the dark side. We slammed all three settings and we liked what we heard. The neck unit supplies your basic rhythm crunch, with massive sonic weight behind it and more sustain than you'd expect.
Flick over and the bridge voice is muscular, aggressive and insistent with the sneer of a petrol-soaked Les Paul. Put a gun to our head and we'd say it's not quite as brick-wall brutal as an active EMG. The difference between settings isn't quite as marked as between an 81 and 85, but this is a top drawer sound for modern metal and the icing on a superior guitar.