So here they are:
ESP Snakebyte BLK - Details below
ESP Eclipse II Vintage Black - Review Coming soon...
LTD Iron Cross - Review Coming soon...
Hi guys, I did not get the 3 guitars at once but it was pretty close. I got them all last month. So long story short, you had probably guessed that I am a fan of James Hetfield. I know how much you love Metallica around here but bare with me
I will concentrate mainly on the Snakebyte for now, because I only had the other two for a couple of weeks. Here is a short demonstration I did with it. You can check the "Guitar only" track in the video description. The Axe FXII XL is with 17.04 firmware (18 came out on the next day, and it really makes a difference)
The first one I got was the ESP Snakebyte BLK James Hetfield Signature. I am currently working abroad in Turkey and there are some amazing deals in the second hand market around here. I got this one for around 2100$ in a perfect condition with the case and all the candy that comes with it. Checked it with ESP Custom support before buying and they confirmed that is indeed Japanese made (SS serial number) ESP.
Scale length: 24.75"
Fingerboard radius: 305мм
Finish: BLK-Black(Also Available in white and left-handed)
Nut width: 42mm
Neck Shape: Thin U
Frets: 22 Xtra Jumbo
Hardware color: Black
Strap buttons: Schaller Security Lock
Tuners: Sperzel Locking
Bridge: Tonepros Locking TOM Bridge & Tailpiece
Pickups: EMG James Hetfield Set
Controls: Vol/Vol/Toggle Switch
Hardschell case: ESP
The first models that came out in 2012 were with the standard EMG 81/60 set, which is a classic combination for metal and Hetfield has been using them for a long time.
I had a lot of guitars with 81/85 sets in the last couple of years and I had an LTD EC-1000 with the 81/60 set. They sounded fine to me but I liked the sound of passive pickups more. One of my favorite sets is the Gibson 496R/500T and that one has high output but clarity and aggressive attack.
Apperantly James wanted the same, combination between the crushing output of the active pickups and the clarity of the passives - so the James Hetfield EMG set was born, and its not a marketing trick. Those pickups really are what he claims them to be in the video:
Setup and intonation:
Luckily I got the guitar from a guy that treated it with care. He was waiting for me outside and it was damn cold, you know how that affects some guitars. I had a TC Polytune that I plugged in the guitar to test and tune it. It turned out that this was unnecessary, because the guitar was in perfect tune (Drop D) and set up with 10-52 strings. I tuned it to (E standard anyway) to try out a couple of Metallica riffs. I noticed that the tuners rotate a bit hard, but later on found out that this is due to misjudgment when restringing. The tuners are locking and they don't have space for 6,5,4 strings to be wrapped around them. If you do wrap the string catches on itself resulting in hard rotation of the tuners. You can also see that since this is my 2nd guitar with tuners in a row (1st one was RG2550 that I did not even keep long enough to restring) I managed to fuck up and put the 1, 2 strings the wrong way round
You can wrap around 1,2,3 strings on the tuners just in case, but 4,5,6 result in harder rotating due to catching, and there is no need because the Schaller locking tuners are holding perfectly. The Tuner keys are too close to each other as expected but that is normal.
As soon as I set the guitar in E standard I decided to test the intonation with the TC Polytune, and i tried 3,5,7,9,12,15,17,19,22 frets on the lower strings. I was used to seeing a couple of cents off in any direction even in some high end guitars that I have, but that thing was bang on. I didn't ask if this was factory setup, probably not. As far as I know SS guitars go out of the factory with 10-46 strings according to a chart in the ESP website, so my guess is that the guitar was re set at some point by a tech. Anyway, the guitar felt just right in my hands in Drop D and E Standard, there was no need for a setup or even restringing. I do that anyway because with every new guitar I like to remove the strings immediately and clean the fingerboard with the Dunlop N1 and 2 set for cleaning and moisturizing the wood. Ebony boards turn darker when you do that and I love it.
Tension of the strings is something very important for me because I tend to play fast trash and palm mute so I need that fast snap from them. I am a rhythm player so I don't worry about bends and such too often. So there was no need for adjusting the truss-rod or the action.
XJ 22 Frets... I had some experience with them on my LTD Eclipse EC-1000FR STBK, which I had for a short time before selling it. Back then I had problems but they were mainly because of my bad playing and misjudged force of pressing the strings against them. Most of the guitars I had before were with Jumbo frets. As you know the XJs are higher than the Jumbo and if you press the string too hard it gets down to the fingerboard making the note a couple of cents sharp. That is something that you get used to with time and you must adjust your playing technique.
Fingerboard: I always had a thing for ebony boards. They are present in most of my guitars and I like them for their dark color and the snap you get (rosewood tends to catch on my fingertips). I can not comment if they affects the sound in any way. I was skeptical about the dot inlays and the snake at the 12th fret at first, but when the guitar was finally in my hands it was a nice surprise:
Bridge and tailpiece: I must stress that my comfort zone up until now were the Les Paul Gibson guitars with fixed bridges. I tried a lot of options - Hipshot, Strings-tru-body, a couple of fixed ibanez bridges, Floyd Rose, Edge Zero, but the tremolo bridges turned out to be a nightmare for me.
So here I had no problem of whatsoever because that combination is to my liking - Tonepros Locking TOM bridge & Tailpiece. I noticed that unlike the Gibson Custom and the ESP Eclipse I had to put my palm a little away from the bridge to get the best of the palm mutes.
Scale length: 24,75" (standard for the LP Gibson guitars) guaranteed comfort for me. It feels different because of the body shape. I managed to get the desired tension with 10-52 DR strings in E Standard and Drop D. The guitar goes from one setup to another without affecting the intonation too much.
Positioning of the pots and 3-way selector switch:
Again comparing that to the LP Gibson was inevitable - I kind of dislike the positioning of the pots in LP and the 3-way selector on top was not that good for me. James seems to also think like this because as you can see on the ESP/LTD Iron Cross guitars the 3-way switch on top is a dummy left there for traditional look, as the actual switch is near the pots at the bottom.
When playing standing up the guitar is perfectly balanced and the bridge volume pot is exactly at my palm when my hand is resting down. The 0 point of its rotation is exactly where I am starting to stretch my hand, and this makes Roll Off extremely easy.
When I had some low end and even medium level guitars I noticed that the pots are not Rolling On/Off the sound at a level pace. With this guitar every position of the pot gives you results and works smooth all the way to the maximum. I managed to get a Crunch, even a bit of clean with light attack on a High gain simulation on 1/10 of the volume pot. This is the result of quality electronics used.
The metal caps of the pots are also better for me than the plastic ones Gibson uses. With the Gibson type I cannot go from 0 to 10 in a single spin because they have larger motion and not so good grip.
There are no tone pots and that could be considered as a con for a lot of people, but I personally never needed one. This guitar is intended for High Gain, Trash, Metal and such. You will not be seeing somebody playing "Somewhere over the rainbow" on it very often.
Neck: Set-Neck construction with 24,75" scale length. The shape of the body positions the neck in front of you perfectly (at least for me) that you have the same easy access from 1 to 12 as from 12 to 24 frets on all 6 strings. That is not a surprise for Explorer users out there.
I started with Thin C Ibanez type necks but slowly moved on to D and Thin U as I realized that I am a rhythm not lead guitar player. Keep in mind though that all 3 of these guitars claim to be Thin U but they are and feel completely different from one another. The Snakebyte fells more like a Gibson neck and the Eclipse feels close to Ibanez necks. The Iron Cross neck is something in between those two.
Headstock: The access to the tuners is not often easy with in-line positioning but that is something I can live with. The Truss-rod is accessible when loosening the screw under 4th string. The shape is almost like a Gibson Explorer but it has been cut in order to resemble snake teeth hence Snakebyte.
As some of you (who doesn't hate Metallica) probably know, James is a huge fan and collector of American muscle/Hot Rod cars. The logo of the ESP/LTD models he has is made to resemble a car logo and the battery cover resembles an old car ashtray. The snake on the 12th fret reminds me of Carl Shelby's logo.
Strap buttons Schaller Security Lock - they are a part of Schaller Strap lock sets that are sold in stores in black, chrome, nickel, gold and others. You can buy the strap buttons separately, and you don't need to spend cash for sets allowing you to use a single strap on multiple guitars. With the Snakebyte and almost every explorer guitar though there is a catch, the front strap button is positioned on the guitar back and not the sides. This forces you to position the other part of the strap lock set that goes on your strap the other way round. So you cannot use this strap with your normal guitars. I use it for the Snakebyte and the Synyster Custom S.
It came as a nice surprise to me that the ESP was fitted with those Schaller buttons from the factory. That may not seem as a big deal to you but when i opened my brand new Gibson Les Paul Custom recently and tried to fit it with the Schaller buttons I found out that the screws on the LP are way bigger. The Eclipse and Iron Cross are not fitted with them as well.
Warning: Dont compromise with strap locks/sets, get them and use them. When I see somebody using a vinyl strap with no locks on it I always cringe. It doesn't matter how expensive your guitar is, don't let it fall and break. A couple of dollars saved from strap locks might cost you a lot more in repairs.
Hardshell ESP Case, that almost dislocated my shoulder during the short walk from our meeting place to the back seat of my car. I couldn't weigh it but from official Premier Guitar information: "The first thing that struck me when I took the Snakebyte out of its case was how light it was. On a shipping scale, the guitar weighed only 7 1/2 pounds, even though the body and neck are built entirely from mahogany. The case alone weighed over twice as much as the guitar at 19 1/2 pounds." That thing is huge.
Here it is compared to ESP Standard Series case, LP Over sized and LP Custom cases:
The case candy was still inside intact: Cloth, keys for the case and a hex key tucked away in the compartment under the guitar neck:
Certificate: I am not going to hide the serial number because the China copies of this guitars are nowhere near and cannot fool you even on photos. There are 3 versions of this signature model: LTD Snakebyte, ESP Snakebyte and ESP Snakebyte Custom.
The LTD Snakebyte is very common guitar with a price tag of under 1000$ in the US and under 1000Euro for Europe. The guitar comes without hardschell case for Europe and its made in South Korea.
The ESP Custom Shop is the top of the line version that James uses on stage and it can be bought for a price of 4000$ to 6000$ depending on your location.
ESP Snakebyte SS(Signature/Standard Series) is the one that I am reviewing. It is made in Japan. When I saw the online ad for it, there was a picture of the certificate and the serial number. I sent an e-mail with pictures and the number to ESP Support. In 2 days they responded that the guitar is indeed ESP Snakebyte BLK right handed, made in Japan for export in May 2012.
The guitar was in perfect condition with a few dings, surprisingly not on the headstock and back edge. What also struck me was the acoustic capabilities of this guitar. Here is a video of the previous owner parting with the guitar when we met at McDonalds. The cash register ladies came to ask for his order... in a self serve McDonalds
I want to point out that the pros/cons for this guitar are strictly subjective. For me the guitar is 9/10 and over. You figure out for yourselves:
- Made in Japan: The craftsmanship, quality, setup and attention to detail shows.
- EMG JH Set - suitable for Trash and Metal
- Body Shape and Comfort - I had never guessed that there would be more comfortable shape than the Les Paul for me. This Guitar is extremely comfortable when you are playing sitting down and standing up. Easy access from 1 all the way to 22nd fret.
- Hardshell case and accessories included.
- Weigh: The fact that it weighs only 3,4kg (7 1/2 pounds) and its perfectly balanced made that guitar my main. People with back problems like me know how rare is to find a Mahogany body/neck guitar that they can suspend from their shoulders for hours.
- Schaller tuners and strap buttons.
- The price of 3000$ for a new guitar might be a bit steep especially when we are talking about a Signature guitar.
- Aggressive sound an design, that limits it to certain musical styles.
- Heavy case that is there for a reason - get to the gym!
- No tone pots.
Thats it, guys, thanks for reading. My name is George Varbanov and If you like this review there will be a lot more coming for guitars such as: ESP Eclipse II, LTD Iron Cross, Gibson Custom Silverburst, Gibson Buckethed, Gibson E-335, Gibson SG Baritone, ESP Horizon II FR STBK, LTD E-1000 FR-STBK, Ibanez UV777 and UV7pwh, Schecter Synyster Custom, some Fender guitars, some low end stuff, a couple of custom made guitars and hopefully anything else I can get my hands on. I make those reviews for a local Bulgarian website/forum and they are in Bulgarian language. I translate them roughly for here so forgive me for any grammar mistakes