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ESP LTD M-17

Review: ESP LTD M-17 (what does a budget seven-string guitar sound like?)

ESP are best known as a metal brand. They go into some pretty pointy efforts.

In line with that, is the range of seven-string guitars they’ve made. I’m not much of a metal player, but I was curious, and wanted something cheap and cheerful to play around with. I guess I mainly wanted to find out of seven-string guitars could be applied to genres I actually play: stuff like rock, blues, and maybe some grunge.

This one is part of their LTD range of guitars, which is aimed at affordability. 20 years ago, this would also mean that it was awful, but the build quality has improved immensely, and keeps getting better.

Make no mistake: I opted for the M-17 because it was cheap, but I know LTD have a solid reputation as a brand. I don’t have any intentions of gigging or recording with this. Well, not recording anything ‘proper’ – I’ll never rule out recording some experimental nonsense!

Construction type? Bolt-on
Body material? Basswood
Neck material? Maple
Fingerboard material? Rosewood
Number of frets? 24
Pickup configuration? ESP-designed humbuckers

Parts

I like to really consider the parts of prospective new guitars, before parting with money for them – and then evaluate them when the guitar arrives.

First thing’s first: the body material is basswood. A common material in guitar construction, particularly with guitars from the east. It’s not as dense as mahogany, so that helps keep the weight down a bit.

I haven’t bought this guitar for gigging though, so that’s not much of an issue for me.

It comes with a bolt-on neck, which, again, is standard in guitars at this price. There are so many discussions amongst purists about how it affects the tone, but with a guitar this cheap, it doesn’t feel like it’s a discussion worth having!

The humbuckers are ESP-designed. This means they were designed at their US or Japanese base, but still made on the cheap somewhere in the east. I love being proven wrong about such things, but it’s usually the pickups where cheaper guitars fall over.
The M-17 comes in a black finish. I know I said I wanted a seven-string for seeing if it could do things beyond metal, but when a guitar comes with no finish options other than black, they’re fairly defining their market! If ESP were going to diversify their audience, it won’t be with the M-17!

The rest of the hardware is unbranded, likely from a manufacturer who makes generic ones for all budget guitar makers. That’s not to say they’ll break if you look at them, but it’s definitely one of the points that’s keeping the cost down.

Construction

ESP LTD M-17

Giving the guitar a quick once over with its construction in mind, and it all looks fine – no alarm bells ringing!

The bolt-on neck joint looks securely attached to the body, with a clean, professional finish. The actual joint sits flush with the body, with no gaps or oddities. It doesn’t look forced either – it looks like it’s just sitting comfortably. There are no signs of glue residue either, which is alway nice.

The black finish on the body is also perfect, with no blemishes. If it wasn’t for how ‘ordinary’ the guitar is, it could be something much pricier.

Peering down the length of the neck, and it everything seems in order – it’s straight and even. With guitars at this price, you won’t find any over-finishing or lacquering that you might find on other instruments.

The single-sided machineheads look sturdy, both in terms of how they hold the strings, and how they’re attached to the headstock. I do like to give them a shake and a poke on a new instrument, just to make sure nothing is rattling!

The fingerboard looks clean and tidily finished – again, not a blemish or ding in sight. There’s no binding on the neck of guitars at this price, but running a finger along either side, suggests that this won’t be a problem.

Tones

ESP LTD M-17

The best part about reviewing a guitar!

Before plugging in at all, I ran through a few chords, riff and solos to see if anything stood out as concerning, that might reveal a flaw in the guitar that would go unnoticed under a bunch of overdrive and effects. It sounded fine, with everything ringing out as it should.

My amp is a British-style, 30 watt, all valve combo, with a 10 inch speaker. It’s lush. It’s also considerably different to what the likely/target market for this guitar will be playing through. The price of this guitar puts it squarely in the beginners’ category, who will be more inclined towards solid state amps.

My go-to EQ setting on my amp is bass at four, with middle and treble each at six. It’s a broad setting that I use for humbuckers and single coil guitars, that for the most part let the guitar’s natural balances do its thing.

I went straight for what this baby is designed to do – cranked the volume and gain. The pickups were a little bit buzzier than I’d like, but, you get what you pay for.

Running through the various pickup selection options, and they were OK. They did the job, but I did think there was a lack of definition, most notable when playing solos, even on the bridge pickup, which really should be clarity-central

Rolling off the volume and gain, which is where my playing would normally sit for blues-inspired classic rock, and unfortunately the muddiness of the pickups persisted.

Playability

The action on this is a bit high, but it’s nothing that wouldn’t be solved with a setup. I don’t think I’d spend money on a professional setup for a guitar at this price, that’s only going to be used at home, so I’d be inclined to head on over to YouTube and see what help they can provide.

If you’re new to seven-strings, as I am, I won’t pretend this won’t feel massive and weird at first, but when you’ve played it for a little while, it will actually feel pretty comfortable. I guess it’ll take a little time of bouncing between six and seven strings for it to start feeling completely natural.

It’s important to be realistic about what to expect from this guitar. Will it feel as good as a US-made, mahogany-bodied, ebony fingerboarded guitar? Don’t be silly.

But that’s not the point of this guitar. The point of this guitar is for messing around with, whether you’re an experienced guitarist looking to experiment, or a teenager in a basement.

ESP LTD

All in all, the M-17 certainly met my expectations.

Sure, my expectations were low, but I’ve been playing around with guitars for long enough now to know what I’m looking for, and can make a usually-accurate educated guess.

This won’t be finding its way to Facebook marketplace just yet.

I’m happy out widdling around with this at home. If it does invoke a moment of inspiration that I want to follow up, I’d be far more likely to borrow a seven-string someone with a more high-spec model for live and studio work, before I’d splash out for a high-end model of my own.

 

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ESP LTD M-17

Parts
Construction
Tones
Playability

Fun to experiment on!

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