REVIEW: ESP's LTD EC-400AT Archtop

Ltd Ec-400At ArchtopLtd Ec-400 At Archtop InsetIntro The LTD EC-400AT Archtop is Japanese guitar maker ESP’s low-cost answer to the much more expensive Gibson Les Paul or even LP Studio. While it comes in two different finishes (Gold and Black,) the metallic Gold model is clearly aimed at guitar players like myself who long for the classically stylish good looks of the mighty Les Paul Goldtop––minus the equally mighty price tag.

Specs Solid mahogany body, 3-piece “set” mahogany neck (24-3/4“ scale length,) rosewood fingerboard (with cream binding & 22 Extra-Jumbo frets,) flag inlays with model name at 12th fret, Seymour Duncan JB Humbucker at bridge, Seymour Duncan ‘59 Humbucker at neck, 3-way pickup switching, two volume & one tone control, Grover tuners, Earvana compensated nut, stopbar tailpiece, tune-o-matic bridge.

What I Liked While the EC-400 Archtop is built in ESP’s South Korean guitar factory, unlike the lackluster components on many comparably priced LP clones the EC-400AT ships fully loaded with high-quality parts.

A pair of real Seymour Duncan Humbucker pickups (not those ”Designed by Duncan“ cheapos,) simple but dependable Grover tuners that actually hold their tune, a traditional tune-o-matic bridge, and ESP’s Earvana compensated nut all add up to a great playing instrument at a rock bottom price.

Those Duncans provide the kind of warm growl you’d expect from a Les Paul, with soaring, creamy solos a cinch when playing in the neck position (I’ve really come to love that ’59 humbucker,) and brutal, ear-damaging crunch from the bridge (and I mean that in the nicest way.)

On top of that, an obvious attention to detail belies the EC-400’s low-rent roots, with a flawless (and might I add thick,) metallic gold top finish, cream binding all around (including headstock,) and a gorgeous and dark stained finish on the body & neck. You pull this guitar out of its box and wonder how ESP can afford to sell it so cheap while a bottom-end Les Paul will still set you back about twice as much.

The neck is comfortable, and reasonably fast, and mine came with excellent set-up straight from Musician’s Friend––action low with no fret-buzz, and excellent intonation up the neck.

What I Didn’t Like Can you say heavy? The EC-400AT is made of solid mahogany, and while that makes for impressive sustain and tone, it also makes for one hefty six-string. Lack of an included case or even a gig-bag is also a minor annoyance that requires some extra out-of-pocket expense… I mean, who’s going to buy a guitar without a case?

Other than that my only frustration with the EC-400 Archtop is its basic pickup controls––two volume knobs and a tone knob… a more useful set-up would be a single volume knob and two tone knobs, but for whatever reason ESP has chosen this current layout for a large portion of their instruments. Not sure what the reasoning is here.

Final Word At just under $600 there are few guitars out there that can match the LTD EC-400 Archtop for caliber of hardware, quality of workmanship, and just plain good looks. For those looking for a cheaper alternative to a middle to low-end Les Paul it’s a no-brainer––Epiphone’s comparably priced LPs don’t even come close.

You might also note that ESP has launched their brand new website in the last few days and it looks like the EC-400AT may now be out of production––replaced by some newer EC models––so if you’re set on purchasing one you might need to act fast… of course the upside is that if you time it right, and keep a hawk’s eye on the guitar retailers, you may be able to pick one up when they start to sell at clearance prices.

Now that would be an offer I just couldn’t refuse.