ESP Phoenix-II Electric Solidbody Guitar
ESP Guitars, espguitars.com
Originally published in Guitar World, January 2010
The ESP Phoenix-II is a great choice for anyone who loves the classic curves of a Firebird but prefers the features and playability of a modern ax.
In its original“reverse” form, the Gibson Firebird is one of the all-time coolest guitar designs, but it always seems to be overshadowed by its other radical-shaped cousins, like the Explorer and Flying V. The Firebird is distinguished from the flock by several uncommon deviances, including a neck-through-body design and reverse headstock. In addition to looking pretty damn cool, the guitar is exceptionally well balanced and comfortable to play.
With the Phoenix-II, ESP resurrects the reverse Firebird body style while it introduces a few differences that keep the guitar from being a clone of the original. The result is a guitar that combines classic aesthetic appeal with modern performance benefits designed to please a wide variety of players. If you’ve always loved the look and feel of a classic Firebird but your tastes lean more toward contemporary pickups, hardware and setup, the ESP Phoenix-II will light your fire.
While the Phoenix-II features a neck-through-body design, its neck is made of maple rather than a laminate of mahogany and walnut. Like a Firebird, it features two mahogany body wings attached to either side of the maple center block, but the wings fit flush against the back surface and are thicker than the Firebird’s. As a result, the Phoenix feels a little heavier and more substantial, but its generously contoured waist retains all the playing comfort of the original design.
The wood on the Phoenix’s neck is sealed but unpainted, so it has the raw feel of exposed wood, and it has a thin, U-shaped contour with that flat, fast action that so many players prefer today. With its 25 1/2–inch scale, the neck feels more like a Fender than a Gibson, although its smoothly polished extra-jumbo frets, flawless bound ebony fingerboard and 1.65-inch nut width will help Gibson players feel right at home. Pearl flag inlays decorate the fingerboard, giving the Phoenix a classy, deluxe appearance. Like other ESP Standard Series instruments, the Phoenix-II is equipped with premium-grade hardware, including Gotoh Magnum locking tuners, a Gotoh Tune-omatic bridge and stop tailpiece, and Seymour Duncan JB (bridge) and ’59 (neck) humbucking pickups. All of the hardware is chrome finished, which provides a classy complement to the Snow White and Midnight Black finish options and the instrument’s overall two-tone styling. Controls are stripped down to just a master volume and a master tone control, with the three-position pickup selector switch located conveniently between the knobs.
ESP guitars are renowned for their outstanding playability and fast action, and the Phoenix-II is no exception. The frets are big, wide and meaty, but thanks to their relatively low height and smooth, flat profile, they allow your fingers to glide over them with ease. Whether you play with a light touch or prefer to dig in deep, the frets ensure that every note rings through with clarity and outstanding definition. The gentle, slightly flat curve and thin depth of the neck profile, combined with the neck’s raw wood feel, allow you to play as fast as you please but still keep your fretting hand nice and steady when you want to shift down to a lower gear.
As mentioned above, the guitar is somewhat heavy, but the curvy, contoured shape is so comfortable that you don’t really notice its heft. The body is very well balanced, and it’s comfortable to play even when you’re sitting down.
Thanks to the maple center neck-through-body block, 25 1/2–inch scale, reverse headstock and extended lower bass bout, the Phoenix-II delivers bright treble sparkle and incredibly deep, well-defined bass with almost instantaneous attack. The thick mahogany body wings prevent the overall tone from becoming overly bright and twangy, keeping the midrange focused and full. The Phoenix sounds like a hi-fi version of an SG with a wider frequency range, more responsive dynamics and improved sustain. Whether you play classic rock or modern metal, the Duncan JB and ’59 pickups sound exceptionally full-bodied and articulate with everything from clean to distorted amp settings.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The ESP Phoenix-II is a great choice for anyone who loves the classic curves of a Firebird but prefers the features and playability of a modern ax. This instrument is no vintage throwback but rather the guitar equivalent of a customized vintage car: built on a familiar looking base but modified with contemporary styling and high-performance parts.
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