ESP Standard Series Vintage Plus
ESP Guitar Company, espguitars.com
Originally published in Guitar World, Holiday 2010
ESP’s Vintage Plus electric takes aged Strat-style guitar building in a new direction by duplicating what’s known as a “player’s guitar.”
There are quite a few companies and luthiers that build aged, Strat-style guitars, mostly for the players who want the feel and tone of a guitar from the Fifties or Sixties without the massive price tag. They typically replicate how a guitar from that time period might look and feel after decades of use, down to the tiniest details. Collectors love the instruments, but performers know that guitars built to the specs of that era can be difficult to play.
ESP’s Vintage Plus electric takes aged Strat-style guitar building in a new direction by duplicating what’s known as a “player’s guitar.” This is essentially a guitar modified with player-centric upgrades—huge frets, a high-performance bridge and strategically placed body contours—to make it faster, slicker and easier to play.
The alder body has a shape that’s identical to a Strat’s and aged with the nicks, dents and appropriately distressed finish wear. Its key modification is the sharply contoured and bi-radiused neck heel, which is cut to allow easier access to the upper frets. The six-screw Wilkinson Vintage bridge has open stamped saddles for the jangly tone that you’d expect, but the Wilkinson’s operation is also very slick, and the smooth saddles can be easily adjusted and are free of sharp edges. The Vintage Plus features three Seymour Duncan single-coil SSL-1 pickups that give every position and combination a classic, low-output tone. Of course, all the plastic parts are aged with a yellow hue to make them look like components that are stained by years of exposure to tobacco and sunlight.
I was in love the minute that I put my hands around the Vintage Plus’ neck. It’s made from a single piece of maple, much like a guitar from the Fifties, so there’s no separate fretboard. Although ESP calls this shape a Thin U Contour, it really feels like a shaved and perfectly rounded neck from the postwar era. The extra-jumbo fretwire makes the Vintage Plus an extremely fast instrument, and it’s exactly the type of modification that many players perform on their older necks after years of refretting has made the fret slots too loose to hold small fretwire. The frets are ideally crowned for supersonic runs, and the fretboard’s flattened radius lets you bend notes to the moon or tap effectively. Mini Gotoh machines are used instead of stamped tuning keys for their tuning stability, sustain and solid tone.
On rare occasions, the sum of a guitar’s parts exceeds all expectations. This is certainly the case with the Vintage Plus. Clean tones through my Mesa Mark III and Fender VibroKing amps were rich, singing, bell-like and ideally balanced. They aren’t especially fat or midrange heavy, but they are highly responsive and free of any harsh overtones. Heavy overdrive settings on my Mesa Mark IIC+ and Fortin-modified Marshall allowed this guitar to show off its wild side with screaming harmonics and ear-tingling string-to-string definition.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I play maybe two guitars a year that I must own at any cost, and ESP’s Vintage Plus is one of them. Fortunately, this Japanese-built plank is highly affordable. Aged looks aside, the Vintage Plus is a player, modified with big frets that aren’t too tall, a neck that melts into your hand, and tones that translate into pure inspiration through the cleanest or most wickedly distorted amplifiers. If you’re a fan of aged and customized Strat-style guitars, the ESP Vintage Plus is exactly what you’re looking for.
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