Alex Skolnick is among a few guitarists who have achieved multigenre success and acclaim, first as a wild young gun with the iconic metal thrash band Testament, and then as a tasteful and technically impressive jazzbo with the Alex Skolnick Trio.
In recent years, he has become something of a vintage guitar enthusiast. So when ESP approached him about building a signature guitar with his name on it, Skolnick was skeptical that a modern company could create a guitar capable of matching the refined sounds of aged classics.
ESP met this lofty challenge and, after rigorous testing by the man himself, is now offering the Alex Skolnick signature model. I tested the budget-friendly AS-1FM LB, which differs in some details to the high-end version but otherwise offers the same bold response, unblemished build quality and significant tonal versatility.
Features: Make no mistake, the Skolnick signature plank is absolutely a modern-built vintage guitar. Forget about weight-relieving contours and thin necks—this is a thick guitar. Elements of ESP’s Eclipse model are evident in the styling, but its design otherwise harkens back to the roots of great guitar building, demonstrating why it’s so hard to beat the tonal matchup of a thick, single-cut mahogany body topped with flamed maple and married to a beefy but oh-so-comfortable U-shaped mahogany neck.
Contemporary performance-enhancing elements include a TonePros locking Tune-o-matic bridge and tailpiece, precise Grover tuners, Dunlop Straploks and extra-jumbo frets. The Seymour Duncan SH-4 (bridge) and SH-1 (neck) humbuckers have dedicated volume knobs but share the master tone pot, which can be pulled to coil split the neck pickup.
Performance: If handed the ESP Skolnick guitar while blindfolded, I might easily assume it to be a true vintage piece, not just for the Fifties-style neck shape and overall weight but also because of its immediacy and loud acoustic response, which brings to my mind the last few chord blasts from the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” It delivers equally powerful spikes in the low and high mids rather than the centered-midrange focus that makes so many all-mahogany guitars sound similar. This opens the top end beyond mahogany’s typically mellow range, making it highly capable of screaming treble harmonics, pick chirps and serious punch.
Both Duncan pickups are well matched to the Skolnick’s tone, offering enhanced lows and searing treble from the bridge bucker and clear but warm neutrality from the neck pickup. Single-coil tones from the tapped neck pickup are surprisingly snappy and sparkling, yet sound almost like a smooth semihollow when the tone is rolled off.
List Price: $1,356
Manufacturer: The ESP Guitar Company, espguitars.com
The chunky 24 3/4–inch-scale mahogany neck is deep but not wide in the hand, with enough mass to transfer rich blasts of volume and resonance into the loud-ringing mahogany body.
Pulling the tone pot taps the neck pickup into single-coil mode, ideal for blues, classic rock and old-time jazz tonalities.
The Bottom Line: Mirroring Alex Skolnick’s vast musical range and evolved taste, the economical ESP’s LTD AS-1FM LB signature guitar is a true multi-genre instrument that’s capable of delivering world-class acoustic response, impressive volume and versatility.