Any guitar that features a flat top, double cutaways, dual humbuckers and a locking Floyd Rose is typically pigeonholed as a “shredder’s guitar,” suggesting a predetermined limit of expression and application.
In fact, the platform was originally conceived to correct performance-limiting design flaws and, consequently, addressed the requirements of technically proficient virtuosos, helping them to develop their talents fully.
A handful of modern luthiers have refined the style over the past 30 years, and ESP now joins this small club with the new, Japanese-built E-II Series ST-2. (The E-II guitars replace the company’s Standard Series.) It’s a true player’s machine that rivals the finest contemporary guitars for playability, and at less than half the typical price.
ESP traditionally builds guitar bodies from alder or ash, largely because these are the tonewoods that look best when stained. However, as a first for the company, the ST-2 offers a basswood foundation topped with flamed maple. (Basswood is preferred by some players for its ability to produce clear, balanced tones through high levels of gain.)
The 25 1/2–inch maple neck has a rosewood fingerboard and is bolted into an ideally leveled pocket, maximizing attack characteristics and ensuring that the string action is nearly identical across all 22 extra-jumbo frets. The neck’s U-shaped profile is thin by any standard, but it’s just chunky enough to provide stable resonance and completely formed tones—you won’t find a weak note anywhere on this neck.
An original Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo floats on the same angle as the neck in a pull-up-friendly route. DiMarzio’s Steve Blucher created the direct-mounted, split-coil humbuckers to specifically match the ST-2’s intended versatility. The single-coil tap is activated by pulling the tone pot, and the controls are closely spaced below the bridge pickup where the picking hand ends its strumming arc, parallel to the free-hanging whammy bar. The right-angled output jack is another nice touch and is ideally positioned so that the guitar’s cord can be tucked behind your strap.
Plugged or unplugged, the ST-2 is acoustically correct, presenting tones that sound rich but are never out of balance or lacking definition. Through a clean amp, the guitar exhibits bass attack that is pleasantly soft, with deep and uncolored overall tonality. Singlecoil mode maintains the humbuckers’ volume and is expectedly more crisp but without squawk or Texas spice.
As more gain is introduced to the humbuckers, the bass becomes tighter and the DiMarzios’ complexity is more apparent. Clarity isn’t diminished by higher gain. On the contrary, the ST-2 seems to breathe deeper and respond more dynamically when handling a hot signal.
For the most part, the ST-2’s voice, attitude and nuance are created by the player’s touch—it does exactly what it’s told.
LIST PRICE $2,558
MANUFACTURER: The ESP Guitar Company, espguitars.com
A push/pull tone pot taps the humbuckers for single-coil operation, offering more tonal cut without altering volume. Low, buzz-free action and consistent note volume are evident across all 22 extrajumbo frets, creating a near-perfect playing experience.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Whether you want a guitar that can keep up with your fingers or one that delivers sonic balance and uncompromised performance, ESP’s E-II series ST-2 is the valedictorian of 2014’s midpriced class.