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My initial reaction (to do with needing another Strat copy like a boil on the bum) was probably unfairly negative, and connected more with the agonies of giving up the fiery dummy than the undoubted virtues of the ESPs.
ESPs' wrinkle seems to be copying upmarket copies and identifying with the vintage/custom image. The trouble is, Made In Japan stickers still reek of guitar marketing rather than guitar making. Time will tell if ESP's technical improvements will outweigh the fact that the Squier has the great juju name-too-holy-to-speak written on it.
The ST454 is a copy, and though the review sample had a Peavey-ish headstock, apparently the guitars for the UK market will only copy one make at a time. It has a flatter fingerboard than you'd normally expect, so theoretically you can have a low action and bend without choking. This possibility was not exploited by the review sample, which was uncomfortable and high at the bone nut.
The output is low, kicking around the 100 millivolt level when strummed, and sounds very pretty indeed. Tonally, it is certainly on a par with Tokais and Squiers, and way ahead of Michael Metro-type cheapos.
The flatter "fingerboard" – actually the frets are banged straight into the maple neck as usual – lips out over the scratchplate to accommodate a 22nd fret. The cost of this is that if you want to get the scratchplate off you have to undo the neck as well, as the scratchplate has to lift out vertically so pickups can clear cavities.
The sample was not shielded well, just a bit of foil on the scratchplate around the controls, The five-way was a DM50 Jappo, in my experience likely to get noisy and unreliable fairly quickly if not squirted religiously, nay, fanatically, with contact cleaner/lube.
The 250k linear pots I go along with happily, but I would suggest that in view of the low output, this is an ideal candidate for the boost/bleed circuit I mentioned a few months ago. This guitar needs something if it is going to get at all heavy.
The machine heads appear to be Kluson copies, and are rather suspiciously brightly chromed – I may be ungenerous, but I wouldn't be surprised if they peeled quite early. The lightly set-up tremolo is nothing new, and predictably destructive of tuning. I guess that with these things you get used to bending twice as far as you need – as you put extra tension on the string, the bridge tips up and lets it off, sod it! It's lousy for steel licks because of this.
Since meeting a soft finish on a Squier, I went straight for the sunburst polyester with a sharp fingernail. Likewise the semi-matt cellulose on the neck, but both passed the test that the Squier failed miserably, and remained undented. It is actually quite surprising how often different makers' sunbursts fail to harden fully – quite often the addition of stain cocks up the lacquer-to-catalyst ratio – and it is reasonable to expect that a modern finish should be harder than an average fingernail.
The sample Eclipse varies from maple neck/mahogany body catalogue spec by having a rather nice ebony fingerboard, but the fret slot ends have not been filled properly – a surprising omission at this level and from this distributor. Buck up chaps, it's nearly tea-time.
I haven't quite figured this type of guitar's place in the scheme of things. There is a nearly-Albert-Collins sound to be coaxed that would improve with a vintage single coil back pickup, or at least a coil tap. The front pickup is nicely PAF-ish, but the guitar's structure precludes real warmth. The 500k tone control is not very good – 250k linear every time please, unless there's a bloody good reason. There is treble loss on volume reduction, and in view of the potential character of the guitar, I believe a bypass capacitor is essential to stop it going flabby.
The trem system here has a nice clean two-point fulcrum, but the guitar needs either masses of grease in the nut or a nut lock if the trem is to be much real use. As it is, the tuning doesn't hold up.
It all looks pretty good though, funereal and doomy. But the moody drama is only skin deep and as yet doesn't extend to performance. A couple of little mods though, and it could really be something. Now I know a little circuit that might just...
I guess I'm happier about VFM on the ST454; Jappos listing at over £400 need to be a little more convincing than the Eclipse. It's actually 2432 and a third Mars bars for the inflation conscious.
But I love the gig bags. Each one is a sort of plastic cross between a Reunion Blues bag and a Woolies shopping bag. It'll take a Strat, is padded nicely, is reasonably waterproof, and is dead easy to nip round town with. Watch out for pedestrians close to the kerb on corners if you take one on a bike – you could take someone's teeth out with the headstock end.
Thousands of pop musicians reckon the Fender Precision is the definitive bass guitar. For a good 20 years or so, Fender held a virtual monopoly over the market, and for very good reasons.
Gibson and Rickenbacker were the only real competition, and even then Fender had the options covered with the Telecaster and Jazz basses. Young people (myself included) would spend wet Saturday afternoons shuffling past Sound City and Orange Music in London's west end, covetous eyes glazing at the sight of a maple neck or a split pickup.
Japanese copies hadn't really 'arrived' at that time – you'd see the odd lookalike, but nothing very sophisticated, and most of them bore the Hong Kong touch. The Precision, and to a degree the Jazz, was simply the tops. Its capabilities were well proven (try to visualise the number of hit records in the 1960s and 1970s indelibly stamped with the sound), and today, as much as ever, it still looks the part.
By the 1980s, though, the Japanese had more than caught up in terms of quality, and it had also become clear that Fender components were often produced in Mexico or Japan in any case. At present, Fender themselves offer an endless range of permutations of the standard bass that everyone else now produces instead. Thus, the ESP Traditional is a 'standard' Precision down to the last detail (ie the logo on the headstock).
The neck is made of maple, and the body from alder, coated with satin-finish cellulose and polyester respectively. The review sample was a kind of washed-out lilac colour, with the aluminium scratchplate and all hardware finished in gold – an optional extra, by the way. This combined with the yellow maple fingerboard was visually hard to cope with during daylight, but I suppose it looks all right on stage.
The sculpted body is of exactly the same shape and dimensions as the Fender, and so is everything else. Pickups are very loud and pleasingly true to form, tonally speaking, with no troublesome buzz in evidence. Being of the passive variety, the circuitry is hiss-free and the volume and tone controls worked effectively (although on this example they both sat on their spindles at strange angles, wobbling as they were rotated).
The bridge has no guide tracks for the string barrels to follow, but parallel grooves have been scored on the actual barrels to permit sideways shifting of strings. Spanning the fingerboard are 21 medium-gauge frets, carefully installed and ground very well at the edges. The nut is made from bone.
Apparently, all stock models will have Precision-style headstocks, too, as opposed to the Tele-shaped one sent for review. Even the screws for the scratchplate are positioned identically to those of the original! There may be no innovations, but the ESP is a fastidious doppelganger.
Following the hallowed Precision design so faithfully would seem no bad thing. The Fender, nevertheless, is not without its faults, so that while boasting all the undisputably good characteristics, the ESP also features the Fender's dive-bombing, overbalanced neck, and its rather flappy string tension (which can result in irritating clacks and bangs if the action is not set on the high side).
The lightweight bridge, too, is a rust-prone muck-trap, just like Fender's.
The ESP is a good quality, well-made bass; better perhaps than many of its competitors. But it must also be admitted that no expensive groundwork or heavy inspiration was required of the makers. For roughly the same money you can obtain a Precision with 'Fender' written on it – or virtually any other name for that matter. Or, dare I say, for £100 less, you could buy a secondhand Fender with character thrown in, and spend the balance on new clothes and a most stylish haircut.
ST 454: £294
Traditional Bass: £325
One Two Testing - Jul 1984
Donated & scanned by: Simon Dell
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