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This ESP USA Viper features:
For almost 50 years ESP has played many important roles in the music industry. Their humble roots began in Tokyo, Japan as a replacement parts supplier for stringed instruments. ESP quickly became a destination for custom guitar projects and OEM manufacturing. Their custom work launched a frenzy of interest by world-class players, pushing the brand into full guitar and bass production. Fast forward to today, ESP remains a premium manufacturer that caters to nearly every type of guitarist and a full range of price points. Now lets get down to business.
This ESP Viper comes from their USA factory in North Hollywood, California. They make plenty of guitars for ready availability but it's really more of a well-oiled custom shop. The USA builders take classic ESP designs to a new level with world-class materials and an extra focus on artistry. The Viper is clearly inspired by the classic double-cut "Sold Guitar," but it's unique offset shape offers an aesthetic twist and a little extra comfort. The solid mahogany body is nice and thin so it doesn't weigh much but the set-thru Mahogany neck and TonePros bridge ensures a maximum resonance.
The pickups in the Viper are trusty Seymour Duncan Alnico Pro II's. We are personal fans of the looser feel and more open harmonics of Alnico II pickups. Alnico II magnets have a soft magnetic field, second only to Alnico III. That's not a bug, it's a feature. With the weaker, more "uneven" magnetic field the strength isn't as focused on one set of frequencies, so you get a more complex harmonic response. The lows are rounder, the mids are richer and the highs are sweetly softened and less metallic. Through our Little Walter Octal 50 Head, the APH's rang out clearly. The combination of thinner body and deep neck cut aways gave the Viper has a brighter, less mid-focused tone than its heftier brother the Eclipse.
Sometimes an Alnico II neck pickup can be a little muddy and woody, but the dynamics of the Viper are nicely balanced and not shifted too heavily towards the low end. It's a great bluesy sound that is beautifully articulate and retains good note separation even with moderate gain. At the bridge, Alnico II pickups are truly in their element. The nature of the Alnico II magnet is like a magic elixir for bridge humbuckers. The mids, which is the heart of a guitar's voice are balanced with no nasal "bump", and the high end has enough edge to cut, but not maim. There's not the dense, edgy crunch that many metal players are looking for, but it's spot-on for classic rock and blues.
The neck on the Eclipse is what they call their "Thin U" profile. It's naturally comfortable and provides good palm support while being thin enough to get a thumb around the neck when necessary. It's feels a little chunkier than a slim 60's at the first fret, but has very little taper as you move up the neck. Aside from feel it is completely decked out with 3-piece set-thru Mahogany construction, a slate Ebony fretboard and stainless steel Jescar frets. Ebony is a rare and dense hardwood that's jam-packed with natural oils, and combining it with stainless steel frets creates a friction free playing experience. With a 1.650" nut width and modern 12" radius this neck was built for speed and accuracy.
Being fairly "old-school" guys when it comes to guitars and amps, getting to know ESP was an eye opener. We of course knew the ESP brand, but only by it's stereotypical and predominantly heavy metal image. Lucky for us we had some friends at ESP that were eager to show us the many sides of the ESP name. Their designs are familiar yet refreshing, and the USA shop is turning out some truly remarkable instruments. If you thought you knew ESP, think again.