ESP's M Series has been a hit with high-tech Rock and shred players since the 1980s. It takes a lot to keep a guitar near the top of the heap in such a demanding market, so how does today's LTD model stand up? Tom Quayle flexed his fingers and prepared to find out.
The ESP 'M' series has been a staple of the brand since the mid '80s, appearing in a number of guises and price points over the years with many notable users and champions. When the Korean made LTD range was released in 1995, aimed at the burgeoning US market where cost factors were starting to make high-end Japanese made instruments less attainable, the M series soon became an essential production model that has proven to be massively popular. Sitting at the top the LTD 'M-series' is the M1000 model featuring specs and construction that come very close to the more expensive MII 'Standard' version but at a more wallet friendly price.
The M1000 is a striking looking 'super-s' style guitar with deep cutaways and a pointy headstock, harking back to the 80's shred style but with a softer sculpt on the horns than more modern designs. ESP loaned us an M1000M model finished in white with a maple fret board as opposed to the M1000FM that ships with a flame maple top and rosewood fret board but, other than that, both models are identical. The body is alder with a maple neck and maple fingerboard constructed using a Set-Thru design that differs from a traditional neck-thru or set-neck, in that the neck is routed about half way into the body as opposed to bisecting the entire structure. This is meant to add the sustain benefits of a neck-thru design but with a brighter top end and less expense than a neck-thru construction. In practice I didn't notice a great deal of difference but if it keeps the costs down and gives the benefits of a neck-thru design then it works for me!
The neck is an extra thin U shape (think somewhere between a C and D shape) with 24 XJ or extra jumbo frets and proved supremely easy to play with a profile that was comfortable and fast thanks to the 25.5" scale and large fret size - perfect for modern, technically demanding styles! Shark tooth style inlays enhance the technical look of the instrument and the M-1000 logo inlaid at the 12th fret adds an element of class to the aesthetics. Hardware is all high spec with ESP tuners, locking nut, official Floyd Rose bridge and a pair of EMG 81 pickups in bridge and neck positions. A three-way switch is accompanied by volume and tone knobs with all hardware finished in black nickel, contrasting very nicely with the Snow White finish on the body and matching headstock.
Construction was supreme throughout on our sample, with no flaws to speak of and a very well designed neck joint at the 16th fret on the upper bout and 23rd fret on the lower. Fret access is therefore fantastic and adds to the fast and easy playability of the guitar. The fretwork is equally good, matching many really high-end guitars, with no harsh fret ends or fret lifting/buzzing. Over all, the general build quality came very close to the Standard series guitars with only slight corners cut in terms of hardware verses these more expensive instruments. My only complaint was that the guitar shipped with a very low action that gave some significant buzzing on the higher strings but this was very easily sorted by adjusting the treble-side bridge height to compensate, so is nothing to worry about.
Plugged in, the M1000 LTD is an impressive performer thanks to those high quality EMG 81 pickups. Clean tones are surprisingly dynamic and interactive with a sound that belies the cliched clinical tones sometimes associated with active pickups. Whilst definitely not in the vintage category, these pickups are responsive to pick attack and give very good definition for chords, producing a tone that helps you play at your best rather than picking up every minute nuance of your playing.
With overdriven tones, the EMGs really start to sing and are fantastic for all heavier sounds, whether chugging through rhythm parts or playing fast lead lines. Faster passages are produced with great precision and power chords sound super-tight and responsive. Lower gain tones were good too, but perhaps lacked some life compared to more vintage pickup designs - but then again, who uses an ESP M guitar for low gain sounds?!
Korean produced ESP LTD guitars have a great reputation for a reason and the M1000M is no exception. Whilst it may not be for everyone aesthetically and it obviously won't appeal to the vintage crowd, the M1000 knows its market and caters for it with aplomb. Guitarists looking for a high-tech instrument with quality hardware, or those looking to upgrade from a budget shred guitar to a more sophisticated instrument for less than a four figure sum could do very much worse than checking out the LTD M1000 series by ESP.