ESP LTD EC-256 Guitar Review

Pros

  • Excellent value for the price
  • Very good build quality
  • Excellent playability
  • Beautiful fit and finish

Cons

  • Generic pickups lack clarity
  • Quality control issues
  • No locking tuners

For decades, the ESP LTD brand has been a trusted choice for inexpensive guitars with a sound quality that belies their low prices. The EC-256 in particular has a sleek look and impressive sonic tone, making it a standout.

If you’re shopping for a budget guitar that will impress your friends and give you clout at the studio and on the stage, this is it. The EC-256 costs less than $500, which is hard to believe considering its premium gold hardware, extra-bound body, and 22 big frets. 

Ahead, I’ll discuss the ESP LTD EC-256 in-depth, covering areas like the guitar’s specs, its design, sound, playability, and more. If you’ve had your eye on the EC-256 but you’re undecided, or if you want a new guitar and you’re open to suggestions, I’d recommend you pay attention to this review.

By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know whether the EC-256 will be the next guitar in your collection. 

Specifications

Here are the specs for the ESP LTD EC-256 courtesy of the ESP Guitars website.

The specs are as follows:

  • Mahogany body
  • Three-piece mahogany neck
  • EC Guitar form-fit case
  • D’Addario XL110 strings
  • Passive electronics
  • ESP LH-150B bridge pickups
  • ESP LH-150N neck pickups
  • TOM & Tailpiece bridge
  • LTD tuners
  • Standard strap button
  • Gold hardware
  • 22 frets from XJ
  • Thin U neck contour
  • Molded nuts, each 42 millimeters
  • Black finish
  • 350-millimeter fingerboard radius
  • 24.75-inch scale

Design

If you’ve seen other models from ESP, especially their EC-1000 (which I reviewed here), the EC-256 is quite akin to those. You’ve got that sleek gold hardware , curvy body with a vintage flair, and the decorative headstock with the mahogany neck in the EC-256. That also puts this guitar in the same camp resemblance-wise as a Les Paul. 

Like the EC-1000 before it, the EC-256 is a metal musician’s best friend, or that of any hard rock shredder. Since the neck and body are especially slim yet the frets are jumbo-sized, playing can feel easy.

The inlays have a flag shape that some guitarists might not find preferable. If you recall my review of the EC-1000, I mentioned how I didn’t like that design feature. Well, the bad news is that the flag-shaped inlays are included with the EC-256 as well.

Can you look past the inlays easily enough? Sure, but their varying shape and odd positioning on the neck does detract a touch from the overall beauty of this guitar.

Unlike the EC-1000, the EC-256’s body has a shiny finish rather than a matte one. This smooth, glossy shininess makes the EC-256 look great in your hands or on the guitar rack. 

The gold hardware is an ideal accompaniment to that smooth black finish of the guitar body, as the tuners on the neck all the way to the strap knobs on the guitar’s body are all gold. The jatoba fretboard, which is a warm color, brings out the gold hardware that much more.

Build Quality

Paying $500 for a guitar may have you questioning the build quality of the instrument. I get it, especially when so many other guitars are upwards of $1,000 or more.

Yet you needn’t worry with the ESP LTD EC-256. Like the other ESP LTD guitars before it, the EC-256 is assembled with care. The construction of the instrument and the guitar materials were meticulously selected for one durable guitar.

The neck, which is U-shaped, is meant to fit naturally in your arms and against your body. That the neck is a three-piece mahogany means it’s quite durable.

The single-piece mahogany body is also built to last. I’ve called other ESP LTD guitars better than Les Pauls, and I stand by that with the EC-256. This guitar is made for playing, be that tough shredding, light strumming, or anything in between.

Once you pick up this guitar and play around on it, you won’t believe that you only spent upwards of $500 for it. The set-neck alone is something you usually only get once you pay double that for a guitar, if not more. 

Electronics

The neck pickups included in the EC-256 are brand-designed LH-150N pickups. The pickups emit 8k to 14k ohms based on where you position the neck. If you’ve played ESP LTD guitars in the past, these new neck pickups aren’t a whole heck of a lot different. They just have a new name and branding.

These pickups do pack a decent punch despite being budget passive pickups. If you’re a metal play who really needs higher output, then you might want to consider swapping these out for EMG Active pickups or Seymour Duncans.You also get a surprisingly awesome tone, better than some bigger brand-name neck pickups out there. 

Sound

Those dual humbucker ESP pickups produce an organic sound that you won’t believe comes out of a $500 guitar. The hot sound, while lacking output, is another trademark, as is the great tone, as I mentioned above. 

Each pickup on the EC-256 includes a pickup selector that works three ways, a master tone knob, and dual-volume knobs. If you want to switch from a push-pull to a coil-split mechanism while playing, that’s all doable with the master tone knob. 

Since you can split the pickups, the tonality offered with the EC-256 is quite versatile. If you want to launch into a clear, crisp solo on this guitar, you can. You can also play heavier riffs quite well.

The sustain of the EC-256 is also noteworthy, especially if you’re into playing classic rock and blues. 

Playability

Included with your guitar are chrome tuners and a tune-o-matic at the bridge for setting your sound. Once you tune the EC-256, I’ve found that it tends to stay in tune so you can pick up and play anytime. If you bend the strings a lot with your style of playing, it’s still rare for this model to get out of tune.  

You might find that you can open up this bad boy from the box the day you get it and immediately begin playing it without doing too much tinkering and setting up. The EC-256’s slim body and U-shaped neck lends this guitar awesome comfort, whether you’re keeping it in your lap while you set up or holding it. 

Weighing 11 pounds with shipping materials, I’d expect the EC-256 to stay firmly within the 8-pound camp, meaning it’s on par with the average weight of a guitar. 

If you need to tote your guitar to and from band practice or the studio or if you want to play around on it for hours, you shouldn’t be left with sore arms by the end of the day when playing this ESP LTD guitar.

The jumbo frets make it easy to hit a lot of notes. That said, one of the issues found in other ESP LTD guitars, such as the EC-1000, does come back to haunt you with the EC-256. 

If you remember my review on the EC-1000, I mentioned that because the instrument is a Les Paul style, reaching the higher frets isn’t super easy to do. That can still be the case with the EC-256 unless your fingers are smaller. 

ESP LTD Guitars vs. ESP Guitars

ESP produces a series of guitars, including LTD, Signature Series, ESP USA, ESP E-II, ESP Original Series, and Thinline Series guitars. Those in the LTD series have a similar look and style to some of the guitars in the ESP USA and especially ESP Original Series.

While the LTD Series includes the ’87 Series, Arrow Series, Black Metal Series, EC Series, EX Series, F Series, H Series, H3 Series, M Series, MH Series, Phoenix Series, SN Series, TE Series, TL Series, Traveler Series, Viper Series, and Xtone Series, I want to focus on the EC Series in particular, comparing it to an ESP Eclipse from the ESP USA Series. 

Features

You will notice some differences between the Eclipse in the ESP USA Series and the EC-256 in the EC Series. For one, the Eclipse has a chambered mahogany body, meaning it has air pockets throughout to give it a hollower feel despite its solid body. The EC-256 just has a mahogany body, no chambering.

The nuts of the Eclipse are bone with an ebony fingerboard, whereas the EC-256 has molded nuts and a roasted jatoba fingerboard. The pickups included with the Eclipse are courtesy of Seymour Duncan, whereas the EC-256 has ESP LTD pickups.

The hardware included with the Eclipse is a variety of gold, black, and nickel that complements the Flamed Maple and Quilted Maple guitar finish. You get only gold hardware with the EC-256, and I already mentioned how good the gold hardware looks against the black guitar body.

The two guitars also share some similarities despite the huge difference in price between them (I’m talking several thousand dollars here). Both guitars feature a Thin U neck made of three-piece mahogany, and they both still have the flag inlays. The Eclipse’s inlays are mother of pearl though. 

Construction

Considering how much more expensive the Eclipse is compared to the EC-256, it makes sense that it has the more optimal, quality construction. The chambered mahogany body impresses, and I quite appreciate the fretwork as well. You shouldn’t notice any sharp edges when playing this premium guitar. 

That said, it doesn’t exactly look like you’re playing an amateur guitar when you unpack the EC-256 from a hard-shelled case of your choosing. Does it have some of the sparkle and flourish you get with the Eclipse? No, but it’s a respectable guitar nevertheless.  

Price

If you want to get your hands on an Eclipse as part of the ESP USA Series, you’re paying $3,499 to start. Compare that to the EC-256, which is only $449. This model is an excellent pick for those on a budget. It gives you all of the core features and design elements of an ESP Eclipse guitar without all the fancy bells and whistles to keep the price down. 

So if the Eclipse and the EC-256 share a handful of similarities, why does the former cost so much more? As I discussed in my EC-1000 review, it’s because these guitars are manufactured using the best materials, and in factories where the labor costs are a lot higher than buying a guitar like the EC-256. 

ESP LTD EC-256 Alternatives

If you still want to compare your options, next, I want to discuss a few more guitars you might consider in lieu of the ESP LTD EC-256. 

ESP LTD EC-10 (Budget Option)

The first of these is another guitar in the EC Series, the EC-10, my budget pick. This beginner-friendly guitar looks a lot like the EC-256 with its sleek black frame, but it’s even cheaper, retailing for $199.

The EC-10 includes built-in LH-100 pickups suitable for a variety of musical genres, from metal to blues, rock, and alternative. The body isn’t mahogany, but rather, basswood that’s contoured for balancing. This guitar is also designed to comfortably mold to your body whether you’re playing standing up or sitting down.

The U-shaped neck makes a return here, but the neck is maple instead of mahogany. The rosewood fingerboard and bolt-on construction are other good features. The fingerboard radius for the EC-10 is 350 millimeters, and this guitar has a scale of 24.75 inches like most other ESP Series guitars.

You even get a gig bag case, but I would recommend buying a hard-shelled case to keep your inexpensive guitar looking good. 

PRS SE 245 Standard

Another guitar in the same vein is the PRS SE 245 Standard. Available for about $600, it’s a touch more expensive than the EC-256, but only by about $100. 

Like the EC-256, the PRS SE 245 Standard has a body made of sturdy mahogany. This also improves the sustain of this guitar and gives the sound more focus, warmth, and richness. A rosewood fretboard lends this guitar smoothness while playing, adding further to that warm and open sound.

The fretboard inlays are PRS birds arranged in the classic pattern. It’s nice to give those flag-shaped inlays a break for once, right?

There is no U-shaped neck here, but rather, a wider, fatter neck that’s supposed to help with your articulation. You might find it easier to reach the frets with the SE 245 Standard. 

Epiphone Les Paul Standard Plustop Pro

Also great
Epiphone Les Paul Standard Plustop Pro

The Epiphone Les Paul Standard Plustop Pro is the closest thing you'll get to an authentic Gibson Les Paul without paying the hefty price tag.

Buy on Guitar Center Buy on Sweetwater

Since the EC-256–like many guitars in the EC Series from ESP LTD–is based on the Les Paul, it only makes sense for me to recommend the real deal. The Epiphone Les Paul Plustop Pro is about the same price as the EC-256, making it a steal.

This beloved, popular guitar features a mahogany body, plain maple cap top, and cream binding at the body and neck. That neck is mahogany with a slim tapered shape not unlike the EC-256. An Indian laurel fingerboard matches the fire-burst tones of red, yellow, and orange featured in the guitar body.

You still get 22 frets as well as a LockTone tune-o-matic, and the gold hardware (along with nickel hardware) is a familiar sight if you were mulling over the EC-256. Plus, you get the name recognition of Les Paul! 

Is the ESP LTD EC-256 Right for You?

Okay, so you know all there is about the ESP LTD EC-256 by this point. Now comes the time to make a choice. Is the EC-256 guitar the right pick for you?

It can be, but admittedly, this guitar doesn’t suit all players.

The price is great, so if you’re on a budget, the EC-256 is a guitar I’d wholeheartedly recommend. Unlike most budget instruments, you get a high-quality guitar that has a lot of the same features as LTD guitars that cost thousands of dollars more.

If you’re new to the guitar and you’re looking to buy your first one, I wouldn’t necessarily say the EC-256 is it. Despite its low price point, it’s not really a beginner’s guitar like the EC-10 is. You’d be better off starting with that guitar, getting comfortable, and then upgrading to the EC-256. 

Some more experienced guitarists might find some of the features of the EC-256 cheap, which isn’t an unfair complaint. Some of the fret ends of the EC-256 aren’t as smooth as they could be, after all, and you can see some blemishes in the finish, especially between the joins. Still, considering what you paid for this guitar, those issues are small potatoes. 

The Verdict

The ESP LTD EC-256 is a budget guitar that doesn’t look or play cheap. For under $500, you can get your hands on an appealing guitar with gold hardware, decent pick-ups, a sturdy mahogany body, and a U-shaped neck for easier playing. With 22 oversized frets and a warm, even hot sound, you can switch musical genres near effortlessly on the EC-256.

I hope this review helped you decide whether the EC-256 will be your next guitar! 

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