ESP LTD Viper 256P
Price: $399 (street)
In the protoplasmic days of heavy metal, Tony Iommi slashed away at classics like “War Pigs” and “Iron Man” with a ’65 SG Special, creating a look, sound, and vibe that has lasted decades. Today, this earth-crunching tone is echoed in the ESP LTD Viper 256P, a rather Iommi-inspired axe with enough metal attitude to bring an end to the world.
The LTD Viper 256P’s specs are standard metal-issue. There’s a mahogany body with a set mahogany neck and rosewood board. A 24.75″ neck scale offers 24 extra-jumbo frets, for maximum reach and speed. A tune-o-matic-style bridge and stopbar tailpiece help make intonation adjustments and string changes easy, and electronics include ESP stacked pickups that look like P-90s, a master volume and tone, and a three-way pickup toggle. The guitar is available in black with a white pickguard and see-through black cherry with a blackguard, either of which further conjures that Iommi aura. The black option has gold-finished hardware and the cherry features chrome, while inlays on both include ESP’s popular “flags” on the fingerboard and a mother-of-pearl LTD in the headstock. Other details include a 42mm composite nut and ESP tuners.
The LTD Viper 256P’s weight is along the lines of a Les Paul – hefty, but not bothersome. All told, the Viper is a sleek, simple rock and roll machine. Another interesting fact: the guitar is made in Vietnam and its construction and finish are as good as most other fine axes from Asia.
With a digital modeling amp and half-stack at the ready, the LTD Viper 256P was tough to put down. Just about anything can be played on it, from blues to twang, but it screams for heavy riffing. Ladle on as little or as much gain as you want, it handles all the curves easily but sounds best with a goodly amount of distortion on top. The stacked hum-canceling pickups are quiet, and whether in standard tuning or drop-D, the Viper offers deep chunks and screaming highs to satisfy any crunch-hungry guitarist.
The LTD Viper 256P has a thin, fast neck, yet it’s also wide, evoking a California superstrat. Its setup is on the money and there are no neck or fret issues. Its only debits are the aforementioned body weight and a slight tendency toward neck-diving, but both are part and parcel of just about any SG-style guitar.
In all, the LTD Viper 256P is an affordable hard-rock machine, ready for your most bruising chords and terrifying solos. Strapped into this guitar, it’s difficult not to search your soul for the darkest riffs imaginable and then let them run free on its fast neck and rippin’ pickups. It’s the sound on which heavy metal was built.
This article originally appeared in VG April 2013 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.