Thursday, January 24, 2013

Gear Review: ESP LTD AW-7 Alex Wade Signature Guitar

Maybe it's a sign of the times - or of my "advancing" years - that there just doesn't seem to be as much new gear to be excited about as there used to be.  Another possibility is that the span between when a new product is announced (at NAMM, for example) and actually becomes available for purchase has either a real or perceived tendency to grow.  When I launched this blog, the Carvin V30M was high on my list of products to review, because I was buying one based on specs, which is pretty much the only option for someone wanting a brand new Carvin product.  I pre-ordered one as soon as Carvin's NAMM announcement was made, and the wait was maddening.  When the amp finally arrived, I didn't have time to really put it through its paces for months, so it was no longer new to the marketplace.

LTD AW-7 Alex Wade Signature Guitar in Blood Red Sunburt finish.

Well, this review isn't for a Carvin amp, but rather for the LTD AW-7 Alex Wade Signature guitar from ESP Guitars.  For those of you who aren't familiar with it, the AW-7 was announced at Winter NAMM last year, but didn't start hitting dealer shelves until well after Summer NAMM.  (I know that Alex Wade is in the band Whitechapel, but honestly wouldn't know a Whitechapel song if I heard one.  Alex posts from time to time over on the forums, so I was familiar with him that way . . . from back when I had spare time in which to visit guitar forums.)  I got to try one out at a local dealer as soon as it arrived, as I kindly asked them to call me the moment they got hold of one, but had only a few minutes to fondle it.  When I came back later to buy it, someone else had beat me to it.  As luck would have it, the shop was able to "hijack" another AW-7 from their dealer rep before it shipped to another store, so I may have bought the last unspoken-for one in the distribution pipeline at the time.  That was last fall.  I didn't actually get around to playing it until shortly before Christmas, and just recorded with it for the first time a couple weeks ago.  Finally, a proper test, and the AW-7 did not disappoint . . . but more about that later.  I review what I buy, and the specs are all the incentive I needed.  Read on!

Over the years, I have grown to prefer the 25.5" scale length over all others.  I don't get along with shorter or longer scales, even if they might offer certain benefits at different tunings.  My other guitars are ALL 25.5" and I had no intention of changing a working formula this time around.  The scale length, "thin U" neck profile (ESP's description) and extra-jumbo frets put this closer to Jackson territory than the flatter profile of an Ibanez or rounder, thicker Schecter.  This is a major factor for me, since most of my guitars are Jacksons.  The bridge is of the string-thru fixed variety that recalls the Fender Telecaster (or hardtail Strat) rather than the more prevalent Tune-O-Matic, which is another selling point for me.  Third, I was very impressed by the six-string version of the DiMarzio D-Activator pickups I purchased for another guitar a year or two back, and was eager to hear what they could do with a low B in the mix.  I definitely wanted a mahogany body (as with my other sevens) for warmth, combined with a maple neck and ebony board for a little "snap" that some wood combinations can't achieve.  The locking tuners, ESP-branded but suspiciously similar to Grovers, are a nice touch and hold tune exceptionally well.  Aesthetics are a consideration for any guitar bound to show up onstage eventually, and the so-called "Blood Red Sunburst" finish has the dark appearance so many metal guitarists like, while still managing to look classy.  The pickguard won't be to everyone's liking, but this is the only guitar I own with a pickguard, and I was glad to have it.  Also, for those who are tired of pointy headstocks, the AW-7 has the headstock that for many years was only offered on the Ron Wood signature model.  Probably not a lot of crossover appeal there, but I dig it. 

Although I have played the AW-7 through everything from the aforementioned Carvin V30M to a little Crate practice amp, I recently started tracking rhythm parts for an upcoming project through a Fractal Audio Axe-Fx II processor.  I'd already done some rhythms with an Ibanez RG7321 equipped with a DiMarzio Blaze Custom bridge pickup, and the tone wasn't drastically different, although I did find that the D-Activator bridge pickup responded a little more consistently to my playing, albeit in rather hard-to-explain ways.  The two guitars have a number of common characteristics - bridge type, body and neck woods, scale length and fret size - so it was an easy transition.  However, the AW-7 stayed in tune much better over the course of the session.  Is it worth the extra money?  Well, even if the quality of common materials were identical and the Indonesian construction of the Ibanez was on par with the Korean build of the LTD (which it wasn't, although not THAT far off) the inclusion of better pickups and locking tuners quickly account for the greater expense of the LTD.  The finish looks amazing, even if the flamed maple is a thin veneer rather than a true maple cap as found on much more expensive guitars.  Tonally, it absolutely buries the no-name stock pickups of many guitars, and I'm glad that ESP and/or Alex Wade saw fit to skip active pickups and go with the D-Activators.  Everyone has different tastes, but I personally am 100% happy.

The specs of the AW-7 may not appeal to those guitarists with a very precise set of requirements, and it's only offered in one configuration with one finish, which means no Floyd Rose or EMG or 27" neck option.  However, if this single offering covers your needs, you'll be hard pressed to find a better seven-string guitar without spending well over $1000.  If it'd shipped with a hard case or gig bag, that would have been nice, but after a few months, that's the only complaint I can come up with.

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