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LTD Xtone EW-Z Zebra Wood Acoustic Guitar Review

August 24, 2011







For those who rarely stray from the acoustic guitar world, it would be natural to regard ESP as a shredder brand—guitars for people that play really loud and really fast in a strictly electric environment. The perception isn’t entirely unreasonable. ESP rose to prominence when its guitars found favor among the hair metal set and thrashers like Metallica. So it was with some surprise that I was tasked with reviewing an acoustic from ESP’s LTD line of lower-priced guitars. And I was doubly surprised to find the EW-Z such a nice combination of value and playability. This is certainly more than just another budget re-branded acoustic.

Feels Fast
The EW-Z’s neck feels great—fast, comfortable, and easy. It's nice and wide—1 3/4” wide at the nut, which is great for fingerstyle. It’s built from mahogany and topped with a rosewood fretboard that’s inlaid with big blocks of pearl. The shape is a Thin U Contour—a profile that will be comfortable to shred loyalists—and the frets are extra jumbo, making it quite comfortable to play for long periods of time and a dream for blues bends.

The auditorium-style Zebra wood body is all laminate wood. For 350 bucks that's not surprising, though it might have been nice to see a solid top. The smaller body makes the guitar very comfortable to hold, however, as well as very light and well balanced. The headstock reminds me of Elvis' pompadour—big but sleek and flashy, and the gold tuners (which are also very Graceland-correct) are ESP branded. The rosewood pin-bridge almost seems oversized, but that could be because of the small body and the top being outlined in inlay. The pearl accents on the headstock, at the rosette, and around the body are pretty flashy given the visually striking nature of the already highly figured Zebrawood, but it's an attractive guitar, nonetheless. And players who dig the more extroverted aesthetic of ESP’s flashier electrics will find a lot to like here.

The EW-Z is well-built. There are no gaps at the neck joint or bridge, but I did spy a few minor oversights—a black spot under the finish near the bottom strap button, and some very minor corrosion on one of the tuners—that reflect some of the inevitable sacrifices involved in affordable guitar construction.

The guitar does have a slight nasal edge in the midrange that is characteristic of laminate steel string guitars. But it is offset by the guitar’s excellent sonic balance.

Sound Check
Unplugged, the EW-Z’s tone is much better than you’d expect for the price and construction. The guitar does have a slight nasal edge in the midrange that is characteristic of laminate steel string guitars. But it is offset by the guitar’s excellent sonic balance. The bass is responsive and detailed and the high-end quite lively. Played fingerstyle, you notice the nasal qualities less, and it's really quite pleasant to sit and listen to. It's also extremely comfortable to hold, which makes it a guitar you can carry around all day—from the couch to the studio and the back porch.

The EW-Z comes standard with a B-Band Electret Film Transducer pickup system with B-Band T-35 3-Band Preamp and Onboard Tuner, which is the real bonus on this guitar. Controls include a tuner, phase button, volume and three tone controls—Low, Mid and High—all easy to navigate and right under your nose on the upper treble bout. The tuner is simple, responsive and clear.

Using an L.R. Baggs Core 1 with all the controls on the amp flat, I dialed the bass and mids on the B-Band back to about ten o'clock and boosted the highs to around one o'clock, and was rewarded with rich, gig-worthy tone. The preamp was responsive to tone tweaks and effective at dialing out unpleasant midrange spikes and quack. If you have a half-decent amp or PA, this is an easy guitar to get a good sound out of.

I was able to turn up fairly loud and never heard a hint of feedback. Laminate acoustics do reject feedback a little better than solid wood bodies, which is one of life's little ironies. The wood is less lively and responsive, which isn't the road to an orgasmic acoustic guitar experience. But in amplified environments this approach to construction works great. The B-Band's phase switch is there to help bust any feedback that does occur.

The Verdict
Even amid the rush of lower-priced but highly playable acoustic guitars, the LTD EW-Z stands out as solid contender. The Zebra wood version is attractive, comfortable, plays great and sounds terrific plugged in. It’s comfortable, easy to play, and has everything you need to plug in and gig in any situation right out of the case. The pickup system sounds great and is extremely easy to understand and use. And whether you’re shopping for your first amplification-ready acoustic or are a more seasoned acoustic player looking for a backup guitar, this LTD is a sweet deal.

Buy if...
you want a super playable gigging guitar with electronics that won’t break the bank.
Skip if...
you want tradition, a killer acoustic tone, or an American made guitar.
Rating...


Street $349 - The ESP Guitar Company - espguitars.com