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ESP

LTD Xtone PS-1
$449 street, espguitars.com

The ESP LTD Xtone PS-1 is a 24 3/4"-scale mahogany semi-hollow design with a maple bolt-on neck topped with a roasted jatoba (aka Brazilian cherry) fretboard. Stylistically, the Xtone brings a great balance of elegance and grit, and it’s a great starting point for a variety of applications. Straight out of the box, it played great and had spot-on fretwork. The tuners were decent, too. And while I generally prefer a bone nut for greater tonal clarity, given that the Xtone’s nut wasn’t damaged or impeding play, I decided to leave it as-is in the interest of keeping this project as wallet-friendly as possible.

As with the Agile, the ESP’s pickups and electronics were the most obvious place to effect a drastic change in the guitar’s sound and dynamics. However, unlike the Agile’s toaster-style pickups—a relatively rare size and type of pickup to encounter on both the mainstream and boutique pickup market—the Xtone came equipped with standard-sized humbuckers. There are tonsof options in that world. That’s a fact that can sometimes feel both like your friend and your enemy, especially if you’re prone to option anxiety or buyer’s remorse. For this project, we went with a pair of Railhammer Hyper Vintage humbuckers, which aim for the classic tones of old PAF pickups, but with more oomph and tautness in the lower three strings.

The Railhammers came with 4-conductor leads, which gave me the option to add coil-splitting capabilities. There are multiple ways to activate a coil-split, but the most common and easiest is to use push-pull pots. Generally, I like to use Bourns push-pulls pots located in the usual tone-knob location, where they’re out of the way and I can adjust volume without fear of accidentally changing sound mid-set. Push-pull pots give you the same basic use of a standard pot with the added functionality of a DPDT (double-pole, double-throw) switch. However, wiring pots for coil splitting is more involved than your standard 2-conductor connection. On the bright side, a quick online search will yield detailed diagrams for a variety of wiring options that all achieve the same result. (For specifics on wiring this and other more-involved mods in this feature, check out our Mod Garagearchives, as well as the resources on SeymourDuncan.com.)


Photo 5 — The Xtone’s modded control cavity now features Emerson Custom 500k volume pots (bottom) and Bourns push-pull tone pots that enable coil-splitting for each pickup.

Like the Agile Harm 1, the Xtone’s original pot-shaft routes weren’t wide enough to accommodate the Bourns and Emerson upgrades, so I enlarged them using the same endpin-jack reamer drill bit. For the volume controls, I used Emerson Custom 500k solid-shaft pots to give the guitar that sweet, reliable sweep. The tone controls feature Emerson paper-in-oil capacitors, but with a lower value than what we used in the Agile, since I didn’t think most players would want to roll off as much treble with the Xtone (Photo 5). I also installed a Switchcraft jack for good measure, while around front I added chromed solid-brass knobs to the new pots, so they’d look as good as they sound, while also having a vibe similar to the new pickups, as well as our next mod.

In the world of locking tremolos, Floyd Rose has long been the industry standard. Whether you favor Van Halen-style dive bombs or Dimebag-esque pulls, few substitutes are on par with it. However, structurally, most Floyd-equipped instruments are more on the Strat end of the spectrum than the more-Les Paul-like guitar we’ve got here. And the Xtone’s semi-hollow construction complicates things even further. It would be tricky, if not impossible, to route it out to accommodate the trem block that extends perpendicularly from the underside of most fulcrum-style bridges—never mind the tremolo-spring assembly we’d need to somehow install in the back of the guitar!

I admit I was skeptical about the Floyd Rose FRX’s capabilities at first, but, once everything was set up, I was impressed. It holds tuning great and operates exactly as it should.

Virtually all fulcrum tremolos—including Leo Fender’s original Stratocaster vibrato, the standard Floyd Rose, and the many similar designs the Floyd has inspired—require these body cavities to accommodate the mechanisms that facilitate the tremolos’ “floating” action. Thankfully, Floyd Rose’s surface-mount FRX model eliminates need for the trem block and the trem-spring cavity, enabling addition of legendary Floyd functionality, with very little permanent modification, to any guitar with a stop tailpiece. That said, while the FRX does greatly simplify the Floydmodprocess, it still requires you to deal with the usual complications and back-and-forth adjustments of getting a locking-nut-and-floating-bridge set up to work perfectly. (For the nitty-gritty details, check out PG’s Guitar Shop 101 article “How to Set Up a Floyd Rose-Style Trem.”)

The first step in installing the Floyd Rose FRX is to remove the guitar’s strings, as well as the stock stop tailpiece and Tune-o-matic bridge. We’ll also remove the threaded bridge-post inserts and the tailpiece studs, but leave the original tailpiece bushings embedded in the body.

The FRX features three main pieces: the locking-nut assembly, the bridge itself, and a base plate to which the bridge attaches. The FRX base plate mounts to the existing tailpiece bushings embedded in the guitar’s body using two new mounting posts (included) that thread into the bushings (Photo 6). Don’t tighten the new posts all the way down, though, because you don’t want the base plate to be flush to the body. (In Floyd Rose’s official installation how-to video, the inventor himself recommends starting out at a height of 5/8"to 3/4".)


Photo 6 — In the foreground you can see that the original Tune-o-matic bridge posts have been removed (left), and the new Floyd Rose mounting posts have been threaded into the original tailpiece bushings (right).

The front of the FRX’s base plate has two screws for adjusting the angle at which the front portion conforms to the top contours (or lack thereof) on a variety of guitars, from carved tops like the Xtone to flatter-topped instruments such as, say, a Gibson SG. Before you screw these front height-adjustment screws down to the body, be sure to place the two small adhesive pads that come with the trem on the guitar between the body and the adjustment screws. This helps protect the guitar’s finish from getting damaged. I ended up adjusting these height screws, as well as the mounting posts that support the rear of the base plate, so that the entire plate was about 1/8"off the body of the guitar. This allowed the compression spring mounted underneath the assembly to function as intended while having full clearance of the body. Once you’ve dialed in the plate height, use a hex wrench to tighten the horizontal hex screws that secure the rear of the base plate to the two rear mounting posts (Photo 7).


Photo 7 — Once you’ve adjusted the height of the Floyd Rose’s bridge plate, lock it in place by tightening the horizontal hex screws against the two rear posts.

The next part of the tremolo installation is the bridge itself. In order for this “surface-mounted” Floyd to work sans the usual assembly of springs and claws in a rear body cavity, the FRX uses a spring-tension transfer rod that runs underneath the bridge and pushes against a little notch on the underside of the bridge. This rod is threaded through the previously mentioned compression spring on the bottom of the base plate. When placing the bridge onto the baseplate, make sure the tension rod is loose enough for the bridge to sit snugly against the notched pivot posts. Then, tighten the tension rod until it rests in the notch on the underside of the bridge (Photo 8). Note:The bridge will not be held in place until you’ve strung the instrument, so keep this in mind while moving the guitar so that it doesn’t fall out of place and mar your finish.


Photo 8 — To attach the bridge to the plate assembly, place the two knife-edge cutouts at the front of the bridge against the pivot points at the front of the plate, then insert the spring-tension transfer rod through the rear of the plate assembly and tighten it until it fits snugly in the notch under the bridge.

Now, holding the bridge safely in place, let’s make our way up to the headstock. This version of the Floyd Rose features a unique twist on the classic locking nut: The locking nut’s base plate also doubles as your new truss-rod cover. It sits behind the existing nut and mounts directly to the headstock with two provided screws. Before we mount the new locking nut, however, it’s important to make sure the FRX nut assembly is at the proper height. To do this, I first removed the existing truss-rod cover and held the locking-nut plate in place behind the ESP’s existing nut. Then I installed a single string in the corresponding locking bridge saddle and tuner. (Hint: The 6th string’s large size makes it easier to see than an unwound 1st string.) As you can see from Photo 9, the Xtone’s headstock angle was so great that using the clamping mechanism to press the string all the way down to the plate’s bottom surface would have almost certainly broken the string—or at the very least pinched the string sharper than the fine tuners could correct after lockdown.


Photo 9 — To see if the locking-nut plate’s surface would match up with the Xtone’s existing nut, I installed a single string. See how far from the bottom plate surface it is?

To remedy this, I measured how much of a height difference there was and determined that a piece of 3-ply pickguard material was just the right thickness for a riser. I cut it to the same shape as the nut plate, and voilà—problem solved! (Photos 10 and 11.)


Photos 10 & 11 — To make sure the strings would clamp against the bottom of the locking nut without too much of a break angle, I fashioned a riser out of pickguard material.

Next, I pre-drilled the holes for the locking-nut mounting plate. Before drilling, it’s a good practice to place a piece of tape on the bit to mark the precise depth of the provided mounting screws. This helps avoid accidentally drilling too deep and possibly compromising the structural integrity of this crucial junction. Slowly and carefully drill the holes, using the plate’s screw holes as guides, until the tape on your drill bit is even with the top of the plate. Next, use a handheld screwdriver to slowly and firmly install the mounting screws. Once that was done, the Xtone was ready for stringing up, locking down, and seriously wailing.

Post-Mod Thoughts
All in all, our ESP Xtone PS-1 project was a really cool one, too. Due to its unusual design, I admit I was skeptical about the Floyd Rose FRX’s capabilities at first, but once everything was set up, I was impressed. It holds tuning great and operates exactly as it should. The description was spot on for the pickups, too: warm and chimey PAF-style clarity, with a modern punch that makes this guitar very versatile for any style of play.

Watch a before-and-after demo of the ESP LTD Xtone PS-1: