Affordability is no obstacle to top quality in this understated P/J-style bass.

Solid construction. Beautiful finish. Affordable price.

Overly bright onboard electronics. No passive operation. No option to switch batteries quickly.




Famed Japanese brand ESP launched the LTD series in 1996 as an affordable line aimed at the beginner market. But a visit to the LTD website these days reveals a line evolved well beyond that original premise, with a wide variety of offerings in several price ranges.

Stylistically speaking, brand associations can be a funny thing. I always associated the LTD series with metal and related aesthetics. But the AP-204 represents a much more understated and middle-of-the-road approach with P-Bass-meets-Music Man style and an active P/J pickup setup. The $549 price is a bit higher than some Indonesia-built instruments from competing brands, but the AP-204 delivers a lot of sounds and excellent quality for the price.

Solid as a Rock

The LTD is a well-built bass. As a player who performs live a lot and sometimes bends a neck for a little vibrato or whammy effect (not a practice I recommended, by the way), I'm reassured by an instrument that feels solid and battle-ready. Casual inspection makes it easy to explain the solid feel of the instrument. The neck/body joint is tight, with no visible gap, and the bolt-on neck is affixed with six screws instead of four—a construction technique more commonly seen on higher-priced instruments. The fret ends are nicely rounded and the satin finish on the back of the J-Bass-sized neck is exceptionally comfortable. The test bass also arrived with a perfect setup that required no tweaking before I tested it—not a common occurrence. The pièce de résistance might be the gorgeous metallic purple finish that looks dark and unassuming under normal lighting, but takes on a much more flamboyant personality under bright lights.

The Modern Edge

The bass features straightforward volume and blend controls, and a bass/treble stacked EQ setup. And when playing the AP-204 straight into my user interface and computer, I had to cut the treble about 70 percent to get the sound I associate most with a P/J-bass—not entirely vintage, but not inflexibly modern. Even with that much treble cut, the LTD provided great sustain and a tone with solid lows, musical mids, and present highs that could work for many applications without much processing. This is a great starting point for any instrument, regardless of price.

The sound of my finger pops were quite a lot brighter than I anticipated—with shades of a modern MTD-on-a-budget tone.

Of course, the beauty of any P/J-bass is the ability to use the P-style pickup by itself, and on that count the LTD does not disappoint. With a little tone attenuation, the bass provides plenty of traditional P-style honk and woodiness. Fingerstyle moves in this configuration never sounded muddy or without character. After this encouraging experiment, I returned the bass to a 50/50 pickup blend and rolled the treble back up to check how it reacted to slap technique. Instantly the sound of my finger pops were quite a lot brighter than I anticipated—with shades of a modern MTD-on-a-budget tone. And while the jatoba fretboard is ostensibly a stand-in for rosewood, it seemed to lend more of a bright maple tonality in slapping situations. Palm-muted picking, meanwhile, revealed a cool low-mid thump that some similar instruments easily lose when played with a pick. And a quick recording of this approach demonstrated that this bass sits just about perfectly in this context without taking up too much sonic space.

The Verdict

Just a little time with the LTD AP-204 makes it clear what a solid, all-around bass it is—although there is room for small improvements. Because the bass does not have a passive/active switch, I would switch the battery door from a 2-screw setup to a flip-open compartment to facilitate quick battery changes. It could also benefit from a slightly less bright EQ circuit and a little more range for high-end cut. But unless you are a strictly vintage-oriented player, this might not be an issue for you. More than anything, I am impressed with the build, quality control, and finish on this LTD, which makes me more than a little curious about other offerings from the line. This AP-204 is clearly capable of delivering more than metal tones—and offers great value.

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