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.
ESP LTD AP-204
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.
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.