The New Viper flagship

Apr 9, 2009
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:This guitar is a metal monster.

Cons:The EMG pickups dont' always sound best clean.

The Bottom Line: For $399 online, this guitar is hard to beat, and for that, it has to get five stars.

When ESP decided to make guitars within the price range of most musicians, they came up with the LTD line. Where the ESPs are made largely in Japan and are partially or fully handmade, the LTD line of ESP are made in South Korea and other Asian nations and are an assembly line product following in the footsteps of Leo Fender and George Fullerton.

Among the popular designs of both ESP and LTD are the Viper Series which range from $300 dollars to over $10,000 dollars (for a custom appointed guitar). The Viper is pretty much an offset Gibson SG body which is thicker than the Gibson SG. Formerly, the top of the line LTD Viper in their Standard Series was the Viper 301 with passive humbucking pickups but otherwise the same guitar as the Viper 400.

But in recent years, LTD has upped the ante and made the LTD Viper 400, with dual active EMG pickups, the top of the line in their Standard Series.

Quality all over:

Starting with a more massive mahogany body than its chief competitor, the Gibson SG, this guitar has natural sustain. The mahogany neck is set in with a rosewood fretobard with "mother to toilet seat/plastic" inlays similar to the ones found on a Gibson Les Paul. The neck has 24 frets and sports extra jumbo frets reminiscint of the '80s heavy metal craze when extra jumbo frets were the rage.

There is a tone knob, volume knob, and a three way selector toggle making this a very simple guitar to operate. The black hardware (knobs, die cast tuners, stop tail piece, adjustable bridge) suits the black mounting rings and black EMG pickups. Even the nut and toggle seletor switch are black. Against either the all white polyurethane finish or an all black finish, this guitar is especially striking in appearance. The massive neck body joint gives for more stability than necesary and for smaller hands, may be harder to reach the higher frets.

Power, but maybe too much:

This guitar is as loud and as powerful as anything on the market and designed for anything from classic hard rock to Norweigian death metal, but more suited for the latter. While the cheaper LTD Viper 200 series, with passive pickups, is far more versatile with a medium level of output, the extra output gained from an active EMG 81 bridge pickup and an EMG 85 neck pickup pretty much sound best while distorted. And when on the bridge's more powerful EMG 81 going through a lot of distortion at a high volume, nothing in the guitar world beats it on that metallic playing field.

The clean tones from either the EMG 81 or the EMG 85 is frought with too much midrange giving a dark sound without that much warmth. Ironically, with both pickups on in a clean setting, this guitar sounds more like its more verstatile passive cousins and works quite well for clean passages.


Usually found at over $700 dollars without case, both the greater popularity of the passive, lower output Seymour Duncan version of the LTD Viper 400 and larger popularity of passive pickups in general, an LTD Viper 400 with active EMGs can be found online at a great discount.

The lesser demand of such a powerful metal guitar, especially one without a Floyd Rose, makes this a great deal at $399 online if you are lucky enough to get one. Some players like James Hetfield of Metallica or Zakk Wylde of Ozzy Osbourne are almost always seen tearing it up with an EMG 81 in the bridge position of a solidbody electric guitar. They LTD Viper 400 will give you that sound.

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