NAMM’s Summer Show is officially in the books, giving wholesalers and musicians a whole new list of the stuff that dreams are made of, including a new lineup of 7- and 8-string guitars from ESP, as well as another Asian Invasion, the new GVT Series amplifier line from an expatriate veteran, Ampeg.
Ampeg (like Randall) was once considered a less expensive, viable alternative to the big stacks of the late ’60s and early ’70s. With its company origins in Woodinville, Washington, Ampeg is mostly known for its innovative bass amps (in the ’60s, they were the first company to come up with reverb on a mass-production basis, two years ahead of Fender’s Vibroverb).
Ampeg’s brain trust was, at least initially, interested in producing tube amps for jazz musicians that didn’t break up like late winter ice in overdrive – although they later provided some of the great crunchy-clean sounds of the ’70s, with everyone from Kiss to the Ramones to the Rolling Stones making regular use of their wares. Contemporary musicians who rely on Ampeg include Dave Grohl, Josh Homme and Les Claypool.
This latest offering, however, is not your hippie uncle’s Ampeg. Examined in a vacuum, the GVT Series is in no way disappointing. It comes in a multitude of sub-models, ranging from a 5-watt compact head to a 50-watt two-channel combo featuring spring reverb and twin 12″ Celestion speakers… Pretty much anything you’d want short of a full stack, with combo singles, single- and double-speaker cabinets along with a 15-watt version of the head. All are slick in design, have effects loops, can run on full or half power, and provide excellent, tube-fed tone that ought to suit players beholden to just about any style.
So when it comes to the GVT Series, there’s a lot to like. There’s only one rub. Prior to 2005, Ampeg had been a subsidiary of SLM (St. Louis Music, also the makers of Crate amps). They had acquired it from MTI, the Japanese company that slurped up Magnavox and all that came with it – Ampeg included – in 1980. Even throughout the years of Japanese ownership, one of the most appealing qualities of Ampeg products was the fact that they were made in America.
In 2005, Loud Technologies purchased Ampeg, and soon thereafter closed the old factory in Yelling, Arkansas. Manufacturing and engineering were farmed out to China. Now comes the GVT Series, dropped into the middle of the NAMM show, with an all-new lineup, made by all-new foreign workers – but with much the same prices as Carvin, Marshall, Fender and other top-shelf amplifiers. Being sort of a niche amp anyway, it remains to be seen how well this admittedly impressive modern import (albeit one bearing a familiar nameplate) will be received by working musicians, who will most assuredly be considering all options before shelling out their hard-earned money.
As far as niche markets go, ESP would seem to be going out on a limb in producing a new series of 7-string and 8-string guitars. This is very likely the work of a marketing department that crunched the numbers and determined that there was enough demand for such things as to make this a worthwhile venture.
There are players who favor extra strings, and (ESP probably figures) where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Progressive and nu-metal bands like Scale the Summit are playing music that involves some rather complex material – it’s fair to say they aren’t playing “the old stuff” anymore. For musicians of the more traditional stripe, who aren’t interested in having all that extra room on the low end, a 7-string still gives you the option of going into drop-D tuning without having to fool with the tuners in between songs (shrug).
But, really, do companies who are already meeting said demand (like Ibanez Guitars) really look all that vulnerable? ESP must think so, as they have invested quite a bit with this new selection unveiled at NAMM. It’s no small deal to crank out necks, bridges and pickups that accommodate those extra strings.
7-string players can choose between the EC models (which feature a single-cutaway LP-style body with a symmetrical headstock) and the EX and V models (based on the Explorer and Flying V platforms, respectively), which have more of an angular headstock. The bodies are made of mahogany, and are billed as having maple tops – which are inexplicably buried under a satin-finish paint job – black or white. Electronically speaking, they’re loaded with EMG pickups – say no more. EC-407 comes in BLKS (black satin) and SWS (snow white satin) finishes, and offers a mahogany body with maple top. The EX-407 and V-307 are being offered in BLKS (black satin), and also include pro features such as mahogany bodies, maple necks, and rosewood fretboards. All three models use a combination of EMG 81-7 and EMG 707 pickups.
The H models comprise the 8-string selection from ESP. The upper-echelon version, the H-308, has a set-through maple neck attached to the mahogany body (with EMG pickups) while the H-338 has a bolt-on neck and ESP’s new ALH-208 active pickups. Both have mahogany bodies. The lower-priced H-208 is made of basswood, and has ALH-208 passive pickups and a glossy finish. In other words, all the bases are covered (even if “all the bases” are only available in black). All have the same asymmetrical headstock as the EX and V models.
These are some attractive instruments, to be sure, graced with the dramatic contours for which ESP Guitars have always been known (and, by some, loved). However contrived this new butting-into-the-market lineup may seem, even the lack of any colors or bursts in finish cannot keep these things from looking fabulous on anyone’s guitar tree, regardless of what might be hanging next to it. If you’re a 7- or 8-string player, ESP’s new guitars are likely to demand your consideration before making your next purchase. Also check out ESP Snakebyte guitars.
While the NAMM Summer Show featured (as it always does) scores of new products from makers worldwide, the Ampeg GVT series amps and ESP’s new lineup of 7- and 8-string guitars were just two of the many attention-getters that gathered under one roof for their industry debuts. It’s not an official summer without that.
Ampeg GVT Jazz Sample
ESP H-308 Guitar Demo Video
– none available to date