After having a lot of fun with the frankly bonkers Ibanez RG-9 last year, I felt that a lot of my preconceptions and prejudices against extended range guitars fade away. So I was looking forward to playing ESP’s H-208 8
It’s black alright. Black as night, black as pitch. Indeed, none more black and there is a sumptuous curve to the top of the basswood body that makes it all look very attractive. It looks better proportioned than the RG-9 and the finish is excellent. Even at under £300, ESPs QC is solid on this one. You get a master volume and master tone, a hefty yet comfortable fixed bridge and two generic 8 string pickups.
But on an extended guitar like this, it is all about the neck. Bear in mind the 8 strings, this is a very comfortable neck. It is very shallow, making the increased width caused by the extra strings surprisingly manageable. The maple neck has a thin satin finish and there is a pleasingly smooth slab of rosewood, the whole effect is very playable, further helped by the standard 25.5” scale – pretty short for an 8 string.
It’s topped off with an attractive headstock and 8 perfectly serviceable generic machine heads. I found tuning to be rock solid and intonation was spot on as well.
So, for the money, this looks like an awfully large lump of guitar and when you pick it up it feels good. The body is comfortable, the neck manageable and fretwork is smooth and well finished. Balance is good too – The RG-9, because of that lunatic 9 string baritone neck was more than a little head heavy.
Strummed acoustically there is a pleasing chime to it. But then things fall apart a little. Clean, there is very little of that rich clarity that made jazz noodling so rewarding on the RG-9, the tone is fine (if a little thin) on the high 6 strings, but those bass strings sound very flat. It could be the pickups or it could be that shorter scale – it may be easier to play but that short scale does rob those low strings of a lot of tension.
So clean is a disappointment -but this is a pure djent machine, who needs clean. But overdrive and distortion don’t really help either. The top 6 strings sound fine – generic, not a lot of flair, but usable – but those bass strings have very little clarity or kick and are far too quick to degenerate into mush. Perhaps better pickups would help, but I think you just need a longer scale to cope with those low notes. The ESP is very easy to play, it just does not make a noise that you want to play. The RG-9, with all of its technical challenges for the player, just sounds better.
As a compromise between extended note mayhem and playability the ESP does not work for me, but extend the scale to 27 or 28” and spend a little more on pickups? Then you might have something.