Why am I reviewing a guitar that has been discontinued, with Amott shifting allegiance from ESP to Dean? Well, cos the secondhand market exists, and in the spirit of my Cool Guitars The Don’t Make Any More series (see the links at the bottom of this post), sometimes it’s fun to talk about a guitar that’s no longer in production. Also, this review sitting was first published in Mixdown Magazine in October 2006, and it was getting lonely sitting around unread for nearly three years.
So. Arch Enemy. Featuring the hottest female singer in metal, at least since Poison stopped wearing makeup, the band’s other attention-grabbing focal point is the one-two guitar punch of guitarists Michael and Chris Amott. Also a member of legendary death metal band Carcass, Michael Amott’s style is rooted in the classic metal of the past but filtered through cybernetic precision. Dude also has pretty cool hair.
The ESP Michael Amott Ninja (Custom Shop model reviewed) is based on the classic Flying V design of the 50s. Many of the same specs are present here: set neck construction, a Gibson-esque and very bending-friendly 24.75 inch scale lenth, a pair of humbuckers, and a tune-o-matic style bridge mated to a stop tailpiece. But the Ninja, like its namesake mysterious assasin of the night, is mad, bad and dangerous to know. Gone are the smooth, rounded edges of the old design. In their place is a sharp, aggressive cut at the base of each of the V tips. The subdued dot inlays of the old design are quietly dispatched by a series of intricately inlaid ninja stars, which serve the dual purpose of helping you know where you are on the fretboard and also warning others to keep their dirty hands off your guitar – nobody messes with a ninja twice. The body is made of mahogany, and is surprisingly light considering its size. The pickguard is made of a mirrored material and, like pretty much everything else on the guitar, is accentuated by sharp angles.
The neck, also mahogany, is capped with a rosewood fretboard and 22 extra jumbo frets. The headstock is of the three tuners per side variety (in this case Sperzel brand tuners), with a sharp outline reminiscent of some kind of medeval weaponry. Basically, there is no edge of the Michael Amott Ninja that is safe for encroaching stage divers, and this is a guitar that means buisiness.
Electronics consist of a pair of Seymour Duncan humbuckers, a JB at the bridge and a 59 in the neck. Interestingly, the Ninja’s three way toggle switch feeds a volume control for each pickup, but there is no tone control. Personally I like this decision. A tone control usually functions as a treble rolloff, and even if it’s set to maximum treble in the ‘unused’ position it is still filtering the sound, resulting in the sapping away of a small amount of treble and gain. Removing it from the circuit completely allows any guitar to sound just that tiny bit more in your face, certainly an asset for the metal tones this guitar is designed for.
And what tones they are. The JB has long been used for metal, most notably by Dave Mustaine, who used it until quite recently until the release of his new Seymour Duncan signature Livewire pickup set, which includes an active bridge pickup based on the JB’s trademark tone. The basic sound of the Amott is a little bit like the Dave Mustaine DV8 due to their shared characteristics, but it sounds a little fatter and darker to my ears. High gain rhythms have an enormous amount of drive and cut, with an addictive thickness to the high midrange that just made me want to chug out midtempo riffs for hours.
The neck pickup sounds round and full, and is especially suited to those slow melodic minor melody lines and E Dorian solos. The tones reminded me a little of the classic sounds of Michael Schenker or Gary Moore, but much more metal.
One of the real surprises of the Amott Ninja is its playability. Despite its sharp looks and aggressive tones, it actually feels a little bit like a more conventional classic type of guitar rather than a modern thin-necked shred machine, and those who are a bit scared to step beyond the designs of the 50s would feel as at home on this axe as the metal bretheren would. It’s just as comfortable with box pattern pentatonics and power chords as it is with fretboard wandering arpeggios and thick chunky downtuned chords.
The ESP Michael Amott Ninja Signature guitar can handle any style you throw at it, its sharp looks and sharper attitude will definitely make you stand out on stage, and the mirror pickgard will allow you to either blind your audience or check your hairstyle with comfort and ease. The classic playability and modern tones will appeal to a wide variety of players, and the construction is absolutely faultless in every respect.
NECK: Set neck, mahogany, rosewood fretboard, 22 frets, ninja inlays.
ELECTRONICS: Seymour Duncan JB bridge pickup; Seymour Duncan 59 neck pickup; 2 volume; pickup selector.
HARDWARE: Chrome; Sperzel locking tuners; TonePros locking bridge; Stop tailpiece.