Man, I’m jealous of Gus G. Not only are Firewind awesome, but the dude has also been immortalised in the Eternal Descent graphic novel series. Oh and he replaced Zakk Wylde as Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist. He appears on Ozzy’s latest album, Scream, which is easily the Prince Of Darkness’s best since No More Tears – and his high-tech shreddering combines the great 80s Euro metal tradition and a more modern sensibility. Gus has several ESP and LTD signature models to his name, including an aggressive Explorer/V hybrid that looks positively evil. The Gus G EC, by contrast, is a slightly – only slightly, mind you – more traditional axe.

This Japanese-made guitar (also available in an LTD model as the GUS-600EC with some slightly different specs[geo-out country=”Australia” note=””] – You can buy that model here at Musician’s Friend[/geo-out]) is built with set-thru construction, which means the neck is glued in but then shaped to feel like a neck-thru for extra playing comfort. The body is mahogany with a hard rock maple top and white/black ply binding. The neck is three-piece maple (although you can’t see it since it’s finished in black gloss), with a rosewood fretboard and white binding. The carbon nut is 42mm standard, and the back of the neck is a thin U contour that seems to fit right into the webbing between thumb and index finger very comfortably. There are 22 extra jumbo frets, and the fretboard inlays are Firewind flames, which are well applied with only a minimum of epoxy filler around the tricky angles. The decal, which is applied only to the top is a cut a little roughly around the edges, but you wouldn’t notice from even a couple of feet away.

The guitar features a Gotoh GE103-BT bridge and GE101Z tailpiece. Controls consist of a master volume control, a three-way pickup selector toggle and a small but very robust on/off killswitch. The pickups are a pair of Seymour Duncan Blackouts – an AHB-1b in the bridge position and an AHB1n at the neck. These USA-made pickups are active units, and access to the battery is achieved via the back control plate. No flip-out battery compartment, unfortunately: if you need to get to the battery in the middle of a gig, you’d better have a screwdriver handy. Then again, if you need to access the battery during a gig, your pre-gig preparation sucks, dude.

For testing I ran the Gus G EC through a Randall NB King 100, my Marshall DSL50, and the new Soldano model in IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube 3. The Seymour Duncan Blackouts differ from EMGs thanks to their use of balanced inputs, compared to the unbalanced inputs in a differential preamp. Duncan claims that their method results in 12dB to 14dB less noise with more lows, highs and output. And they’re right. The bridge unit sounds much warmer than EMG’s active pickups, with an addictive midrange squawk, gritty highs and tight bass. It’s a tone that is equally at home with classic rock levels of overdrive or all-out high-gain blitzfest. In fact, it’s interesting that Duncan promotes the high and low end boost when talking about this pickup, because the mids are really something special and deserve a whole marketing campaign of their own!

When run clean the bridge pickup sounds a little thin, but if you’re of the ‘just roll back the guitar volume to clean up the gain from an overdriven amp’ school, like Gus G is – that ‘edgy dirty clean’ sound, it works great. The neck pickup also has a pronounced upper midrange emphasis, with relatively muted highs and a full low end, making it a great pickup for high-gain alternate-picked lines, especially the kind of speed-picked string-skipping licks Gus G excels at. The middle position on the pickup switch is also a great lead tone, combining the fullness of the neck humbucker and the articulation of the bridge unit in perfect balance, and it’s also well suited to the aforementioned ‘turn down the volume knob a bit’ clean-ish tone. The killswitch is a great addition, and so is its road-ready construction: it feels like you could hammer the absolute crap out of it without fear of it breaking or giving out.

The neck is very comfortable to play, and the action as set at the factory veered on the side of too low, but since I’m a player with a very light touch, I didn’t run into any particularly bad buzz issues. Harder pickers might want to jack up the bridge a little bit, but that’s easy enough to do. The neck itself really invites high-speed whizzbangery, not only up and down within scale patterns but also laterally, zipping from one end of the neck to the other. And although the back of the neck is glossy, it’s not sticky, so it doesn’t impede such flights of fretboard fancy.

The graphics (both the body decal and fretboard inlays) may not be everyones’ cup of tea, but it’s also not so distinctively Gus G that you will feel like you’re playing in a Firewind cover band if you strap one of these on. The overall look is aggressive and dark and would suit a wide variety of rock and metal bands, not just Gus G or Ozzy fans. The guitar itself plays amazingly, sounds great, and is as high-quality as you would expect from a guitar that says ‘ESP’ on the front of the headstock and ‘Japan’ on the back.

[geo-in country=”Australia” note=””]This is an extended version of a review originally written for Mixdown magazine. ESP is distributed by CMI.[/geo-in]

[geo-out country=”Australia” note=””]CLICK HERE to buy the Seymour Duncan Blackouts Modular Coil Pack/Preamp Set from Musician’s Friend.[/geo-out]