If you're looking for a Les Paul on a tight budget, Epiphone will be the obvious choice. But it has a competent challenger at exactly the same price - the EC-256 in ESP's popular LTD range.
The higher grade EC-401 and EC-1000 have proven themselves with their high quality, modernised Les Paul spec. The 256 is also built along these lines, albeit more modestly equipped.
Compare that to the more traditional cut of the Epiphone Standard and we have two seemingly very different animals. But looks can be deceiving...
|Model||ESP LTD EC-256||Epiphone LP|
|Weight||8.6 lbs||8.5 lbs|
|Inlays||Pearloid Flags||Pearloid Trapezoid|
|Pickups||ESP Designed LH-150N
ESP Designed LH-150B
Push/Pull Coil Tap
|Alnico Classic Humbuckers|
|Bridge||Tune-o-matic Bridge & Tailpiece||Locking Tune-o-matic Stopbar|
|ESP LTD EC-256||Epiphone LP|
The EC-256 certainly looks slicker than your typical budget LP and, with the option of a flamed maple top on the EC-256FM model, there'll undeniably be more aesthetic appeal to many players with the ESP.
With a marginal weight difference and near identical hardware and materials, let's jump straight to playability...
ESP have opted for extra jumbo frets on the 256, compared to the more traditional medium jumbo on the Standard.
This makes the 256 more comfortable for bending, as the fret wires are raised off the board more, minimising friction from your finger tips.
On paper, the neck profiles also imply a potential difference ("thin U" vs "slim taper"). However, they are actually almost identical in terms of relative measurements.
With the two guitars being almost identical in terms of build, the first major difference lies in the pickups, pots and the addition of a toggle switch on the EC-256.
The pickups on the 256 share a single tone control, meaning three knobs instead of the traditional four.
But the tone control also acts as a switch for the coil tap feature, giving you single coil-like tones from the humbuckers when activated.
So overall there's more tonal variation available with the ESP, even with the lack of a second tone control.▲ Compare Sound
Ultimately your decision will boil down to whether you want a traditional Les Paul or a modern incarnation.
The EC-256 is certainly more metal and shredding friendly, with its hotter pickups and extra jumbo frets.
But if you're looking for a good all rounder and not so bothered about the classic aesthetics of the Standard, we'd recommend the ESP, because it offers everything the Epiphone does and more at no extra cost.
Users generally agree, as reflected in the overall rating of 91 for the EC-256 vs 88 for the Standard.