If bass guitars were judged purely on their aesthetics, this might well be our favorite! The ESP LTD B-204SM FL, with its gorgeous spalted maple grain, is one of the most visually stunning instruments in our bass guitars under $500 category. Beautiful indeed, but does it sound as good as it looks? In this review, we take a look at everything this bass has to offer…
The B-204SM FL is a 4-string fretless bass, which gives us something else to think about. A fretless bass means a different feel, which can make you change your playing style and can alter your sound, so keep that in mind.
ESP have gone for a bolt-on maple neck here, but with a very thin U-shaped profile. The thinner neck makes everything very accessible, even at speed. It has a 34” scale length, so nothing unusual there, but the missing frets are replaced with 24 fret markers meaning it's not too intimidating for beginners or newbies to this style of playing.
As we touched upon, the body is made from solid ash which is absolutely fine. However, the most noticeable part is the beautiful spalted maple top, with a beautiful natural finish. It looks exotic and nothing like the average bass. It isn't all just for show though – it adds something to the sound (more on this later).
This bass comes with two passive pickups and an active 3-band EQ. The pickups are ESP-designed SB-4N and SB-4B for the neck and bridge respectively. The bridge is the LTD BB-604 with the option to string through the bridge or the body. On sight, it looks like this bass will offer a lot of tonal versatility.
The control layout is a master volume and balance, and the ABQ-3 EQ system. All hardware has a black nickel finish that is fitting of this beautiful bass.
The option to string through the body increases tuning stability as do the sturdy LTD tuners. Everything about the build quality feels rock solid, which is reassuring. ESP hasn't taken the style over substance route here and it still looks this good!
Fretless bass guitars have a perceived darker sound than fretted versions. When you really dig in you don't get the metallic clank from frets that make a fretted bass seem brighter. However, the overall sound is still pretty bright and punchy. This is owed in part to the addition of the spalted maple top. This really lends itself well to playing slap bass.
The bridge pickup delivers a pretty fat low-range, while both pickups together offer extra mid/high clarity. Adjusting the 3-band EQ accordingly helps to keep clarity all over. So, even that fat low-range has a clear note distinction.
Choosing to string through the body will add to the sustain and create a more resonant tone. Fretless bass guitars are often linked to styles like jazz, fusion and funk. Whatever you play on this bass there is enough customization to nail the tone you are looking for.
We are very happy to confirm that this bass not only looks good, but sounds good too. For beginners, the fretless aspect may take some getting used to. There is more potential for error, but the upside is that there is more room for creative expression. The B-204SM FL is a bass for pushing your creative limits, and we like it.
For more info about the ESP LTD B-204SM FL, click here.
For more of the best bass guitars under $500, click here.
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