Review: ESP LTD Thinline TL-6Z, TL-4Z + TL-6N

Playing an acoustic guitar live on stage in a Rock/Pop-band setting is not as easy as one might think. A large acoustic body that has a floor monitor pointing straight at it is a recipe for howling feedback.

There are ways to lessen the danger of feedback, like applying equalisation in strategic frequency bands or using a mechanical sound-hole plug, but the easiest road to pursue, by far, is using a thinline (or even solid-body) acoustic guitar onstage.

ESP offers a model range for just this purpose, called LTD TL (TL = Thinline):

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The steel-string acoustic guitar goes by the model name TL-6.

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The bass guitar is called TL-4.

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And there’s the TL-6N, a nylon-string acoustic guitar.

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Kitarablogi received the bass and steel-string models in their most visually stunning versions – the ESP LTD TL-6Z  (650 €) and the LTD TL-4Z (682 €).

Both instruments sport zebrano tops. Zebrano is an African hardwood with a very striking wood grain that is reminiscent of a zebra’s stripes (hence the name). Zebrano has been in use since the 1990s in some boutique-grade bass guitars, but it has recently been adopted for more and more acoustic guitars and ukuleles, too.

The TL-6 is also available in a plainer, maple-topped version (in natural or black).

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The nylon-string LTD TL-6N (625 €) comes with a maple top, either with a gloss natural or a piano black finish (as reviewed).

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These instruments aren’t super shallow acoustic instruments, instead LTD’s TL-range features genuine thinline construction.

The bodies are based on solid mahogany backs, which have large areas routed out from the front before the top is glued into place. A ”centre block” is left standing from beneath the bridge all the way to the end of the body.

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A body chamfer next to the neck heel makes reaching the top frets a little easier.

The mahogany neck is glued together from three long side-by-side strips.

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All TL-instruments come with quality tuning machines:

The steel-string instruments use Grover machine heads.

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LTD’s TL-6N sports a set of open Hauser-style tuners.

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On the TL-6Z the strings are fed through the back part of the rosewood bridge, which makes for much faster and easier restringing than a traditional pin bridge.

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We find through-body stringing (with back ferrules) on the TL-4Z bass.

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It’s traditional knot-stringing for the nylon-string version (TL-6N).

All top nuts and compensated bridge saddles on these TL-Series instruments are made from Graph Tech’s high-quality NuBone material, a man-made alternative to bovine bone.

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Both the TL-4Z and TL-6Z come with a Fishman under-saddle-transducer and a TL-3 preamp.

The Fishman TL-3 features a built-in chromatic tuner and a three-band EQ section.

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For the nylon-string guitar ESP has chosen B-Band’s T7 system, which features a tuner, a three-band EQ section, and a feedback-reducing phase reverse-switch.

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Our review sample of the TL-6Z was the lightest guitar of the trio. Its thin body (5 cm) makes it sit nicely in your lap. This guitar’s strapped-on balance is also very good.

ESP call the neck profile a Thin U – I’d say the neck feels very comfortable, with a nicely rounded, not-too-thick cross section.

You can’t say anything negative about the workmanship on this guitar – this is a cleanly built guitar with a great feel, not least because of the smooth fret job.

Played unplugged, the TL-6Z isn’t very loud. In terms of volume it is on a par with an ES-335-style semi.

Plug the TL-6Z in, though, and it really comes alive. This is what this LTD is meant for, and the guitar delivers a quality piezo sound with plenty of dynamics:

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The LTD TL-4Z-bass is a well-made quality instrument, and plays great.

The TL-4Z’s neck profile is similar to that of a Jazz Bass, but the LTD’s jumbo frets and flatter-than-vintage fretboard radius take this bass into a much more modern direction.

The basic amped-up sound of this bass is fantastic. Our review sample suffered from a mild volume reduction in the g-string’s output level, though. Usually, problems like this one are caused by a tiny piece of wood, caught between the underside of the bridge saddle and the surface of the piezo pickup, which prevents the bridge saddle from making full contact with the pickup. In most cases this is very easy to remedy.

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As a builder of thinline classical guitars you have the choice between two options:

Some manufacturers equip a guitar of this type with an electric or steel-string neck, to make it easier for an occasional nylon-string user to switch between different types of guitar.

ESP has gone for the second option, namely for making a thinline instrument with a neck that feels like the neck of a full-blown classical guitar. The LTD-6N has the wide and flat neck profile so typical of most traditional nylon-string acoustics. In my opinion this is a good choice, because the neck profile has a bearing on how you approach and play such a guitar. This is a thinline classical that feels ”real”.

Because of the much lower string-pull of nylon strings – when compared to steel strings – the TL-6N is the quietest instrument of this trio, when played unplugged.

The TL-6N will win you over with its tasty amplified voice, though. The B-Band pickup system is a fantastic choice for a nylon-string guitar, because the B-Band pickup – which works similar to an electret microphone – won’t give you any of that infamous piezo quack, which tends to make nylon-string guitars sound rather annoying.

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Here are two different versions of the demo song:

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In my view, ESP’s LTD TL-Series is a great choice if you want to add acoustic guitar tones to your onstage arsenal.

The TL-Series features instruments that combine stylish looks, great playability and quality electronics into instruments, which will give you a fine range of acoustic tones in a live setting, combined with a far lower susceptibility to feedback.

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LTD Thinline TL-6Z, TL-4Z + TL-6N

TL-6Z: 650 €

TL-4Z: 682 €

TL-6N: 625 €

Finnish distributor: Musamaailma

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Pros (all models):

+ stylish design

+ workmanship

+ playability

+ amplified sounds

Cons (TL-4Z only):

– slight volume drop on g-string

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