Review: Edwards EX-125D and SA-160LTS

Japanese company ESP is one of the largest guitar brands on the planet, not least thanks to the popularity of their designs for the Hard and Heavy-crowd. But there’s more to ESP than some of us might realise, because – unlike the ESP and LTD model ranges, available worldwide – some brands, like Grass Roots or Edwards, are only available in specific markets.

Edwards, which is usually available only in Japan, is ESP’s upmarket brands for vintage-style and vintage-inspired guitar models.

The Edwards EX-125D (1,139 €; incl. gig bag) is the brand’s modern take on the classic Gibson Explorer design, complete with active pickups and streamlined controls.

The Edwards SA-160TLS (1,460 €; incl. case) looks like a straight copy of a ’64 Gibson ES-335, but in reality it comes with a very important twist. Read on…

****

When I went to pick up the review instruments at (Finnish distributor’s) Musamaailma’s HQ, I had to take a look in the gig bag to make sure the EX-125D was really in there. The Edwards model must be the most lightweight Explorer (-style guitar) I have come across in my life so far!

The EX-125D is an all-mahogany affair, save for the beautiful slab of pau ferro that serves as its fretboard.

The set neck construction mirrors Gibson original closely, but Edwards has done away with the large pickguard, while also moving the toggle switch, away from the top horn down to the bridge.

The reviewed guitar comes in a very nice matte finish (Stain Cloudy Black) that leaves the mahogany’s grain partially open.

The classic hockey stick headstock sports a set of black Gotoh tuners, as well as a bone nut.

The bridge and stopbar are also high-quality units made by Gotoh.

The pickups are a pair of Seymour Duncan’s active Blackouts, which have been geared especially towards the needs of Metal players.

The Edwards EX-125D comes in its own quality gig bag.

****

The Edwards SA-160TLS might look like a mint 1964 ES-335, but actually offers one distinct change in specifications – a semi-acoustic body made from carved solid maple.

Traditionally the ES-335 – and its cousins, the ES-330, ES-345 and ES-355 – are made from steam pressed plywood, usually three or four plies of either all maple or maple and poplar (depending on model and year of production). In contrast, the Edwards SA-160TLS is built like an upmarket Jazz guitar (or Gibson’s mandolins), by taking two centre-joined maple blanks and carving them into the gracefully shaped curves of the guitar. Having to be bent into shape, the rims are still plywood.

Edwards offsets the spankier basic tonality of the solid maple body by using a centre block made from mahogany, which is glued to steps left on the inside of both top and back (no spruce fillets here).

The superb cherry red finish on the SA-160TLS is Edwards’ take on what a ”closet guitar” might look like. The slightly matte look isn’t too far removed from Gibson’s VOS finish.

We find a bound pau ferro fingerboard, a well cut bone nut, and a set of classy Gotoh tuners.

The SA-160TLS features a vintage-style Tune-o-matic bridge made by Gotoh, complete with the saddle-retaining wire.

This Edwards sports a slightly hotter-than-vintage humbucker pair of a Seymour Duncan Jazz in the neck position and a Custom 5 in the bridge position.

The SA-160TLS comes with its own high quality case.

****

Due to its angular body shape an Explorer-type guitar, such as the Edwards EX-125D, probably isn’t the best choice for sofa noodling, but strapped on this light guitar is a dream to play.

The workmanship is excellent and the set-up superb. The neck profile is what guitar anoraks call a Gibson 60s neck, meaning it is very rounded with moderate thickness. The Edwards EX-125D is a very ”fast” guitar, without resorting to a too flat or too wide neck profile.

While the guitar type is already 60 years old, the active pickups used on the Edwards put it firmly in modern territory. The Duncan Blackouts offer a high output level coupled with a lot of clarity and high feedback resistance, making them just the ticket for modern styles of Metal.

****

Along with the Fender Stratocaster, the ES-335 is known as one of the most versatile classic guitars you’ll find, doing everything from Jazz and Country to Blues and Rock.

The Edwards SA-160TLS is a very classy reproduction that combines Sixties looks with late-Fifties playability. The neck profile is a dead ringer for a vintage 1959 Gibson neck. It’s round and chunky, while still steering clear of the clubby baseball bat feel of, say, a 1957/58 Les Paul.

The workmanship is superb, as is the review guitar’s set-up. The Edwards is also a lightweight instrument.

The SA-160TLS’ acoustic tone is a tiny bit brighter, and maybe even a little louder, than what you’d normally expect from a good ES-335-style semi, but played through an amp I found the differences between this solid maple Edwards and my reference semi to be largely negligible and mostly down to the different pickups. This is a fine version of a ’64 ES-335, and it also sounds like one.

****

It’s a shame that we don’t usually see more of Edwards Guitars’ output here in Finland. Judging by this review there’s a lot to be liked. These are well-made, professional grade instruments offered at fair price.

****

Edwards EX-125D & SA-160TLS

EX-125D – 1,139 €; including gig bag

SA-160TLS – 1,460 €; including case

Finnish distributor: Musamaailma

****

Pros (both models):

+ workmanship

+ features

+ sound

+ value for money

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