Review: LTD Phoenix Arctic Metal, Phoenix-1000 Vintage White & Phoenix-1000 See-Thru Black Cherry

LTD Guitars’ Phoenix Series has been around for over a decade now, but recently the company has given this Firebird-inspired guitar range a cosmetic and electronic overhaul that – at least in my opinion – makes the instruments even more attractive.

Over the past couple of years LTD has also diversified the model range, prompting us at Kitarablogi.com to take a closer look at the current crop of Phoenixes.

LTD Phoenix-1000 Vintage White

The LTD Phoenix-1000 Vintage White (current price in Finland: 1,082 €) is the most ”traditional” of the trio of models on review in this article, sporting a pair of passive Seymour Duncan pickups.

LTD Phoenix Arctic Metal

LTD’s Phoenix Arctic Metal (current price in Finland: 1,099 €) is part of the company’s stripped-down Arctic Metal range of guitars aimed at Metal guitarists. It comes with a single active EMG pickup.

LTD Phoenix-1000 See-Thru Black Cherry

The LTD Phoenix-1000 See-Thru Black Cherry (current price in Finland: 1,320 €) introduces Fishman’s new active Fluence humbuckers to the Phoenix Series.

All three models share many features between themselves:

The Phoenix Series instruments are neck-through guitars, built around a neck and central body core made of three long strips of mahogany going from the tip of the headstock all the way down to the end of the body. Two slightly thinner wings are then added on either side of the through-neck as the guitar’s body. The body wings have been glued from two to three side-by-side blocks of mahogany for each wing to keep down production costs and to make more economical use of the available timber.

In contrast to a Gibson Firebird an LTD Phoenix has a level back without the stepped neck core, which makes the LTDs much more comfortable to carry and play. The Phoenix models also have a deeper ribcage contour on the back of the body, as well as a nice smooth forearm chamfer on its front.

The LTD Phoenixes feature reverse headstocks and friction-reducing nuts.

All models come with Macassar ebony fingerboards – in the Arctic Metal’s case the ’board has been left unadorned, except for its special glow-in-the-dark side dots, while both Phoenix-1000 versions sport ESP/LTD’s stylish flag inlays and binding.

The 22 jumbo-size frets are made from stainless steel, which is still a rather deluxe feature in this price range. The scale length on all Phoenix guitars is 25.5 inches/64.8 cm.

All LTD Phoenix models come with a very smooth set of locking machine heads.

The tune-o-matic bridge and tailpiece combination are locking units made by TonePros.

All three Phoenix models come equipped with a push/pull-switch for additional sounds, read about the details in the section below.

****

The Phoenix-1000 Vintage White is the lightest of the tested trio by a small margin.

Thanks to its passive pickups the Vintage White could be described as the Phoenix Series’ most traditional guitar.

The neck pickup is a Seymour Duncan Phat Cat, which is a humbucker-sized P-90 singlecoil. The Duncan Custom in the bridge position is a slightly hotter version of a typical PAF-style humbucker. The tone control’s push/pull-switch lets you choose between the full humbucker for full power and the split humbucker for faux singlecoil tones. This gives you five different tonal variations that cover a surprisingly wide amount of musical ground.

Sequence: neck PU – both with split humbucker – both with full humbucker – split bridge PU – full bridge PU

There are still quite of lot of incorrigible doubters, who never cease to claim that active pickups sound dull and lifeless, without any real character.

C’mon guys, have you ever really tried any of the plethora of inspiring active pickups that have come out over the past two decades?

Even though the Phoenix Arctic Metal is aimed squarely at the players preferring heavier genres of music, I’m sure the active EMG 81TW will go a long way in winning over guitarists from many different styles.

The EMG 81TW is an ingenious new version of the company’s classic Model 81 humbucker that offers two authentic-sounding variants in one pickup. The EMG 81TW is a three-coil design giving you the full humbucker tone, as well as a genuine singlecoil (not a split humbucker) sound when you pull the volume pot’s push/pull-switch up. By using one of the humbucker coils as a phantom coil during singlecoil use, the Model 81TW manages to give you noiseless singlecoil action!

Sequence: single coil – humbucker

The LTD Phoenix-1000 See-Thru Black Cherry is the heaviest guitar in this round-up by a small margin.

The special feature of the Black Cherry model is the pair of active Fishman Fluence humbuckers. Fishman’s Fluence pickups bring together the traditional advantages of active pickups – low impedance, larger dynamics, (often) higher output – with hum-reduction and microphone/pickup modelling technology transferred from the company’s preamps for acoustic instruments.

In the LTD Phoenix-1000’s case this means you get six different basic tonalities:

With the tone control’s switch in the ”up” position you get classic (read: passive) alnico neck humbucker, classic ceramic bridge humbucker, and both classic ’buckers on in the toggle switch’s middle position.

With the push/pull-switch in ”down” you get modern (read: active) counterparts of the sounds mentioned above.

Now you might ask: ”What’s the buzz? We’ve seen active/passive switching before!” And right you are – but this isn’t what’s happening with the Fishman Fluence humbuckers. The Fluence pickups stay active all the time, which means that the ”passive” tones are delivered with the same advantages active pickups offer. And there’s no drop in the nominal output levels between the classic and modern modes, only the basic tonality changes from a chunkier mid-range in classic mode to more bottom end punch and treble bite in modern mode.

Sequence: ”Classic” neck PU – both – bridge PU; ”Modern” neck PU – both – bridge PU

****

In terms of playability and handling there’s virtually nothing to divide this trio of LTD Phoenixes. They all come with a great-feeling neck that’s somewhere between a chunky late-Fifties Gibson neck profile and an early-Sixties Fender neck. The stainless steel frets offer a super-smooth playing surface, and the Phoenixes’ flat 13.8″/350 mm fingerboard radius couldn’t be any more eager to please during string bending.

My personal favourite of these three instruments would be the LTD Phoenix Arctic White, because I simply love the no-nonsense, no-compromise attitude of single pickup guitars. If you need a wider variety of tonal options your choice would depend on whether you are more of an out-and-out Rock and Metal player (LTD Phoenix-1000 See-Thru Black Cherry), or whether clean and only slightly overdriven sounds are also a vital part of your tonal arsenal (LTD Phoenix-1000 Vintage White).

In any case, all three guitars are fantastic players and quality instruments that will never leave you feel wanting. Try one now!

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