AMORPHIS Guitarists Sing ESP's Praises

AMORPHIS members Tomi Koivusaari and Esa Holopainen have joined the growing ranks of ESP artists. The two guitarists recently received their brand-new Eclipse guitars straight from ESP's custom shop, where the instruments had been built according to their own design and specifications. The endorsement had been initiated by Musamaailma, importer and distributor for ESP in Finland.

"Together with Musamaailma, we pondered the idea of designing our own custom guitars on the basis of the ESP Eclipse," said Esa. "In a way, it was quite a leap ahead for us, and ESP went along with the idea. We gave them our specifications, and the co-operation was very easy and hassle-free."

Since the early days of AMORPHIS, both Esa and Tomi have been known as avid Gibson players. While Esa has used a variety of Les Pauls, Flying Vs and most notably SGs in the course of his career, Tomi never parted way with his two Les Pauls. A favourite instrument always reflects the player's personality, and according to Tomi, changing brands after all these years was not a decision taken lightly. "In fact, we were a bit doubtful in the beginning," he said. "ESPs are good guitars, but we had been accustomed to playing Gibsons, so a certain amount of readjustment was involved. The new guitars play really well, though!" Esa added that the classic, Les-Paul-inspired shape of the ESP Eclipse helped to speed the decision. "It gave us the possibility of creating designs of our own, yet based on a very traditional model," he said. "Besides, ESP has developed some smart details of its own that you don't find, for example, in a Gibson."

Tomi's new guitars are based on the ESP Eclipse 1 CTM. The vintage black hue of one is found among the standard colours of the Eclipse range, the other shines in a special snow-white finish. Their headstocks are adorned with Tomi's signature, and the ESP lettering on the twelfth fret inlay has been replaced with his initials. The crescent inlay on the first fret, on a closer look, may also be interpreted to depict a partial eclipse. "The Eclipse's neck is a bit slimmer than that of a Gibson," Tomi remarked. "As for hardware modifications, I chose Gotoh tuners. They keep the tuning very stable."

Esa retained the regular Sperzel locking tuners on his two Custom Eclipses, but otherwise both deviate visibly from the standard model. Whereas the regular ESP Eclipse is known for its relatively slender and contoured body shape, these two guitars have a notably thicker body, with a flat back. One of them is plain black with white bindings and pickup frames, but the other, Esa's main guitar, is of a strikingly unique design. A see-through rosewood satin finish enhances the natural beauty of the mahogany top and is contrasted with a large ebony inlay in the shape of the sun; fashioned after the cover artwork of AMORPHIS' "Eclipse" album — above the bridge. Esa explained: "I was thinking about an actual rosewood top, but that's only used for basses. On a guitar, it would result in a muddy sound."

The regular flag shape fretboard inlays were, as on Tomi's instruments, replaced with block inlays, and as an additional extra, the truss rod cover traces the ESP headstock shape on both guitars. The headstock inlay spells Esa's name in a self-designed, ornamental fashion.

Both Esa and Tomi opted to have the Eclipse's standard active pickups replaced by passive models. Esa chose Seymour Duncan humbuckers for his instruments; the brown guitar is equipped with two Alnico 2 Pros and the black one has an SD Custom pickup at the bridge and an SD 59 model at the neck. Tomi uses EMG-HZ humbuckers on both guitars, the neck pickups being splittable. "A battery doesn't belong in a guitar!" he stated, and Esa added: "Active pickups work well for heavy metal, and I know many guitarists who wouldn't play anything else, but they don't leave much room for nuances. Passive pickups deliver a far more organic sound."

The moon and sun designs of Tomi's and Esa's guitars not only allude to the title of the band's current album "Eclipse", but are profoundly connected with AMORPHIS' songs and philosophy throughout the history of the band. The cycles of nature are an important source of songwriting inspiration for both guitarists: "The basic elements of life, yin and yang... the duality of Nature has always figured prominently in our lyrics."

After submitting their specifications to the ESP custom shop, Esa and Tomi had no way of following or influencing the building process, but when their guitars hit Finnish shores, both were perfectly satisfied with the outcome.

"ESP sent us data sheets at some point to verify the specifications, but the finished guitars were nevertheless quite a surprise", said Esa, to which Tomi added, "And a delightful one at that!"

Tomi's Eclipses are already road tested, as he received them in time for the summer festivals. "Since then, I've been breaking strings far less often than I used to, and the guitars hardly ever go out of tune. Besides, the Eclipse is much lighter than the Les Paul, which makes moving around on stage much more comfortable!" he commented. Esa's instruments arrived just before the club gigs AMORPHIS played this autumn, and his first impressions are very positive: "I'm really happy with them and like them both a lot! They have an excellent feel to them. Only the new straps are a bit too long, but that's better than the other way round!"

Over the past decade, ESP has evolved steadily from a minority brand into a serious competitor for the big names, posing a significant challenge to the traditional brands particularly in the metal genre. With good reason, as Esa pointed out: "Especially the new generation of ESPs have plenty of fresh ideas and innovations to offer. In comparison, the established manufacturers often seem to be stuck in a rut." "And they've priced themselves out of the market!" Tomi added. "ESP guitars, on the other hand, are very affordable, while at the same time their quality is flawless."

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