Today we are looking at the ESP Standard Series Phoenix II B bass guitar, which is their take on the Gibson Thunderbird. There were sold from 2009 through 2012 with little success in the US market, though their cheaper LTD version seems to still be doing pretty well. I recently had the chance to pick up a few of these for short money, and cold not resist, as they are really wonderful instruments.
For starters, this is a real live ESP bass, not an LTD model that was made by craftsmen in Japan, not by little kids in some third world country. And every ESP bass (or guitar) I’ve had has been a great player with no cosmetic or functional flaws.
And the Phoenix is no exception: this is a super smooth-playing neck-through bass, and the build quality is first rate. The neck is spot on, with perfect fretwork, and a great action is attainable with a minimum of fussing around. The 2-tone burst finish (black was also available) is deep and gorgeous, though the white pick-guard is a bit too much of a visual contrast for me.
The body is mahogany, and with a modified reverse Thunderbird shape. As I said it is neck-through, and the 34-inch scale maple neck has a bound ebony fretboard. The neck has a thin-U profile with 21 extra-jumbo frets and a 40mm (1 9/16-inch) bone nut. I like the inlays, especially the ESP inlay at the 12th fret, which hearkens back to the ESP 400 models that really made a name for the company.
The hardware is excellent, with a custom high-mass bridge and large-base cloverleaf tuners. Like I said, the white pickguard does not do much for me, but it is a quality multi-ply piece.
The electronics are first-rate, as ESP sourced a pair of EMG 35DC ceramic magnet pickups that are powered by a single 9-volt battery that is hidden by the coolest battery box design that I have ever seen. The wiring and joints are very neat, and the cavity is nicely coated. The controls are two volume pots and a master tone control.
The bass plays wonderfully and sound amazing, and can everything from jazz to blues to rock to metal which only minor adjustments of the knobs and your playing style. It balances much better on a strap than any Gibson I have ever played, which might be due to the 10.5 pounds of fine hardwoods they crammed into this package.
These basses shipped in a black ESP deluxe tolex hardshell case, which is to be expected at this price point. And that price is probably what killed this bass in our market. As you may know, the dollar was really weak around the time these were being built, and ESP needed a lot more dollars to make the same amount of Yen. The list price for the ESP Phoenix II bass was a nut-shrinking $2750, with a street price of $1900. That was Sadowsky Metro series money, so you can see why ESP had a lot of trouble moving these.
Anyway, they are great basses that are as rare as hen’s teeth, so if you see one make sure you get a chance to try it out. You might just like what you hear!