I started playing guitar in 1967, and got my first electric in 1970, an Epiphone ET-270 my mother bought me for $99.
Economy guitars back then were comprised of Epiphone, Harmony, Teisco, Silvertone, and an array of junk instruments sold by department stores and places like Woolworths. Most of them were just barely playable enough to learn the instrument. We all yearned for a real guitar like a Fender or Gibson because they were built without compromise, and played and sounded great.
Later in the seventies companies like Ibanez started upping the quality factor and while good guitars, they were still cheaper than their American counterparts. Fender and Gibson quality went down in the seventies due to bad management, and eventually overseas companies overtook them and were building better guitars.
In the 90's CNC (computer numeric control) machines were used by most all guitar manufacturers. This computer guided carving machine could crank out guitar bodies and necks with tight precision, enabling guitar makers to mass produce guitars but still have high quality. Couple that with cheap labor from far eastern countries, the easing of import tariffs by the U.S. government, and you enter the age of good, inexpensive guitars. Using the CNC machines, companies like Agile, Staggs, Johnson, Dillion, Stellar and more all build guitars light years away in quality compared to instruments of the sixties and seventies.
I stumbled across this Stellar brand Mercury 6, a Les Paul copy, while surfing Ebay. Set neck, mahogany body, exact same dimensions as a Gibson Les Paul, and a hardshell case for $235 shipped to my door!! I wanted a Les Paul but no way was I going to spring stupid money for a real one, so I took a chance on this guitar.
The short story: It's a great guitar.
The long story: They cut costs in a variety of ways. The strings it came with were godawful, I changed them immediately. While playable out of the box, the guitar badly needed a setup to lower the action, set the intonation, and adjust the neck truss rod. It took a couple of trips to my guitar guy before it settled in.
The fretwork is top notch, better than some brand name guitars. No sharp edges, leveled and crowned well, etc. The hardware is good, but not top notch. I decided to swap the bridge for a Gotoh for more precision. There were some tuning issues but a change of nut fixed that. The only other hardware change I made was to put straplocks on it, which all Les Pauls need.
The pickups are surprisingly good; the bridge measures at about 12k and the neck measures about 8.5, like a PAF. I was adjusting the pickup height and noticed they are potted, another surprise. They sound really good, possibly a bit darker in tone than a real LP due to the all mahogany body. I put a cap and resistor treble bleed network on each volume pot to keep some of the high end when I turn the volume down.
The finish is very good, with no noticeable flaws. The wood grain is not perfect; You are certainly not going to get bookmatched wood at this price, but that's fine with me.
The guitar is a tad heavier than my Strat, but not bad at all. I don't mind a heavy guitar anyway. Once setup and adjusted properly, this guitar plays and sounds great! It has terrific sustain. I am primarily a Strat man, and was expecting to have a hard time adjusting to the body style and the different controls, but that wasn't the case. I play it quite a bit.