ESP Company, Ltd is a Japanese guitar manufacturing business. It primarily focuses on creating electric guitars and basses, with offices located in Tokyo and Los Angeles.
As with most guitar companies, you’ll find several distinctive product lines to review. ESP works under names that include “Custom Shop” and “Standard,” while LTD uses “Grassroots” and “Navigator.”
The company started in 1975 when Hisatake Shibuya opened a shop in Tokyo to provide custom replacement parts.
It would take about eight years for the company to start sending parts to the United States, but the brand was selling the guitars it made in Japan with relative consistency.
By 1984, ESP was making custom instruments for several NYC artists, including Vinnie Vincent, Bruce Kulick, Ronnie Wood, and Vernon Reid.
When you know the differences between ESP vs. LTD guitars, you can select the instrument that works the best for your particular playing style.
ESP vs. LTD Guitars (Differences Explained)
When you compare ESP vs. LTD guitars, you’re purchasing an instrument from the same manufacturer. The difference between the two styles is that an ESP guitar comes from a premium series, whereas the LTD brand is a more affordable design. Takamine is also part of the company.
If you look at the differences between ESP and LTD guitars today, you’ll notice three primary differences. The ESP series has significant increases in finish detail, tonewood, and hardware.
It would be fair to say that LTD guitars are the mass-produced version of the ESP series.
The company became famous because it made and endorsed guitars for artists who became some of the biggest names in thrash metal during the 1980s. Bands like Anthrax, Metallica, and KISS all used instruments manufactured by the company, making ESP one of the biggest names in the heavy metal genre.
Over 100 musicians actively endorse ESP guitars today.
Although the company caters to all players, LTD-branded instruments are meant more for beginners and entry-level musicians. It’s an affordable style because it is a mass-produced unit, but you can still detect some of the trademark sounds that started with Hisatake Shibuya.
Once you feel comfortable with that initial instrument, the goal is to work your way up to an ESP guitar.
ESP continues to make other components underneath their corporate umbrella, including tremolos, pickups, equalizers, and sustainers. The items are usually for OEM use through an authorized dealer or repair shop, but it is sometimes possible to get these items from music stores or limited online listings.
What You Should Know About ESP Guitars
When you look at today’s best ESP guitars, it’s likely that the instrument came from the company’s custom shop in Japan.
The ESP Custom Shop produces three different guitar types and basses at their location.
- You can buy a 100% custom instrument based on your design, material, color, and other preferences. It’s the only place for one-offs, and there’s almost no idea that’s off-limits.
- The ESP Original Series guitars are created at this facility. These instruments get produced in small quantities, often featuring the classic shapes that the brand is known to make.
- All of the Signature Series basses and guitars built for the ESP brand are also made in Japan.
When you purchase one of these guitars, you can have confidence in the final product. Each one gets handcrafted by an expert luthier to achieve the highest levels of detail possible. That’s why these guitars often rank as some of the finest you can play in the world today.
ESP currently manufacturers two guitar lines that you can only purchase in Japan. They are called the Edwards and Grassroots series, with the latter meant for the lower end of the pricing spectrum.
It would be fair to compare the Grassroots guitars to the ESP LTD 400 series or below.
You’ll find several body shapes available in the ESP guitar line. Everything from Flying Vs to Star-shaped options are there, along with Strat-style and Les Paul-inspired instruments.
If you ever get the chance to grab the ESP Vulture from the James Hetfield signature series, you’ll appreciate the intricate dynamics that went into the guitar.
■ Did You Know About the ESP USA Line?
You can also purchase guitars from ESP USA. The company opened a manufacturing shop near the company’s American headquarters in 2013 for the exclusive purpose of creating the ESP USA guitar series.
These high-performance instruments are perfect for the serious professional who wants an exceptional guitar without investing in a one-off or a limited edition. ESP allows you to personalize several aspects of it anyway, including the finish color, pickup type, wood species, and more.
One of the best examples of the ESP USA efforts is the Eclipse guitar, which is currently manufactured in Southern California.
What You Should Know About LTD Guitars
LTD guitars first launched in 1995 from the Hisatake Shibuya-founded company.
This effort aimed to help musicians own an electric guitar or bass with better playability and sound qualities than other instruments at this price range.
Although you won’t find luthier-made LTD guitars for sale, the manufacturing processes in Korea, China, and Indonesia are quite strict. It might be a beginner’s instrument, but it is still an excellent performer.
One of the best pound-for-pound guitars in the world today comes from the LTD line. If you need a new instrument, the LTD M-403HT is an excellent example of how reliability and affordability can come together in one package.
Although anything in the 400 series is a solid instrument from LTD guitars, the M-403HT is created with the technical player in mind. You’ll appreciate the thin, flat maple neck immediately, allowing your fingers to travel up and down the 24 frets. It uses a Seymour Duncan single-coil design and humbuckers for a vintage voice.
The high gains are a little pitchy at times, there’s no denying that you’ll get the hardtail of your dreams while spending less than $1,000 for it. The Pau Ferro fingerboard gives the sound some warmth that you can’t get from other models, but it does use passive electronics.
You can also get a signature series guitar from LTD if you want to get something specific. These unique instruments are still made at Asian factories, but a 600 Series from this line is the equivalent of the 1000 Series from the LTD Deluxe options that you can sometimes find online.
Are ESP Guitars Worth the Money?
If you find yourself looking at a $5,000 ESP Original Series Eclipse guitar, it might cause a trickle of doubt to enter your mind about its value.
It’s also important to remember that anything from that line comes from the highest production line available from the company. The only thing you can get that’s better is something from the Custom Shop.
That makes the Original Series Eclipse about two tiers above the EC-401, which is still one of the best guitars you can buy.
The Original Series Eclipse is a guitar built to last, even for the most demanding of musicians. You can push it to the limit for any genre, ensuring that you always hear what is needed for accompaniment or melody.
The set-neck design is quite comfortable, providing fast movement to the higher frets without compromising the sustain or resonance.
With that said, you can sometimes find a Gibson Les Paul guitar that delivers a comparable result to an ESP Eclipse for about half of the cost with some models.
If you were to compare a Gibson Custom ’59 to a top ESP guitar, you’d find that the sound qualities are quite similar to the vintage tones from yesteryear. You’d also save about $2,500 by going with the ESP over the Les Paul.
For most musicians, the goal is to get an instrument that makes them feel comfortable. If that means you spend a little more to purchase that benefit, the money is usually worth spending. It’s only when the instrument is above a comfortable budget that things don’t make a lot of sense.
How to Spot a Fake ESP Guitar
Since some ESP guitars are pretty valuable, it’s not unusual to see the market flooded with some fakes. When you shop online, those counterfeit instruments can be a little difficult to spot.
It’s not that difficult to upload a picture of an authentic ESP guitar to make it seem as if the listing is for the real thing.
That’s why you’ll want to read through the guitar’s description carefully before clicking on the purchase button. If you see any typos, misspelled words, or terms that sound disjointed or awkward, you should skip that instrument.
ESP has offices in Southern California staffed with native English speakers. Although some scammers would have you believe that their Japanese to ESL is what creates the problem, it’s more than likely you’ve got a counterfeit trying to get sold.
Here are some other ways that you can spot a fake ESP guitar.
- Control Plates. Most of the counterfeit ESP guitars come with an incorrect control plate. You’ll see that the logo for the company isn’t in the correct place. Some of them even have misplaced serial numbers or none at all.
- Guitar Shape. You’ll find that the body shape of some counterfeit guitars is slightly off, as if it got cut from a template instead of through the defined processes of ESP’s manufacturing techniques.
- Hardware Issues. Each ESP guitar comes with specific pickups and other hardware that the guitar maker outlines in its product description. You can compare notes from one listing to another to determine what should arrive, allowing you to immediately return anything that doesn’t fit that description.
If you’re working with an independent seller to get your ESP guitar, you should receive detailed pictures of the instrument upon request. Should you not receive any images, you should steer clear of that transaction.
Some scammers will send altered images or copied pictures from other listings to make it seem as if the guitar they have is authentic. You can avoid problems in this area by using the similar image search option that Google offers.
If you have the chance to play the guitar, you’ll notice sound differences between an authentic ESP and a counterfeit option. It might look like something real, but the substandard materials will eventually come out to tell their truth.
ESP Guitars keeps an online record of the companies that have falsely represented themselves as selling legitimate products. You can avoid many of these issues by working with authorized distributors or dealers.
■ List of Companies to Avoid When Buying ESP or LTD Guitars
This list of companies comes straight from ESP Guitars. If you believe your business is listed here incorrectly, please contact the company to remove your name from their false representation list.
|Acemate Music||AliExpress||Antonio Guitars||Axel Motors||Blinq.com||Buya.com|
|DockExpo||DowntownPhoto||Entegron||ESPGuitarsonline.com||Happy Smile Japan||Kellards|
|Lauren and Victoria||Music Station||Online Dealz||Prospernia||Seashrimp85||Shop Net|
|Xcess Limited||ShipFourFree||Victory Guitar Shop||South Coast Music||Wonderlands|
If you shop online for ESP or LTD guitars, several reputable buyers are available. You can also find several excellent options online.
A Final Thought on ESP vs. LTD Guitars
When you shop for an ESP or LTD guitar, it is imperative to pay attention to the product description. Numerous third-party vendors are selling unauthorized copies of these instruments online, often at a price that seems beyond belief.
You will not find an ESP guitar from their custom shop in Japan for under $1,000. Even if it is only in satisfactory condition on the second-hand market, most instruments sell for $1,500 to $2,500 – and some cost much more.
For me, it’s not worth the risk of purchasing something questionable. There isn’t an ESP clone out there today that sounds as good as the real thing! If you see listings that give your instincts a bad vibe, your best choice is to keep looking.
Although I’ve never owned an ESP guitar personally, I have played a few of them over the years. It’s a silky-smooth strum, especially with the balanced weight you get from the instrument. The body feels a little wider than a Fender, and the sounds are throaty, dynamic, and pulsating.
You’ll get some extra distortion when playing an LTD, and the tone quality feels a little breathy compared to the more expensive counterpart. Even with the potential disruptions, the LTD 1000 Series is still better than the premium instruments that some brands produce.
If you can afford an ESP guitar, get it. The instrument will serve you well for many years! When that isn’t a possibility, you can still have lots of fun playing an LTD instrument. Although the cheaper series get made in factories throughout Asia, the quality controls implemented in each location ensure that you get the consistency you deserve.