ESP LTD: Comprehensive Guide to the Brand’s Quality Guitars, Basses, More

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  May 3, 2022

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ESP LTD is a Japanese company that specializes in making guitars and basses. They’re known for their affordable yet high-quality instruments and are one of the top contenders in the industry. They’re also one of the most popular brands among professional musicians.

So, what is ESP LTD? Let’s find out!

ESP LTD logo

Understanding the Quality of ESP LTD Guitars

What are ESP LTD Guitars?

ESP LTD guitars are a range of electric guitars produced by the Japanese company ESP. They come in a variety of models to fit different budgets and levels of quality, and are divided into different series. For example, the EC series is designed to replicate the popular Gibson Les Paul models.

What’s the Average Price?

The average price of an ESP LTD guitar is around $500. The EC series is the most affordable, with models like the EC-256FM and EC-10 costing around $400. The EC-10 is a popular guitar, loaded with EMG pickups and a PMT.

What are the Different Tiers?

The LTD-10 series is the most affordable tier of ESP LTD guitars. These guitars are an excellent choice for beginners, with prices ranging from $200-$400.

The H and M series are mid-range priced guitars, with excellent quality and a better fit for intermediate players looking to invest a little more.

Finally, the Access tier models are the highest quality guitars, designed for professional players who want the best detail, build quality and aesthetics.

So, Are ESP LTD Guitars Any Good?

It’s clear that ESP LTD guitars are a great quality contender in the guitar manufacturer market. With a range of models to suit different budgets and levels of experience, you’re sure to find the perfect guitar for you. Whether you’re a beginner looking for an affordable option, or a professional looking for the best quality, ESP LTD has you covered.

What to Know About ESP LTD Basses


ESP LTD basses are a great option for any bass player looking for a versatile instrument with great tone and build quality. The LTD range offers affordable models, like the B-10, and a bit pricier ones, like the B-1004. This makes them a great choice for those on a budget, as well as for beginners looking for a heavier sound.

High Quality

The B-1004 is ESP LTD’s highest quality string bass. It’s a complete professional bass model with a multi-scale design. This essentially means the frets are longer than usual and the strings are optimised for tension, which enhances the tone and intonation.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, ESP LTD basses are an excellent choice for any bass player looking for a versatile instrument with great tone and build quality. Whether you’re a beginner or a professional, there’s an LTD bass for you.

The History of ESP LTD Guitars

The Early Days

ESP began in 1975 when Hisatake Shibuya opened a shop called Electric Sound Products in Tokyo, Japan. They provided custom replacement parts for guitars and soon began crafting custom instruments for local New York artists. Artists such as Page Hamilton of Helmet, Vernon Reid of Living Colour, Vinnie Vincent, Bruce Kulick of Kiss, Sid McGinnis of Late Night with David Letterman, and Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones all used ESP guitars.

The 1980s and 1990s

ESP introduced a series of production line guitars and basses that were distributed worldwide. At this time, ESP moved their headquarters to a loft downtown on New York City on 48th Street. This was near many music stores. ESP expanded their signature series and standard product line and discontinued their replacement parts business in order to focus solely on their guitar and bass line and custom shop series.

ESP moved their headquarters again, this time to Los Angeles on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood. The LTD series was created to produce ESP guitars of high quality at an affordable price. Soon after the introduction of the Korean and Indonesian LTD lines, ESP stopped selling the majority of their Japanese flagship guitars in the United States due to the high prices involved in exporting to the Americas. The lone exception was the ESP Artist Signature series which remained.

The 2000s and Beyond

In the early 2000s, ESP resumed exporting their standard Japanese lines to the United States. Popularity among heavy metal and hard rock players greatly increased, however prices compared to the early 1990s were much higher. Similarly to Ibanez, ESP’s chief competitor in Japan, ESP was initially known for making high quality customized replicas of famous American guitars, including hot-rodded Strats and Teles and Gibson Explorers. The Explorer model known as the EXP M-1 shot to fame when avid ESP user James Hetfield of the band Metallica rose to popularity in the late 80s and early 90s. Models similar to Hetfield’s black ESP today sell for thousands of dollars, far above their original retail price.

Like Ibanez and Gibson, ESP realized the extent to which their guitars were denting sales of other guitars and were sued in order to prevent the sales of their guitars in the Americas. ESP redesigned their lines to be more similar to American models.

ESP was ranked as one of the music industry’s fastest growing companies. Largely due to the Fender buyout of Jackson Guitars, ESP struggled to compete in the 1980s and 1990s. After the buyout, Jackson endorsers switched to ESP, igniting a feud between Jackson players and ESP players, with Jackson players pointing out that ESP was known for copying popular instruments, including the Jackson Soloist and Gibson Explorer models. Most famously, Jeff Hanneman of Slayer and James Hetfield of Metallica.

ESP introduced the Xtone line, beginning with the semi-hollow Paramount series. To celebrate their anniversary, ESP released the James Hetfield Truckster signature series. At the winter NAMM show, ESP showcased their newest signature series and standard series models. Standard series included models such as the ESP LTD EC-500 and ESP LTD B-500. Signature artists were on hand to showcase the newest ESP models and sign autographs at the ESP booth, including Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, George Lynch, Stephen Carpenter of the Deftones, and Michael Wilton.

In March, ESP began distributing Takamine guitars in the United States.

ESP LTD Guitars: A Brief Overview

ESP Guitars is a Japanese company that has been producing high-quality instruments for over 40 years. Their guitars are handcrafted and are available in a wide range of models, from the affordable LTD series to the high-end ESP Standard series.

Manufacturing Operations

ESP Guitars has been manufacturing guitars in various locations around the world for decades, including Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, and China. Their LTD series guitars are mainly aimed at beginners, while their higher-end models are handcrafted in Japan.

Grassroots Line

The Grassroots line of ESP guitars is a mid-range line of guitars that are manufactured in Korea and offer similar hardware to their higher-end ESP counterparts. This line of guitars is considered to be a budget line and is generally of a higher quality than the sub-400 series LTDs.

Custom Line

The Custom line of ESP guitars is known for producing some unusual designs, such as a Gundam Beam Rifle replica guitar and the Japanese band Alfee’s ESP Machinegun. ESP also produces hardware parts such as bass bridges, tremolos, pickups, sustainers, equalizers, etc., which are usually available for OEM use.

Comparing ESP and LTD Guitars


When it comes to ESP and LTD guitars, the materials used can be quite different. ESP guitars typically use mahogany for the body and maple for the neck, while LTD guitars usually use basswood for the body and mahogany or maple for the neck. Fingerboards can also vary, with ESP guitars usually having ebony or rosewood and LTD guitars having roasted jatoba.


Pickups are an important factor when it comes to sound quality. ESP guitars usually come with Seymour Duncan pickups, while LTD guitars come with ESP designed ones.


Tuners are an important part of keeping your guitar in tune. LTD guitars usually come with LTD tuners, while ESP guitars come with locking tuners.


The manufacturing process can also vary between ESP and LTD guitars. ESP guitars are usually handmade, while LTD guitars are usually made on a production line.


The type of wood used can also vary between ESP and LTD guitars. The most affordable models in the LTD series usually come with basswood bodies, while the higher end models can have swamp ash, which is a fantastic tonewood. The neck progression usually goes as follows: maple, roasted jatoba, macassar ebony. High end ESP guitars usually use Honduran mahogany with a 3-pc maple neck and ebony fingerboard.


The finish of the guitar is also an important factor when it comes to quality. ESP guitars usually come with custom sorts of exotic finishes, such as black, blue burst, magenta blue burst, and the Cast Metal Andromeda II finish.


When it comes to quality, there is a big gap between ESP and LTD guitars. ESP guitars are undoubtedly of the highest quality, which explains the price. LTD guitars, on the other hand, are excellent models that come at a much more affordable price. The biggest differences between the two can be seen in the hardware, pickups, quality of wood, and detail. Ultimately, it comes down to what you’re looking for in a guitar and how much you’re willing to spend.

What Makes ESP Guitars More Expensive Than LTD Guitars?

Talking guitars can cost thousands of dollars, and the difference between the quality of the two can be like night and day. ESP and LTD guitars are distributed completely differently, and there are a few reasons why ESP guitars are more expensive than LTD guitars.

The Manufacturing Process

ESP guitars are handmade by expert craftsman, and the attention to detail and care that goes into making them is handled in a way that just can’t be replicated in a mass production line. LTD guitars, on the other hand, are mass produced in places like China, Korea, and Indonesia.

The Materials Used

The types of woods used in the bodies and necks of the guitars, the components inside the guitars, and the pickups and tuners used are all different between ESP and LTD guitars. Here’s a handy table to show the difference between the two:

  • ESP
    • Body Wood: Mahogany
    • Neck Wood: Maple/Mahogany
    • Fingerboard: Ebony/Rosewood/Roasted Jotoba
    • Pickups: Seymore Duncan/EMG
    • Tuners: Locking
    • Manufactured: Japan
  • LTD
    • Body Wood: Mahogany
    • Neck Wood: Maple/Mahogany
    • Fingerboard: Rosewood/Roasted Jotoba
    • Pickups: EMG (Designed by EMG)
    • Tuners: LTD Tuners (Locking)
    • Manufactured: Korea/Indonesia

The Brand Name

When you buy a proper Gibson or Fender, you’re paying for the bulk cost of the guitar, but you’re also paying for the salaries and wages of the people who make the guitar, the luthiers. ESP guitars are handmade in Japan, and LTD guitars are made in places like China, Korea, and Indonesia.

At the end of the day, you’re buying a known brand name when you buy a Gibson or Fender. ESP guitars are hand made by expert craftsman in Japan, and LTD guitars are mass produced in places like China, Korea, and Indonesia. The difference in quality between the two is like night and day, and you’re paying for the quality when you buy an ESP guitar.

Different Types of Pickups

There are a few different types of pickups out there. Some of the most popular are:

  • EMG Pickups: These are favored by many of the best metal guitarists working today. They are often found on ESP guitars, but they can be expensive.
  • Seymour Duncan Pickups: These are a great option if you want a real tone but don’t want to pay too much.
  • LTD Designed Pickups: These are found on the more affordable LTD models. They are adequate for beginner players, but if you want a better sound you’ll have to pay a little extra.


When it comes to pickups, ESP guitars offer a pretty sweet deal. You can get excellent pickups on the more expensive LTD models, and the more affordable models come with LTD designed pickups. If you’re on a tight(ish) budget, the LTD designed pickups are adequate for beginner players. But if you want a real tone, you’ll have to pay a little extra for EMG pickups. Signature models are also a great option if you want a premium, high-end guitar.

What You Need to Know About Tonewoods

Tonewoods are an age-old source of debate among guitarists and tone purists. They argue that high-quality wood types are integral in creating great tone and enhancing the playability of an instrument. Some guitarists, like Jack White for example, prefer to use cheaper guitars and use woods considered to be of lesser quality. But, at the end of the day, it’s all a matter of personal preference.

ESP Guitars

ESP guitars generally use a combination of mahogany for the body and maple and mahogany for the neck and ebony for the fingerboard. This is seen as the premium selection of tonewoods, designed to extract the best possible tone from the guitar and promote playability.

LTD Guitars

LTD guitars, on the other hand, commonly use a mahogany or basswood body, a maple or mahogany neck, and the biggest difference is apparent in the choice of fingerboard. You’ll find rosewood, roasted jatoba, and even the cheapest models of the LTD series exclusively use basswood for the body wood. This is because it’s an easy source and relatively inexpensive, which keeps the cost of budget guitars to a minimum.

Premium Range

The high-end ESP models use a rare type of mahogany for the body, sourced from Honduras, and a neck piece of maple and a fingerboard of luxurious ebony. This combination of expensive tonewoods is combined with pricier materials to keep the cost of the lower-cost guitars slightly lower.

Understanding the Difference between ESP LTD and ESP Guitars

What are ESP LTD and ESP Guitars?

ESP LTD and ESP guitars are two different types of electric guitars. ESP LTD guitars are more affordable and are designed to closely resemble the more expensive ESP guitars. ESP guitars are typically high-end and feature pickups from legendary manufacturers like Seymour Duncan.

What’s the Difference in Electronics?

The key difference between the two types of guitars is the electronics installed. The onboard electronics have a large impact on the amplified tone of the guitar. ESP guitars typically feature pickups from Seymour Duncan, which are built to a high standard to ensure a natural tone when the guitar is amplified.

On the other end of the spectrum, LTD guitars use ESP pickups which are still of a high standard, but don’t quite match the quality of Seymour Duncan pickups. They still do a decent job of producing a similar tone to the Seymour Duncan alternatives.

What Tone Does Each Guitar Produce?

ESP guitars use different variations of Seymour Duncan pickups, depending on the exact model. High output single coil models are often used to produce the high energy tone associated with these guitars.

LTD guitars, on the other hand, are designed to closely resemble the tone of the more expensive ESP guitars, and their ESP pickups produce a similar tone to the Seymour Duncan alternatives.

Difference in craftsmanship

ESP offers a range of guitars that cater to all levels of players. The high-end models are handcrafted by world-renowned guitar engineers in Japan, while the LTD range of guitars are mass-produced in Korea and Indonesia. The USA series of guitars are also produced in California, and include the affordable LTD E-II models.

The Finish and Detail

When it comes to guitars, the devil is in the details. The finish and small nuances of a guitar can make all the difference to a musician, and ESP guitars have some custom features and exotic finishes that set them apart. These finishes include cast metal, andromeda, transparent black, blue burst, and more. The range of finishes available on high-end ESP guitars varies depending on the specific model.

LTD guitars, on the other hand, offer a range of quality finishes that closely resemble those of ESP guitars. But if you look closely, there are some noticeable differences.

The Bottom Line

So, if you’re looking for a quality guitar but don’t want to break the bank, an LTD model might be the way to go. You’ll still get the same great sound and features, just at a more affordable price.

But if you want to make sure you get the best of the best, then an ESP guitar is the way to go. Here are some of the features you can expect:

  • Quality and diversity of finishes
  • Unique and exotic finishes
  • Closely resembling ESP guitars
  • Noticeable differences when analyzed closely

What to Consider When Buying an ESP LTD Guitar

ESP LTD guitars are a great option for aspiring metal guitarists who are looking for an affordable instrument. But is an ESP LTD guitar worth it? Let’s take a look at what you should consider when deciding if an ESP LTD guitar is the right choice for you.


ESP LTD guitars usually cost between $200 and $1000, depending on the model. This is a great price range for a guitar that looks great, packs in some impressive electronics and specs, and plays beautifully.


ESP LTD guitars are designed for metal and rock music, but they can also be used for blues, jazz, and other types of world music. If you’re looking for an instrument that can do it all, an ESP LTD guitar might be the way to go.

Notable Players

ESP LTD guitars have been used by some of the biggest names in metal, including James Hetfield, Bill Kelliher, Alexi Laiho, and Stephen Carpenter. If you’re looking for an instrument that can help you get the same sound as your favorite metalhead, an ESP LTD guitar might be the way to go.

The Best Option

If you’re looking for the best affordable ESP LTD guitar, the EC-256 is a great option. It costs around $400 and plays amazingly. It runs on impressive ESP humbucker pickups and has a divine finish on the fretboard. For the price, it’s hard to find a better guitar.

Guitar Legends Who Play LTD Guitars

Metallica’s James Hetfield

James Hetfield is a man, a myth, and a legend. He’s the frontman and lead guitarist of Metallica, one of the biggest metal bands of all time. He’s been playing LTD guitars since the early 2000s and is an official ESP artist.

Kirk Hammett of Metallica

Kirk Hammett is the lead guitarist of Metallica and has been an ESP artist since the late 1980s. He’s known for his unique playing style and has been an LTD guitar player since the early 2000s.

Alexi Laiho of Children of Bodom

Alexi Laiho is the frontman and lead guitarist of the Finnish melodic death metal band Children of Bodom. He’s been an ESP artist since the early 2000s and has been playing LTD guitars since then.

Other Big Name Artists

ESP also sponsors some other big name artists, including:

  • Javier Reyes of Animals as Leaders
  • Stephen Carpenter of Deftones
  • Alex Skolnick of the thrash metal godfathers Testament
  • Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones, one of ESP’s longest-running endorsers

Oddball of the Time

And of course, there’s always the oddball of the time. In this case, it’s James Hetfield of Metallica, who’s been playing LTD guitars since the early 2000s.


ESP LTD is a great brand for guitars, especially for metal players. They’re well-built, look great, and sound amazing. Plus, they’re affordable and a great option for any guitarist. So if you’re looking for an ESP, you can’t go wrong with an LTD!

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.

Check me out on Youtube where I try out all of this gear:

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