Ultimate Guide to
ESP Guitars

ESP Guitars is a popular Japanese instrument manufacturer. Founded in 1975, the brand started life as a replacement parts company but has since grown into an industry powerhouse - boasting a huge guitar catalogue comprising various shapes and series’.

In this extensive guide, we’ve dissected the entire ESP electric guitar lineup to make it as easy as possible for you to find your new axe - whether that be an affordable LTD model or a premium Custom Shop creation!

ESP Guitars Comparison Guide
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Written by

Elliot Stent

ESP (Electric Sound Products) is recognised as a dominant force in the guitar community. The brand’s instruments are seen wielded on stages all over the world, with a host of renowned players relying on their high-performance models - including Metallica’s James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett, George Lynch, Stephen Carpenter (Deftones) and Bill Kelliher (Mastodon).

As the majority of ESP’s models sport cutting-edge body styles and modern electronic/hardware appointments, it’s therefore no surprise why their products find favour with hard rock and metal musicians looking to push the musical boundaries. However, ESP caters for players with traditional tastes too, with some of its best-selling guitars based on iconic shapes and formulas.

While electric guitars are ESP’s speciality, it’s worth mentioning that they also manufacture basses and acoustic guitars. We'll be focusing solely on ESP’s electric guitars in this guide, but these alone are wildly varied and split into distinctive ranges that suit players of differing disciplines and budgets. Use our tiles below to skip to a particular series/model, or scroll further to learn about where particular ESP series’ are made.

Where are ESP Guitars Made?

ESP is a guitar industry giant, so it should therefore come as no surprise that they split manufacturing across factories in different countries. This allows them to create both high-end guitars for professional musicians, and more affordable models for the mass market. Here’s a breakdown of all of ESP’s main series’:

ESP Original Series

ESP’s finest production guitars are crafted in its native Japan. These models are hand-built by master luthiers at the company’s Custom Shop division in Tokyo, which offer a level of finesse and detail that, in ESP’s own words, “border on the obsessive”. They are designed for the most fastidious of players who seek only the best tonewoods and components available, with zero compromises on aesthetics too!

ESP USA Series

Electronic Sound Products also has a US factory that builds premium guitars for the North American market. Crafted by hand in sunny Southern California, these ESP instruments are considered on-par with those made in Japan - in terms of both build quality and specifications. ESP USA guitars are available from only selected high-end retailers, and can be custom-ordered with various combinations of tonewoods, electronics and hardware appointments.

ESP E-II Series

The E-II Series bridges the gap between ESP’s Original range and their budget-friendly LTD lineup. Built in Japan, ESP’s E-II guitars are designed with practically the same level of precision and detail you’d expect from those constructed in their Custom Shop. Top-quality aftermarket electronics and premium materials ensure fantastic sonics, with stunningly-crafted bodies and necks delivering unrivalled playability.

ESP LTD Series

The LTD Series is where you’ll find ESP’s most affordable guitars. This product line was founded in 1996, at a time when ESP sought to bring the quality and prestige of its Japanese-made instruments to the mass market. The ESP LTD Series comprises a vast selection of models, which cater for beginners and intermediates (200 Series) all the way up to professionals seeking exceptional quality without breaking the bank.

The Eclipse (EC Series) is one of ESP’s most popular models. Based on the iconic single-cut shape, the ESP Eclipse is regarded as a modern interpretation of the classic LP guitar - typically fitted with high-output pickups, jumbo frets and cutting-edge hardware. The Eclipse is available in all of ESP’s main instrument series’, which makes it one of the brand’s most accessible models.

ESP Eclipse guitars often boast Mahogany bodies and necks, giving them a bold and harmonically-rich sound with lots of singing sustain. This is also thanks in part to their set-neck construction. However, the ESP Eclipse strays from the LP blueprint with its thinner body design and “belly cut”, which reduces weight and provides extra onstage comfort. Some models also feature 24 frets, with sculpted neck heels that enable easy access to the full 2-octave range.

Almost all ESP Eclipse models sport powerful dual-humbucker pickup configurations. While the more affordable models will boast proprietary ESP pickups, pricier LTD, E-II and Original Series versions come equipped with high-quality aftermarket pickups from the likes of Seymour Duncan, EMG, Bare Knuckle and Fishman.

Regarding hardware, you’ll find that practically all ESP Eclipse models come kitted out with high-quality Tonepros ‘TOM’ bridges and tailpieces. Built to withstand the rigours of the road, these well-engineered pieces of hardware allow for easy action and intonation adjustments, with their locking designs also making string changes easier. Selected LTD Eclipse guitars come installed with Evertune bridges, which use a highly-innovative system that prevents any tuning slips!

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ESP’s Horizon model is a shredder’s dream! A true modern classic, the Horizon is one of ESP’s first instruments and was brought to life in the ‘80s when “Super-S” guitars were at the peak of their popularity. Bridging the gap between S-type and LP-style instruments with its utilitarian body shape, 25.5” scale length, carved top and powerful dual-humbucker configuration; the Horizon is now regarded as a high-performance, contemporary instrument that stands out on its own.

Most ESP Horizon guitars are crafted from Mahogany and Maple, used for their bodies and necks respectively. Mahogany serves as a great tonal foundation due to its rich tonal qualities and resonance, while Maple introduces plenty of top-end snap that’s perfect for tight riffing. The majority of ESP Horizon models will also have a set or neck-thru construction; enhancing sustain and providing generous access to their upper register. Extra jumbo frets, flat fingerboards and thin neck profiles make these models simply a delight to play for modern metallers.

Just like many of its cousins in the ESP catalogue, Horizon models are commonly outfitted with sizzlingly-hot humbuckers from Seymour Duncan, EMG and Fishman. Designed to handle copious amounts of gain, these pickups are still highly-versatile - especially with push/pull coil-splitting functionality available on most ESP and LTD Horizon guitars.

There is plenty of diversity in the ESP Horizon lineup, mostly due to the amount of bridge options available. A lot of ESP Horizon guitars are appointed with Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo systems, which are perfect for players who adore 80’s-style whammy bar acrobatics! If you prefer a simpler setup, there are alternative ESP Horizons fitted with Hipshot hardtail bridges or Tonepros ‘TOM’ tailpieces. But if you’re a real stickler for tuning stability, then the Evertune-equipped Horizon models are definitely for you!

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The Viper is an ESP stalwart. Essentially an offset SG-style guitar, the Viper is a sleeker and more elegant instrument that has become a favourite among ESP aficionados for its devilish double-cut design and contemporary feature-set. Several versions of the Viper are available in the current ESP catalogue, catering for most price-points and skill levels.

ESP Viper guitars are usually built from Mahogany, with a set/set-thru concept used to join their bodies and necks together - yielding excellent sustain and tonal breadth. They mostly feature manageable 24.75” scale lengths, but there are baritone versions available which have longer 27” scales to handle drop-tunings more effectively. And like most ESP models, Vipers feature accessible 24-fret fingerboards with comfortable ‘Thin U’-shaped necks that enable speedy playability.

The majority of ESP Viper models come loaded with EMG humbucking pickups, which deliver a ferocious sound thanks to their active design and ultra-high output. There are exceptions though, as recent Vipers have come equipped with passive humbuckers from Seymour Duncan. Entry-level LTD 200 Series Vipers are fitted with proprietary ESP-designed pickups, but they’re still plenty potent!

Hardware-wise, ESP Vipers sport appointments that are similar to those found on their Eclipse counterparts. Reliable Tonepros locking ‘TOM’ bridges and tailpieces are most common across the Viper range, although Evertune systems are fitted to selected LTD models - ingeniously designed to keep guitars in tune forever! Grover tuners are installed on most LTD Viper guitars, with locking Gotoh machine heads found on the pricier Japanese-made models.

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ESP’s M and MH Series guitars have been around since the ‘80s, with their “Super-S” styling fully indicative of the era in which they came to fruition! Resembling ESP’s more renowned Horizon model, the brand’s M Series models have a slightly more traditional vibe with their flat body tops and the iconic ESP headstock design. The MH Series models are much the same, but have carved tops for that extra sense of contemporary finesse.

The majority of ESP’s M Series guitars feature Alder bodies and Maple necks - adhering to the timeless S-type tonewood formula. This blend of materials yields focused mid-range tones, perfect for cutting through any frantic rock or metal mix. Both neck-thru and bolt-on configurations are available, with the former ensuring enhanced sustain and the latter providing more top-end snap for crisp riffing.

Just like a lot of their counterparts in ESP’s vast range, M and MH Series guitars are equipped with high-output pickups from Seymour Duncan and EMG. More recent examples have even been fitted with Bare Knuckle humbuckers hand-wired in the UK though, as well as the increasingly-popular Fluence pickups from Fishman - able to handle copious amounts of gain and boasting different voicing modes for a wide tonal palette!

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The Snapper (SN Series) is one of ESP’s most traditional guitars, both aesthetically and in terms of its feature-set. Boasting a conventional double-cutaway body shape akin to an S-type, the Snapper also sports a pickguard and even comes equipped with single-coil pickups - making it fairly unique against the largely contemporary ESP guitar lineup.

With Alder and Swamp Ash body options, it’s clear that the ESP Snapper sticks closely to the typical S-style construction - especially with its bolt-on Maple neck. This type of design and use of tonewoods yields a bright and “snappy” tone, hence the model’s name! ESP Snapper guitars also boast a conventional 25.5” scale length, which gives them a nice and balanced string tension with plenty of note definition.

Regarding electronics, ESP Snapper models typically feature versatile HSS configurations - making them among ESP’s most flexible and well-rounded instruments. LTD Snapper guitars often come equipped with Seymour Duncan or EMG pickups, but recent Japanese-crafted Snapper models are fitted with ESP’s newly-designed ‘Custom Lap’ pickups - said to be exceptionally vibrant and full of rich overtones.

The majority of SN Series guitars have ESP’s ‘Flicker III’ tremolo bridge fitted as standard. Perfect for vintage aficionados who prefer the feel and response of a classic vibrato, there are also examples that have Floyd Rose locking tremolos instead - for a vintage/modern ‘80s vibe.

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ESP’s TE Series is aimed at the modern musician looking for exceptional playability, powerful sonics and forward-thinking features from a guitar with a T-style body shape. A contemporary alternative to the classic T-type with its dual humbucker configuration, slim neck carve and 24-fret fingerboard - the current ESP TE Series comprises various models at price-points suitable for most players.

All current ESP TE Series guitars feature thick-sounding Mahogany bodies with Maple necks. While the more expensive LTD and E-II versions feature set-thru and neck-thru constructions, yielding brilliant sustain and harmonically-rich overtones, the affordable 200 Series TE models adhere to a more traditional bolt-on construction; giving them a snappier sound that even taps into that traditional T-style “twang”!

Most of ESP’s guitars feature pairs of humbuckers, and the TE Series models aren’t exempt to this formula either. Producing bold, full-bodied tones that are perfectly suited to high-gain; selected ESP TE guitars also have coil-splitting electronics that allow you to attain spanky T-type single-coil tones. Cheaper TE-200 models are fitted with ESP-designed pickups, while the more high-end options come with active EMG humbuckers.

Fixed hardtail bridges are fitted to almost all ESP and LTD TE Series guitars. Robust and low maintenance, these bonehead-simple bridges are comfortable for palm-muting and enable easy access for action and intonation tweaks. There are selected LTD models that boast Evertune bridges instead, which - as their name suggests - never go out of tune!

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The ESP Arrow is an ultra-stealthy take on the iconic V-shaped guitar. With elegant contours and a striking asymmetrical body design that almost resembles a weapon; this modern machine is made for lightning-fast licks and chaotic thrash metal riffing! The Arrow model can be found in all ESP ranges, from the affordable LTD 200 Series to the Japanese-made Original lineup.

ESP’s audacious Arrow guitar bodies are crafted from Mahogany or Alder, depending on the model. While Mahogany provides a rich sound with deep lows, Alder is more balanced sounding and forms a tighter sound with a barking mid-range. One of the most noteworthy elements of the ESP Arrow’s design though is its contemporary neck-thru construction. Giving notes piano-like sustain, this type of design also ensures unhindered playability all the way up to the 24th fret.

Humbucker pairings give these futuristic-looking guitars plenty of fire-power. While the affordable 200 Series Arrow comes installed with ESP-designed humbuckers, all other models are equipped with active EMG pickups that have plenty of muscle and output - complementing its aggressive aesthetics.

In terms of their hardware, ESP Arrow guitars come factory-fitted with either Floyd Rose double-locking tremolo systems or Gotoh tune-o-matic bridges. So whether you love creating searing squealies or prefer a solid feel for heavy palm-muting - both preferences are accommodated for!

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Are these ESP’s most extreme-looking guitars? Quite possibly! The Japanese brand’s F and FRX (Forest) Series models convey a modern/gothic vibe with their stealthily-designed body shapes - sporting multiple points and elegant contours. If you want an instrument that simply screams “metal”, then it’s hard to beat one of ESP’s F and FRX Series guitars!

Almost all ESP models feature bodies crafted from Mahogany, and the company’s F and FRX Series instruments adhere to this formula. Ensuring a deep voice with plenty of harmonic richness, Mahogany is an exceptional tonewood that accommodates high-output pickups perfectly. The more affordable 200 Series versions of these guitars are constructed from lightweight Basswood instead, which is still a great, balanced-sounding material. Maple necks as standard give ESP’s Forest Series guitars a snappy note response too - ideal for fast metal riffs.

Pairs of powerful humbuckers are installed in ESP’s F Series guitars - offering a potent voice. While their budget-friendly models come equipped with proprietary ESP humbuckers, the high-end Original Series versions (made in Japan) are fitted with Seymour Duncan, EMG and Bare Knuckle pickups that can scorch the earth with high-gain amp settings!

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Demand for signature guitars has increased over the last two decades, and ESP has one of the most sizable signature guitar lineups on the planet! There’s a huge amount of players on the brand’s official artist roster, and many of its most loyal and high-profile users have been graced with their own ESP signature guitars.

Metallica’s James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett are among the earliest proponents of ESP guitars, who became endorsed by the company in the late ‘80s. With several signature guitars made for the pair over the years, Hetfield’s current weapons of choice include his Explorer-inspired “Snakebyte” model and the Eclipse-shaped “Iron Cross” guitar. Hammett has always been synonymous with “Super-Strat” guitars, and his main KH-2 signature models stick close to that formula albeit with a number of old-school horror movie liveries released in recent years.

Other long-standing ESP endorsees include ‘80s super-shredder George Lynch (Dokken, Lynch Mob) and nu-metal pioneer Stephen Carpenter (Deftones), the latters of whom’s signature SC Series guitars were among some of the first production 7-string guitars released on the market. Alexi Laiho (Children of Bodom) is another ESP stalwart, but many modern masters have recently joined their ranks including Bill Kelliher (Mastodon), Javier Reyes (Animals As Leaders) and Ben Weinman (The Dillinger Escape Plan).

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Want To Learn More?

For an overview of ESP's current 2020 electric guitar offerings, our dedicated video from this year's NAMM Show features The Captain and Danish Pete walking through the entire ESP stand - highlighting interesting models and more!

ESP NAMM 2020 Range on Andertons T.V.

Shop All ESP Guitars!

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