ESP vs LTD Guitars – Everything You Need To Know

ESP is a globally renowned company that is favored by many famous metal and hard rock guitarists. Less is known about their LTD range of guitars and many often wonder if an LTD guitar is worth purchasing.

Continue reading for a summary on the differences between the ESP and LTD line of guitars, You will also be able to answer some questions about the brand and the functionality of the two guitar lines.

ESP vs LTD Guitars – Everything You Need To Know

ESP or LTD?

The first source of confusion is the fact that LTD Guitars is a subsidiary of ESP. This means that, though they have different names, they are to all intents and purposes made by the same company – ESP. 

LTD Guitars make more affordable versions of ESP’s premium guitar range. As such, there is a difference in quality in terms of the details in the finished product, the quality of the materials used, and the quality of tonewood used to build the guitar.

This, however, does not mean that LTD is poor guitars and should be avoided. They are still a good brand that produces guitars that are finished to a high standard and are certainly a great option for those looking for quality but budget-friendly guitars.

The Basics

ESP was founded in 1975 in the US, crafting premium guitars from the highest quality materials – including wood and electronics – available.

The guitars themselves were actually assembled in Korea, but have since moved to Japan and continue to craft premium guitars at a premium price.

The LTD series of guitars were first sold in the mid-1990s as a bid to compete with other guitar manufacturers who operated at a lower price point.

Primarily this market is outside of Japan but the LTD retains high standards and are certainly comparable with the ESP line. LTD guitars are brilliant for beginners – offering ESP’s impeccable standards but also fairly inexpensive.

Material Comparison

Electronics

Some of the most obvious differences between the ESP and LTD guitar models come from the featured electronics.

LTD guitars use pickups designed by ESP whilst higher-end ESP models use pickups from Seymour Duncan.

Seymour Duncan is one of the biggest names in the guitar-making world and their pickups are unparalleled, making them one of the most desirable features of any guitar and dramatically increasing the price. 

The pickups designed by ESP are also good quality, just not quite in the same league as Seymour Duncan. ESP pickups create a well-rounded and articulate sound, responding well to player dynamics without negatively impacting the tonal quality.

Body and Neck Wood

For the ESP, you can expect the body of the guitar to be made from mahogany and the neck to be made of maple or mahogany. The LTD can also be made from maple and mahogany in the neck and mahogany in the body, but you can also expect basswood. 

A basswood guitar body is available for guitars at the lower end of LTD’s price scale, with more expensive LTD guitars being made of mahogany like the ESP range.

ESP’s pricier guitars can be available in Swamp Ash which is a fantastic tonewood that can create a beautiful finish on your guitar. 

There is a similar material progression for the wood used in the guitar’s neck – as prices increase, the classification of the wood increases with some overlap between the higher-end LTD and lower-end ESP models.

Cheaper LTDs will have a neck made of maple or roasted jatoba and more expensive LTDs or less expensive ESPs will be made from Macassar Ebony.

ESP Guitars

High-end ESP guitars will be made from Honduras Mahogany and ebony. Ebony fretboards are favored by those who can afford them as they offer long-lasting durability without reducing the tonal quality of the guitar.

Finishes

As all ESP guitars are custom made, the number of finishes available far outnumber options available for the LTD.

From magenta blue to chrome black, you are guaranteed to find a guitar in your favorite color with ESP. 

LTDs come in standard finishes, all of which offer good color payoff and are still finished to a high standard. If individuality and the option of a customized finish are what you value in a guitar then by all means go for an ESP model.

Keep in mind that LTDs are made to an excellent standard, though not quite in the same league, and are certainly not badly made or finished.

Manufacturing Processes

ESP builds its guitars in East Asia, namely Indonesia and South Korea but high-end ESP guitars are made in Japan.

The highest-end ESP guitars are handcrafted one at a time, making their quality unparalleled in a world of mass production. The care and attention that can be given to detail is what makes ESP 

guitars some of the best in the world, as well as one of the most exclusive and sought-after.

Recently ESP has begun building less expensive guitar lines in the US, primarily the more budget-friendly ESP and LTDs but also some of the E-II models. 

Pricing

Once you have narrowed your choice of guitar down to ESP or LTD, you can think solely about price as you know you are going to get a well-made instrument no matter what.

The least expensive ESP model from 2020/21 is just shy of $3,000 cheaper than the most expensive LTD model. This overlap means there is a lot of wiggle room budget-wise between the two guitar lines, letting consumers decide which is best for them.

ESP versus LTD Guitars

Frequently Asked Questions

Are ESP Guitars Any Good?

Yes, ESP guitars are good because of the high-quality standards applied to all of their products, regardless of the price range.

All ESP guitars have a round but thin neck that makes them very easy to play due to their ergonomic shape. The thin neck is perfect for shredding, hence the brand’s popularity with metal guitarists.

ESP also tailors their guitars to multiple skill levels, making it the first choice for expert and newbie guitarists alike.

Are ESP LTD Guitars Good?

Compared to other guitars available, the ESP LTD is a great guitar and still one of the best available globally.

There is some stigma attached to the LTD as it is the ‘mass produced’ version of the individually handcrafted ESP guitar range, but this distaste is mistaken given. Any LTD guitar will still be built to a high standard.

The standard for LTD guitars means that, to the ear of anyone who isn’t a global expert, an LTD and ESP guitar will sound identical when played.

If you are someone who eats, sleeps, and breathes guitars then by all means go for the ESP.

If, however, you are just starting your guitar journey do not feel pressured into casting aside the LTD range as its caliber is still outstanding.

What is the Most Popular ESP LTD Guitar?

The most popular ESP LTD guitar is the Eclipse EC1000.

This is the ultimate affordable metal and hard rock guitar, with a body made of mahogany and an ebony neck. It features a Seymour Duncan JB bridge and LTD locking tuners for excellent tonal quality to the guitar’s sound.

The upgraded Les Paul shape adds a modern flair to the guitar without compromising playability.

Why Are ESP Guitars So Expensive?

A lot of the expense of an ESP guitar can be put down to the highest quality materials used and the fact that each ESP is handcrafted on an individual basis in the Japanese shop. 

The electronics used are also a far cry from other prestigious brands, featuring Seymour Duncan pickups to add a truly superior tonal quality to your playing.

The fact that each ESP offers a custom finish is also reflected in the price but, when paying this much for a guitar, you do want to be able to have it look how you would like.

Can ESP Guitars Only Play Metal?

ESP is most commonly associated with metal and hard rock music as the unique shape of the neck makes shredding a little easier, perfect for a long gig or heavy session.

The ESP fan base is also very metal-centric because of the ease of play and excellent tonal quality, which can lead some people to assume that it is limited to that genre.

This is not the case and the elements of an ESP that set it apart from other guitars in the market easily translate into other styles of music. Without being dismissive, a guitar is a guitar and you can play whatever music you want on it.

Fancy playing some Iron Maiden and then some AQA? Go for it! Your music is going to sound fantastic on an ESP no matter what.

Are ESP Guitars Good For Beginners?

ESP guitars are great for beginners, particularly as they have a narrow neck to make playing easier. ESP also offers great guitars for intermediate and advanced players so you can definitely stick with the brand as your playing develops and progresses.

ESP guitars will produce a sound that is more traditionally associated with metal or hard rock but you always have the option to play them on clean – a playing style that has no distortion of the power tubes in an amp – will produce a mellow tune that is very pleasing to listen to.

Which Famous People Played ESP Guitars?

Several members of Metallica, the biggest heavy metal band of all time, favor the ESP guitar. James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett have used their ESPs to change the face of modern music. Their global reputation has done wonders for the ESP’s reputation and has marked the whole brand out as the best internationally.

ESP vs LTD Guitars

Ron Wood, who helped define the rock and roll era, is a shining endorsement of the virtues of an ESP guitar outside of metal or hard rock. Many of The Rolling Stones’ best songs feature his fluent and articulate riffs, with his signature guitars available in three classic rock and roll guitar finishes.

Still not convinced that the ESP is not limited to metal? Check out the diverse repertoire of Alex Skolnick. His work spans from jazz to hard rock and his superior playing on his ESP makes his reputation as one of the best guitarists in the world well deserved.

What Does ESP Stand For?

ESP stands for ‘Electric Sound Products’ which was the name of Kisatake Shibuya’s shop that sold replacement guitar parts in 1975. This is the flagship store and business that gradually evolved into the company that dominates the guitar scene today.

LTD, from the ESP LTD range, stands for ‘limited.’ This obviously does not have the same meaningful acronym as ESP but sounds cool!

Where Can I Buy an ESP Guitar?

ESP recommends that you only purchase ESP guitars from Authorised ESP Dealers. These dealers are scattered all over the world so you are likely to find one in your own country. Check out the ‘Dealer Locator’ feature on the website for the most accurate information.

You also have the option of purchasing a guitar from the ESP Shop, via their website, that ships to the US. If the product you would like to purchase is available from the website, you will see ‘BUY IT NOW’ on the product page

Can You Get Left-handed ESP or LTD Guitars?

Some models are available for left-handed players but not all. Check for product availability online if you are in the US or with your nearest authorized ESP dealer for more information. 

Can You Get a Custom ESP?

Yes. ESP has long been considered the go-to company for anyone looking to build a guitar to their own specifications. The only limitation you have with this option is that the guitar you design must meet ESP’s functionality specifications and does not fall into any copyright trouble.

To get an idea of the cost of your perfect guitar design, check out the quote option on ESP’s website.

Andrew Patterson
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