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What's The Difference Between ESP'S Brands?

ESP has been a household name in rock music since the 1970s. With their superb craftmanship and top notch quality and sound, it's no surprise that their instruments have become the primary axe among heavy metal musicians, including James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett of Metallica, the late Alexi Laiho of Children of Bodom, the late Jeff Hannemann, Gary Holt and bassist Tom Araya of Slayer, Bill Kelliher of Mastodon, Brian "Head" Welch of Korn, and many others just to name a few.

With so many series of guitars and basses arriving and leaving ESP's already amazing lineup, we are all completely spoiled for choice. But what sets them apart? We felt driven to make this ESP Guitars Guide because they have continued to enhance their guitars for the present era while remaining true to their long and rich history. That is why we have come to explain everything you need to know about ESP guitars and basses brands, series and also sub-division brands you might never heard before!

ESP Custom Shop

The ESP Custom Shop is located in Japan. They make three types of guitars and basses there: completely custom instruments, ESP Original Series instruments (see below), and their Signature Series guitars and basses under the ESP brand. Each instrument made at the ESP Custom Shop is handcrafted by experienced luthiers to the highest level of detail, and rank among the finest guitars in the world.

The "Ghost Soldier," which was created by master luthier Masao Ohmuro, shows off the detail and intricacy involved in a handmade ESP custom model.

To help you better understand how this works, a custom instrument is a "one-off".... a guitar or bass that they make just one of. It’s made to the specification of the person ordering the instrument. These instruments are generally not made available for other people to purchase, and therefore represent the highest priced and most exclusive series of instruments they make. You can make your own ESP Custom Shop models by contacting us here.


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ESP Original Series

These are the guitars and basses made in small quantities at ESP Custom Shop that are available for sale to anyone who orders one. Their luthiers create multiples of each ESP Original Series model. The ESP Original Series includes guitars in their well-known shapes, like the ESP Eclipse, Horizon, Arrow, and others. They are still hand-made using the finest available woods and components, and each guitar or bass takes quite some time (and a lot of effort and expertise) to create.

An ESP Original Series Horizon-III. ESP Original Series instruments are handcrafted at the ESP Custom Shop, but unlike custom models, multiple guitars of each model are built.


Beginning in 2013, ESP opened a manufacturing shop near United States ESP headquarters in California. They founded this facility for the purpose of building their ESP USA Series, which are high-performance guitars designed for serious professional players. ESP USA models builds highly configurable versions of standard models and can be personalized with several aspects, including the top woods, the finish color and type (gloss or satin), a choice of passive or active pickups, and more.

An ESP USA Eclipse Floyd Rose with "Jawbreaker" finish. ESP USA models are made in Southern California, and may be personalized with select top woods, finishes, and more.


Formerly called “ESP Standard”, the ESP E-II Series are guitars built at the ESP factory in Japan. While being less expensive than the handcrafted guitars from the ESP Custom Shop, ESP E-II models are made to very high standards in quality, with components and aesthetic designs that make them some of the best factory-produced guitars and basses the world has ever seen. Many well-known artists as well as everyday hard-working musicians have turned to ESP E-II for instruments they use both in studios and on tour.

ESP E-II guitars and basses are built at the ESP factory in Japan. They represent the highest quality "made in Japan" instruments that are factory produced. Shown here: ESP E-II M-II NT in Black Natural Fade finish.

Signature Series (ESP & LTD)

When an artist creates an ESP Custom guitar for their own use, sometimes other musicians would like to play the same guitar or bass that the artist has created. Those instruments become part of the ESP and LTD Signature Series. ESP Signature Series guitars are created one at a time by hand at the ESP Custom Shop in Japan, just like the original model the artist plays. LTD Signature Series guitars and basses are made like the other LTD models, at factories in other parts of Asia. One item of note : when you see an LTD “600 Series” signature guitar, it’s the equivalent of a high-quality “1000 Series” standard LTD Deluxe.

ESP's Signature Series instruments are offered under both the ESP and LTD brands, and have been made for many artists in many genres of music. Above: Kirk Hammett & James Hetfield (Metallica) with their own signature models ESP KH Ouija Purple Sparkle & ESP Snakebyte Snow White.


In 1995, ESP launched their LTD Series to be able to offer guitars and basses that were affordable enough for more musicians to own, and yet offered better playability and sound quality than other guitars in their price range. These instruments are made in factories in various locations in Asia, including Korea, Indonesia, China, and elsewhere. Despite their relatively lower prices, they are still very stringent with the level of quality standards of all LTD models.

LTD Deluxe "1000 Series"

Starting with the top-tier range of the series, guitars in the LTD Deluxe "1000 Series" are designed to offer the tone, feel, looks, and quality that working professional musicians need that are as close as the high-end guitars. Features high-quality, professional-tier components from respected suppliers like Seymour Duncan, EMG, Floyd Rose, and Grover with stainless steel frets. Majority of the guitars in this series are made in Korea with a select models made in Indonesia.

LTD Deluxe "1000 Series" instruments are designed to offer the same level of quality and performance as high-end guitars.

LTD Black Metal Series

The LTD Black Metal Series are guitars that are comparable in build quality to the LTD Deluxe "1000 Series" instruments, but with a dark and menacing design theme of all-black finish, components, and hardware, a single premium-quality pickup, Macassar ebony fingerboards with no inlays and glow-in-the-dark side markers, and even a newly-designed black metal LTD logo on the headstock. Its “Blackened” Seymour Duncan Black Winter pickup or recent models equipped with a single direct-mount EMG 81 pickup with black logo is mounted directly to the guitar’s body, and it includes LTD locking tuners.

Dark and menacing design theme of all-black finish equipped with Seymour Duncan "Blackened" Black Winter or the black logo EMG 81 bridge humbucker.

LTD Arctic Metal Series

The LTD Arctic Metal Series takes the same design theme of our LTD Black Metal Series and flips the color scheme from the darkest of blacks to the coldest of frozen wastelands. Comparable in build quality to our LTD Deluxe "1000 Series", Arctic Metal instruments feature a Snow White Satin finish, a single premium-quality pickup with matching white cover, and Macassar ebony fingerboards with no inlays and glow-in-the-dark side markers. The LTD Arctic Metal series features neck-thru-body construction, an aggressive EMG 81TW pickup with black logo (a single volume knob with push-pull control to split the pickup), and LTD locking tuners.

Opposite of "dark and menacing", the Arctic Metal series is basically a flipped version of the LTD Black Metal Series design with all-white finish equipped with EMG 81TW bridge humbucker.

LTD 400 Series

Marketed as the mid-range series of the LTD series instruments, guitars in the LTD 400 Series sport the same buid qualities and components as the LTD Deluxe "1000 Series", but manufactured at different factory. Extra touches like tops in flamed or quilted maple, or set-thru necks that normally get reserved for more expensive guitars.

LTD 200 Series

Last but not least the entry-level, the LTD 200 series guitars are the most affordable from the bunch. Manufactured in Indonesia, the guitars and basses from this series features almost similar build as the other "upper range" brothers such as mahogany body and set-neck construction, but equipped with ESP Designed LH-150 humbucking pickups for both neck and bridge and standard LTD tuners and bridge. With that being said, some guitarists and bassists would have this instruments as their basis for them to customize or modify to make them tonally or visually better.

Japanese Market Guitars by ESP

Did you know that ESP offers a range of instruments that are exclusively accessible in Japan and nowhere else in the world, in addition to the guitar series described above? It all began in the 1970s, when Japan was known as "the nation that re-produces well-known guitars that are so excellent that they are sometimes far better than the original," but when significant lawsuits occurred, it all came to an abrupt halt. But one thing remains, and that is the heritage of Japanese high-level workmanship, which is regarded as unparalleled around the world.

ESP , on the other hand, continued to promote this history in their nation, and while some may argue that the Japanese retain the finest for themselves, what guitars do they have? Let's find out!

Navigator Guitars

ESP's Navigator is the company's first instrument subsidiary. ESP's subsidiary Navigator has always been designed to replicate the great classics of American brands, primarily Gibson Les Paul and SG, and Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster. As a result, Navigator has naturally become the ESP Vintage line's representative. ESP opted to make Navigator guitars and basses at its Custom Shop factories in Japan in the 1990s. The instruments were then given a new lease of life, since they were made with the utmost care, in the traditional manner, and with the best wood species available.

Navigator Guitars sets the highest standard when it comes to building guitars and basses ; they are individually hand made in the traditional manner at it's custom shop factory in Japan. Shown here : Navigator N-ST-ASM in 2 Tone Burst finish.

Navigator instruments are made to order, and each one is assigned to a craftsman who is in charge of selecting the wood and stringing the instrument. Navigator employs the greatest 3 to 5 year-old dried wood, nitrocellulose finish, binding, Gotoh Vintage hardware, Seymour Duncan Antiquity pickups, Seth Lover and Custom Shop, and other high-end components.

Everything is done by hand, including the bodies and necks, as well as the top-of-the-line nitrocellulose finish. It is a creation of exceptional excellence, deserving of the world's greatest Custom Shop.

Edwards Guitars

Edwards guitars are intended to be a more affordable alternative to the Navigator line. They have Seymour Duncan SSL or SH series pickups, bookmatched woods, nitro topcoat finishes, Fender and Gibson-size fret wire, and exact dimension matching.

Made as Gibson and Fender replicas as well, they are built in Japan and have similar hardware to their higher-end ESP counterparts, but they are not handcrafted. They also make ESP's original design models like the Horizon, M-Series, and Viper, but with top-notch qualities as noted above. They fall in between the more premium LTD's and the ESP E-II in the worldwide ESP series.

Edwards Guitars boasts the same quality and craftmanship found in Navigator Guitars, but at a more affordable price. Shown here : Edwards E-Viper-1H in Alternative Black finish.

Grassroots Guitars

Grassroots Guitars are ESP's another sub-division Japanese-only brand that is marketed to cater towards a more value-oriented segment of the market and are more akin to the LTD 200 series guitars.

Grassroots Guitars are marketed as the budget segment of the guitar market and are more akin to the LTD 200 series guitars. Shown here : Grassroots G-HORIZON-FIXD6 in See-Thru White Satin finish.

Grassroots Guitars line is manufactured in China and sent to Japan for quality check before then shipped to dealers worldwide and with models produce from original ESP designs such as Snapper, Horizon, M-II and also replicas of famous classic guitars.

And the good news is, we do have Grassroots Guitars at our store! Check them out here!

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