There are two basic flavors of overdrive commonly used to boost the front of a tube amp: your basic Tubescreamer, and your
SD-1 (asymmetrical variant). The TS tends to smoothen your gain out,
while the SD-1 tends to give your gain more grit. That's the basic gist
of the difference.
On the TS side, you have your Maxon and Ibanez Tubescreamers, which are
the originals. But nowadays there are other derivatives that do the job a lot
MXR GT-OD - most basic; 3 knobs like a regular TS. Digitech Bad Monkey - basic, but has a knob to control bass frequency, which puts it way above a normal TS. Hardwire CM-2 - Basically a higher quality Bad Monkey. Feels better, sturdier, sounds richer/more harmonic. Nice pedal. Way Huge Green Rhino - lots of tone shaping options, this is a very popular pedal, lots of options to dial in exactly what you need.
On the SD-1 side, there's: MXR M77 - Basically just a higher quality SD-1 with more tone
shaping controls. They sound very very similar when used as a boost. I
own both and did A/B comparisons to choose which to use. The MXR won
the spot on my board. Fulltone Fulldrive 2 MOSFET - Very nice pedal with some unusual
tone shaping features, like changing the gain structure a little, etc..
Has a regular OD side, as well as a boost side. AFAIK there aren't any
single pedals with just the OD side, but that side is your SD-1
variant. I haven't tried this one personally yet, so I cant' say much
And that's just some mass produced stuff. When you enter the boutique
range, there are tons and tons of pedals out there. Most of them sound
great, you can wade through them for a while. And then after that,
there's people here who can build you your very own TS to be exactly
what you want. And it could be one of a kind. The TS is one of the
most basic pedals out there, and there really are a lot of alternatives
to Maxon and Ibanez.
Epiphone Alnicos (from a G400). Both neck & bridge were very muddy. Not much to say. They simply aren't good.
Ibanez INF4&3 - The INF3 was fairly decent, but the INF4 was very harsh and shrill. Kind of like a "screamer" pickup that just tried way too hard and went way over the top. By some sorcery, this pickup happens to be muddy at the same time. Shrill and muddy. Awful.
ESP LH-301 - These sound similar to EMG H4s, but have a little less output and are a little more muddy. The coil tap feature is pretty useless. It sounds nothing even resembling a single coil, just sounds like a very weak humbucker (in a bad way).
ESP LH-150 - These are surprisingly good. Better than the 301s for sure. I'd say that these are the best budget in-house pickups I've ever heard. They are balanced, there is no excessive mud or shrill. The neck has a reminiscent cream, while only being slightly muddy. The bridge is pretty powerful and focused, again just a little muddy. Not bad.
EMG H4 - Worth less than it's price tag. Too muddy to believe that it's an aftermarket pup. Lacks balls. Generally just sounds weak.
EMG H2B/N - These are surprisingly nice. As far as HZs go, I really like the H2N. It is nice clean and has a very bluesy feel. The bridge is very moderate, so it doesn't suffer like pickups that are too high output and not designed well. As a result it actually handles gain better. Not a bad choice for low-mid gain stuff.
EMG 81 - The 81 is very direct. It has balls, and it's not afraid to show them. This is the pickup for modern metal rhythm. The only downside is that if you're not careful with your EQ, this pickup can become too shrill, and that's just nasty. EQ accordingly, keep the shrill away, and the 81 is simply a monster.
EMG 60 - People who say that EMGs suck for cleans have never bothered with a 60. This is one of my favorite clean pickups, believe it or not. It is powerful, so it balances well with something like an 81 in the bridge. That can be a problem with passives when you're trying to get a balance between a metal bridge pickup and a clean neck pickup. The distorted tones are too dark for riffing, but it's fairly good for soloing high up.
BKP Miracle Man - This pickup is high output, but it doesn't really sound like it. It is very dynamic, and works well for multiple situations. It handles high gain well, and it also sounds good clean. Not too bright or harsh unlike a lot of bridge pickups. It was too dark for my tastes, but if you were playing straight up rock and EQ'd accordingly, I would recommend this.
SD Custom - This pickup is the bridge between vintage and modern. It can hold it's own for most types of metal, and it can also calm down for rock and blues with an roll of the volume knob. This is a viable candidate for a studio type guitar, if you don't know exactly what you'll need to be doing.
SD '59 - This pickup has a good and somewhat unique clean sound. My experience with it is that it is too dark, so you may need to EQ accordingly. It doesn't handle modern high gain very well, but it shouldn't really be expected to - it's a PAF.
I buy and sell gear relatively frequently, so I'm making this blog before it's too late to try to keep track of all the gear I have owned. This list will be in chronological order, to the best of my knowledge.
First Act ME301 (Destroyed) Silvertone 10W amp (Sold) Fender 15W amp (Sold) Epiphone Goth G-400 (Sold) Boss DS-1 (Sold) Peavey Vypyr 15 (Sold) Dean Vendetta XM (Sold) Ibanez RG120 (Sold) LTD M-200FM Peavey ValveKing Royal 8 (Sold) Boss MT-2 (Sold) Peavey ValveKing 212 (Sold) Boss NS-2 (Sold) Boss GE-7 (MIJ) (Sold) Boss OS-2 (Sold) Ibanez RG320QS
Boss FS-6 (Sold) LTD V-50 (Sold) Yamaha CG101A Rocktron Reaction Compressor (Sold) Boss GE-7 (Sold) Hardwire HT-2 (Sold) Peavey 5150 212 (Sold) LTD H-301 Ibanez TS-7 Peavey MS412 Boss HM-2 Peavey Vypyr Tube 120H Peavey Sanpera II LTD EC-1000 Peavey JSX Boss TU-3 Boss CS-3 Boss SD-1 Ibanez S420
EDIT 2: This blog is a bit outdated now. I will rewrite and revise when I feel up to it. There is a new line, LTD Elite, which I haven't had a chance to play yet. The general rule of thumb to note above everything else is Korea & Japan are good, Indonesia, Vietnam & China are questionable, generally good at best. (March 25, 2013)
Updating this to be more informative and detailed (Aug 9,
There is a lot of misconception about the quality levels of ESP, and much moreso LTD. I'm writing this to help
people better understand ESP/LTD quality
ESP recently changed their site, and
there aren't pages for specific lines now. So here's all the guitars from
ESPUSA, including LTD:
1. ESP ESP comes in 3 levels: Standard,
Original & Custom.
All ESP guitars use OFRs and Gotoh/Grover/Tonepros
A) The easiest way to identify an ESP Standard is by seeing the "ESP" inlay on the 12th fret of
the guitar. In general, most other types of ESP's do not have this. Aside
from that, an ESP Standard will also have a seal on the back of the headstock which
identifies it as a “Standard Series”, and it should also say “Made In Japan”.
Standards usually range in price from $1400 to $2000 for non-sig models, and
all the way up to $3700 for sig models.
Quality wise, ESP guitars have extremely consistent QC. It is very rare to find a
"bad" one ("bad" here meaning one with problems in the
construction, fretwork or the finish). A common question is "Why
should I pay more for an ESP when I can get an LTD with the same specs for half the
price?". It’s important to keep in mind that specs only mean so
much, and really only give you a rough guideline to what a guitar will really
be like. What you're paying for on an ESP is superior tonewoods, attention
to QC and detail, and better overall construction. These two things are
impossible to quantify on paper, and need to be experienced in person.
This is usually also true for any "expensive" guitar.
B) The Original series is Japan exclusive. The Original
models are superior to Standard models, and are proportionately more
expensive. Generally you are looking at $3000-$7000 for a non-sig model,
and up to a shocking $24,000 including sig models) new. With the Original
series, you get even more attention to detail in the QC, as well as again,
superior tonewoods. http://www.espguitars.co.jp/original/
C) ESP Custom, is as stated
Custom. These guitars can easily cost over $10,000 if embellished
enough. I don't know if there is a difference between the order forms of
the USA site or the JP site. http://www.espguitars.com/customshop.html
Edwards guitars are best described as "the bridge crossing the gap"
between ESP and LTD. Their quality is closer to
ESP Standard guitars than to LTD Deluxe guitars. They
generally cost between $1000 and $1600. The wood is cut in China, and the guitars are assembled
and finished in Japan. Aside from typical ESP models, Edwards also has a lot of
“lawsuit” type guitars that look and are built like traditional Gibson/Fender
3. LTD LTD is ESP's budget line. They come in
two levels: Standard, and Deluxe. The 100X models are Deluxe models,, and
Standard models are any guitars with a number below 1000.Models under 40X use ESP branded hardware.40X models typically use a combination of Grover/Gotoh/Tonepros
and ESP hardware.100X models used to use all
Grover/Gotoh/Tonepros hardware, but now they also use ESP hardware as well (as of 2011ish).
A) A newer line of guitars, the lowest bracket for LTD is the 1X series. These are
mostly starter pack guitars, and are on that level. I would avoid them, unless
that is absolutely the max of your budget. They go for $100 to $170.
B) Next are the 5X & 10X series. There is no quality difference
between these; the only difference is that the 100's have a flamed or quilted
maple veneer top. They generally run between $200 and $300. These
guitars can occasionally have sharp frets, or poor finish jobs. I
recommend trying before buying here, to make sure you don't get one with
C) Here we have the 2XX series. These guitars are notable for having high
end features, such as neck through/set neck builds, as well as nicer finishes
and slightly better pickups. They still have low quality tonewoods,
however. They generally cost between $200 and $400.
An exception to the typical 2XX model are the "Distressed"
models. There are also a few other misc. odd 2XX models, like the
EC-256P. The pickups they use are the same as found on the 50/100 models,
but they have slightly higher quality tonewoods. The "ST"
models use actual alder, and the EC & VP models use actual mahogany,
instead of baswood or agathis. (Note that these grades of alder/mahogany
are not what you would find on an ESP or an LTD Deluxe.)
D) The 30X models use higher end woods and have typically better construction,
but have EMG HZ or Duncan Designed pickups and ESP hardware.
E) The 330 guitars were recently released. I have yet to play one of
these, but they have ESP's new house brand active pickups. Something to note
is that all have bolt on neck construction, disregarding whatever would be the
traditional construction for a particular model. Spec-wise, these seem
similar to 200 models - a mix of high end and low end features. They run
between $400 and 500.
F) The 35X models are essentially the same as the 30X models, except that they
use Seymour Duncan or EMG pickups.
G) Older 40X
models use a combination of ESP and Grover hardware, while newer
40X models tend to use more if not all ESP haredware.They all have SDs and EMGs.
In regards to 3XX through 40X in general, there is a sort of trade-off between
hardware and tonewood. Older models had hardware that wasn't particularly
great, but from what I have observed, had better quality tonewoods. Later
models have poorer tonewoods, but sort of made up for the money spent with nice
hardware, such as Grover tuners, and the relatively new Floyd Rose Special
(opposed to the no-name LFR used before). Most recently though (2010 or
2011 and on), there seems to be a lack of both quality hardware, and quality
H) LTD Deluxe models, AKA 1000 models, are the highest end guitars LTD makes. These guitars are
very good for the money, rivaling even low end Ibanez Prestiges and low end
Gibsons. They used to use all Gotoh/Grover/Tonepros/FRT hardware but recently it appears
that ESP is creeping up, replacing the
name brand hardware with their own. An LTD Deluxe will set you back $750 to
$950, up to $1100 for a sig model.
4. Grass Roots
Grass Roots guitars are a Japanese line of budget guitars. Their quality
is generally somewhere between the LTD 200 and 300/400 range. They
offer some shapes and finishes that LTD doesn't, but they generally have
low end features. They generally cost between $450 and $750. http://www.espguitars.co.jp/grassroots/index.html
5. Quality Over Time
Another thing that is important to consider with ESP is that quality has changed over
time. ESP guitars have gradually improved over time, so generally the newer
model of ESP you get, the better. Conversely, LTD models have gotten worse over
If you're looking into getting a used LTD, you might want to look for a
pre-2006 model, between 300 and 1000. You can usually tell what year a
certain model is by the first two digits of the serial number. Even
though the pickups and hardware won't be that good on 30X models, those things
are easily changeable, and if you choose to do so, even with a 300 model,
you'll end up with a guitar vastly superior to any LTD Standard guitar being made today,
and, in my opinion, on par or superior tonally with a current LTD Deluxe model, potentially for
less money. Tonewoods, unlike hardware, are not changeable.
I suspect that a lot of this change has to do with LTD moving their production, and ESP wanting to maximize their profits
in general. Pre 2006, everything LTD 300 and up was made in Korea. After that, from
2007 onwards, there
seems to be a mixed bag.There could be
a 40X made in China and a 40X made in Korea sitting right next to each other
in a store. I'm not saying anything negative about any quality of workmanship
with those countries obviously, but for whatever reasons, you’re almost always
going to get a higher quality guitar from Korea than from Indonesia or India or China. Also, it seems that
coinciding with these production changes, the quality of LTD has decreased, and it only takes
a side by side comparison between an old model and a new one to see this for