EDIT 2: This blog is a bit outdated now.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
ESP USA, including LTD:
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,
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.
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
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.
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