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Saturday, January 01, 2011

ESP Quality & Numbering Meanings (Updated Jan 29,

Views: 2,232
Comments: 16

EDIT 2: This blog is a bit outdated now.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)

EDIT: Updating this to be more informative and detailed (Aug 9, 2012)

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 hardware.

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.

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.

2. Edwards
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 designs.

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 blatant issues.

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 tonewood.

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 time.

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 yourself.

8:24 pm - 16 comments - 13 Kudos - Report!
siverstorm wrote on Feb 2nd, 2011 4:14am

Eat lots of watermelon.


Andragon wrote on Feb 17th, 2011 4:26am

Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, Agile, Schecter (not too many choices in LTD's price range) and Godin give you higher quality than LTD.


fixationdarknes wrote on Mar 2nd, 2011 4:56am

Love your LTD write-up. The quality-over-time section is something that I think many people could benefit from reading, especially being that secondhand LTD guitars frequently offer some of the best value you can get for your money.


metalhead6628 wrote on Jul 13th, 2011 4:12am

This is an eye opener for people looking into buy an ESP/LTD. Great write up man.


zilant wrote on May 4th, 2012 10:56pm

So the 1000 series is made in Korea?


Offworld92a wrote on May 4th, 2012 11:11pm

zilant wrote on May 4th, 2012 at 1:56pm :
So the 1000 series is made in Korea?



Shornifier wrote on May 20th, 2012 3:16pm



oneblackened wrote on Jun 2nd, 2012 1:50am

Not all modern 10-401 range LTD's are made in China - it depends on the model. Some are still Indonesian (they're usually considerably nicer than the Chinese ones, which are flat out awful).


Offworld92a wrote on Jun 2nd, 2012 2:56am

oneblackened wrote on Jun 1st, 2012 at 4:50pm :
Not all modern 10-401 range LTD's are made in China - it depends on the model. Some are still Indonesian (they're usually considerably nicer than the Chinese ones, which are flat out awful).

Interesting, do you have any specific examples?


oneblackened wrote on Jun 23rd, 2012 1:47am

I saw some MHs in Guitar Center a few weeks back that were Indo made. My friend's EC-401VF (I believe that's what it's called) is an '11 Korean model.


Offworld92a wrote on Jun 23rd, 2012 2:08am

You're sure it was from '11? That's interesting. I'll have to do some more field research I suppose.


oneblackened wrote on Jun 23rd, 2012 5:09am

Very sure, the serial started with "W11" and it said Korea on the back of the head.


romeozdistress wrote on Jul 9th, 2012 4:32am

i have a ex-400 from 08 made in korea as well.


Offworld92a wrote on Aug 10th, 2012 5:19am

Alright, updated again, lots of new info being more specific about differences between 30X vs 35X vs 40X, and changed the ending to reflect factory ambiguity. :cheers:


eddiehimself wrote on Aug 16th, 2012 6:00pm

Good blog. I noticed the downgrade in quality of the LTDs as well; I was totally pissed off to find that they had basically gotten rid of the 400 series with the awesome tribal-style inlays, replaced them with boggo dots and then started selling them for about 100 more! What a joke. Buy used if you can.


eddiehimself wrote on Aug 16th, 2012 7:07pm

I mean the Forest 400 series.


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