ESP or LTD? Looking at these two guitar brands, many players end up a bit confused. In fact, these are not two individual brands, only two separate ranges of products from the same manufacturer. One of them is more affordable, the other boasts premium quality and a great reputation. But which one really provides the best value for money? This ESP vs LTD comparison should clear things up.
ESP is a brand most of the guitarists surely know and are able to recognize almost immediately. Originally a Japanese company founded in 1975, it has established itself on the US market as one of the most reliable and innovative brands on the market.
Their instruments are mostly handmade and all of the components and materials they use are considered premium. Logically, their price is quite high, which makes these instruments potentially unreachable for many younger musicians.
To address the growing demand for budget-friendly guitars, ESP established its subsidiary LTD in 1996. These guitars are constructed with a clear focus on affordability. Nevertheless, most of the high ESP standards are still fully met, so it’s not that easy to state that LTD guitars are indeed just the lamer versions of ESP.
So, where’s the truth? Which guitars are really worth the money?
Let’s begin with a brief summary of their main differences.
The main differences between the ESP and LTD guitars are:
Talking about ESP and LTD guitars generally is, of course, a bit vague. Both product lines contain many individual instruments with different qualities, features, components, and specifications. Some of the best LTD products could possibly compete with ESP’s most basic instruments in both quality, equipment, and sound. Let’s discuss them in detail.
Let’s compare ESP and LTD guitars in detail based on their most essential features and qualities.
As I’ve already mentioned before, ESP is one of the most important, most reputable, and most popular guitar brands on the market ever since the 1970s. The company with its headquarters based in Tokyo, Japan was founded by Hisatake Shibuya, who still acts as its owner. The Japanese-born entrepreneur also owns Schecter Guitars company as well as his own institute for musical education.
ESP stands for Electric Sound Products. As the name clearly suggests, the company specializes in electric guitars and basses. These bold and reliable instruments have attracted many guitar legends over the years including the likes of Ronnie Wood (The Rolling Stones), James Hetfield (Metallica), and Max Cavalera (Soulfly).
ESP guitars are well proven and sought after across all musical genres, but they have been mostly linked to hard rock, classic rock, and thrash metal. Let’s explore them in detail to see what makes them so special and valued.
Besides their undeniable sound quality, ESP guitars are also loved and praised for their exotic and extravagant designs. They come in many unique shapes that will instantly attract any player who wants to stand out and turn heads wherever he appears with his instruments. But they can also look incredibly sleek and sophisticated, if that’s what you’re after.
Besides all sorts of sharp-edged single-cutaway and offset variations (imagine the famous Viper, Arrow, or Eclipse series), their portfolio also includes tons of breathtaking custom-made instruments that look like true masterpieces.
To name just a few, there’s a stunningly original Snakebyte Signature ESP guitar designed by James Hetfield or the Edwards Signature ESP created in collaboration with Alexi Laiho from Children of Bodom. In the terms of exclusive design, ESP is probably the closest you can get to the real metal stars.
Besides the body shape, ESP guitars also boast various unique finishes including the original See-Thru Black-Blue Burst, Granite Sparkle, Magenta Blue Burst, and the intergalactic Cast Metal Andromeda II. To put it short, the design definitely is one of those things that make ESP guitars legendary.
ESP guitars are traditionally handcrafted, which ultimately boosts their prestige and quality in the eyes of their customers. Nevertheless, this is not entirely true for all their products – ESP’s somewhat more affordable Standard series actually contains line produced instruments too, which makes the gap between cheaper ESP models and better LTD models much smaller.
If you’re concerned about the place of origin of the products you buy, you should know that ESP guitars are manufactured mainly in Japan, which is known for its top precision and merciless quality control. But ESP also has a separate USA series, which are fully constructed in the U.S., the brand’s second home. Both factories belong directly to ESP, so there’s no third party involved.
Materials you can find on your ESP guitar include mainly maple, mahogany, and ebony – all in top quality and coming from premium sources. Although some of these materials do occasionally appear on the LTD guitars too, here you can be always sure that you’re getting only the first-class tonewoods that perfectly fit the guitar’s intended (and expected) sound profile.
Electronic components probably pose the greatest difference between the ESP and LTD guitars. Most experienced players also consider this difference the main reason for investing in ESP instead of a cheaper LTD guitar. So, what type of components are we looking at here?
Basically, most of the ESP guitars you can come across are equipped with Seymore Duncan pickups – traditional all-American pickups with excellent reputation and versatile qualities. Occasionally, some Fishman, EMG components can be found here too though. All of the electronic components boast premium quality and perfect reliability, so you’ll hardly have to worry about replacing them later on.
ESP guitars have been always associated mainly with hard and heavy musical genres – particularly metal. Their shredding, super-bold, and hugely versatile sound, however, promises much bigger potential, especially in combination with their exceptional playability that allows fluent and ultra-fast movement across the fretboard.
Yes, the guitar’s sound is definitely shaped and defined by its construction quality, quality of its finish, quality of all the added components, and so on. In this regard, LTD will always, by default, finish second in any comparison with ESP. But is the difference in sound great enough to justify the huge difference in price of these instruments? We’ll get to this shortly.
ESP guitars are definitely not cheap, and this does not apply only to their custom-made signature models (which can literally cost you a fortune), but even the cheapest ESP models will cost you considerably more than any of the LTD guitars. No doubt this is the biggest disadvantage and the most common deal-breaker when it comes to these wonderful instruments.
LTD Guitars is a subsidiary brand established under ESP in 1996. The purpose of these new guitars was clear from the beginning – they were meant to provide the players with limited budgets with an opportunity to try, enjoy, and own ESP’s famous instruments at a much lower price. As a result, most of them are in fact almost-perfect copies of their ESP counterparts, just cheaper.
Of course, this involves some necessary and understandable compromises. These include using less exclusive materials and components, applying a very different approach to production and assembly, and so on.
Nevertheless, as we’ll discuss below in detail, none of these trade-offs are really ruining your player experience or compromising the guitars’ ability to perform, excel, and even surprise with their great sound and playability. Let’s focus on LTD guitars’ features one by one.
When it comes to design, LTD doesn’t really stay far behind its more expensive older brother, the all-mighty ESP. After all, most of these guitars are openly inspired by or even fully copying some of the ESP guitars including their shapes, styles, designs, names, and finishes. An untrained eye wouldn’t probably even be able to distinguish between some of the LTD and ESP guitars.
However, if you take a closer look, you’ll surely notice several obvious differences that won’t let you doubt which of these guitars is the original and more exclusive one. It’s mostly about the details – small blemishes on the guitar’s finish, less precise details of the body shape and curves, use of more common (less exclusive) tonewoods and metals, etc.
Although none of these weaker points really do pose any major problem for most of the beginner or intermediate guitarists, the pickiest musicians or instrument collectors who are after total visual perfection should, clearly, prefer ESP to LTD.
If you want to make a cheaper guitar, you’ll have to cut the costs of its production. And that’s exactly what happens with LTD guitars in contrast to the ESP instruments. While the latter brand is mostly handcrafted in the ESP’s own factories in Japan and the USA, LTD guitars are mass-produced on the assembly lines in Korea and Indonesia (depending on the particular series and models).
This, logically, cuts the costs by engaging more machinery and automatization, and also potentially less qualified manpower. However, it also means that the products will not go through the best possible quality control and they are subsequently more prone to various faults and imperfections.
The materials and tonewoods used on LTD guitars are also less premium – they include maple, mahogany, basswood, rosewood, and some others. Nothing exclusive, yet all of these materials are basically an industry standard, so there’s not much to criticize either.
This is where I believe LTD guitars differ the most from ESP, although it’s definitely far from black and white. Unlike ESP guitars, which are all equipped with premium pickups by Seymour Duncan and EMG, LTD guitars come out of the box mainly with the custom-designed LTD electronic components.
Are they any good? Well, they certainly are not completely bad, but you can trust me when I say that if you had the chance to change them for any of the EMG or Seymour Duncan pickups, you surely would. The sound of these budget-friendly pickups is good but not great – it’s somewhat bland and easily forgettable, especially if your ears are already used to hearing something better.
Nevertheless, not all LTD guitars have these mediocre stock electronics. If you invest in some mid-range LTD instrument, it might pretty well be equipped with EMG pickups too (e.g. ESP LTD M-400).
So, now we can finally address the most important question you should be asking: Do cheaper LTD guitars really sound worse than premium and more expensive ESP guitars? The simplest, yet also the most honest answer is: Yes, LTD guitars unfortunately really don’t sound as great as their ESP counterparts.
They just lack the incredible character, power, and clarity we’ve learned to expect and love about ESP. Obviously, this is most apparent if you put these guitars side by side: for example, compare the sound of ESP’s legendary Eclipse and LTD’s more affordable EC remake of the same guitar. The sound of the latter is clearly far behind the original.
But let’s forget about the comparison for a brief moment. Imagine you would simply go to a store with some limited budget in your pocket looking for a great looking and nice sounding instrument without any prejudice and expectations. I am pretty sure that the LTD guitars would still be able to catch your eye (and ear) and even beat some of the presumably more reputable competition.
LTD guitars are, in fact, very good affordable instruments that can be perfectly useful both on a smaller stage or in a practice room, especially in the hands of an amateur/semi-professional player.
LTD guitars are much more affordable in comparison with ESP instruments. Even their most exclusive and expensive models will cost you significantly less than any of the ESP’s most basic guitars.
As I’ve already mentioned earlier in this text, ESP and LTD’s founder also owns another renowned guitar brand – Schecter Guitars. Just like ESP and LTD instruments, these guitars are popular mostly with metal and heavy rock musicians thanks to their aggressive tone and bold appearance.
However, they are also highly versatile and come with a full range of options for every budget and taste.
Although they initially thrived mostly among the traditional rock and glam rock musicians,Dean Guitars is nowadays clearly focusing mostly on those who prefer heavier musical genres. After all, these guitars are preferred by some of the biggest names on the scene including Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine or Arch Enemy’s Michael Amott.
Dean guitars offer many mid-priced instruments and some exclusive guitars for the pickiest players.
Check out our Dean V Stealth review to learn more about one of their most popular guitars.
Answer: Schecter Guitars is another guitar brand commonly associated with ESP. However, although the brand is really owned by the founder of ESP, a Japanese entrepreneur Hisatake Shibuya, it is not otherwise linked or connected to ESP and LTD ranges of instruments. The brand was originally founded in 1976 in California by David Schecter and Shibuya acquired the company only in 1987.
Answer: LTD actually stands for ‘Limited’ to symbolize the limited, more affordable features of this budget-friendly guitar range, whereas ESP is an acronym for Electronic Sound Products.
Answer: ESP has a range of guitars (so-called USA series) that are constructed exclusively in the US. Other series and ranges of their guitars are mostly made in Japan.
If you put two comparable ESP and LTD guitars side by side, it would be quite clear which one is made with greater care, more focus on details, and the strictest quality control. ESP was, is, and most probably always will be one of the giants of the industry, and it’s doing everything in its power to maintain this great reputation.
Does your budget allow you to invest in the original ESP instrument? Do you have enough opportunities to show it off and are you able to take the best care of it (which it truly deserves)? If you’ve answered yes, yes, and yes, I wouldn’t hesitate to go for this stunning guitar as it’s well worth the investment.
Nevertheless, if you’re looking at this dilemma from the perspective of someone who would rather save some bucks and needs to know, whether it would be a huge mistake to go with the more affordable LTD alternative, the answer is: No.
You’ll be quite alright with this cheaper alternative too. Premium or non-premium, handcrafted or mass-produced, LTD guitars are still great instruments produced by a superb company and they will surely make you happy.
After all, it’s all about priorities and expectations. I would definitely recommend an ESP guitar to any seasoned guitarist who’s performing in front of a big crowd or recording an important record. But for any enthusiastic rookie or semi-professional, LTD guitars are surely sufficient.
Jodie is a trained classical guitarist. She is also a full-time blogger and loves to write about different types of guitars. Just give her 60 seconds of your time, and she’ll tell you all that you need to know about any guitar of your choice.
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