If you’re the type of player that is looking for a high-performance guitar, you have more options than ever before for innovative, comfortable, and flat-out fast guitars to choose from.
Even still, two companies that you have undoubtedly heard of are ESP and LTD. From super-strats to their own unique designs, these companies often get confused with one another. We here at Guitar Advise are here to help clear up the confusion!
Whether you need a custom-made beauty, or a budget-friendly ringer, choosing the right guitar is an important decision. It can be difficult to make that decision when two companies seem so closely related to one another.
In this article, I’m going to explain the differences and similarities between these two sister companies and help you decide which is the right one for you.
Table of Contents
ESP Guitars Overview
ESP (otherwise known as Electric Sound Products) got its start under Hisatake Shibuya in 1975. The company started off as a high-end source for replacement guitar parts, but the parts came into such high demand that they started developing and manufacturing their own custom guitars.
Today, ESP has locations based in Tokyo, Japan, and Los Angeles, USA.
They are well known for making custom guitars – most famously their “super strat” style instruments. Famous players include James Hetfield and Kirk Hammet of Metallica, Slayer, Chuck Garric of Alice Cooper, and Frank Bello of Anthrax.
Super strats barely even scratch the surface for all the different body styles, finishes, and unique designs that ESP creates. If you are interested in seeing all of the different ESP guitar shape types, check out their website and their custom gallery.
- Manufacturing Style: Handmade
- Manufacturing Location: Tokyo, Japan
- Body Wood: Mahogany
- Neck Wood: Mahogany, Maple
- Fingerboard Wood: Ebony
- Pickups: Seymour Duncan, EMG
- Tuners: Locking
LTD Guitars Overview
LTD Guitars are a subsidiary of ESP that manufactures affordable versions of iconic ESP guitars. They range from $200 beginner guitars all the way to $1,000+ professional quality guitars.
In 1996, ESP introduced LTD guitars in order to introduce a budget-friendly line of guitars while still maintaining the high-quality control and standards of ESP. This is done with cheaper materials in lower-cost manufacturing sites.
These budget-friendly instruments have not only given more players the opportunity to play quality instruments, but have actually started a debate of whether or not ESP guitars are actually worth the money.
- Manufacturing Style: Product Line
- Manufacturing Location: Indonesia, Korea
- Body Wood: Basswood
- Neck Wood: Mahogany, Maple
- Fingerboard Wood: Rosewood, Jatoba
- Pickups: LTD Designed, EMG
- Tuners: LTD Locking
ESP vs LTD Guitars: What’s the Difference?
Once you understand that ESP and LTD Guitars are owned by the same company, it’s almost as if more questions start to arise. Is one better than the other? Are the higher-quality, hand-made, custom guitars at ESP really worth it?
If I had to explain the differences to someone who is familiar with Fender and Gibson products, I would like ESP and LTD to Fender and Squier, or Gibson and Epiphone. They’re all sister companies that aim to provide high quality instruments to a wide range of budgets and players.
This is of course a major over-simplification. Let’s take a look at some of the qualities and aspects of each company that will help show the real differences between ESP vs LTD Guitars.
Where They are Made
One of the key differences between ESP and LTD guitars is where they are made.
ESP Guitars are primarily made in Tokyo, Japan.
LTD Guitars are made in Korea, Indonesia, or China. Some of the earliest LTD guitars from 1996 were made in Tokyo and are highly collectible.
Where the guitars are made is a key component to their price difference. Because LTD guitars are made outside of Tokyo, they cost less to make and can save you, the player, a substantial amount of money.
There are many things that contribute to the lower price point of LTD (more on this later), the manufacturing sites are a big player.
The ESP USA series, which includes both ESP and LTD guitars, are made in California.
When ESP opened LTD guitars in 1996, the goal was to mass-produce guitars on assembly lines that had the same quality as ESP, but at a lower price. It all starts with where the guitars are made and how they are made.
One thing that surprised me about ESP vs LTD guitars is that the playability of both guitars is very comparable.
Even though the materials and manufacturing process set these guitars apart, the end products feel and perform very similarly to one another.
LTD guitars come in almost as many different body shapes and neck shapes as ESP guitars, so your choices are vast. This ranges from Super-Strat to LP/set-neck style, even to offset style guitars. All are built to a high quality that makes the guitars feel and play well.
Both LTD and ESP guitars tend to favor locking tuners, jumbo frets, and whatever kind of trem/bridge system you can imagine. They all have the same purpose – to be high-performance.
One advantage that ESP does have over LTD is customization. If there is a specific neck radius, fretwire size, pickup type, scale length, etc., your best bet is to get a custom-built ESP. The ability to customize a guitar to your specs will have a massive impact on playability for you.
That being said, if you compared an ESP and LTD guitar with the same specs, the playability would be nearly the same. This is a good thing, in my opinion, as it shows off the value of LTD for so many players and the value of ESP as a company overall.
Whether you choose ESP or LTD, you’ll be able to shred easily.
Could it be possible for two guitars that are on opposite sides of the price spectrum to sound as good as one another?
I was quite surprised at the fact that LTD guitars sound damn good.
In fact, in my research, I would often close my eyes during comparisons to see if I could pick one over the other. More often than not the LTD fooled me for sounding as good as its ESP counterpart.
Admittedly I don’t have the keenest ear when it comes to discerning heavily distorted guitars apart from one another. However, it may just be the case for high-gain tones – there’s a less dynamic range available to tell nuanced differences in tone from one guitar to the next.
I think the differences became more apparent with clean tones. The Seymour Duncan and EMG pickups used in ESP custom guitars seemed to have more range and response than the LTD designed pickups used in LTD guitars. Once metal-worthy gain is applied, the differences are very subtle.
So if the sound is what concerns you the most, LTD may very well be the way to go as it saves you money, especially if you’re primarily playing heavy gain sounds.
For many, price is going to be the ultimate deciding factor when it comes to choosing between ESP vs LTD guitars. If this is the case for you, the answer is simple: LTD guitars are typically between 25%-50% the cost of an ESP and they are great guitars. Go for it.
However, for others, it’s more a matter of “are ESP guitars worth the extra cash?”
This is obviously a personal decision/opinion, but here is mine to help you.
I think that if you are the type of person that wants a custom guitar, you already know that an LTD is not going to cut it. In this case, ESP guitars are 100% worth the money. If you have an exact guitar in mind, no other guitar is going to cut it, even if the price is hard to beat, like with an LTD.
On the other hand, if you are less specific in your needs, and are more concerned with just having a quality guitar in general at the best price point, you should go for LTD.
In terms of value, LTD guitars are the definite winners here. The higher-end LTD models, such as the ESP LTD EC-1000, are professional quality guitars that have nearly identical specifications as their ESP counterparts but cost less than half the price. The only difference between the two is where they were manufactured, which contributes to the overall craftsmanship and polish of the guitar.
LTD guitars also have the advantage in the sense that they have guitars that are suitable for practically every budget. Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player, you’ll likely be able to find an LTD guitar that fits in your budget and has the similar characteristics of the higher-end ESP guitars. ESP Guitars are obviously meant to be prestigious, meaning they have the price tag that only enthusiasts would be willing to pay.
I personally think that this is where your money is really going when it comes to picking an ESP guitar over LTD. The custom aesthetics that you can get with ESP are unbeatable.
This is especially true with their tops. The finishes and wood choices can be exotic, ranging from magenta-blue burst to liquid metal silver.
LTD guitars still have a wide array of finishes and look to choose from, but they are set to a certain few every year, whereas ESP can create whatever aesthetic you want whenever you want it. LTD guitars typically have monochromatic color schemes or translucent finishes to show off the guitar’s natural wood grain.
The handmade quality of ESP really shines through aesthetically as well. You can tell that there is an attention to detail that only a truly invested, master craftsman can create.
Both guitar companies have a wide range of body styles to choose from, however. They have bolt-on style guitars known as the “snapper”, traditional, Les Paul-inspired guitars known as “Eclipse”, and original body designs such as the edgy FRX.
The custom shop can make just about anything you want. If you want proof, check out this custom model.
Whichever style you go for, it seems that both ESP and LTD attract a certain kind of player. They attract the kind of player that wants to stand out. They are typically made to suit players that play heavily but don’t let this deter you if that isn’t your kind of music.
ESP vs LTD Guitars: Which is Best for You?
You now know what makes ESP and LTD guitars related to each other, as well as what sets them apart. How do you go about picking the right one for you?
Here are my final suggestions for the type of player that should choose one company over the other.
Choose ESP Guitars if:
- You have exact specs that need to be met
- You need a custom finish
- You play predominantly clean guitar tones
- You want a one-of-a-kind instrument
- You can afford to spend $3500+
Choose LTD Guitars if:
- You need to spend under $1,000
- You’re ok with simpler finish options
- You play high-gain tones
- You’re less picky about specs
The good news is that if you are limited in one way or another, whichever company you choose is going to deliver you ESP quality standards.
My advice for choosing a guitar is to play as many as you can. If you are in a position to try out ESP and LTD guitars in a shop, take advantage of that opportunity. Only then will you really experience the guitars fully and then you will know which is the right one for you.
Is ESP better than LTD?
It depends on who you ask. If you ask me, here are the things that make ESP better than LTD, and vice versa.
When it comes to playability and sound:
- ESP guitars can and will do everything than an LTD guitar will do. They share a lot in common, so an LTD will do more things than an ESP can do. They are very similar playing experiences when you compare equally spec’d instruments.
When it comes to aesthetics:
- ESP has way more unique and customizable options. This is where ESP becomes worth the price
When it comes to Value:
- I think LTD is an incredible value. Even with ESP custom guitars being as impressive as they are, the fact that LTD guitars come off the assembly line with such quality is impressive and gives them the edge in my book for value/price.
There is a lot to be said about the quality of instruments that LTD can deliver you, even if the scope of guitar designs they offer is comparably limited. They are still one of the most expansive guitar companies (at least when you compare them to the likes of Fender and Gibson) and they are of the highest quality.
However, if you need a custom, one-of-a-kind instrument, there’s no beating ESP. The question is, can you afford their price tag?
Is ESP and LTD the same company?
LTD is owned by ESP.
ESP delivers premium-level guitars. LTD delivers affordable versions of ESP type guitars. This is done with different company names and products that are manufactured in different facilities, with specific goals and audiences in mind.
Are LTD guitars any good?
I’m pleased to say that, in my opinion, LTD guitars are very good.
LTD guitars live up to their goal of being affordable ESP-style guitars. They have limitations and cost-saving measures, such as the manufacturing process and the tonewoods, but clearly, all the right cuts are being made because these guitars play and sound fantastic.
I think that LTD guitars actually take the edge when it comes to ESP guitars in terms of value. You can get a guitar that performs as well as an ESP through LTD.