ESP vs. LTD Guitars – Key Differences Explained

Author: Ross McLeod | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

It’s impossible to talk about metal and heavy rock guitars without mentioning ESP. For many years, they have enjoyed prolonged popularity amongst guitarists who like to crank up the gain and play with lots of energy.

One topic that often confuses guitarists is the difference between ESP and LTD guitars. It’s a common misconception that these guitars are made by different manufacturers, when in fact, LTD is simply an affordable line made by ESP.

In this guide, I’ll point out the key differences between ESP’s standard line of guitars, and their more affordable LTD instruments. And hopefully, I’ll dispel some common myths along the way!

ESP vs. LTD – What’s the Difference?

Let’s start by stating the obvious. ESP and LTD are the same guitar manufacturer. Much like Fender and Squire or Gibson and Epiphone, LTD is simply the lower-cost version of ESP’s premium range of guitars.

If you’re familiar with the other guitar brands I just mentioned, you’ll know that although the cheaper versions are great instruments in their own right, they don’t quite compare to the original, flagship models.

Is this the same with ESP and LTD? In some aspects, yes, the difference is clear. For example, the hardware that is used on the LTD range is of a lesser quality than its ESP counterparts.

Additionally, the choice of tonewood used to compose the LTD guitars is going to be less expensive than that which is used on the ESP range. This inevitably affects the tone and performance of the instruments.

With that being said, LTD guitars are by no means badly made instruments. ESP has amassed an abundance of knowledge when creating their premium range over the years and used it to make the best quality LTD guitars while keeping manufacturing costs down so that they can be sold at a more affordable price.

Here’s a breakdown of ESP and LTD guitars:

ESP Guitars

  • Established in Japan in 1975
  • Handcrafted guitars made in Korea
  • Uses premium woods
  • Excellent electronics

LTD Guitars

  • Introduced by ESP in 1996
  • Designed to compete with other budget guitar brands
  • Use affordable, lower-grade materials
  • Ideally suited to beginner guitarists

Woods

The main difference between ESP’s premium range and their more affordable, LTD range is the choice of materials. The woods that are used to construct the guitar’s body, neck, and fingerboard are all relative to the cost.

Tonewoods are an age-old source of debate amongst guitarists. Tone-purists argue that high-quality wood types are integral to creating a great tone, and enhancing the playability of the instrument.

Some guitarists, like Jack White, for example, prefer to use cheaper guitars that use woods that are considered to be of lesser quality. It’s a case of personal preference.

ESP guitars generally use mahogany for the body, maple and mahogany for the neck, and ebony for the fingerboard. This combination is seen as being a premium selection of tonewoods, extracting every ounce of tone from the guitar and promoting playability.

LTD guitars on the other hand, commonly use mahogany and basswood for the body, maple and mahogany for the neck, and perhaps where the biggest difference is apparent is the choice of rosewood and roasted jatoba for the fingerboard.

It’s worth noting that the cheapest models in the LTD 10 series exclusively use basswood for the body. This wood is very easy to source, and relatively inexpensive, thus it keeps the cost of these budget guitars to a minimum.

The high-end ESP models use a rare type of mahogany for the body, sourced in Honduras. The neck is made from three-piece maple and the fingerboard from luxurious ebony.

This is the combination used for the most expensive ESP guitars. There are also some in-between models, where more affordable tonewoods are combined with these pricier materials to lower the cost slightly.

Electronics

Other than the choice of wood used to construct ESP and LTD guitars, another key difference is the electronics that are installed on the instrument. Pickups and onboard electronics have a large impact on the amplified tone of the guitars.

Predominantly, high-end ESP guitars feature pickups made by the legendary manufacturer, Seymour Duncan. These pickups are built to a very high standard and ensure that the natural tone of the ESP guitar is amplified.

At the other end of the spectrum, the most affordable LTD guitars use ESP’s very own pickups. These devices aren’t up to the high standard of Seymour Duncan pickups, but they still do a decent job.

ESP guitars use different variations of Seymour Duncan pickups, depending on the exact model in question. They often use high-output single-coil models, for the high-energy tone associated with their guitars.

LTD guitars are designed to closely resemble the tone of the more expensive ESP guitars. Therefore, the self-made ESP pickups produce a similar tone to the Seymour Duncan alternatives.

Design & Construction

As I previously mentioned, ESP’s LTD range of guitars is built in either Korea or Indonesia. Conversely, the high-end ESP models are built exclusively in the brand’s home, Japan.

ESP’s origin story is inspiring and impressive. They formed in 1975 as a small-scale guitar repair shop in the Japanese city of Tokyo. That city is especially special to the brand, as it is where they produce their very best guitars to this day.

The class of ESP guitars is simply undeniable. They are one of the few manufacturers who have emerged in the past 50 years and managed to compete with the established heavyweights, such as Fender and Gibson.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about high-end ESP models is that they are all handcrafted individually by their world-renowned guitar engineers. The LTD guitars, on the other hand, are mass-produced more conventionally and affordably.

In addition to the Japanese models, there is a US alternative too. The ESP USA series guitars are all made in the state of California, and this range also includes the affordable LTD and E-II models.

Finish & Detail

The final key difference between ESP and LTD guitars is their finish and small details. As a guitarist, I’m sure you’re aware of the difference that a nice finish makes to the instrument.

The small nuances of a guitar are what give it character, and ultimately make it special to the musician. The ESP guitars are all custom made, and therefore, feature several unique and exotic finishes.

These finishes include Cast Metal Andromeda and a transparent Black Blue Burst. There are many more finished that are used on the high-end ESP guitars, which vary depending on the specific models.

LTD guitars don’t include the quality or diversity of finishes that are featured on the ESP models. This is simply due to ESP attempting to keep the price of the LTD range as affordable as possible.

Despite this, LTD guitars are still well-made instruments. The finishes and designs are closely resembling the ESP guitars, but there are some noticeable differences when analyzed closely.

Conclusion

Hopefully, after reading this guide, you’re aware of the differences between ESP and LTD guitars. Simply put, ESP guitars are great if you have the money to purchase one, but if not, you can still enjoy the quality they offer by opting for a more affordable LTD model.

About Ross McLeod

Ross is a music producer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter. He is the frontman of The Blue Dawns, where he handles vocal and bass duties. He has extensive experience with bass, drums and guitar. His most recent project is named Gold Jacket.

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