You are currently viewing 5 Best ESP Guitars for 2024 – Metal Guitarist Chooses

Last Updated on March 2, 2024 by Teemu Suomala

Author: DL Shepherd

Darren has been playing guitar for over 23 years. He fronted the metal band Suddenly Silence in the early 2000’s, and also achieved recognition as an award-winning bluegrass guitarist.

A native of southwestern Virginia, and has shared the stage with many big-name acts from various genres. When he is not playing one of his many guitars, he can be found riding his Harley through the mountains of Virginia.

displays Edward Bond and Gibson Guitar

Editor: Edward Bond

Edward has been playing the guitar since 2002. So Edward has over 20 years of experience as a guitarist, has authored 15 guitar books, has written for renowned music blogs, and spent a decade teaching music. He began merging his passion for writing and music in 2020 and has written for big guitar websites such as Guitar Head Publishing and KillerGuitarRigs.com.

Originally from Seattle, Edward moved to Norway in 2021 for a master’s in music. He’s studied at the Jazz Institute Berlin and Conservatorium van Amsterdam, and currently resides in Trondheim. His education includes a European Jazz Master’s, a diploma in Film and Game Scoring from Sofia, and a Bachelor’s in Jazz from University of Oregon.

Edward has played in numerous bands and currently, Edward works on his own project Starship Infinity


Displays ESP LTD EC-1000 Black

Best Overall – ESP LTD EC-1000

Reviewer: DL Shepherd

Sound
Playability
Overall Quality
Value For Money
Versatility

Summary

Pros:
-All-mahogany construction means nearly endless sustain.
-Active EMG humbuckers sound insane!
-Gold hardware and vintage binding look gorgeous.
-The neck feels fast and very comfortable to play.

Cons:
-This thing is heavy!

Who is this guitar for?
This guitar is for the heavy metal player who wants a fantastic single cutaway ready to play right out of the box.

4.7

How the ESP LTD EC-1000 sounds:

Is this really the best ESP, what do you think?
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ESP Guitars: LTD Deluxe EC-1000 See Thru Purple Sunburst Demo

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The Next Best:

Best for Beginners
ESP LTD SN-200HT

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Our Overall Rating

Summary

Pros:

  • Players of all skill levels will love the comfortable neck.
  • ESP-designed humbuckers sound incredible.
  • String-through bridge design makes string changes a breeze.
  • The coil-splitting tone pot makes it incredibly versatile.

Cons:

  • Possibly some quality-control issues, but nothing serious.

Who is this guitar for?

The ESP LTD SN-200HT is for any beginning guitarist who wants a guitar they can enjoy for many years.

 

Best for Metal –
ESP LTD Arrow-1000

displays ESP LTD Arrow-1000

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Our Overall Rating

Summary

Pros:

  • Aggressive shape lends itself well to metal.
  • EMG 81/85 humbuckers sound perfect for heavy music.
  • The neck is extremely fast and comfortable to play.

Cons:

  • The pointed body seems easily damaged.
  • It’s tough to play sitting down.

Who is this guitar for?

The ESP LTD Arrow-1000 is an amazing choice for a metal player looking for a fast-playing, aggressively-styled axe to add to their arsenal.

Best Premium
ESP Original Eclipse Custom

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Our Overall Rating

Summary

Pros:

  • Comfortable neck feels great for chords or soloing. 
  • Active EMG pickups deliver great tones.
  • Gotoh locking tuners keep everything in tune even after aggressive playing.
  • The finishes are stunning.

Cons:

  • Like the EC-1000, this guitar is very heavy.

Who is this guitar for?

The ESP Original Eclipse Custom is for the discerning player who insists on nothing but the best.

Best Budget
ESP LTD Viper-256

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Our Overall Rating

Summary

Pros:

  • ESP-designed pickups deliver fantastic tones.
  • The neck feels very comfortable to play.
  • All-mahogany construction gives it incredible sustain.

Cons:

  • It suffers from “neck dive”. 

Who is this guitar for?

The ESP LTD Viper-256 is for guitarists of any skill level who want a solid axe at a great price. 

Compare the Key Specs

ModelPrice Range ($-$$$$)Body StyleNeckFretboardBodywoodsNut WidthNut MaterialBridgeScale-LengthPickupsControlsOur Rating
Best Overall – ESP LTD EC-1000$$$$Solidbody EclipseMahogany Neck-through24, Extra Jumbo, Stainless Steel on Macassar EbonyMahogany1.650″MoldedTonePros Locking Tune-O-Matic Bridge with Stopbar Tailpiece24.75″EMG 60 Humbucker

EMG 81 Humbucker
2 x volume

1 x tone

3-way toggle pickup switch
4.7
Best for Beginners – ESP LTD SN-200HT$$Solidbody LTD SN-200Maple Bolt-on24, Extra Jumbo MapleBasswood1.653″Molded PlasticLTD Fixed with String-thru body25.5″
ESP Designed LH-150N Humbucker

ESP Designed LH-150B Humbucker
1 x master volume

1 x master tone (push/pull coil-split)

3-way blade pickup switch
3.9
Best for Metal – ESP LTD Arrow-1000$$$$$Solidbody LTD Arrow3-piece Maple, Neck-through24, Extra Jumbo Stainless Steel Macassar EbonyMahogany1.653″LockingFloyd Rose 1000SE Tremolo25.5″EMG 85 Humbucker (neck)

EMG 81 Humbucker (bridge)

1 x master volume

1 x master tone (push/pull coil-split)

3-way blade pickup switch
4.6
Best Premium – ESP Original Eclipse Custom$$$$$Solidbody Eclipse CustomHonduras Mahogany Set Neck22, Extra Jumbo EbonyHonduras Mahogany1.653″Gotoh LockingTonePros Tune-O-Matic with Stopbar Tailpiece24.75″2 * EMG HET Humbucker2 x volume

1 x master tone

3-way toggle pickup switch
4.9
Best Budget – ESP LTD Viper-256$$$Solidbody LTD Viper3-Piece Mahogany Neck-through24, Extra Jumbo Roasted JatobaMahogany1.653″Molded PlasticTune-O-Matic Bridge with Stopbar Tailpiece24.75″ESP Designed LH-150N Humbucker

ESP Designed LH-150B Humbucker
1 x master volume

1 x master tone (push/pull coil-split)

3-way toggle pickup switch
4.4

Compare The Pickups:

image reveals How different electric guitar pickups sound

Pickups

Neck: EMG 60 Humbucker

Bridge: EMG 81 Humbucker

Pickups

Neck: ESP Designed LH-150N Humbucker

Bridge: ESP Designed LH-150B Humbucker

Pickups

Neck: EMG 85 Humbucker

Bridge: EMG 81 Humbucker

Pickups

Neck: EMG HET Humbucker

Bridge: EMG HET Humbucker

Pickups

Neck: ESP Designed LH-150N Humbucker

Bridge: ESP Designed LH-150B Humbucker

Learn more about electric guitar pickup types here.

About ESP

  • James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett of Metallica. 
  • George Lynch of Dokken/Lynch Mob. 
  • Stephen Carpenter of The Deftones.

These guitarists have one thing in common: they all play ESP guitars. If you have listened to metal within the past 40 years, you’ve probably heard a lot of ESP guitars. They are one of the best guitar brands on the market, and metal players love them for their tone and playability. 

ESP has always been able to take what other guitar manufacturers do and put their own spin on the designs. They can take old-school designs and make them “more metal.” This results in incredibly fast playing axes that sound amazing through a high-gain amplifier.

You may also be familiar with their sub-brand, LTD. These are the more affordable versions of ESP designs. These are more widely available and common than the rather pricey ESP designs. They also have the E-II series. We will be looking at all three examples in this article. 

Now, it’s time to look at the top ESP guitars on the market. Let’s dive right in!


Our Reviews of The Top 5

Keep These 3 Key Things In Mind When Choosing an ESP:

ESP guitars use extra-jumbo frets almost exclusively. This means it doesn’t take much pressure to fret a note, or you will pull the notes sharp.

Many ESP guitars feature active pickups. Pay attention to the guitar’s description!

ESP-branded instruments are the most expensive. E-II branded guitars are less expensive. LTD instruments are the most affordable. 

How Did We Choose These Guitars?

I have been around ESP guitars since high school. One of my classmates was a huge ESP fan and acquired a couple of LTD models by the time we graduated, while I was busy with several Ibanez models. 

Later in life, the second guitarist in one of my bands was an ESP fan. He owned a few LTD models, one being an EC-1000. I began to familiarize myself with their lineup at that time. 

Now, I play them whenever I venture out to a music store that carries them. Once in a while, I will run across an expensive ESP-branded guitar. They’re magical!

Most electric guitars we recommend are run through tests like these:

  • We check electronics (Basic measurements with multimeter, resistance, etc.)
  • We inspect the guitar carefully to get a good idea of the finish and built quality of the guitar.
  • We inspect the fretwork and edges of the fretboard to make sure there are no sharp edges.
  • We run the guitar usually through BOSS Katana 50 MK2 and test clean, crunch, and distorted tones with lead and rhythm playing.
  • We use different playing styles to get a good feel for the playability. We use fingerpicking, sweep picking, riffs from different genres, shredding, tapping, chord playing, etc.
  • We test all the possible pickup combinations and use different Volume and Tone settings from the guitar.
  • We measure and weight the guitar.
  • We test the guitar with drop tunings.

Learn more about GND’s testing and reviewing processes here.


Best OverallESP LTD EC-1000

Displays ESP LTD EC-1000 Black
ESP LTD EC-1000 Electric Guitar – Vintage Black

Specs

Body StyleSolidbody Eclipse
Body WoodMahogany
NeckMahogany Neck-through
Neck ShapeThin U
Neck Radius13.7″
Fretboard24, Extra Jumbo, Stainless Steel on Macassar Ebony
NutMolded
Nut Width1.650″
PickupsEMG 60 Humbucker
EMG 81 Humbucker
Controls2 x volume
1 x tone
3-way toggle pickup switch
Scale-Length24.75″
BridgeTonePros Locking Tune-O-Matic Bridge with Stopbar Tailpiece
TunersLocking

The EC-1000 is a classic ESP build that seamlessly blends vintage design with modern playability. Thanks to its classy appearance, this single-cutaway guitar appeals to vintage purists and modern tone freaks alike. 

The ESP LTD EC-1000 features a mahogany body, a mahogany neck, and an ebony fretboard. This combination is a tried and true trio for excellent sustain and durability, which, coincidently, is the same as another famous guitar with which it shares its shape (hint: it rhymes with “mess haul”). 

The fretboard features white pearloid inlays, and the neck and body feature vintage-looking binding. The neck is a fast “U”-shaped profile that feels good in your hand. You can shred through the scales or play complex chords without getting tired, and the single cutaway body allows you unrestricted access to all 24 extra-jumbo frets. 

Gold hardware adds some major class to this aggressive beast. The stopbar tailpiece and Tonepros Tune-o-matic bridge keep things stable down low, while ESP locking tuners keep it all in tune. 

Let’s not forget the electronics! The ESP LTD EC-1000 comes standard with active EMG humbuckers – an EMG 60 in the neck position and an EMG 81 in the bridge position. This combination allows you to get nasty high-gain tones while maintaining single-note clarity. Plug into your favorite high-gain amp and you have a match made in heaven…

…or Hell?

The only complaint that I have is the sheer weight of this behemoth. It clocks in right around 9.5 lbs. That can be a lot to handle when you’re playing extended sets. If your shoulders and back are up to the challenge, this guitar is well worth it!

This is one of the most loved models for a good reason: This guitar slays! Pick one up and find out for yourself.

Read the full review of ESP LTD EC-1000 here.

How this guitar sounds:

ESP Guitars: LTD Deluxe EC-1000 See Thru Purple Sunburst Demo

Summary

ProsCons
All-mahogany construction means nearly endless sustain.This thing is heavy! 
Active EMG humbuckers sound insane!
Gold hardware and vintage binding look gorgeous.
The neck feels fast and very comfortable to play.

What others are saying:

“Talk to any guitarist in the industry and they will tell you for certain this make and model is an absolute must when it comes to guitars. This guitar in particular is the highest selling ESP guitar for a reason. The versatile shape, the edgy yet smooth sound, and the comfortable feel. The EC-1000 in vintage black is truly one of the specific guitars to have among all others.”

  • Brian, Sweetwater customer

Who is this guitar for?

This guitar is for the heavy metal player who wants a fantastic single cutaway ready to play right out of the box. 

Who is this guitar NOT for?

This guitar is not for someone who wants a lightweight guitar. This is a heavy axe to wield!

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Best for BeginnersESP LTD SN-200HT

image showing ESP LTD SN-200HT Electric Guitar finished in Dark Purple Metallic Satin
ESP LTD SN-200HT Electric Guitar – Dark Purple Metallic Satin

Specs

Body StyleSolidbody LTD SN-200
Body WoodBasswood
NeckMaple Bolt-on
Neck ShapeThin U
Neck Radius13.7″
Fretboard24, Extra Jumbo Maple
NutMolded Plastic
Nut Width1.653″
PickupsESP Designed LH-150N Humbucker
ESP Designed LH-150B Humbucker
Controls1 x master volume
1 x master tone (push/pull coil-split)
3-way blade pickup switch
Scale-Length25.5″
BridgeLTD Fixed with String-thru body
TunersLTD

There are good beginner guitars, and there are great beginner guitars. The ESP LTD SN-200HT is a great beginner guitar in every way. It is easy to play, offers some great professional features, and is affordable. What more could you want? 

This guitar is a serious instrument – not a toy. It features a basswood body and a maple neck and fingerboard. This gives you adequate sustain with a great feel. Maple fingerboards look better with age as well!

The neck has the same “U” shape as its bigger brothers. This means that you’re not sacrificing playability for the sake of price. It feels exceptionally comfortable and will allow new players to practice whatever they want. The frets are extra-jumbo size.

You get a hardtail bridge that makes things easy when you need to change strings, and you get high-quality ESP LTD tuners that are nice and smooth. Everything stays in tune reasonably well, too. 

The pickups are two ESP-designed humbuckers. They are passive, so there are no batteries to change out. One exciting feature of the electronics is the coil-splitting push/pull tone pot. This feature is not found on many beginner guitars, and I think it is incredible. This allows you to split the coils to get single coil tones from the humbuckers.

Find out what a “push/pull tone pot” does and how it does it in our “29 Guitars With A Coil Split” post

This is an excellent feature if you play multiple styles of music. You can get raw and heavy with the humbuckers or split the coils for lovely bluesy, Strat-like tones. For beginners exposed to different types of music, this is the guitar to go for!

An odd thing happened while trying to activate the push/pull feature on my test guitar. The knob came off in my hand! It was straight out of the box, so this was a quality-control issue. It was a quick fix, and it didn’t do it again during my session. 

There aren’t many guitars that allow beginners to grow into them. Beginners often end up outgrowing their “starter” guitars fairly quickly. That won’t happen with the ESP LTD SN-200HT. You can get years of playing from this guy, and the only reason you’ll have to upgrade is that you want to get another guitar. 

This is the top ESP guitar for beginners – period. Pick it up and start yourself out right!

How this guitar sounds:

No Talking…Just Tones – ESP LTD SN-200HT – Dark Metallic Purple Satin

Summary

ProsCons
Players of all skill levels will love the comfortable neck.Possibly some quality-control issues, but nothing serious.
ESP-designed humbuckers sound incredible.
String-through bridge design makes string changes a breeze.
The coil-splitting tone pot makes it incredibly versatile.

What others are saying:

“The LTD SN-200HT has some really good tones coming out of it. This is the 3rd ESP LTD product I own, and I am very pleased with this guitar. It has some really cool-sounding humbuckers and offers split. I also like its hard tail and stays in tune. When I received it, it had 10’s on it but I changed those to 9’s right out of the box. Because the 10s were just too hard on my old fingers, in my opinion, I am a beginner guitarist even though I have messed with guitars since being a kid.

I really can’t say enough about the build of ESP guitars in my opinion they are some of the best-made guitars on the market today for folks who have a budget and need to stick to it. IF you want a great-sounding well-made guitar that has some wonderful tones. ESP LTD is it.”

  • Chuck, Sweetwater customer

Who is this guitar for?

The ESP LTD SN-200HT is for any beginning guitarist who wants a guitar they can enjoy for many years.

Who is this guitar NOT for?

This guitar is not for active pickup fans since it comes standard with passive pickups.

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Best for MetalESP LTD Arrow-1000

displays ESP LTD Arrow-1000
ESP LTD Arrow-1000 – Candy Apple Red Satin

Specs

Body StyleSolidbody LTD Arrow
Body WoodMahogany
Neck3-piece Maple, Neck-through
Neck ShapeExtra Thin U
Neck Radius11.8″-15.7″ compound
Fretboard24, Extra Jumbo Stainless Steel Macassar Ebony
NutLocking
Nut Width1.653″
PickupsEMG 85 Humbucker (neck)
EMG 81 Humbucker (bridge)
Controls1 x master volume
1 x master tone (push/pull coil-split)
3-way blade pickup switch
Scale-Length25.5″
BridgeFloyd Rose 1000SE Tremolo
TunersGrover

I know some of you are thinking: “he chose that just because it looks wicked.” That was not the reason. This is a fantastic metal guitar in every way – and yes, it does look wicked! There’s just something about a trimmed-up V-shaped guitar that looks awesome when you’re shredding some heavy riffs. 

The ESP LTD Arrow-1000 is constructed with a mahogany body, maple neck, and an ebony fingerboard. This same formula is used on other world-renowned guitars because it just works. 

The neck is a thin “U”-shape like many ESP necks. It is slim and speedy! For some reason, playing this guitar reminds me of driving fast in a sports car. It is excellent for shredding scales and grabbing a handful of power chords. Everything seems very streamlined, which I like in a good metal guitar. It has 24 extra-jumbo stainless steel frets that won’t wear down as quickly as standard frets.

compares Medium vs extra jumbo frets
Comparison Between Medium and Extra Jumbo Frets

The premium quality hardware features smooth-operating ESP tuners and a Floyd Rose 1000SE bridge. You can dive bomb and squeal your heart out, and this thing will stay in tune. 

Unsurprisingly, the electronics in this sleek machine are powered by 2 EMG active humbuckers. More specifically, you’re getting an EMG 81 in the bridge position and an EMG 85 in the neck position. Countless metal guitarists, including James Hetfield and Zakk Wylde, have used this combination. 

You’ll be able to achieve incredible high-gain tones while maintaining single-note clarity. That means you can be heard through the gain instead of getting lost in the mix. These pickups may be the best metal pickups ever made. 

There are a couple of things that I am not crazy about. First, this guitar suffers from the same problem that plagues many V-shaped guitars: It is tough to play while sitting down unless you do yoga daily. Second, the tips of the V are very sharp and require extreme care to keep them from getting damaged. 

Other than that, you have an amazing metal guitar with aggressive styling that absolutely shreds. Add one to your arsenal!

How this guitar sounds:

ESP Guitars: LTD Deluxe Arrow-1000 Live Performance Demo

Summary

ProsCons
Aggressive shape lends itself well to metal.The pointed body seems easily damaged.
EMG 81/85 humbuckers sound perfect for heavy music.It’s tough to play sitting down.
The neck is extremely fast and comfortable to play.

What others are saying:

“If you are at all worried about the build quality… don’t be!!!!! The Arrow-1000 Candy Apple Red Satin is top-notch for the price! The fit and finish are on par with some far more expensive guitars I have owned…I mean the thing even showed up PERFECTLY in tune (Which I attribute to the wonderful staff at Sweetwater).

To top it off, the color is even more striking in person. I have always felt that the EMG 81/85 combo suits this guitar. I had already made plans to swap the pickups but I think the EMG’s are gonna stick around. They are tight, articulate, and just fit the vibe perfectly.”

  • Chuck, Sweetwater customer

Who is this guitar for?

The ESP LTD Arrow-1000 is an amazing choice for a metal player looking for a fast-playing, aggressively-styled axe to add to their arsenal.

Who is this guitar NOT for?

This guitar is probably not for those who like to sit down and play. It can be done, but it feels awkward.

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Best Premium – ESP Original Eclipse Custom

image showing ESP Original Eclipse Custom finished in Andromeda II
ESP Original Eclipse Custom – Andromeda II

Specs

Body StyleSolidbody Eclipse Custom
Body WoodHonduras Mahogany
NeckHonduras Mahogany Set Neck
Neck ShapeThin U
Neck Radius12″
Fretboard22, Extra Jumbo Ebony
NutGraphite
Nut Width1.653″
Pickups2 * EMG HET Humbucker
Controls2 x volume
1 x master tone
3-way toggle pickup switch
Scale-Length24.75″
BridgeTonePros Tune-O-Matic with Stopbar Tailpiece
TunersGotoh Locking

If you have yet to get your hands on a top-shelf ESP, you need to do it ASAP. There is nothing like it; you can feel and hear the price difference. This isn’t always the case for many guitars, but it certainly stands true with the ESP Original Eclipse Custom. 

Honduran mahogany is the star of the show and comprises both the body and neck. The body is then topped with a beautiful piece of maple, and the neck features a gorgeous ebony fingerboard. This guitar is a sustain machine! You can hold a note for as long as you’d like. 

They claim the neck profile is the same as many LTD models, but I beg to differ. This neck feels more like a C-shape that has been trimmed up just a little. It has enough heft to perform complex chords comfortably but is fast enough to shred without a problem. The cutaway body gives you unlimited access to all 24 extra-jumbo frets.

The hardware is as good as it gets. It features a stop bar tailpiece and Tonepros Tune-o-matic bridge for excellent intonation. Gotoh locking tuners keep everything in tune even after some aggressive string bends. 

The tones are delivered by a set of active EMG JH humbuckers. These are James Hetfield’s signature humbuckers that closely resemble the EMG 81/85 combination found on other guitars. They sound better when played clean than the EMG 81/85 combo (at least to my ears), but they still deliver incredibly heavy tones worthy of a metal god. 

displays EMG Active pickups
Example of an EMG Active Humbucker

This is a heavy guitar like its little brothers, weighing over 9 lbs. This is the only downside to this guitar, just like with the ESP LTD EC-1000. Other than that, it is a perfect guitar in every way. It is also one of the most gorgeous instruments that I have ever had the pleasure of playing! 

If you want the best premium ESP guitar, this is it.

How this guitar sounds:

ESP Guitars: ESP Original Series Eclipse Demo by Vahan Aslanyan

Summary

ProsCons
Comfortable neck feels great for chords or soloing. Like the EC-1000, this guitar is very heavy.
Active EMG pickups deliver great tones.
Gotoh locking tuners keep everything in tune even after aggressive playing.
The finishes are stunning.

What others are saying:

“I’ve had some solid guitars over the years; SG standard, Hamer Californian Elite, USA Strats… I’ll never downgrade to those again, this thing sets a new standard for me. If you’re pondering the idea, serious about your playing, and can squeeze out the peanuts, DO IT.

I’ve long promoted the idea that quality gear elevates your playing, and this is just another affirmation of that ideal. Keep in mind that I’m a metalhead… stalwarts of conflicting genres may have conflicting opinions.”

  • Sweetwater customer

Who is this guitar for?

The ESP Original Eclipse Custom is for the discerning player who insists on nothing but the best.

Who is this guitar NOT for?

This guitar is not for someone looking for “just another guitar.” This is a serious instrument from start to finish. 

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Best BudgetESP LTD Viper-256

image showing ESP LTD Viper-256 Electric Guitar finished in Dark Brown Sunburst
ESP LTD Viper-256 Electric Guitar – Dark Brown Sunburst

Specs

Body StyleSolidbody LTD Viper
Body WoodMahogany
Neck3-Piece Mahogany Neck-through
Neck ShapeThin U
Neck Radius13.7″
Fretboard24, Extra Jumbo Roasted Jatoba
NutMolded Plastic
Nut Width1.653″
PickupsESP Designed LH-150N Humbucker
ESP Designed LH-150B Humbucker
Controls1 x master volume
1 x master tone (push/pull coil-split)
3-way toggle pickup switch
Scale-Length24.75″
BridgeTune-O-Matic Bridge with Stopbar Tailpiece
TunersLTD

Finding a high-quality axe below the $600 mark can be challenging for intermediate guitar players. The ESP LTD Viper-256 barely squeaks by! This is another guitar that is based on a popular Gibson design. It has a more modern look and tone to meet the needs of today’s guitar players. It is also priced for those who are on a budget. 

The ESP LTD Viper-256 is crafted with a mahogany body and neck, and it has a beautiful rosewood fingerboard inlaid with white pearloid. This gives you a surprising amount of sustain from a guitar in this price range. 

The neck has a beautiful feel since it is designed like most ESP LTD models. The neck has a “U”-shaped neck profile that fits right in your hand and is great for playing chords or soloing. Guitarists of all skill levels should enjoy it immensely. 

The hardware is also surprisingly high-quality. The ESP tuners are smooth and have no problems keeping everything in tune. The Tonepros Tune-o-matic bridge and stop bar tailpiece make string changes easy and make adjusting the intonation a snap. The frets are extra-jumbo size for an unrestricted feel when playing leads. 

The pickups are ESP-designed passive humbuckers that crank out impressive tones. They are well-balanced without being too buzzy. They hold up well when played through a high-gain amp, allowing cleans to sparkle with excellent bass response and clarity. 

Additionally, a push/pull tone pot allows you to split the coils on the humbuckers to access single coil tones. This is an excellent feature not commonly found on guitars in this price range. If you enjoy playing several different styles of music, you can do them all with just this guitar. 

The only thing that bothers me about this guitar is that it is neck-heavy. Neck dive is a serious problem with SG-style guitars because the neck weighs more than the body, thus causing it to pull toward the ground. While this problem is better with the Viper-256 than other SG-style guitars, the issue remains. 

That is my only complaint with the ESP LTD Viper-256. It is an excellent guitar for those on a budget and the best ESP guitar for the money.

How this guitar sounds:

ESP Guitars: Rowan Robertson demos LTD Viper-256

Summary

ProsCons
ESP-designed pickups deliver fantastic tones.It suffers from “neck dive”.
The neck feels very comfortable to play.
All-mahogany construction gives it incredible sustain.

What others are saying:

“I fell in love with ESP once I found out some of my favorite guitarists use them. While this isn’t my dream Viper, this is still a wonderful one to have as a mid-level skilled guitar player. I was debating between this and the Epiphone SG400. Glad I went with this.

I like that I can get vintage sounds from it with a bit of an extra crunch to it. Add on some distorted fuzz and WOW this thing can make the windows rattle! It’s my new cherished ax and I can’t see myself parting with it any time soon…”

  • Cody, Sweetwater customer

Who is this guitar for?

The ESP LTD Viper-256 is for guitarists of any skill level who want a solid axe at a great price.

Who is this guitar NOT for?

This guitar is not for those who like a 5-way selector switch. It only has a 3-way selector switch.

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Runner-Ups That Just Missed The Top 5


A Brief History of ESP Guitars

ESP began life in Tokyo, Japan, in 1975. The original name was Electronic Sound Products, and it started as a repair shop by Hisatake Shibuya. Their specialty was making custom replacement parts for guitars. They hit the USA in 1983 and began producing guitars for artists like Ronnie Wood (The Rolling Stones) and Bruce Kulick (KISS). 

Other guitar companies, such as Kramer and Schecter Guitars, used ESP parts in the 1980s. They shut down the parts company in the early 1990s to focus entirely on building their own line of guitars. The LTD series was created in 1995 to meet the demand for more affordable versions of their custom shop guitars. These instruments are manufactured in Korea and Indonesia. 

ESP snowballed throughout the early 2000s thanks to the buyout of Jackson Guitars by Fender, their main competitor. Many artists switched from Jackson to ESP during this time. Today, they are one of the most successful guitar brands in the world, with an impressive list of artist endorsements.


Buyer’s Guide

The ESP Range Explained

ESP has four main series: 

  • ESP Original
  • ESP USA 
  • ESP E-II
  • LTD

The ESP Original Series is made in Japan by master luthiers. These are the best of the ESP line and feature premium tonewoods and parts. Only the ESP Original Series will do if you’re looking for nothing but the best. 

The ESP USA Series is made in California, USA. Their quality is generally the same as those in the ESP Original Series. They are only available through a select few high-end retailers. If you want a USA-made ESP guitar, you need one of these. They do accept custom orders on the USA Series as well. 

The ESP E-II Series is priced between the ESP Original and LTD Series. They are made in Japan with nearly the same attention to detail as their custom shop models. They are excellent guitars, and players who want a Japanese-made ESP without the price should look at the E-II Series. 

The LTD Series is the most affordable in the ESP family. They offer cheap versions of ESP’s custom shop models without the exuberant price tag. These are manufactured in Korea and Indonesia to ESP’s exacting specifications. Don’t think they are a “cheap ESP guitar” – they are designed for all skill levels, from beginner to pro. 

Whether you’re on a budget or don’t want to take out a second mortgage to buy a custom shop model, the LTD Series will give you a high-quality guitar for a comfortable price. 

How to Choose The Right ESP Electric Guitar For You?

Design

ESP makes several distinct designs, each catering to specific wants and needs. For example, the EC-body style is excellent for those who want a more conservative look, while the F series is for those with more gothic tastes. 

Pick a body style you like, but also think of how you’ll play it. For example, V-shaped guitars are tough to play while sitting down. Keep that in mind when choosing.

Construction and Materials

Many ESP models are crafted with mahogany bodies. This tonewood gives you great sustain. Depending on the model, ESP’s necks are crafted of maple or mahogany. These are the most commonly used tonewoods for guitar necks and are known for their strength and durability. Fingerboards are crafted of ebony, maple, or rosewood. 

ESP uses premium hardware on all of its guitars. Some of the higher-end guitars use Gotoh tuners and bridges. Guitars with a stop bar tailpiece most often use a Tonepros Tune-o-matic bridge.

Electronics

ESP uses a wide variety of pickups from various manufacturers in their guitars. These can be humbuckers or single coils, depending on the model. The majority of ESP guitars use humbuckers. The manufacturers include:

  • EMG.
  • Fishman.
  • Seymour Duncan.
  • Mojo Tone.
  • ESP-designed pickups.

Neck Profile

A guitar’s neck shape is essential, and ESP knows this. Their neck shape is a thin “U”-shape. This shape is excellent for speed playing because it is thin and relatively flat.

Fret Wire Size

ESP uses extra-jumbo frets on their guitars. This size allows you to use a light touch to fret a note. This helps you play leads effortlessly and increase your speed. They are also easier to level when they get worn down over time. 

However, they can take some time to get used to, especially if you are heavy-handed. This is because you don’t feel the fretboard as much when you play, like with guitars with smaller frets.

Sound

ESP guitars have a full, loud tone. That is because they are designed to be used with modern heavy music and mainly utilize humbucking pickups. They sound amazing when played at high volumes or with a lot of gain.

Price

ESP guitars are priced for nearly every budget. They can range from just shy of $500 to $20,000 (at the time this article was written).

Skill Level

ESP makes guitars for all skill levels. Beginners will typically gravitate toward lower-priced LTD models. Intermediate players may wish for a higher-end LTD model, while professionals may prefer an E-II, ESP USA, or ESP Original./

How to Test

There are many choices on this list alone, so it is understandable to need help figuring out which ESP to go with. You can narrow down your search by figuring out your basics:

  • What is my playing style?
    • Soloing or rhythm? 
    • Shredder or chugger? 
    • High-gain or low-gain?
  • What tone do I want?
    • Bright, articulate, and chime-like? 
    • Low, rich, and mid-focused?
  • How will I be playing most of the time?
    • At home? 
    • In the studio? 
    • On the road? 

Figuring out your style will help you narrow down what neck profile you’ll most likely enjoy and what pickups should be in the guitar when you buy it. Thinner necks are usually preferred by those who like to shred, and thicker necks are generally preferred by those who play a lot of chords. 

Once you have narrowed that down, you can determine your desired body style. Remember that larger guitars typically weigh more than other guitars because they use more wood during construction. If you’re doing a lot of sitting while playing, you’ll want a body shape that is comfortable to hold (a V-shaped guitar is NOT comfortable to play while sitting down, for example).


Conclusion

ESP guitars have grown on me over the years. I always knew they made beautiful instruments that sounded incredible, but I never bought one myself. These days, I find myself picking up every ESP on the wall whenever I go into a music store. There is just something about them that feels great – like an old pair of jeans. 

It seems that many artists are realizing the same thing. Players like Brian “Head” Welch have switched from other manufacturers, such as Ibanez, to ESP in recent years, which says a lot. I also think we’ll see more artists switch over soon. It’s just a feeling that I have because ESP seems to get bigger every year. 

We hope that you have enjoyed our list of the best ESP guitars. 

Happy shredding from all of us here at guitaristnextdoor.com


FAQs

Are ESP Guitars Worth It?

Yes! ESP makes some of the world’s finest guitars and they are worth the hype (and money). 

What’s The Difference Between ESP vs. LTD?

ESP guitars are made in Japan and are crafted with top-of-the-line components. They are also costly. LTD guitars are made in Korea or Indonesia and are more affordable versions of ESP models. 

Where are ESP Guitars Made?

ESP Original Series and E-II Series are made in Japan. The ESP USA Series is made in California, USA. The LTD Series is made in Korea or Indonesia. 

Do ESP Guitars Have Thin Necks?

Yes. ESP necks are not quite as thin as Ibanez’s necks, but they are thin. 

Are ESP Guitars Only Good For Metal?

No, they are not. Madonna’s guitarist, Monte Pittman, uses ESP guitars. Many of their models have coil-splitting switches that allow you to get single coil tones from the humbuckers. This makes them versatile enough to use with various musical genres. 

Are ESP Guitars Good For Beginners?

Yes, they have some models that are affordable and high-quality. This makes them great for beginners. 

Which Famous Musicians Use ESP Guitars?

  • Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones.
  • Kirk Hammett of Metallica.
  • James Hetfield of Metallica.
  • Javier Reyes of Animals As Leaders.
  • Bill Kelliher of Mastodon.
  • George Lynch of Lynch Mob, and formerly of Dokken.
  • Jeff Hanneman, formerly of Slayer.
  • Gary Holt of Slayer and Exodus.
  • Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest.
  • Brian “Head” Welch of Korn.

Are ESP Guitars Better Than PRS?

This is like comparing apples to oranges. They both have impeccable quality. The most significant difference is that ESP guitars are designed for heavy metal music and made in Japan. PRS guitars are made in the USA and are not explicitly designed for heavy music. 

Is Schecter Owned By ESP?

No. Schecter is not owned by ESP, and ESP is not owned by Schecter. They are separate companies owned by the same person. 

What Other Brands Are Good For Metal?

DL Shepherd

Darren has been playing guitar for over 25 years and teaching guitar since High-School. He fronted the metal band Suddenly Silence in the early 2000’s, and also achieved recognition as an award-winning bluegrass guitarist. A native of southwestern Virginia, and has shared the stage with many big-name acts from various genres. When he is not playing one of his many guitars, he can be found riding his Harley through the mountains of Virginia. Expertise: teaching guitars, electric guitars, acoustic guitars, guitar amplifiers, guide pedals, flatpicking, bluegrass, metal, rock, and blues.
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Jr

Double check your info on what pickups they are advertising Fishman pickups aren’t emg pickups

Teemu Suomala

Hi and thanks for commenting! Yes, if you mean ESP LTD Arrow-1000, there are models with EMG and with Fishman pickups available, we are recommending and talking about this with EMG pups: https://www.espguitars.com/products/21013-arrow-1000

Teemu Suomala

Been riffing with my ESP LTD MH-400 for about 10 years, but still, I must admit ESP LTD EC-1000 is my favorite ESP. Hands down! What do you think?
 
BTW. LTD EC-10 is a pretty solid cheap metal axe too: https://guitaristnextdoor.com/esp-ltd-ec-10-review/
PS. I have always been too, well, financially challenged to buy a real ESP, haha.
 My-ESP.JPG

GuitarMatt

Financially challenged as well, lol. 

My personal fav ESPs are M series. ESP LTD M-1000 is excellent.

Btw. That ESP LTD SC-20 Darren mentioned is weird… 

Teemu Suomala

Yes, that ESP LTD SC-20 is an interesting one for sure…
Thanks for stopping by!