Japanese guitar maker ESP, short for Electric Sound Products, opened in 1975 as a small shop that made and sold replacement guitar parts. It only took a year for owner Hisatake Shibuya to decide that he wanted to start creating his own guitars, and by the 1980s, the company was selling high-quality handmade guitars to some of the highest-profile rock musicians in the United States.
Today, ESP is probably best known for its Signature series, which features beautiful guitars that were originally custom-made for popular rock and metal musicians but are also available to the public. The series got its start in 1986 when George Lynch of the American heavy metal band Dokken walked into an ESP shop in Tokyo. When Lynch discovered that the company made custom guitars, he decided to design his own.
Lynch’s guitar became the Kamikaze, a yellow, red, black, and beige beauty. Comprised of a maple body and neck with an ebony fingerboard, the Kamikaze features Gotoh tuners, a Floyd Rose Original bridge, and Seymour Duncan Screamin’ Demon and ESP SS-120 pickups. Lynch Signature guitars grew to include other models, such as the M-1 Tiger, the Sunburst Tiger, Skulls & Snakes, the GL-200MT, the GL-256, and the GL-56.
Although Lynch’s guitar was the first, the guitars created for Kirk Hammett of Metallica are considered the crème-de-la-crème of ESP’s Signature series. Hammett’s KH-2 model, featuring EMG active pickups, Gotoh tuners, and a Floyd Rose Original bridge, was one of the first ESP guitars to be mass-produced.
Alexi Laiho of Children of Bodom has five Signature guitars that bear his name. All feature a Flying V body style. His Alexi-Scythe features Gotoh tuners, a Floyd Rose Original bridge, and EMG HZ F-H2 pickups with a MM-04 on-off boost switch. Laiho’s Alexi-600-Blacky and Alexi-600-Scythe models feature Grover tuners, a Floyd Rose 1000 Series bridge, and EMG HZ F-H2 pickups. And his Alexi-200 features ESP tuners, a Floyd Rose Special bridge, and ESP LH-301 pickups.
Even the Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Wood has his own custom ESP Signatures, which strongly resemble the Fender Telecaster. Each is made with an alder body and a bolt-on neck and features Gotoh tuners. Finishes range from sunburst with a maple neck to black or red with a rosewood fingerboard.
In addition to its Signature and custom-made guitars, ESP also produces Standard, LTD, and Xtone guitars. Unlike the Signature series, LTDs are mass-produced in a factory and therefore more affordable. ESP’s LTD guitars are offered in three lines—standard, deluxe, and graphic. Guitars in the Xtone series have semi-hollow bodies and two humbucker pickups, except for the PA-1 semi-acoustic model, which uses an internal B-Band Electret Film Transducer pick-up.