ESP vs LTD Guitars (Differences Explained)

ESP is arguable one of the most dominant metal and rock guitar brands in the industry. But what about their line of LTD guitars?

Is there a big difference in quality and ultimately, is an LTD guitar worth owning? 

After doing research, I will answer all the questions above separating both series of guitars. Let’s dive in… 

First off, what is the obvious difference between ESP and ESP LTD guitars?

ESP and LTD are the same guitar company. The difference is the ESP series is the premium line of guitars. Whereas, the LTD line is the affordable version of the ESP models. You can notice this in the quality of their hardware, tonewood, and the detail of the finish in each guitar.

ESP vs LTD Comparison (Watch Below)

ESP Guitars

ESP is a Japanese company based in the US established in 1975. Their guitars are handcrafted in Korea using premium woods, electronics, and materials to produce high-end guitars. Their guitars are marketed as premium-grade guitars which is reflected within their price.  

LTD Guitars

The LTD series was introduced by ESP in 1996 to compete with other brands manufacturing budget guitars which were the new trend at the time. LTD guitars are manufactured with lower grade materials to decrease the overall cost making it more affordable for beginners. However, LTD guitars try to maintain the high ESP standards.

ESP vs LTD – Comparing Quality

LTD guitars will be cheaper, yes. However, the quality in these guitars is undeniable and they will certainly maintain ESP standards.  

Let us take a look at some of the typical differences in materials used between both ESP and LTD guitars.

Body WoodMahoghany Mahoghany, Basswood,
Neck WoodMaple, Mahoghany Maple, Mahoghany
FingerboardEbony, Rosewood, Roasted Jotoba,
PickupsSeymore Duncan & EMG LTD Designed, EMG,
TunersLockingLTD Tuners, locking
ManufacturedJapan & USAKorea & Indonesia
Manufacturing ProcessHandmadeProduction line


To start with, their most affordable models (which are part of the LTD 10 Series) are the only models that come with a Basswood body.

From then on, almost all models in both ESP and LTD have Mahogany bodies. Some high-end models will also have Swamp Ash, which is a fantastic tonewood.

As for the wood of the guitar’s neck, the progression goes as follows (cheapest to most expensive): Maple<Roasted Jatoba<Macassar Ebony.

Once we get to the high-end ESP guitars, we can see that ESP predominantly uses Honduras Mahogany, 3Pc Maple, and Ebony.


When it comes to electronics and hardware, that is where the main differences can be seen.

The most predominant aspect to mention is that the most expensive ESP guitars have Seymour Duncan pickups, while the most affordable LTD guitars have ESP Designed ones.

It is important to mention at this point that Seymour Duncan pickups are one of the biggest names in the industry.

Their quality of pickups is excellent and they are one of the most sought out options in the market.


Lastly, we have the guitar finish to consider. Since ESP guitars are custom made, they have all sorts of exotic finishes.

See-Thru Black Blue Burst, Magenta Blue Burst, and Cast Metal Andromeda II are some of the many finish options you have.

Granted, this is not the biggest factor in the quality of a guitar but I must say that it is a huge difference between ESP and LTD.

There is definitely a big gap in terms of quality between ESP and LTD guitars.

However, there are many excellent models from the LTD series, and by no means are they poorly made instruments.


Another difference is that ESP builds its LTD models in Korea and Indonesia. Conversely, they build their higher-end ESP models in Japan.

ESP started in 1975 as a small repair shop in Tokyo. Needless to say, that is where they make their best ESP models.

Not only this but the finest, world-renowned luthiers at ESP handcraft their top-line models, one at a time. It is undeniable that the quality of these guitars is incredible, which explains their price.

There is a third option, which is the ESP USA series. These guitars are all made in California and include both ESP, LTD, and E-II models.

Speaking solely about price, their cheapest 2020 ESP model is approximately $3000 cheaper than their most expensive LTD model. This confirms the affordability of LTD guitars.

Summary of Quality 

LTD guitars have very good build-quality and include all of the characteristics that define the company’s (ESP) standards.

However, ESP makes these guitars in mass and targets them for customers with a tighter budget.

On the other hand, this company builds ESP models with the utmost possible detail.

They are much more expensive than the LTDs and have the best quality out there. Again, this will be noticeable on their hardware, pickups, quality of wood, and detail.

Most Popular ESP LTD Guitars

Guitar / SeriesGuitar ShapeOverall Rating
ESP LTD EC-1000Les Paul9.1 /10 (
ESP LTD EC-256 Les Paul8.8 /10 (
ESP LTD Arrow 401Flying V8.9 /10 (
ESP LTD M-400MSuperstrat
LTD Viper-400MSG

Are ESP LTD Guitars any Good?

Within the ESP LTD models, you can find a wide variety of guitars that fit different budgets and have different levels of quality. This is partly to the different series LTD produces.

For example, their EC series, which intends to replicate the Gibson Les Paul models, is their most popular line of guitars.

These guitars have an average price of $1000 which might be a bit too much. However, within the EC series, you can find much more affordable models such as the EC-256FM or the EC-10.

ESP LTD EC 1000 (Most Popular Guitar)

Speaking of the EC-10, LTD has what is called the LTD-10 series. This series is their most affordable and is an excellent choice for beginners. These guitars range around $200.

Alternatively, you can look at their H-Series or their M-Series for mid-range priced guitars. They are of excellent quality and might be a better fit for intermediate players or someone looking to invest a little more from the get-go.

You can finally access their top-tier models, which are nothing short of professional and with excellent detail, build quality and aesthetics.

This proves that LTD has excellent quality and can be a top contender to any other guitar manufacturer.

Are ESP LTD Basses Good?

The same thing can be said for LTD basses, which range from very affordable to top-tier models.

I must mention that their most affordable, the B-10, is a bit pricier than their low-budget guitars. However, it is a great beginner’s bass, especially for heavier genres.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have the B-1004. It is their highest quality 4-string bass and it is a complete professional bass. 

They also have that same model but with a multi-scale design. This essentially means the frets will have a longer scale on the bottom strings. This optimizes string tension and enhances tone and intonation.

ESP LTD basses are an excellent option for any bass player out there who is looking dor versatility, a great tone, and great build-quality.

Are ESP Guitars Only Good for Metal?

There has definitely been some heavy association for many years regarding this.

In a way, ESP’s primary target as they evolved became metal and hard rock fans. There are plenty of guitars ESP builds intending to be the perfect instrument for heavier genres.

However, like any great guitar manufacturing company, ESP has great versatility and their guitars can fit any style whatsoever.

A similar thing happens with Squier, which people consider to be only fit for blues and old-school genres.

It is no secret that a big percentage of their roster has hard rock and metal players.

You can still find some people who break away from these genres such as Monte Pittman (Madonna’s bass player) or members from the funk band War.

I will say that ESP favors you if you are a metal player but I wouldn’t necessarily state that ESP guitars are only good for metal. I will go on record and state they are versatile enough to perform in various softer genres.

Who Plays LTD Guitars?

There are some legendary guitar players on ESP’s roster. To begin with, we have the man, the myth, the legend, James Hetfield from Metallica as well as Kirk Hammet.

Alexi Laiho from Finnish melodic death metal band, Children Of Bodom, is another big artist ESP sponsors.

You also have Javier Reyes from Animals As Leaders, Stephen Carpenter from the Deftones, and Alex Skolnick from thrash metal godfathers, Testament.

As I mentioned though, you get the oddball here and there. This time, we have none other than Ron Wood, one of ESP’s longest endorsers. You might know him from that little band named The Rolling Stones.

Final Thoughts

There will surely be a difference between ESP and LTD guitars. This is based on their materials, aesthetics, and overall build quality. However, LTD guitars have an excellent reputation and are a great option for any guitarist. This is particularly favorable for metal players since ESP has recognized its niche audience and has tailored its models toward their needs.


Adam is the founder and author of Tone Topics and dedicated to providing the best guitar content for like-minded gear nerds. Please enjoy all the content on the site and support us by sharing these posts with other people. It would really help us out!

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