ESP vs LTD: What’s the Difference?

ESP and LTD are two of the most well-known guitar brands on the market. The former sells high-end models and the latter produces quality yet affordable guitars. Are they the same, or are they two separate companies? 

ESP and LTD guitars are from the same company, but they are two different product lines. ESP is a Japanese company specializing in electric guitars for metal music. The company established a subsidiary line called LTD to sell more affordable versions of the standard ESP models. 

Although the ESP and LTD models may appear identical, they can still feel completely different. Players usually tell the difference through their finish, tonewoods, and hardware.

Keep reading if you’re trying to figure out the exact differences between ESP and LTD! We’ll discuss ESP vs LTD guitars to help you decide which one best suits your style and budget.

esp vs ltd

History of ESP and LTD Guitars

ESP Guitars 

ESP, or Electric Sound Products, is a Japanese-owned guitar company based in North Hollywood, California. The company started as a replacement parts store in Tokyo, Japan, in 1975. It was founded by Hisatake Shibuya, a Japanese entrepreneur who also owns Schecter Guitars.

Top-notch, customized guitars with sharp frets and slender necks have been ESP’s specialty for years. After ESP presented their initial line of guitars, bands including Slayer and Metallica began to express interest. The business relocated to the US in 1983, which helped it become known as one of the most significant guitar manufacturers in the world.

ESP extended its standard line towards other US markets to meet the high demand. The company introduced the 400 series in 1986. Initially offering well-known historical styles, the company later introduced original ESP elements. Today’s metal players still favor ESP guitars above all other manufacturers.

LTD Guitars 

ESP started a subsidiary line called LTD Guitars in 1996. ESP built these new guitars to give players with tight budgets the chance to play and own the renowned instruments at a significantly reduced cost. Most LTD guitars are simply less expensive versions of their ESP equivalents, while still being nearly identical.

Because the company used less expensive hardware and materials to construct LTD guitars than in the conventional ESP line, they are less expensive and more accessible. Additionally, LTD guitars take a very distinct approach to manufacturing and assembly.

ESP has high standards, but LTD guitars still strive to uphold them. There are still some common issues with budget guitars, such as fret buzz and uneven fret edges, particularly with LTD’s less expensive models. However, LTD guitars are typically ready to use right out of the box without any additional tinkering needed from the player. 

Check out our ESP vs Ibanez comparison here!

Differences Between ESP and LTD Guitars

Design and Materials

ESP creates unique premium guitars, while LTD sells less intricate replicas. Their models can be distinguished from one another by small details like the guitar’s finish, body curves and shapes, and the choice of tonewoods and metals, among others.

For instance, ESP guitars often have a mahogany body, maple and mahogany neck, and an ebony fingerboard. This premium combination of tonewoods maximizes the guitar’s tonal potential and enhances playability.

On the other hand, LTD guitars often have basswood and mahogany bodies, mahogany and maple necks, and roasted jatoba and rosewood fingerboards. This is possibly where the main difference is noticeable.

The quality and variety of finishes found on ESP models are also missing from LTD guitars. Although the finishes and designs closely resemble those of ESP guitars, closer inspection reveals several noticeable changes. Still, LTD guitars are guaranteed to be high-quality instruments. This is just a result of ESP’s attempts to keep LTD guitars as cheap as possible. 

Production

One of the main differences is that ESP guitars are usually handmade, while LTD models are manufactured on the production line.

ESP guitars are generally considered to be of a higher quality than their LTD counterparts because skilled luthiers make them in their Japan and US factories. These luthiers also use high-quality woods and superior hardware and electronics.

LTD guitars are manufactured in much higher volumes, so they can be produced more cheaply than ESP models. This means that they will often be cheaper than their ESP equivalents, but this does not mean that they are lower quality. They still use ESP’s high standards despite being mass-produced using pre-made parts.

Pickups

Seymour Duncan pickups are found on premium ESP guitars. The excellent quality construction of these pickups guarantees that the ESP guitar’s authentic tone is accentuated. On the other hand, ESP’s own exclusive pickups are used in the cheapest models of LTD. These components don’t perform as well as Seymour Duncan pickups.

The majority of ESP guitars that you will find come with Seymour Duncan pickups, which are well-known and versatile. Most players know that they produce an exceptional sound and are reliable. 

LTD guitars feature their own electric components. These inexpensive pickups have a good but not exceptional tone. They can sound a bit bland and are simple to miss, especially if your ears are accustomed to hearing better tone from more popular pickup manufacturers.

ESP LTD Deluxe EC-1000VB

Sound Quality

Unfortunately, LTD guitars don’t sound exactly as good as their ESP equivalents. They just don’t have a remarkable style, force, and clarity players have grown accustomed to in ESP.

If you compare the sounds of, for instance, the iconic ESP Eclipse and LTD’s more cheap EC replica of the same model, you will undoubtedly notice this the most. LTD’s sound quality noticeably trails behind the original ESP tone.

In the hands of a beginner or semi-professional performer, LTD guitars are still quite nice. They are reasonably priced guitars that can be useful on a tiny stage or in a rehearsal studio.

Price Range

ESP guitars are substantially more expensive than LTD models. Even the most premium and expensive models from LTD will cost a lot less than the most entry-level ESP guitars. This is, without a doubt, the most significant drawback to purchasing ESP guitars.

Here are a few examples of the price different between similar ESP and LTD guitars.

ESP USA Eclipse Limited Edition$3599.00
LTD EC-Black Metal$999.00
ESP E-II Horizon$2799.00
LTD M-1007 HT$1299.00

ESP vs LTD Conclusion

If you’re looking for a high-quality, high-performance guitar, then ESP is the way to go. ESP guitars are premium instruments built to last, so you’ll be able to enjoy them for years to come.

If you’re looking for an affordable guitar with excellent quality, then an LTD is a good option. These guitars are similar to ESP models but made with lower-end materials. They’re still built well and can sound great. Plus, they’re a lot more budget-friendly than ESP models.

FAQs

Are LTD guitars worth it?

Yes, the LTD guitars, while mass-produced, are worth the price. They are made with lower-quality wood, hardware, and electronics, but the quality is still very good. If you already own an ESP guitar, you will not get the same quality, but for a beginner, the LTD models are great guitars.

Does ESP own Ltd?

Yes, the LTD line of guitars is owned and manufactured by ESP. This is ESP’s budget line of guitars that are made to be affordable replicas of their models. The LTD stands for “limited” which is implying that you only get so close to a real ESP for the low price.

What bands use ESP guitars?

ESP guitars are primarily used for metal music and anything high-gain. Many metal players have used ESP guitars over the years, including Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield of Metallica. You will also find them in bands like Slayer, Anthrax, and even Deftones.

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Don East

My name is Don East, I'm the editor for Killer Rig. I've been playing guitar for over 20 years and have designed and manufactured products like guitar amps, effects pedals, and more. Over the years I have played in many bands and have a deep love for quality gear. I am an electrical engineer and have a passion for music gear, and now want to share what I know with the community!