ESP vs LTD Guitars: 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 come 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. This was to sell more affordable versions of the standard ESP models.

The ESP and LTD models may appear identical, but 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 the two lines! We’ll discuss ESP vs LTD guitars to help you decide which one best suits your style and budget.

Quick Overview of ESP Vs LTD Guitars

Before we look at the details of each guitar line. We want to touch on some of the differences to help you understand them better. Here are a few key takeaways from each line and how they are unique.

  • ESP is the name of the company that also owns LTD. The LTD line of guitars is a lower-priced option for more expensive ESP guitars.
  • ESP guitars are handmade in a custom shop in Japan. They use high-quality parts and materials. This includes great pickups and wood choices.
  • LTD guitars are mass-produced on production lines of factories in Indonesia and Korea. They use cheaper quality components.
  • LTD guitars don’t sound as good as their ESP counterparts. Nor do they cost as much!
  • ESP guitars are an investment and are normally considered by professional players. LTD models are considered more entry-level.


While these two lines are of the same company, they each have an interesting history. Here are some details on how the company structured itself through the years.

ESP Guitars 

ESP Shinigami Guitar

ESP, or Electric Sound Products, is a Japanese-owned guitar company. They are 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. He also owns Schecter Guitars.

Top-notch, customized guitars without sharp frets. And slender necks have been ESP’s specialty for years. After ESP presented their initial line of guitars, bands began to express interest.

This included Slayer and Metallica! The business then relocated to the US in 1983. This helped it become known as one of the most significant guitar manufacturers in the world.

ESP extended its standard line to 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 for players with tight budgets.

This gave them the chance to play and own these renowned instruments. And at a significantly reduced cost. Most LTD guitars are simply less expensive versions of their ESP equivalents. While still being nearly identical.

The company used less expensive hardware and materials to construct LTD guitars. At least when compared to the conventional ESP line.

They are less expensive and more accessible as a result. Additionally, LTD guitars take a very specific 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. All 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 premium guitars, while LTD sells less intricate replicas. Their models can be distinguished from one another by small details. Things like the guitar’s finish, body curves, and shapes. Also, the choice of tonewoods and metals, among others.

For instance, ESP guitars often have a mahogany body. Plus a 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. Also, mahogany and maple necks, 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. The finishes and designs closely resemble those of ESP guitars.

Although, 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.


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

ESP guitars are considered to be of a higher quality than their LTD counterparts. This is because skilled luthiers make them in their Japanese 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 of lower quality. They still use ESP’s high standards despite being mass-produced using pre-made parts.


Seymour Duncan pickups are found on premium ESP guitars. There is excellent quality construction in these pickups. It 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. They are well-known and versatile. Most players know that they produce 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 a better tone. Primarily from more popular pickup manufacturers.

ESP LTD Deluxe EC-1000VB Guitar

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 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, 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 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 difference between similar ESP and LTD guitars.

Guitar ModelPrice
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

Are ESP Guitars Made Only for Metal?

While ESP guitars are made for performance and a look for metal, they can be used for other music styles. Some of their models will allow you to switch between pickup combinations. This can be handy if you want a quick and dirty single-coil sound.

Trouble is, they only come so close for certain styles. If you’re looking for a Telecaster tone, you won’t find it here.

The ESP line of guitars is focused on metal, there is no doubt. So if your primary music style is metal and you want a light rock tone. You can pull it off.

Otherwise, you should go with a guitar that better fits your style for anything lighter. Blues and jazz are not good choices for an ESP guitar. Nor does it look the part.


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.


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.

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!