Ibanez vs ESP: Which is the Better Guitar Brand?

Ibanez and ESP are two Japanese guitar brands that produce high-quality instruments designed specifically for heavy metal. Both have decades of experience in the instrument industry behind them, but which brand is better? 

Ibanez generally has open, bright tones, while ESP guitars tend to have aggressive, compressed sounds. While both brands are known for their thin, fast necks, ESP’s designs are a bit thicker with rounder fretboards. Meanwhile, Ibanez models are known to be more versatile, but both brands are tailor-fitted for heavy metal music. 

In this blog post, we’ll compare Ibanez vs ESP in terms of sound, build, design, feel, music style, and price range to help you make an informed decision.

ibanez vs esp guitars

History of Ibanez and ESP Guitars

Before delving into the difference between Ibanez vs ESP, let’s first have a quick overview of their history and how both brands came to be the legendary guitars builders that they are today. 

Ibanez Guitars 

The company originated from the Valencia-based Spanish luthier named Salvador Ibanez. These Spanish guitars were distributed in Japan by Hoshino Gakki, a business that is still operating today.

The Valencian manufacturer had to shut down due to the Great Depression of 1929, so the Japanese importer began making the Spanish guitars on their own. Ibanez guitars were first made in 1935.

The Ibanez brand began to conquer the US market in the 1960s after purchasing the name’s rights. The design of the guitar was first influenced by other, more well-known brands, but soon Ibanez started creating its unique models.

Ibanez quickly established themselves as a leader in the cutthroat electric guitar industry. Today, Ibanez offers a huge selection of instruments, including electric, acoustic, and bass guitars for a variety of styles and price levels.

ESP Guitars 

ESP, which also has its roots in Japan, began as a store that made replacement parts before becoming a huge success in the guitar world. It was founded by Hisatake Shibuya in 1975, producing top-notch, custom guitars that had narrow necks and sharp frets ideal for shredding.

Bands like Slayer and Metallica started showing interest in the brand by the mid-1980s. Around the same time, ESP unveiled its first collection of guitars, which quickly became a huge success. The modest Japanese company soon moved to New York in 1984.

In 1986, the business started offering the 400 series, which initially featured well-known historical designs but eventually added unique ESP designs, like the Horizon. To satisfy the high demand, ESP expanded its standard line to other U.S. markets.

To increase its appeal, exposure, and brand loyalty, ESP has made adjustments over the years to provide more price ranges for its guitars. Today, ESP guitars continue to be the top choice by metal players.

Differences Between Ibanez vs ESP Guitars

Ibanez and ESP guitars are both considered high-quality instruments, but which one is the better choice?

If you’re an aspiring guitarist who wants to buy his or her first electric guitar, choosing between these two brands can be difficult. To help you make an informed decision, this guide compares Ibanez vs ESP guitars, so you can see the many similarities and differences between them.

Check out our ESP vs LTD comparison here!

Sound Quality 

When it comes to sound quality, Ibanez and ESP are both top-notch guitar brands. Ibanez is known for their open, bright tones, while ESP tends to have more aggressive, compressed tones. Both Ibanez and ESP use high-quality materials and craftsmanship, so you can expect great sound from either one. 

The clearer sound of Ibanez is generally attributed to the passive pickups that their models use. Like ESP, Ibanez guitars have many pickup configurations. You can choose between EMG or Seymour Duncan for ESP guitars. Each type will offer a slightly different sound.

The most popular Ibanez models come with humbucker pickups, but many of them also use active or single-coil arrangments. This will change the aggressiveness and sound to a degree, but either way, the quality is very good.

In this video, you will get a chance to hear the differences between guitars made by both Ibanez and ESP.

Build 

Ibanez and ESP are both well-known guitar brands with a reputation for quality in terms of build. Both are known as high-quality guitar manufacturers, where each model they produce is guaranteed to meet the highest standards. Both Ibanez and ESP also pride themselves on using only top-notch materials, such as their tonewood and hardware.

One of the big differences between the two brands is that ESP uses neck-through construction on guitars over a certain price range. In their entry-level price range, you will find bolt-on necks, everything else is pretty much neck-through or set.

Ibanez on the other hand produces guitars that are made with bolt-on neck construction. This doesn’t mean they are lower quality, but each construction method does have pros and cons. You can read more about bolt-on and set necks here.

You can’t go wrong with either brand when considering their quality. Both companies use innovative designs, quality electronics, and versatile pickups that ensure powerful and great sounds. 

Aesthetics

When it comes to aesthetics, Ibanez and ESP are a bit different. ESP guitars tend to be more innovative and flashy. Their guitars come in different finishes that all look amazing, and some models also come in unique shapes. Ibanez guitars, on the other hand, can look a bit more understated and classic looking when compared to ESP.

If you’re looking for a guitar that’s heavy on unique aesthetics, then ESP is probably the better choice. Their guitars are often very colorful and eye-catching, and they have a wide variety of different models to choose from. But if you want something more traditional-looking with a few unique designs here and there, then Ibanez is a great choice.

Check out our Ibanez vs Jackson comparison here!

Bridge Design

Another design difference between ESP and Ibanez is their choice of bridges. ESP guitars tend to have fixed bridges more often, while Ibanez can be found with Tremolo arms and even Floyd Rose systems. This allows you to change the pitch of your strings by pulling up or pushing down the arm, which can be great for lead playing.

Not every guitarist has the same needs, so this can help with the selection of a guitar. If you find that you play more leads, then an Ibanez might be a better fit, especially with the thin necks. But on the other hand, an ESP might be more convenient if you do very little lead work and want to avoid the complicated Floyd Rose style bridges.

Ibanez Guitar

Feel

Both Ibanez and ESP guitars are known for their high-quality craftsmanship and attention to detail, especially in their necks. Ibanez and ESP have skinny, flat necks that are very popular in heavy metal. This type of neck allows the player to play fast and hard, which is why it’s heavily favored by shredders. 

However, the necks of ESP guitars are a bit thicker than what Ibanez offers. ESP fretboards also tend to be rounder than Ibanez’s flat backs. These differences are only subtle, so it wouldn’t be too uncomfortable for you to go between the two brands. It will be entirely up to your preference which one is the most comfortable and easiest to handle when moving around on the fretboard.

Some players prefer the thin feel of an Ibanez neck, while others love the ESP feel. Either way, you will still have some of the fastest necks available.

Music Style

Ibanez and EP are traditionally associated with hard rock and metal, but you can still use them for a wide range of music styles. Ibanez just tends to be more versatile than ESP with some of the models they offer. 

Some Ibanez guitars can perform great in other genres such as pop, grunge, and even other challenging music styles. ESP, on the other hand, is a lot more fine-tuned for heavy metal, but they are still continuously widening their horizons, especially in recent years.

ESP first gained popularity in the heavy metal and rock scene, and they still maintain it. Legends like George Lynch, Kirk Hammett, and Jeff Hanneman use ESP guitars. Ibanez guitars generally have unique higher tones, giving them the reputation as metal guitars. Some Ibanez models have been used by Tosin Abasi, Joey Allen, and Tom Angelripper.

But because we are comparing ESP with Ibanez, then you probably want to know how good they do with high gain tones. In this case, they are both unbeatable for metal and hard rock sounds.

Price Range

Ibanez and ESP both offer a wide range of prices for their guitars, from budget-friendly options to high-end instruments. Ibanez tends to be slightly more affordable than ESP, although there is some overlap in their pricing. 

In general, Ibanez offers a broader range of cheaper guitars, while ESP focuses on mid-range to high-end instruments. In either case, both companies produce some of the best high-quality guitars for the most competitive prices.

The chart below compares some of the best entry-level guitars from both brands and their prices.

Ibanez Standard RGA42EX$429.99
ESP LTD SN-200HT$499.00
Ibanez RG421MSP$399.99

In this chart, you will find some higher quality and more expensive models from either brand and what you can expect to pay.

ESP LTD James Hetfield$1899.99
Ibanez Prestige RG652AHM$1599.99
ESP Alexi Hexed$5999.00
Ibanez Joe Satriani JS2GD$5799.00

Conclusion

In conclusion, Ibanez and ESP are both great guitar brands. They both offer a wide range of products, from beginner to professional level. They both have a strong reputation in the music industry, and they both produce high-quality guitars. 

Choosing the best brand for you depends on what you’re looking for in a guitar. If you’re looking for a versatile guitar brand with the thinnest necks, then Ibanez is the better choice. If you’re looking for a heavy metal guitar with subtly rounder necks, and neck-through construction, then ESP is your best option.

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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!