NAMM 2024: No one could ever accuse ESP Guitars of half-measures. On Friday, the Japanese brand went all-in with a super launch, unveiling dozens of new high-performance electric guitars – many of which explicitly built for metal.
There were bass guitars too. There as an update to the ESP/LTD Thinline Series, with the TL-6 hybrid acoustic electric guitar receiving a Charcoal Burst makeover. There were some fresh twists on familiar models.
Show any shredder with a weakness for hot-rodded S-styles a new lick of paint on the Horizon Custom ’87 and it’s game over. This year’s crop yields Pearl White, Black and Candy Apple Red models, each with a neck-through build and a Seymour Duncan TB-5 Custom Trembucker and Hot Rails combination at the bridge and neck position. A reverse headstock sweetens things further.
But amidst this outpouring of contemporary and classic shred specs, which new models are most deserving of our attention? It’s a tricky one. But here we are going to look at seven to get started with.
Many have sharp edges. Some, tellingly, do not, and reference one of the oldest mass-produced solidbody electrics. There are signature guitars and smart S-styles that show there’s still plenty of evolutionary wiggle room left in the format.
There are some featuring exclusive Seymour Duncan pickups. They just might draw your ardour away from that Candy Apple Red Horizon Custom ’87, well, at least for a little while.
Let’s start with a signature model for long-standing ESP/LTD endorsee, Bill Kelliher, and Mastodon fans who’ve been there since the beginning will recognise the double-cut silhouette and Silver Silverburst finish on Uncle Bill’s ESP/LTD Royal Shiva.
There’s no question the influence was originally his nine-string custom First Act. Though the Royal Shiva reworks it with have a traditional complement of six-strings. This is arguably one of the most-anticipated ESP release of recent years, with Kelliher giving us all a good look at it back in 2021 when he debuted his signature STL ToneHub guitar plugins suite package.
Back then he said – with no little delight – that this thing was “thick”, and twice the weight of his signature Sparrowhawk. So LTD version of Kelliher's Custom Shop prototype definitely looks like one for that thick padded guitar strap – and it looks the part.
The Silver Silverburst finish is reprised on front and back of the guitar. Block inlays on the Macassar ebony fingerboard give it a custom vibe. It has a body of solid mahogany with a maple cap, a three-piece mahogany neck that’s glued-in. The neck profile is a U shape and the scale length is 25”.
It has a pair of Kelliher’s signature MojoTone Hell Bender humbuckers, with coil-splits available via a push/pull function on the volume and tone pots, and locking LTD-branded tuners to keep everything solid when you’re chasing Moby-Dick riffs.
Next up we have the return of the XJ-1 HT, an offset guitar that by all rights could be a slept-on modern classic. There’s something about the offset body profile and the reverse six-in-line headstock that looks so congruous.
It arrives in the fashionable sandblasted Blast Black finish, revealing all the grain in the swamp ash body, and offers a compromise to those looking for a stripped-down platform for high-gain guitar work and tonal options when the song calls for it.
Yes, it’s a single pickup guitar. There’s a no-fuss Hipshot hardtail bridge. But in opting for the Fishman Fluence Open Core Classic humbucker it presents players with three distinct voices: hot contemporary humbucker; hot-rodded but dynamic humbucker; and overwound single-coil sounds.
The latter is where the carpets match the drapes – giving you that hot soup offset sound that would be rude not to pair with a fuzz pedal. Elsewhere, you’ve got 22 stainless steel frets, extra jumbo-sized, block inlays on a Macassar ebony fingerboard, while the a 25.5” scale length and bolt-on maple neck.
If the XJ-1 HT is a little more left-field for ESP then Gary Holt’s GH SV-200 signature model is bang on the money, and all of the 2024 it is without question the most metal guitar in the lineup.
Holt's new shredder is a twist on SV asymmetrical V-shape that was made famous by the late Children Of Bodom frontman Alexi Laiho. Holt has his in black with red accents, including red pickup covers on the EMG pickups. The neck bucker is an EMG 89R that is reversed and has a split-coil function, while at the bridge we have an EMG 81 Both are direct mount.
The scale length is 24.75”. The body is solid mahogany with a mahogany neck-through build. And of course neck has a Thin U profile as standard because this is ESP/LTD and speed is of the essence. A double-locking Floyd Rose 1000 has been provided for all those mewling horse thrash solos that this has been designed for.
As with the majority of these high-end LTD models (this retails at £2,449 btw, including hard-shell guitar case) you’ve got stainless steel frets on an ebony fingerboard.
Up next we have what just might be the lick of the litter, the LTD EC-01FT single-cut, with that FT standing for “flat top”, and that single-pickup and solid mahogany body giving us heavy Junior vibes. But this is a very different guitar, and it’s exquisitely high-end for players who appreciate a little minimalism in guitar design.
Available in Black, Vintage Burst, and Olympic White – all of which are presented without any body binding – the EC-01FT has a neck-through build, and a sculpted heel for enhanced upper-fret access, much like its high-end siblings in the Eclipse family. And for $/£1,109 street, this is perfectly priced for the serious amateur and jobbing player.
It also debuts the Seymour Duncan Custom 14 humbucker, which is a custom-wound exclusive for ESP/LTD, and as you would hope from the sole pickup on a guitar such as this, it is designed to be versatile, covering everything from “clean, chimey intros to sizzling rock, classic metal, and hardcore tones… and the most crushing modern chugging and articulate, angular rhythm lines you ever hoped for”.
That is almost the dictionary definition of “all bases”, and there’s also a coil-split to spice things up too. It’ll be interesting to hear what that one sounds like through a dimed guitar amp. There's also a cheaper 500 bucks version, the EC-201FT, which is very similar but has a set-neck and an ESP LH-150B humbucker.
We can’t close out an ESP/LTD Top 5 without a Superstrat and this launch is not short on top-quality S-styles. There is the SN-1007HT baritone guitar, again with that swamp ash grain showing through the body's finish.
It nails the muted boutique vibe. Very classy. We also like the M-1007 baritone. It has everything the progressive metal player could want, i.e. it is a 7-string guitar, with a pair of Fishman Fluence Modern humbuckers, a Floyd Rose 1000SE double-locking vibrato and a Charcoal Burst finish that brings out all the details in the quilted maple top.
But that’s not our final pick. No, we’re going with the deceptively minimalistic M-1001, a sleek S-style in Charcoal Metallic Satin finish with gold hardware that is the very picture of high-performance refinement.
Yes, it will make an unholy noise but this is a guitar of bearing, of class, with a single Fishman Fluence Modern bridge humbucker offering a pair of voicings, and a Floyd Rose 1000 Series vibrato offering the whammy bar pyro.
There is the old-school six-in-line headstock, reversed for our pleasure, reversed for that higher string tension on the lower strings which will come in handy when riffing at C.
It has a solid alder body, a 25.5” scale, a bolt-on maple neck – which all things considered has to be the platonic ideal for S-styles even if we do love a neck-through. There are Grover tuners, a Macassar ebony fingerboard with offset MOP dot inlays that don’t call attention to themselves. In other words, it’s pretty much perfect. And at $1,399/£1,399, it’s not super expensive.
For more details on ESP/LTD’s new for 2024, check out the video above, or head over to ESP Guitars.