Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher says ESP is working on a new signature “reverse” Sparrowhawk

Bill Kelliher
(Image credit: YouTube/Andertons)

Bill Kelliher has revealed that he and ESP are working on another signature guitar design with a ‘reverse’ version of his Sparrowhawk currently in the works. 

With the Mastodon guitarist already having been spotted with a Silver Sunburst/Silverburst ESP double-cut, this could mean that we see two all-new body shapes from the Japanese high-performance electric guitar brand this year.

Kelliher was in conversation with Lee Anderton on the Andertons YouTube channel when the talk turned to his signature ESP/LTD Sparrowhawk, and how the design first arose out of his fondness for the Gibson Firebird and RD shapes. 

Given that much of the Sparrowhawk’s inspiration came from the non-reverse Firebird body shape, perhaps it only makes sense that the next step in its evolution was to try a reverse version. Kelliher certainly thinks so, and he was not disappointed by what he has seen from ESP so far. 

“I actually asked them to make a Reverse Sparrowhawk design, with the headstock reversed too, just to see what it looked like, because it might be cool,” he said. “And it does look cool, so hopefully that will be coming out soon.”

Kelliher also explained how his collaboration with Mojotone on his new signature Hellbender electric guitar pickups came about, explaining why, after all these years at the forefront of metal guitar, his tastes have changed, and that he asked Mojotone not to make the pickups “super hot, super crazy’ because his guitar amp is going to come through with the gain.

“I just want the pickup to do its job,” he said. “To pick up the sound of the strings as best that it possibly can without going into the whole active [pickups] world.”

Kelliher did not elaborate further on how the ‘reverse’ Sparrowhawk would be spec’d, and it is a distinct possibility that it might not ship with Mojotones, with the ESP LTD Sparrowhawk presently available with a pair of Seymour Duncan TB-6 Distortion humbuckers. But you can count on it that the pickups will be passive. 

It’s not that he doesn’t like them – they sound great, but maybe a little too great, overpowering the rest of the guitar’s design and his rig.

“I’ve had some EMGs and they’re great, but to me there is a more distinct sound when you are actually using the [guitar’s] body,” he said. “The wood, and the guitar’s shape are all factors in the sound. Because EMGs, or active pickups in general, you could strap [them] to a piece of beechwood, put those pickups on and it is going to sound great because of the pickups. I don’t want to leave out the great tones of these amps.”

The Sparrowhawk was Kelliher’s second signature design with ESP, after moving from Gibson, with the first a pair of hefty single-cuts, the ESP Bill Kelliher and more affordable LTD BK-600. The through line in all of these designs is weight. Kelliher can't get enough of it.

“I’m like, ‘Make it heavy as possible,’ because I like them heavy, big body,” he said. “Once I got the very first prototype of this guitar [the Sparrowhawk] I was extremely happy. It plays like a dream. I can’t put it down. I just feel great about it. It has more of a slim tapered neck, like an Explorer. It’s thin. It’s easy to play. It’s heavy.”

It might be heavy but not as heavy as this new mystery double-cut, which was unsubtly teased with the launch of his STL ToneHub guitar plugins suite. He told GuitarGuitar that this prototype was nearly twice the weight of his Sparrowhawk.

“I have a new prototype ESP which is like a double cutaway, silverburst, which is probably about this thick [demonstrates a substantial size with fingers)] I’m not even exaggerating,” he said. “It weighs about 12 to 13lbs, which in comparison, this ESP is probably about 7lbs? it’s very heavy (laughs). I’ve been using it live and I’m like, ‘Man! I thought Explorers were heavy!’ It just sounds amazing. I think it has Seymour Duncan Antiquity pickups in it.”

ESP usually go large with huge product announcements in the New Year. In January last year, Phase 1 of their 2022 launch event saw the unveiling of an incredible 43 new electric and bass guitars. There well might be something big coming soon.

Elsewhere in Kelliher’s conversation with Andertons, he talked about his amp setup and how he was using his signature Butterslax head from Friedman in tandem with the Victory  Super Kraken, and revealed the one piece of kit he can’t live without – the Line 6 Helix. Check it out above. 

Kelliher's Hellbender humbucker set is available now, priced $261. Head over to Mojotone for more information.

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.