Metallica have been using ESP guitars since the mid to late-’80s, although they appear to have a non-exclusive agreement and have dipped into other brands such as Jackson, Ibanez, Zematis, Ken Lawrence and Gibson over the years too.The current crop of ESP Metallica signature models offers a good cross-section of guitar styles from throughout the band’s career. Let’s look at them.
Available in ESP and LTD versions, James Hetfield’s mahogany-bodied Snakebyte model is inspired by the Gibson Explorers and subsequent ESP models he used in the ‘80s. Those ESP models were discontinued amid rumours of legal trouble, so the Snakebyte is noticeably altered, with a scoop out of the guitar’s back edge, a sharp point on the treble side cutaway, and an equally pointy headstock. Available in Black and Snow White, the Snakebyte features EMG’s JH Het Set, Hetfield’s signature model active pickups. The pickups are based on the EMG 81 and 60 humbuckers, but with some crucial changes. The JH-N neck model has individual ceramic poles and bobbins that feature a larger core and are taller than the 60 to produce more attack, higher output, and fuller low end. The JH-B bridge model uses the same type of core but has steel pole pieces, unlike the 81 that uses bar magnets. This produces the familiar tight attack with less inductance for a cleaner low end.
[caption id="attachment_3337" align="aligncenter" width="567" caption="ESP Snakebyte (L) and LTD Snakebyte (R)"][/caption]
Also available in ESP and LTD versions, the ESP Truckster model is associated with Metallica’s St. Anger era onwards, and is based on a Les Paul-like design: a mahogany body and neck, maple top and rosewood fretboard. The Aged Satin Black finish is worn down to the primer in several spots. It has a more direct, road-ready feel than the Snakebyte, and Hetfield tends to use it on a lot of the more straightforward material.
[caption id="attachment_3341" align="aligncenter" width="567" caption="ESP Truckster (L) and LTD Truckster (R)"][/caption]
There are four ESP versions of Kirk Hammett’s KH-2 alder-bodied model: the KH-2 25 25th anniversary aged edition (LTD model), the KH-2 Vintage (modelled on his busted-up much-loved ESP), and the neck-through KH-2 NTB and bolt-on KH-2, which shows what his axe would have looked like fresh from the factory. All have Floyd Rose Original Bridges, individual volumes for the neck and bridge, a master tone control, a three-way pickup switch and an active EMG 81/60 pickup set. There’s an LTD version too called the KH-602, which features a Floyd Rose 1000 Series bridge and EMG 81 and 60 pickups.
[caption id="attachment_3339" align="aligncenter" width="567" caption="Left to Right: ESP KH-2, ESP KH-2 Vintage, ESP KH-2 NTB, LTD KH-602, LTD KH-25"][/caption]
The latest addition to Kirk’s ESP and LTD signature line, the KH-DC is a double-cutaway model which looks very Les Paul-influenced at first glance. It has a mahogany body and neck, a flamed maple top and rosewood fretboard. But look a little closer and you’ll see several specs that are consistent with Kirk’s other guitars. It has a 25.5 inch scale length, which is the same as his KH-2s rather than the more Les Paul-like 24.75 inch; it has a thin U neck contour more like the Super Thin U of his other models than the ‘50s or ‘60s profiles of Gibsons; it has the same neck and bridge volumes and master tone electronic layout as his other axes; and it has the same active EMG 81 and 60 hum buckers. And in a very un-Les Paul move, the extra jumbo frets are scalloped from the 17th to the 22nd to give Kirk more grip on those super-high notes. It’s only available in See Thru Black Cherry finish.
[caption id="attachment_3342" align="aligncenter" width="567" caption="ESP KH-DC (L) and LTD KH-DC (R)"][/caption]
[caption id="attachment_3340" align="alignright" width="219" caption="KH-Junior"][/caption]
Whether for younger Metallica fans or for older ones who just want a cute little axe to jam out on, the KH-Junior is a 20.5 inch scale version of Kirk’s guitar with a Tune-o-Matic bridge, through-body stringing and ESP LH-301 bridge and neck pickups. It has the same deadly black finish and spooky skull-and-crossbones inlays as the KH-2 family.