ESP is a renowned guitar brand that has been a significant player in the guitar industry since its establishment. The company was founded by Hisatake Shibuya, who was born in 1937 in Sado, a small island located in Japan. After completing his graduation from Doshina University in 1961, Shibuya began his career with Kawai, a guitar manufacturing company. Later, he joined Yamaha and Fernandes, where he gained valuable experience in guitar manufacturing.
In 1975, Shibuya started his own company in Tokyo, which initially had only three employees. The company primarily focused on guitar repairs and the production of guitar parts. Additionally, the company made custom guitars, tailored to meet individual customers’ needs and specifications. The sale of the custom-built guitars was a massive success, leading to an increase in demand. Consequently, ESP moved its production facilities to a larger location outside Tokyo to cater to the growing demand.
ESP’s business continued to grow, and in 1979, it began taking orders for customized guitars worldwide. In 1981, ESP established its presence in the US with an office in New York, and two years later, it entered the German market, opening an office in the country for distribution across Europe. In 1983, Shibuya launched a guitar-making school, and several graduates landed jobs at ESP.
ESP had several hundred employees at that time, but its workforce increased after the opening of a new plant on Sado Island in 1986. ESP has been producing top-quality guitars ever since, with their quality recognized globally. The company’s commitment to producing high-quality guitars has helped it maintain its position as one of the most innovative and successful guitar brands in the world.
In 1985, the heavy metal band Dokken’s George Lynch discovered ESP during a tour in Japan. Lynch’s interest in the company led to the creation of the ESP Kamikaze, which became Lynch’s first signature model. The ESP Kamikaze’s success has continued to this day, and it remains one of the company’s most iconic guitars. Overall, ESP’s history is a testament to the power of innovation and commitment to quality, which has helped them cement their place as a leader in the guitar industry.
In 1990, Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett visited the ESP Custom Shop with the idea of building a model based on the mysterious Ouija board game.
The first version was for Kirk only but had two spelling errors.
Instead of “WILLIAM FULD TALKING BOARD“, the Ouija body of this first version reads “WILLIAM FUED TALKING BAARD SET“.
In 1993, ESP released the first batch of Ouija guitars with Kirk Hammett’s signature, which were neck-thru and initially intended for the Japanese market. Later on, the Ouija model became available as a Bolt On guitar and was officially introduced for export in 1995.
ESP gained notoriety by crafting guitars for renowned thrash metal guitarists such as James Hetfield (Metallica), Scott Ian (Anthrax), and Jeff Hanneman (Slayer). As a result, ESP has become one of the most popular providers of heavy metal guitars.
In 1996, the LTD series was produced in Korea (later also in Indonesia, China, and Vietnam) to reduce costs, and the export of Japan-made LTD guitars to the USA ceased. Nonetheless, ESP resumed exporting the Japanese series to the USA in the early 2000s, despite the increased prices.
The top-quality ESP guitars are still made in the ESP factory in Japan, while the more affordable LTD line is manufactured in different locations throughout Asia.
ESP’s popularity and demand continue to rise, and in 2014, a new factory was established in North Hollywood, CA, USA, close to the new Los Angeles headquarters. This is where the ESP USA line is produced and added to the existing well-known series of ESP, as well as the LTD and E-II series. ESP is constantly innovating and developing both electric and acoustic guitar models to keep up with the changing demands of the industry.