DATING ESP GUITARS BY REFERENCE OF SERIAL NUMBERS
The serial numbers of ESP guitars were not or hardly administered in the early days of production.
Serial numbers from before 2000 are therefore unreliable for an exact date.
The founder of the ESP company is Hisatake Shibuya.|
He was born in 1937 in Sado on the island of the same name in Japan.
After graduating from Doshina University in 1961, he joined the guitar manufacturer Kawai. After 4 years he joined Yamaha and later the guitar manufacturer Fernandes.
During this period he gained a lot of experience and started his own company in Tokyo in 1975. The company where he employed 3 employees consisted of a shop and a workshop for repairs and making parts
for guitars. Guitars were also made here on a special order, which were built to the individual wishes of the customer.
The sale of the own-built guitars turned out to be a great success and the demand for them grew quickly. A few years later, the production facilities were therefore moved to larger premises just outside Tokyo.
The company expanded and from 1979 orders for customized guitars
were also produced worldwide.
In 1981 ESP established itself in the USA with an office in New York and in 1983 in Germany for distribution in Europe.
Also in 1983, Hisatake Shibuya started a 'guitar making vocational school', some graduates of which landed a job at ESP.
ESP already had several hundred employees, but that number grew after
a new plant was opened in 1986 in Sado Island.
In 1985 George Lynch of the heavy metal band Dokken discovered during
a tour in Japan that ESP also built custom guitars.
As a result, his famous ESP Kamikaze was created and ESP released this George Lynch's Kamikaze as his first signature model.
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".
The first batch of the Ouijas with Kirk signature were neck-thru and were released in 1993, destined for the Japanese market. Later the Ouija was introduced as a Bolt On guitar.
The official introduction for export was in 1995.
ESP gained fame by making guitars for trash metal guitarists including
James Hetfield (Metallica), Scott Ian (Anthrax) and Jeff Hanneman (Slayer).
As a result, ESP has become one of the most popular suppliers of heavy metal guitars.
To keep costs down, the LTD series were now also made in Korea (later
also in Indonesia, China and Vietnam) from 1996 and the export to the
USA of the Japan-made LTD guitars stopped.
However, despite the now increased prices, ESP resumed the export of
the Japanese series to the USA in the early 2000s.
George Lynch with ESP kamikaze
Kirk Hammett with ESP Ouija
The top-quality ESP guitars are made in the ESP managed and
operated factory in Japan, and the more affordable LTD line is
made in various locations in Asia.
The popularity and demand for ESP guitars continues to expand,
with a new factory opened in North Hollywood, CA, USA in 2014
near the new Los Angeles headquarters.
Here the line of ESP USA guitars is produced and was added to
the existing well-known series of ESP as LTD and E-II series.
ESP is constantly innovating both electric and acoustic models.
The dating of guitars built in the eighties and nineties is often unreliable.
Its administration was done carelessly.
Some guitars from that period have no serial number at all.
Also with the neck plate serial numbers do not always give the
exact date. (If they already have a number because neck plates
with only the ESP logo were also used)
The plates with number were made well in advance and used randomly.
For guitars without a serial number on the headstock or neck
plate, you may still be able to find a serial number on the heel of
There is also a chance that a number is written in the cavity on the body of the pickups. In that case you can decipher this number in the decoder to a date.
The eight-digit coding system from before 2000 looks like this: DDMMYNNN
DD = day of the month (01 - 31)
MM = month (01 - 12) Y = Last digit of the year
NNN = production number 000 - 999
Example: 25055012 is the 12nd guitar built on May 25th 1995.
After 2000 a serial number system was used which is a lot simpler.
It consists of 1 or 2 letters followed by 7 digits. The letter (s) indicate the location of manufacture. The first 2 digits are the year, the next
2 digits are the week number, the 5th digit is the day of the week
and the last 2 digits is the production number.
SS = Custom Shop ESP 12 = 2012 09 = week number 9
2 = the 2nd day of week 9 10 = production number
So SS1209210 is the 10nd guitar, built on February 28, 2012 in the Custom Shop of ESP in Tokyo.
This system was used until 2015.
From 2016 another system was introduced.
This system consists of 1 letter followed by 7 digits.
The letter is the brand name, E = ESP.
The first 4 digits are the production number, the next 2 digits the year and the last digit the series type. (1 = Custom series, 2 = Signatures series and 3 = E-II series).
E = ESP 1234 = production number 16 = 2016 2 = Signatures Series
Kirk Hammett Signature (K-) serial numbers
The first Kirk Hammett Signature guitars appeared as Custom Shop models back in 1993.
Kirk Hammett's signature is on the front of the headstock and the serial number on the back of the headstock.
These serial numbers start with K- followed by 4 or 5 digits. Until the official introduction in 1995 the guitars had a 4 digit number, then a 5 digit number was introduced.
Kirk Hammett Signature (K- serial number)
This makes proper dating difficult. What they do have in common is
that the first 2 digits after the letter prefix contain the year.
Letter + 7 digits. E and U = Korea. I = Vietnam. L = China.
2 letters + 7 digits. IS and IR = Indonesia.
Letter + 8 digits.
W = World Musical Instrument Co., Incheon, Korea.
2 letters + 8 digits.
IW, IX and IS = Indonesia.
WR and GW = World Musical Instrument Co., Incheon, Korea.
SX, SK, RS and SP = China.
2 letters + 9 digits. IS = Indonesia.