DATING ESP GUITARS BY REFERENCE OF SERIAL NUMBERS
During the early stages of production, ESP guitars were not well documented in terms of their serial numbers. As a result, serial numbers that predate the year 2000 cannot be relied upon to determine an exact date of production.
Where to find the serial number?
The serial number of an ESP guitar can be found on the back of the headstock, neck plate or inside the body for (semi) acoustic guitars.
To determine the production year of your ESP guitar, you can either use ESP serial numbers decoder or refer to the explanation of the dating system PROVIDED BELOW.
For more details see tables
ESP history in short
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 them maintain their 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.
The accuracy of dating guitars produced in the 1980s and 1990s can be problematic due to careless record-keeping. Some models from this era lack serial numbers altogether. Even with neck plate serial numbers, the exact date can be difficult to determine because plates with only the ESP logo were also used. Moreover, numbered plates were often produced in advance and assigned at random.
For guitars without a serial number on the headstock or neck plate, the heel of the neck may contain a serial number that could help with dating. Another possible location for a serial number is the cavity on the body of the pickups. If a number is found in this location, it can be deciphered using a decoder to determine its date of manufacture. It’s worth noting that while serial numbers can be helpful in dating guitars, they are not always definitive, and other factors, such as changes made to a guitar over time, can also affect its age.
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
The Kirk Hammett Signature (K-) guitars were initially released as Custom Shop models in 1993, featuring Kirk Hammett’s signature on the front of the headstock and a serial number on the back of the headstock. The serial numbers consist of K- followed by either 4 or 5 digits, with the latter introduced after the guitars’ official launch in 1995. Prior to this, the serial numbers had only 4 digits.
The guitars built in Korea, India, Indonesia, China and Vietnam use different serial number systems. 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.
How can I tell what year my ESP guitar was made?
During the early stages of production, ESP guitars were not well documented in terms of their serial numbers. As a result, serial numbers that predate the year 2000 cannot be relied upon to determine an exact date of production. To determine the production year of your ESP guitar, you can use ESP serial number decoder or refer to the explanation of the dating system
How do I find ESP guitar serial number?
The serial number of your ESP guitar can be found on the back of the headstock, neck plate or inside the body for (semi) acoustic guitars.