ESP History - Electric Sound Products

ESP Guitars History © Johnny AXN™ Guitars

 A Very Brief Overview ( because I dont have time to add anything else right now ) Rev date 6/08/2019


With a small staff of 3 employees ESP (Electric Sound Products) was established in Shibuya Tokyo in 1975 by Hisatake Shibuya as what was called in Japanese a "Guitar Salon". The shop was concerned with guitar repairs and "one-on-one" custom order guitars.

Hisatake Shibuya


Hisatake started working for the music products industry at the age of 24 as a freshman of Electric Guitar Dept. of Kawai. Teisco and Guyatone electric guitars were coveted instruments of young players at that time. He loved his work, but 4 years later he clashed with his boss and left Kawai. He said “I know I was too bold and stubborn, but they are my nature anyway.”

Jobless for one year, Hisatake joined Nippon Gakki (later Yamaha). He left the company to launch His own business with 4 years of experience in product distribution. He worked with Shigeki Saito who had been a colleague at Kawai, and then ran Fernandes Guitars. He was one of Hisatake’s mentors and supported Hisatake in many ways during the year out of work.

Hisatake learned business through 4 years work each at Kawai, Yamaha and Fernandes which have different corporate cultures and product marketing styles.

ESP Guitars

Hisatake brought in machinery to operate as a guitar retail store/workshop and they started building Navigator high-quality hand-made electric guitars. The ESP Tokyo shop was the first professional shop in Japan to create a dialog with working musicians and interacted closely with players.

All the while ESP absorbed player level details that guitar makers usually do not notice. This led to ESP manufacturing custom order high-end guitars in Japan about the 1979. ESP eventually moved production facilities outside of Tokyo but kept it a policy to concentrate on high-ticket guitars.

Once Hisatake tried to triple ESP sales of one high-end model which sold 200 units a month to 600 units. The result was much extra cost generated in advertisement and marketing. ESP gross profit ended up remaining flat. In terms of operating risk the ambitious plan was far greater than selling 200 units. Hisatake took a lesson from this experience.

In regards to his lesson learned Hisatake was quoted as saying “we built expensive models with additional value under ESP brand, and sell mid-range and competitive models under second and third brands.” Later Hisatake was quoted to say “More than once, I put our competitors on trials. Every time I had to protect our business I told myself that I wouldn't get defeated. Some people in U.S. called me 'cobra' because I bite as I am prodded on my head. In one way, such my attitude has helped me to survive in the industry (laugh).”

Moving the story forward, ESP using its own brand name, set out to rival Fender and Gibson straight away. Instead of just flat out copying USA guitars and selling them at lower costs as ESP did at the beginning, ESP decided to take all the ingredients and surpass what Fender and Gibson did utilizing only the best materials and hardware in a true effort to make the best of the best.

Another fact in regards to ESP ( Electric Sound products ) is that they started manufactured guitars for other brands as referenced by Hisatake. Referred to in the guitar business as being a "ghost builder". This contract work obviously fueling financially the ESP dream to become a flagship brand of its own.

In the 1970s-1980s most of the well known Japanese guitar making companies including ESP we able  to produce runs of super highest quality guitars and runs of lower quality guitars simultaneously. Other manufacturer names that could also achieve this were companies such as such as Tokai, Matsumoku, Fujigen, Kawai, Chushin Gakki and others. ESP did that and did it very well.

Navigator Models
Vintage ESP Navigator guitars had many variations. ESP started here manufacturing these guitars by hand and from the best materials and hardware. We are talking the mid to late 1970s and many early Navigator guitars were based off of classic USA guitars but not limited to just those designs.

Navigator guitars are the highest-end of all ESP guitars. Many time the Navigator logo on the headstock will say something like "Navigator produced by ESP". Early on some Navigator Les PauL Type guitars actual said Navigator with Les Paul on the headstock in the same font style as a Gibson LP.

Today the Navigator series Fender and Gibson replicas are made at costs that exceed those even of Fender and Gibson’s own Custom Shops! They are the pride of ESP. Every Navigator is a quality guitar, made with the utmost attention to detail. Navigator guitars have the exact dimensions of Fender and Gibson’s, but have amazing details that Fender and Gibson have never put into their own guitars. There is very few guitars out there that can rival a Navigator.

ZEP-II Models
ZEP-II or "ZEP-2" guitars as I will call them were basically short production runs of ESP custom made guitars. The ZEP-2 guitar brand was in essence the precursor to the Edwards brand of guitars and ZEP-2 guitars were made in Japan between 1985 to about 1988. The designs were kindof all over the board with models that were signature guitars such as the Loudness models made for the band Loudness. ZEP-2 guitars were a brand of ESP but to confuse the issue these were considered a MAD Company product that was an offshoot company of ESP. I've owned many of these including a Kramer branded George Lynch bengal tiger that was a Mad Company creation.

The Japanese were very good luthiers and had much pride in their work especially when it came to making anything connected with ESP guitars in this period. Generally ZEP-II guitars are virtually the same quality as the best ESP guitars of the time. Yet there were some ZEP2 models in a lower price point and wood quality diminished a small bit and some colors and finishes were repeated to save $$.  Sometimes with ZEP-II Guitars ESP would release some off-the-wall weird guitar design as sort of an "experiment" or to test the retail sale-ability and label it an ZEP-II.

Edwards Models
Initially Edwards guitars we made in japan ( 1990s ) and later in the recent 2000's some were made in china and still some in Japan. The brand is the most under-rated guitar brand in Japan and virtually unknown in the USA. Many times they use bookmatched woods, nitro top coat finishes in ESP produced Edwards. They are designed as the lower-cost version of the Navigator series and the standard ESP Product but they are really not that much lower in terms of craftsmanship, only price. For Example I saw an artist model for a Japanese rock star that was branded Edwards not ESP and it was known to be just as high quality as a ESP custom shop guitar.

Some Edwards guitars are made as Gibson and Fender replicas yet many Edwards are just slightly lower cost versions of well known popular ESP high end original designs and popular ESP artist models. Like ZEP-II Guitars ESP would/will release some off-the-wall weird guitar design as sort of an "experiment" or to test the retail sale-ability and label it an Edwards. Im seeing that the Edwards brand are strictly being made in china and maybe asia now and not Japan.

Grassroots Models
ESP also makes a low end entry-level guitar brand made in china and now other places for beginners under the name "Grassroots."  These guitars are made well considering they are very low priced guitars.  They do look nice but have budget woods and budget finishes and budget electronics.  For a beginner, it is a great brand. That said some Grass Roots guitars are just about as good or maybe better than what we are seeing in mid-priced Gibson and Fenders right now here in the USA. they are like "good Chinese guitars" if you know what i mean.

Seymour Duncan Models
ESP luthiers also made a lesser-known brand under the name of “Seymour Duncan," from the mid-1990s until 2004. Seymour Duncan is written as the actual logo on the headstock of these guitars.  There are two different series of Seymour Duncans;  the "professional series," highest end and the "traditional series," which was marketed in a lower price range.  If a guitar is from the traditional series, it will say so on the headstock. If it just says “Seymour Duncan,” then it is the more expensive model.  ESP only made Fender replicas under the Seymour Duncan brand.  

ESP discontinued Seymour Duncan Fender replicas in 2004.  ESP continues, however, to make bass guitars using the Seymour Duncan logo, but these bass guitars are not Fender replicas like their predecessors.

Schecter Guitars
In 1987 Schecter Guitars was in negotiations and/or purchased by Hisatake Shibuya. He is the founder of ESP Guitars. In 1990 there was some shuffling around of the Schecter Guitar company and the brand Schecter that was famous for hand made stratocaster shaped guitars and guitar parts.

After all was said and done effectively Hisatake Shibuya owned the Schecter Guitars brand. Hisatake Shibuya also owned Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, Sunset Custom Guitars California and 48th Street Custom Guitars in New York. It seems that ESP was manufacturing Stratocatster bodies and necks as well as whole guitars in Japan at the ESP factory for a short period in the late 1980s and these were branded as Schecter and sold mainly in Japan. The ones I’ve seen are very hard to distinguish from the Authentic USA Van Nuys California Schecters.

in the USA Hisatake Shibuya put separation into the Schecter brand successfully making Schecter Guitars presence completely independent of ESP as far as marketing and branding in the US. Later ESP was also successful at finding ways to manufacture Schecter outside of Japan.

In My Opinion in Japan many models that were released Japan under the brand name Schecter Guitars from the late 1980s and more heavily in the 1990s that were Strat headstock guitars and appear to be 100% ESP Japan manufacturing. Even today Schecter Guitars sold in Japan are very similar to some ESP offerings and include what appears to be ESP craftsmanship. The lower end of Japanese only Schecters are more than likely made in china or possibly in Korea.

ESP - Timeline
1975- Founded as a manufacturer of high-end electric guitar, and to train guitar repair servicemen. Manufactured the First Navigator line of guitars.
1979- Started accepting orders for 100% custom-made electric guitars. 
1981- Established ESP-USA.
1983 - A Factory in Nagano Japan was opened with 40 employees
1983- A European ESP base was opened in the German city of Dusseldorf - 1983- Opened Guitar Builders' School in Japan.
1983 - The 48th Street Custom Guitars New York was founded
1986- Opened a 6,600 sq. meter factory in Sado Island, Niigata-ken Japan.
1990- Official purchased Schecter USA. 
1992- Launched ESP-China.
1995- Purchased U.S. Musicians Institute.
1997-2010 Acquired and opened more than 10 educational institutions and retail shops in Japan. 
ESP Co., Ltd. has 18 member companies, 1,300 workers and 13 billion yen annual sales as a group. The business expands from musical instrument manufacturing, distribution, sales, import/export, music and movie production, publishing, development and distribution of music software to multiple educational institutions.

Other Brands ESP has manufactured like Robin Guitars, Italia Guitars, Kramer Guitars and others I did not mention.. give it some time I will ;-)

ESP Guitars History © Johnny AXN™ Guitars

ESP Shop in Dusseldorf Germany

The 1980s ESP Shop in Stresemannstraße Dusseldorf Germany


ESP attracted attention for the first time during the Frankfurt Music Trade show Musikmesse in 1981. ESP showed their many guitars and many parts at a distributor booth in that year. In order to be a player in the retail guitar business in Germany an ESP shop was opened. ESP Europe was opened in 1984 with a small office in the city of Karlsruhe Germany.

Initially Guitar Center and other small companies in Hamburg took over the distribution. The heavy metal music scenes were thriving in the USA, Europe and worldwide. Electric Sound Products had taken on Endorsees and started to introduce successful models of their own and not just copies of popular USA instruments as it did in previous years.

ESP Custom Guitars Germany started in 1986 in a small shop located at this address Stresemannstraße 4 in Dusseldorf Germany. The same year employees cultivated relationships between this ESP shop and musicians in Germany and Europe filling the need for ESP parts, service, and manufacturing custom orders . Custom ordered ESP guitars from this Germany shop were nearly all manufactured in Japan with some custom things being done in Germany. Since the paint work was done somewhere other than Germany because of environmental concerns we can assume that things done in ESP Dusseldorf Germany were much along the lines of what the New York ESP store did in the 1980s.

The ESP complete guitars offered at this Dusseldorf Germany ESP office were a mixed lot just as the ESP offerings from the 48th Street Shop in New York. Again, Japan manufactured ESP necks and bodies that were later built-up in the Germany location. Complete neckthrough guitars or nearly complete guitars shipped from ESP Japan were part of the Germany stock.

In addition some employees from this Germany location were also employees at the famed 48th Street ESP shop in New York or traveled between the two locations. Both stores exhibiting the same sales platform and distribution practices and acting as a subsidiaries of ESP Tokyo Japan.


In this time the ESP sales manager for Dusseldorf Germany was given the task of setting up the ESP Custom Shop in Germany. An ESP custom order service was established. Complete organization of ESP wholesale and ESP distribution for Germany, Austria and Switzerland was established and completed. This resulted in consolidation of the ESP distributor network from all local European areas. Previous distributors were reorganized and/or disengaged. After the Hamburg distributions were dissolved the entire ESP  inventory was shipped to Rhine, whereupon the small shop was initially overwhelmed with the European ESP inventory of guitars and parts.

With everything coming in to play and with the expertise of the employees at this new location the guitars from Japan were eventually processed to this location officially from ESP Japan. Official ESP order system was created. From this small warehouse in Dusseldorf orders were sent to official ESP dealers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Because of high demand of new guitars in 1990 key employees had to move stock to an external warehouse in which a luthier inspected the instruments before delivery.


In addition to the sale of Japan manufactured ESP strat replacement necks, bodies and ESP parts, the custom order ESP instruments were also made available at the customer's request. Again the custom orders were built or manufactured partly in Düsseldorf and partly in the Japanese Takada Factory which was the first ESP plant in Tokyo.

We at AlienXnation believe the majority of custom order ESP guitars sold in Dusseldorf were just like ESP creations made available at the 48th Street Store in New York at the time. A custom order was created in Dusseldorf Germany processed through Japan. Custom Order guitars were manufactured, painted and completed in Japan then shipped to Dusseldorf. There seem to evidence that near-to-all instruments were 100% ESP Japan manufacturing with few or no exceptions. If there were any Germany manufactured guitar or Germany manufactured ESP bodies we at AlienXnation have never seen evidence of any kind to indicate any verifiable ESP Germany manufacturing ability. Therefore it is safe to assume that all manufacturing was done in Japan with some things possibly painted elsewhere or built up somewhere other than Japan. Yet, very little to no instruments were anything other than 100% ESP japan manufacturing start to finish.

ESP applied an advertising program using the same formula ESP applied to the USA market but on a smaller scale which did included European artist endorsements.

Some ESP guitars sold as custom orders from this Düsseldorf location had unique features such as paint, finishes and custom details that may have been initiated in Germany and were absolutely unique for ESP guitars. This resulted in a few guitars being seeming one-offs and/or different ESP guitars than those regularly seen coming directly from Japan. Even today you will find vintage ESP guitars in Europe that are slightly different which can be attributed the Dusseldorf Germany location for ESP guitars.


Changing times in music at the end of the 1980s and the downturn in sales of heavy metal or glam rock type guitars played itself out in Europe as well as in the USA. The shop on Stresemannstraße closed its doors at the end of May 1995 after a sell-out and moved temporarily to a kind of workshop with warehouse in Düsseldorf-Derendorf. ESP moved to the Sound Service European Music Distribution in Berlin, which moved to the south of Berlin in 2006 to Rangsdorf. 

Brad Gillis Fernandes Wiring Diagram and SB-3000 Booster Installation Instructions

The SB-3000 Fernandes Booster

This was developed by Fernandes Research Group. The square metal plate fits over a standard Stratocaster input jackhole for strats with a top mount input jack. There were two different logos printed on these. The first was the early Fernandes Logo. The later version logo was introduced on the rectangular metal input jack plate around 1985.

The down position on the toggle overrides the boost and gives no mid-boost. The toggle position up gives a small amount of mid boost. There is an EQ adjustment in the back of the unit as can be seen in the photos.

The SB-3000 is used during guitar soloing. It can be used for other purposes with experimentation. But its for use during a guitar solo to offer peak sustain. The SB-3000 was Fernandess first exploraion of a boost circuit and pre-dates the Fernandes sustainer.

It can work very well but older units can become noisy in a live environment. Properly adjusted it works like a charm and is very similiar to a Jackson Charvel JE-1000 Treble boost

>> Go Back To Brad Gillis Guitar Page <<

( The Tutorial Will Be Delivered to you as a Download. )

If you are interested in a tutorial and Wiring Diagram and Instruction click below


ESP - Electric Sound Products 1987 Catalog

ESP - Electric Sound Products 1987 Catalog

The Seymour Duncan Van Halen Special - Duncan Special

The Seymour Duncan Van Halen Special

That Duncan guy introduced this pickup into his line 1979 and placed the ad ( see the photos below ) in guitar magazines. The funny or not so funny thing is that Seymour was said to have called Eddie Van Halen before he made the pickup for sale and ask if he could market the Van Halen pickup and Eddie said NO. Heres the quote ( some drama here ) >>

EVH: “Yeah. And also, him selling it and advertising, makes it seem to the fans like I'm selling myself. They don't know that I'm against it. They think that I'm out for the bucks. That's not it at all. So it's kind of a drag. There's another guy too...See, I've rewound my own pickups before, and a guy named Seymour Duncan, I got pissed at him too. He called me up and said, "Can we use your name for a special pickup?" And I said no. Next time I pick up Guitar Player magazine, there's a special Van Halen model customized Duncan pickup. I called him up and said, "What the hell's goin' on?" So he stopped finally. It's just kind of weird you know.”

The Duncan Custom is a ceramic humbucker. The Duncan Custom was Seymour’s first official offering with a ceramic magnet. Some remember the ad in Guitar player magazine 1979 Seymour Duncan calling the humbucker a "Special Van halen pickup". The one in our photo is it.

Apparently Seymour Duncan rewound a Gibson PAF for Van Halen around early 1978. The two dudes Van Halen and Duncan worked together in that time and came up with the Duncan Custom. We have had three of these Van Halen Special Seymour Duncan Custom pickups over the years in our shop. Last month April 2019 we just sold the one in the photos for many hundreds of dollars to a crazed EVH guy. It spect out at 14.4ohms.

The pickup rocks. That said around here we prefer Alnico pickups and Marshall amps cause we are rockers. But with a few tweaks to the Marshall settings this Van Halen Special 1979 humbucker pretty much nails the VH1 album guitar tone out of the box… ceramic magnets or not.

Heres a secret, theres a fine line between rock and more mellow-er music. For the best and most authentic rock-n-roll tone use a different guitar for each type of music in a live setting. Instead of the typical “ i want to make my guitar more versatile with a variety of tones ” make your guitars “music specific”.

Just pick a humbucker with an output of 13-15ohms with an Alinico magnets and just frickin be a hard rocker.. thats what we grew up on .. right? hard rock!!. If you want to play The Cure thats cool too. Use a strat with single coils. If you want to play Metallica use a one Humbucker guitar through a Marshall Plexi. Thats what the pros do.

Fernandes ST-155BG Brad Gillis Signature Guitar

AlienXnation Vintage Guitars -  Posted For Sale August 18, 2018

For Sale >> <<

Fernandes and Brad Gillis have both stated that 100 guitars were manufactured that matched the guitar he used live in 1984. That would be the ST155BG Fernandes.

Fernandes also produced many Model ST-120BG guitars that were identical to the ST-155BG except for a few things.

This is one of 100 guitars produced!

We have never seen an ST-155BG in person that was unmodified. This is the first one we have owned in absolute original factory condition.

Every other Fernandes Brad Gillis we've seen in this great of condition was a model ST120BG.

AlienXnation Vintage Guitars - Collectible Guitar


includes a complete breakdown and inspection of every element of the guitar. This includes breakdown and cleaning of the tremolo bridge and inspection of all parts!!

Entire guitar will be delivered 100% like a new guitar with a certificate of Authenticity.

-------------------- more details ------------------------------------

Reference Page for the BG Fernandes >>

Thank You and Best Wishes,

Johnny - Owner AXN™Guitars ( The SENSEI OF VINTAGE 1980'S GUITARS 先生 )

History of Eddie Van Halen's Bumble Bee / Notes Taken!!

WTF - Boogie Bodies, Charvel, Dimarzio get out the measuring tape dude!

For many years I recorded detailed specifications and measurements of virtually every part of certain brands of guitars from this era the 1980s. Sometimes the facts are sitting right in front of my nose and all have to do is lookup... wow !


Johnny, The SENSEI OF VINTAGE 1980'S GUITARS 禪 ( translated SENSEI 禪 = the teacher ).

I’m using the data i observed detailing these guitars to manufacture our AXN™ Guitars >>

HISTORY of a DiMarzio / Charvel Guitar w/ 1980 Rising Sun Graphic

1979 Rising Sun Graphic…/vintage-1980-charvel-body-rising-…

History Link >>

Way back in 2011 I posted a video of the Glendora/San Dimas Charvel Manufacturing shop as it looks today ( or then ) >>

I also put some info up at this site >>

For many years I recorded detailed specifications and measurements of virtually every part of certain brands from this era the 1980s. Prior to making a name for myself on Ebay and prior to creating the AXN website I was known as The SENSEI OF VINTAGE 1980'S GUITARS 禪 ( translated SENSEI 禪 = the teacher ).

I’ve pretty much sold off the balance of Charvel pre-pro stuff I owned with the exception of a few things. Now I’m using the data i recorded and wrote down on paper detailing these guitars to manufacture our AXN™ Guitars >>