In 1975, Hisatake Shibuya opened a
shop called Electric Sound Products (ESP) in Tokyo.
It provided custom replacement parts for guitars. In
1976, ESP gained a reputation as a provider of
high-quality replacement parts. At this time, ESP
also began crafting guitars under the ESP and
Navigator brand in the Japanese market..
ESP replacement parts were first introduced into the US in 1983. ESP began crafting custom instruments for local New York artists between 1984 and 1985. Among these artists were Page Hamilton (Helmet), Vernon Reid (Living Colour), Vinnie Vincent & Bruce Kulick (KISS), and Ronnie Wood (The Rolling Stones). At this time, ESP also introduced the 400 Series as the first production line distributed in the US.
During this same period of time, ESP began making the bodies and necks for Kramer Guitars. Other manufacturers using ESP as an OEM were Robin Guitars, Schecter Guitar Research and DiMarzio. Many traits of the Kramer line are still visible including neck construction and body bevels. ESP tooled up for Tom Anderson's shaved bolt on neck heel on the Schecter bodies, and has since become a feature of their house brand.
In 1986, George Lynch discovered ESP while on tour in Tokyo. Lynch walked into an ESP shop looking for a replacement neck and learned that ESP also built custom guitars. As a result, his famous ESP Kamikaze was made. ESP soon introduced the M1 Standard, MI Custom, Horizon Custom, and the Surveyor bass into the market.
At this time, ESP released George Lynch's Kamikaze as its first signature model. ESP based its headquarters in a loft in downtown New York City on 19th Street. In 1989, the headquarters were moved to 48th Street near the famous music stores.
Between 1990 and 1992, ESP expanded its Signature Series as well as its standard product line. The US replacement parts business was discontinued in order to switch focus solely on the guitar and bass line as well as the custom shop. There are about 41 signature series guitars.
In 1993, ESP moved its headquarters again but this time it was relocated to Los Angeles. There, ESP opened an office on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood. In 1996, LTD was created to produce ESP's high-quality products in a more affordable line of production. Soon after the introduction of the Korean and Indonesian-made LTD lines, ESP discontinued selling the majority of its Japanese-made flagship instruments in the United States due to the prices involved in exporting to the Americas. The lone exception was ESP's artist signature lines, which remained ESP (rather than LTD) models. In the early 2000s, ESP resumed shipping the standard Japanese-manufactured lines to the United States (where they are very popular among metal and hard rock players), albeit at greatly increased prices compared to the early 90s..
ESP was initially known for making high quality and customized replicas of famous American guitars, including hot rodded Fender Strats and Teles, as well as Gibson Explorers. The latter model (known as the EXP/MX) shot to fame when avid ESP user James Hetfield's band Metallica became extremely popular in the late 80s/early 90s. Models similar to Hetfield's black ESP even today sell for hundreds of dollars beyond the original retail price. However, just like Ibanez, when the Gibson company realized the extent to which ESP was denting into the sales of its own guitars, it filed a suit to prevent the sales of these guitars in the Americas and ESP redesigned its lines to be less similar to the American models.
In 2002, ESP was ranked among the music industry's fastest growing companies. This is largely due to the Fender buyout of Jackson Guitars, with whom ESP had struggled to compete throughout the 1980s and 1990s. With the buyout, many Jackson endorsers switched over to ESP, due to their stunningly similar design, playability, and quality of their guitars and basses (this has ignited a feud between players, with Jackson players citing ESP as inferior and copy instruments, while ESP players say the same about Jackson). Some of these artists who left Jackson for ESP included Dave Mustaine (Megadeth), Adam Darski (Behemoth), Alexi Laiho and Roope Latvala (Children of Bodom), Dan Jacobs and Travis Miguel (Atreyu), Galder and Silenoz (Dimmu Borgir).