ESP Guitars (Navigator, Edwards and Seymour Duncan Models)
ESP (Electric Sound Products) has been making high-end guitars in Japan since the 1970’s. While many guitar manufacturers focused on producing “lawsuit” guitars to meet the demands of the Japanese at lower costs than Fender and Gibson, ESP set out to rival Fender and Gibson straight away. Instead of copying their guitars at lower costs, ESP decided to take all the ingredients and surpass what Fender and Gibson made, with a spare-no-expense attitude.
Navigator Models Navigator guitars are the highest-end of all ESP guitars. The Navigator series Fender and Gibson replicas are made at costs that exceed those even of Fender and Gibson’s own Custom Shops! They range in price from $4,000 - $8,000 and are the pride of ESP. Sounds like a crazy idea destined for failure, but what many people want nowadays is a quality guitar, made with the utmost attention to detail and don’t really care what the headstock says. Navigator guitars have the exact dimensions of Fender and Gibson’s, but have amazing details that Fender and Gibson don’t even put on their own guitars.
For example, Navigator Stratocasters have individual fret binding that comes up to meet the ends of each fret! Carved straight from the neck by hand, that’s 42 little raised bumps. Can you imagine the time it takes to do that? Well, that’s just one thing. They are made with the same gauge fret wire as Fenders and Gibsons and have identical proportions. They use true nitro finish, 1-piece or 2-piece bookmatched woods, and Antiquity or Seth Lover pickups stock. I have 6 Navigators in my own collection that would shame any Fender or Gibson you put it against in a showdown. Yes, I paid more for them than Fender or Gibson Custom Shops would have cost, but I have a quality instrument made with dedication and craftsmanship you won’t find on any other production model. There is nothing out there that can rival a Navigator.
*Recently, the Navigator line has undergone a complete revamping of their model numbering system, for inflation reasons. For example, the early 2000's N-ST-300 Stratocasters are now being sold, with the same specs for the most part, as the current N-ST-380 models. An $800 price hike, roughly. Even their cases went up in price & model #.
Edwards Models Edwards guitars are the most under-rated guitar brand in Japan to date. They use bookmatched woods, nitro top coat finishes, Fender and Gibson-size fret wire, identical dimension-matching, and have Seymour Duncan SSL or SH series pickups stock. They cost anywhere from $850 - $1,200 new. They are designed as the lower-cost version of the Navigator series, but they are really not that much lower in terms of craftsmanship, only price. Edwards guitars are made as Gibson and Fender replicas as well, but at a price most people can afford, and they are the real rivals of the Fender and Gibson guitar, because they are in a price range that is a little less. For what you get, Edwards brand is the best value in electric guitars today, in my opinion, if you are looking for a Fender or Gibson clone and don’t want to compromise tone by searching for older, used vintage Japanese guitars that can sometimes be noisy. Anyone who has ever purchased an Edwards guitars has made a comment about how taken-aback they were at the quality and bang-for-the-buck. I agree, Edwards makes arguably the best low-cost guitar in Japan.
Seymour Duncan Models ESP luthiers also made a lesser-known brand under the name of “Seymour Duncan," from the mid-1990s until 2004. You won’t find them in any ESP catalog or anywhere on-line, except maybe in Japanese guitar shops that specialize in used guitars. 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," which sold between $2,000 - $3,000, and the "traditional series," which was marketed in the $900 - $1,500 price range. The traditional series featured SD SSL-1 pickups while the more expensive professional series came with SD Alnico II single coil pickups. 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. The most common model numbers were DS-100, DS-180, DS-200 and DS-280Pro for Stratocasters, DT-100, DT-200 and DT-280Pro for Telecasters. Bass guitar models were DPB, for the Precision Bass line and DJB for the Jazz Bass line.
As I mentioned, 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, although they uphold their tradition of being exceptionally nice bass guitars.
Grassroots Models ESP also makes a cheap, entry-level guitar brand for beginners under the name "Grassroots." These guitars are made well considering their cheap prices, although I do not think they are very good instruments. They do look nice but have cheap finishes and cheap electronics. For a beginner, it is a great brand, but not for professional musicians or collectors.
For more information regarding these aforementioned brands of guitars and basses, follow these links...