ESP vs Ibanez Guitars: Which are the Best?


ESP and Ibanez are two huge brands in the electric guitar industry. The models primarily aimed at modern metal players, but they continue to produce versatile instruments which cater to a wide range of budgets. In this article, I’ll compare ESP and Ibanez, by looking at the tone, components, origin, and the different options available in the range to help you decide which brand is best for you.

The Quick Answer

ESP guitars are aimed mainly at metal whereas Ibanez guitars are often associated with more music styles. Ibanez models have thinner necks are are very popular for shredding, whilst ESP guitars are often used for heavy power chords and metal riffs. Both brands make most of their guitars in Asia.

Comparing the Tone

ESP guitars often have a heavier and more aggressive tone compared to Ibanez, which is why they are so commonly associated with metal. Ibanez guitars are often considered more versatile due to their balanced tone, and variety of pickup choices, making them suitable for softer styles.

Both Ibanez and ESP electric guitars are generally focused towards metal players and shredders due to their high output humbucker pickups, fast necks and aggressive looking designs. However it is possible to play a range of music styles on guitars from both brands, if you choose passive pickups instead of active ones.

Here’s a video where you can listen to ESP and Ibanez guitars being compared.

Where are They Made?

Ibanez electric guitars are made in China, Indonesia, Japan and the United States. Most low-end models under $1000 are made in either China and Korea. The Japanese-made Ibanez guitars are some of the most premium and usually cost around $1000 upwards. Custom-shop Ibanez guitars are made in America.

ESP guitars are made in China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and the United States. Low-end models under $1000 are mostly made in China and Indonesia. The ESP Ltd line which ranges from around $1000-$1750 is made in South Korea. The majority of the ESP E-II line is made in Japan and ranges between $1800-$5000. The most expensive models are made in the United States.

Why does it matter?

The saying goes, “If it sounds good, it is good”, and that is true. However, many players are still interested in the origin of the guitar as it does indirectly link with the quality. Chinese and Indonesian-made guitars are usually mass produced and use lower quality, cheaper materials. Japan and South Korea both have good reputations for making excellent quality mid-high range models, whilst America have a reputation for producing the highest quality models.

I’ve written a full article discussing the differences between guitars made in different regions, so check it out if you’re after a more detailed answer.

Components

When comparing the two brands, I think it’s probably most important to consider the components used to make the individual guitars, as these are often a useful indication of the quality.

Neck

Although the necks on some models vary, both models have their signature necks, the Wizard II for Ibanez and the thin-U for ESP. Both are designed to be very thin and fast necks, making them highly suitable for shredding.

Ibanez Wizard II necks tend to be slightly thinner than thin-U ESP necks, but only by a couple of millimetres. Ibanez guitars have very thin necks, making them excellent for shredding, but some players may find them too thin and struggle with barre chords. ESP necks are thicker so may be a bit slower, but more universally comfortable.

The best thing to do is to try them in a Guitar Store. Also keep in mind that the neck will vary depending on the model. The Ibanez Wizard II neck is not the exact same on every guitar. The finish will also be important, as satin finishes feel smoother than gloss finishes which tend to grab more, making them less suitable for shredding.

Bridge

Many models in the ESP range have “fixed” bridges, meaning they do not have a tremolo arm. It is more common to see a tremolo bridge on an Ibanez guitar. This can be used to adjust the pitch of the strings by pushing or pulling up or down on the tremolo. This creates a unique effect which is often used in lead guitar. Some ESP models still have tremolo bridges though, as do some Ibanez models have fixed bridges. Most low-end models will just have a fixed bridge.

Pickups

Both Ibanez and ESP use EMG, Seymour Duncan and Fishman Fluence pickups. Whilst both brands make models with active and passive pickups, it is more common to see an ESP guitar with active humbuckers, usually EMGs. Ibanez guitars often have active pickups but there are plenty of exceptions to this.

Active pickups are battery-powered and have a very high output and clarity when using distortion, hence why they’re popular for metal. Passive pickups are quieter, but cheaper and tend not to wear out as quickly.

Tone Wood

Low-end Ibanez guitars tend to use poplar body wood, whilst ESP entry-level models often use basswood. On guitars over $500 the vast majority of ESP models have mahogany body woods. More expensive Ibanez guitars primarily have Mahogany body wood, but sometimes Nayto or Ash.

As similar tone woods are used, this doesn’t have too much of an impact on the tone. Alder Ibanez bodies will sound a bit brighter than mahogany bodies, but it’s important to look at the model in question before considering this factor. I have a guide to tone woods and why they matter, if you want to learn more about this topic.

Constructions

ESP entry-level guitars usually have a bolt-on neck construction, whilst most mid-high end guitars will have a neck-through or less commonly, a set-neck construction. Most Ibanez guitars bolt-on neck constructions, even on the more premium models.

  • Bolt-on constructions do what they say on the tin, and use screws and bolts to join the neck and body together. It is the cheapest method of construction and offers less resonance and sustain, but makes neck replacements very easy. Bolt-on necks tend to have a “heel” which can obstruct upper fret access.
  • Neck-through constructions are when the guitar’s neck and body are made from one continuous piece of wood, instead of being joined together. They offer the best sustain, however are more expensive and very difficult to repair if either the neck or body is damaged. Neck-through designs offer the lowest profile neck/ body joining, which is perfect for upper fret access.
  • Set-neck constructions involve gluing the neck and body together. This construction offers a happy medium. Not too expensive, but offers good sustain and resonance and doesn’t make neck replacements impossible.

Although neck construction is just one aspect to consider, ESP generally wins in this category, by offering neck-through constructions more readily.

I’ve written a complete buyer’s guide for electric guitars which takes you through all the things you need to consider and a step-by-step method to narrowing down your selection and choosing the best option. Here is a link to the article.

The Ranges

I’ve selected several of the top selling models in each price bracket from Ibanez and ESP to compare in the tables below. The prices are all from Guitar Center and are correct at the time of writing and the tables are all ordered from the lowest to highest price.

Under $500

GuitarConstructionPickupsBridgeBody WoodPrice
Ibanez GRGM21MBolt-OnPassive IbanezFixedPoplar$150
ESP EC10Bolt-onPassive ESPFixedBasswood$200
ESP M10Bolt-onPassive ESPFixedBasswood$200
Ibanez GRGR120EXBolt-OnPassive Infinity RTremoloPoplar$200
Ibanez RG6003FMBolt-OnPassive Ibanez QuantumFixedMahogany$350
Ibanez RG450EXBBolt-OnPassive Ibanez QuantumDouble-Locking TremoloMeranti$400
ESP LTD EC-256FMSet-neckPassive ESPFixedMahogany$500
Ibanez vs ESP guitars under $500

$500-$1000

GuitarConstructionPickupsBridgeBody WoodPrice
ESP LTD EC-256Set-neckPassive ESPFixedMahogany$550
Ibanez RGRT621DPDNeck-thruPassive DiMarzioFixedMahogany$650
ESP SH-207Bolt-onPassive ESPFixedMahogany$700
Ibanez RGIB21 Iron LabelBolt-OnActive EMGFixedNyatoh$800
ESP LTD EC-401Neck-thruActivae FishmanFixedMahogany$900
Ibanez RG550 GenesisBolt-OnIbanez PassiveIbanez Edge TremoloBasswood$1000
Ibanez vs ESP guitars between $500 and $1000

$1000-$2000

GuitarConstructionPickupsBridgeBody WoodPrice
ESP LTD Deluxe EC-1000Neck-thruPassive EMG/ Seymour DuncanFixedMahogany$1050
Ibanez S61ALBolt-OnActive FishmanFixedNyatoh$1100
ESP EC-1000 ETNeck-thruPassive EMPFixedMahogany$1250
Ibanez RGA61ALBolt-OnPassive AftermathFixedNyatoh$1300
ESP MH-1007 EvertuneNeck-thruActive FishmanFixedMahogany$1350
ESP NS-6Neck-thruActive FishmanFixedMahogany$1500
Ibanez RGR652AHBF RG PrestigeBolt-OnPassive DiMarzioFixedAsh$1500
ESP E-II MINeck-thruActive EMGFixedAlder$1800
Ibanez S Prestige S6521QBolt-OnPassive DiMarzioFixedMahogany$1900
ESP E-II VIPERNeck-thruActive EMGFixedMahogany$2000
Ibanez RG5120M PrestigeBolt-OnActive FishmanLocking TremoloMahogany$2000
Ibanez vs ESP guitars between $1000 and $2000

Over $2000

GuitarConstructionPickupsBridgeBody WoodPrice
ESP E-II HorizonNeck-thruPassive Seymour DuncanFloyd RoseMahogany$2200
Ibanez RG5170G RG PrestigeBolt-OnActive FishmanIbanez Lo-Pro TremoloBasswood$2200
ESP E-II Eclipse-IINeck-thruActive EMGFixedMahogany$2400
Ibanex AZ2402FF AZ PrestigeBolt-OnPassive Seymour DuncanTI802 TremoloAlder$2800
ESP USA M3 GTBolt-OnPassive Seymour DuncanFulcrum TremoloMahogany$3300
Ibanez vs ESP guitars over $2000

Which Are the Best?

As I said a bit earlier in the article, the best way to decide which guitar is right for you, is to try it in the store. But with that said, here are a few key points you can use to help you make your decision:

  • Ibanez guitars usually have thinner necks, making them more suitable for shredding than ESP guitars. However, the difference is very minimal.
  • Ibanez usually produce more models with a floating tremolo compared to ESP where many models have fixed bridges.
  • It is more common to see ESP guitars with active pickups, which are very popular amongst metal players.

I’ve written a complete buyer’s guide for electric guitars which takes you through all the things you need to consider and a step-by-step method to narrowing down your selection and choosing the best option. Here is a link to the article.

Heather

Hey, I'm Heather. I started playing an electric guitar when I was given a Squier Strat for my birthday around 15 years ago. I now own an acoustic guitar and several electric guitars including my personal favourite, a PRS SE Custom 24.

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