ESP vs Jackson Electric Guitars: Which are the Best?


ESP and Jackson are two very popular brands that focus on making guitars for the metal scene, but who makes the best ones? In this article, I’ll compare the tone, origin, components and ranges of both brands, to help you decide which is the right brand for you.

The Quick Answer

Jackson and ESP both make electric guitars targeted towards the metal genre. ESP guitars usually have an aggressive tone with more low-end frequencies than Jackson guitars which usually sound a bit more articulate. Both brands make models in Asia and the USA, and cater for all budgets.

Brand Overview

Before we jump into more specific comparisons, I wanted to identify the main shapes and models in each brand’s range so you can see the kinds of guitars they both specialise in.

Jackson

Jackson break most of their range up 5 different “series” which all have different shapes available, but are targeted at a specific price bracket.

  • JS Series: affordable guitars priced under $500.
  • X Series: mid-range guitars with premium features priced between $500-$1000.
  • Pro Series: mid-high end guitars priced between $750-$1700.
  • MJ Series: small selection of high-end Japanese-made guitars costing $2000 upwards.
  • USA Signature: top of the line models costing $3000 and above.

Jackson also have several main guitar shapes:

  • Dinky: the most popular model with a double cutaway design.
  • Rhoads: aggressive V-shape, usually offset.
  • King V: pointed V-shape.
  • Soloist: double cutaway design.
  • Monarkh: similar to a Les Paul shape.
  • Kelly: Z-shape.
  • Warrior: dramatic Z-shape.
  • PC-1: double cutaway design.

Other models include: Dominion, MF-1, San Dimas, Shadowcaster and Star. Here are a few images to show the different models, all the images link to a specific model on Amazon. They all come in a range of colours.

Dinky

Rhoads

King V

Soloist

Monarkh

Kelly

Warrior

PC1

ESP

ESP also divide their range into the following series which cater for different budgets:

  • ESP Ltd: these offer more affordable versions of the original ESP models and range in price from $200 to around $1500.
  • ESP-II: this is the Japanese line of high-end guitars which start at around $1900.
  • ESP USA: these are high-end models and prices start at just over $3000.
  • ESP Original Series: these are the highest quality custom shop models.

ESP also produce guitars in several shapes within each series. Here are some of the most popular:

  • Arrow: aggressive V-shape.
  • EC/ Eclipse: LP-shape.
  • EX: Z-shape.
  • F-series/ FRX: aggressive double-cutaway.
  • H-series/ M-series/ MH-series/ SN-series/ Horizon: double cutaway.
  • Pheonix: offset single-cutaway.
  • TE-series: T-type.
  • Viper-series: offset SG shape.

Here are a few images to show the different models, all the images link to a specific model on Amazon. They all come in a range of colours.

Arrow

EC/ Eclipse

EX-Series

FRX/ F-Series

MH-Series

SN-Series

TE-Series

Viper

Comparing the Tone

Although it is difficult to compare the overall tone of the brands without going specific into every different model available, I have definitely noticed some trends.

Jackson guitars tend to have more high-end frequencies (treble) compared to ESP guitars which usually have more low-end (bass). This makes Jackson guitars very suitable for classic rock and lead playing due to their articulate tone, whilst ESP guitars sound better for modern metal due to their heavier and more aggressive tone.

Of course, this is a generalisation, and you need to look at specific models to really identify which sounds best to you, because the materials, constructions and pickups all vary depending on the specific guitar.

However, I’ve noticed that ESP use active (usually EMG or Fishman Fluence) pickups on a lot of models, this helps to give the guitar a very heavy, punchy tone which is perfect for modern metal as they provide a high output and tonnes of power and sustain. This contributes to the aggressive tone. Even on models with passive pickups, they are still very high output.

Jackson often use passive Seymour Duncan and DiMarzio pickups on their mid-high end models. Usually, the Jackson models don’t sound quite as aggressive, although there are some exceptions where the guitar has a pretty dark sound and use active pickups.

Here is a video comparing the tone of two Gus G signature models from Jackson and ESP.

Where are They Made?

ESP guitars are made in China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and the USA. Jackson guitars are made in China, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and the USA.

  • Jackson and ESP both make their entry-level and affordable models in China and Indonesia. Chinese and Indonesia ESP models range between $200-$1500 and Jackson models range between $150-$1500.
  • Most of the Jackson Pro Series Dinky range which costs around $900-$1200 is made in Mexico. ESP do not make electric guitars in Mexico.
  • Jackson make a lot of their mid-high end guitars ($1200-$1800) in South Korea, as do ESP make most of their mid-high end Ltd models in South Korea ($950-$1750).
  • Jackson makes a limited selection of guitars in Japan which range from around $1000-$2800 and ESP make most of their high-end models in Japan which start at around $1900.
  • Both brands make guitars in the USA which start at around $3000.

Why does it matter?

It doesn’t really, but a lot of guitarists use a guitar’s origin as an indicator of whether or not a guitar is good quality. Many believe that guitar made in America are the most premium, then Mexico, Japan and South Korea, whilst Indonesian and Chinese guitars are sometimes considered lower quality as they are often mass produced. However, just because a guitar is made in a certain country does not make it good or bad, so try not to get too caught up on it. If it sounds good and looks well made, it probably is!

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

Jackson and ESP both have thin necks making them excellent for shredding. Jackson necks are slightly thinner and flatter on most models compared to ESP necks which are more rounded. For some players, Jackson necks may feel easier to shred on, but ESP necks may be better for barre chords.

With that said, the necks do vary from model to model, so it’s best to look at the options in your price range and see what feels best for you. Consider whether you play more barre chords, or want the guitar for shredding, or an even mix of the two. You may find one neck easier than the other, depending on what style of playing you’re into.

Bridge

Both Jackson and ESP offer Floyd Rose and fixed bridges on a range of models. However, it is more common to see an ESP guitar with a fixed bridge, due to the popularity of the EC/ Eclipse models which usually have a fixed bridge. Jackson bridges are often floating tremolo styles, and they use a licensed Floyd Rose on many models even their fairly affordable models at around the $500-$600 price point.

Pickups

ESP use their own-brand active and passive pickup design on most models up to around the $800 mark, where you can start to see some aftermarket ones, usually Fishman Fluence. On models ranging from $1000-$2000 it is most common to see either EMG, Seymour Duncan and Fishman Fluence pickups on most models, and very high end models over the $2000 often have either EMG or Seymour Duncan pickups.

Jackson use their own-brand passive and active pickups on most models up to around the $600 mark. On models priced between $600 and $1000 it is common to see passive Duncan Designed pickups, with Seymour Duncan pickups appearing on models priced closer to $1000. On models over $1000, you will usually see either Seymour Duncan and DiMarzio on most guitars.

Tone Wood

ESP tend to use most expensive tone woods on their more affordable models compared to Jackson. On models around the $500, ESP use mahogany quite often, whilst Jackson often still use more affordable woods like basswood and poplar. On mid-high end models over the $750 mark, most Jacksons will use mahogany, however, some models also feature alder which sounds a bit brighter in comparison.

Both brands offer maple caps with unique flame and quilted designs on models starting at around $750, and the finishes become better quality as the price increases.

Constructions

Jackson and ESP both use bolt-on constructions for most models under $500 and then opt for neck-through constructions on a lot of their mid-high models. ESP guitars sometimes have a set-neck construction at around the $500.

  • Bolt-on necks: these are the cheapest construction type, and offer the least sustain and bulkiest joining. However, they make it easy to replace the neck if it becomes damaged.
  • Set-necks: this construction involves using glue to join the neck and body together. They offer better sustain than bolt-on necks and often a lower-profile.
  • Neck-through: these are when the neck and body are made from a continuous piece of wood, instead of being bolted or glued together. They are expensive, and make it impossible to replace the neck if it becomes damaged. However, they offer the best sustain, look the neatest and have the flattest design to aid upper fret access.

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 some of the top selling models from Jackson and ESP for comparison in the tables below. The prices are all from Guitar Center at the time of writing, and the tables are ordered from the lowest to highest price. This is not an exhaustive list of models from each brand, just some selections to help identify what kind of features are available at the different price points.

Under $500

GuitarConstructionPickupsBridgeBody WoodPrice
Jackson Dinky JS12Bolt-OnPassive JacksonTremoloPoplar$180
ESP EC10Bolt-onPassive ESPFixedBasswood$200
ESP M10Bolt-onPassive ESPFixedBasswood$200
Jackson Dinky JS22Bolt-OnPassive JacksonTremoloPoplar$200
Jackson Dinky JS32QBolt-OnPassive JacksonFloyd RosePoplar$400
ESP LTD EC-256FMSet-neckPassive ESPFixedMahogany$500
Jackson X Series Dinky DK2XRBolt-OnPassive JacksonFloyd RosePoplar$500
Jackson vs ESP guitars under $500

$500-$1000

GuitarConstructionPickupsBridgeBody WoodPrice
ESP LTD EC-256Set-neckPassive ESPFixedMahogany$550
Jacskon X Series Dinky DK2XBolt-OnActive JacksonFixedPoplar$600
Jackson SLX SoloistNeck-thruPassive Duncan DesignedFloyd RoseBasswood$650
ESP SH-207Bolt-onPassive ESPFixedMahogany$700
ESP LTD EC-401Neck-thruActivae FishmanFixedMahogany$900
Jackson Pro SoloistNeck-thruPassive Seymour DuncanFloyd RoseMahogany$1000
Jackson vs ESP guitars between $500 and $1000

$1000-$2000

GuitarConstructionPickupsBridgeBody WoodPrice
ESP LTD Deluxe EC-1000Neck-thruPassive EMG/ Seymour DuncanFixedMahogany$1050
Jackson Pro Soloist SL2Q MAHNeck-thruPassive Seymour DuncanFloyd RoseMahogany$1050
ESP EC-1000 ETNeck-thruPassive EMPFixedMahogany$1250
Jackson Pro Series Soloist SL3Q MAHNeck-thruPassive Seymour DuncanFloyd RoseMahogany$1250
ESP MH-1007 EvertuneNeck-thruActive FishmanFixedMahogany$1350
ESP NS-6Neck-thruActive FishmanFixedMahogany$1500
Jackson Pro Series Rhoads RR24Neck-thruPassive Seymour DuncanFloyd RoseBasswood$1500
ESP E-II MINeck-thruActive EMGFixedAlder$1800
ESP E-II VIPERNeck-thruActive EMGFixedMahogany$2000
Jackson MJ Series DinkyBolt-OnPassive DiMarzioLocking TremoloAlder$2000
Jackson vs ESP guitars between $1000 and $2000

Over $2000

GuitarConstructionPickupsBridgeBody WoodPrice
Jackson MJ Series Dinky DKR MAHBolt-OnPassive Seymour DuncanGotoh TremoloMahogany$2100
ESP E-II HorizonNeck-thruPassive Seymour DuncanFloyd RoseMahogany$2200
ESP E-II Eclipse-IINeck-thruActive EMGFixedMahogany$2400
Jackson MJ Series Soloist SL2Neck-thruPassive Seymour DuncanLocking TremoloAlder$2600
Jackson MJ Series Rhoads RRTNeck-thruPassive Seymour DuncanFixedAlder$2800
ESP USA M3 GTBolt-OnPassive Seymour DuncanFulcrum TremoloMahogany$3300
Jackson USA Signature Gus G. StarNeck-thruPassive Seymour DuncanFixedAlder$3700
Jackson vs ESP guitars over $2000

Which Are the Best?

Jackson and ESP both make great guitars, and if you’ve ever found yourself on any forums, you’ll know that the Jackson vs ESP date has been around for a very long time, and will probably be around for years to come. The best thing to do, is to try the models in your price range and see which guitar sounds and feels best to you.

Both brands offer unique styles, active and passive pickups and make their guitars in similar regions, so it’s hard to separate them based on either quality or options. With that said, here are a few points to try and help you make your decisions:

  • Jackson produce more guitars in the $250-$500 range so may be the better option if you are looking for guitars in this price point.
  • ESP models are geared towards the modern metal player due to their aggressive designs and tones, with many models featuring active pickups.
  • If you’re looking for a Floyd Rose or other tremolo bridge on a budget, then Jackson will be your best option.

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.

Here are some more articles you might find useful:

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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